One would tend to think back to boxed curricula and VBS with a sigh and the though of, “well, that was cute.” Years ago when I was just discovering Montessori through youth ministry (Yes, I tend to be a bit backwards as most of you discovered Montessori through much younger children.) I was challenged by a fabulous children’s minister to rethink the box. Her guidance was to use the box as a starting point and rewrite the scripts for the daily skits; re-think the music; and certainly redo the craft ideas. What ensued was a 8.5 month pregnant me smushed into a kaftan or muumuu with a dubuta wrapped around my head leading teens in a skit and sing along to 75 little kids sitting outside in 95 degree Florida heat. (We were supposed to be on a Caribbean Island after all.) It was brilliant according to all the volunteers, teens, and church staff. Over the years, the teens continued to run an AM children’s VBS and began an afternoon version for seniors from a lower income highrise down the street.
Over the years I’ve discarded the box completely and I’ve been asked to write curricula for churches to use in their programs. I’ve lead archeological digs while children looked at Nehemiah’s return. I’ve worked with churches to bus 35 boys out to a farm to paint fences, pick-up pinecones, and hang out with mentally challenged teens to see what it means to love your neighbor. Simultaneously 25 girls were making over (with interior designers and carpenters) elderly church member’s homes by deep cleaning and repairing spaces for them.
Things I have learned over the years:
- Volunteers are a gift from God.
- Don’t try to run an all age VBS. Run two. Kids learn more if it is divided 3 to 6 and 6 to 12. Your volunteers like it, too.
- Don’t out-grow your space. (Be wise to keep a cap in size.)
- Let the kids actually learn something that is good for real life. Learn how to make paper and ink from scratch. Learn how to start a fire. Learn how to ask questions about what they are being taught.
- Don’t underestimate what kids can learn.
- Keep down the clutter. (I followed the year after a church’s VBS was put in warning from the fire marshal for excessive use of brown paper enshrouding a hallway.) Invest in better tools, visuals, and materials.
- Kids don’t need cheese and characters to be interested in learning and loving God.
- Provide a space where kids can have quiet with each other and God.
- Teens are GREAT volunteers, but require training and expectations to really be a great part.