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Thinking of doing "Vacation Church School" at your parish?

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An Orthodox vacation "church" school program embraces the teachings and traditions of Orthodox Christianity: Scripture, saints, feasts, worship, music, and prayers. A vacation "Bible" school focuses primarily on stories from the Bible and may or may not incorporate other dimensions of the Orthodox Church.

Why Vacation "Church" School (VCS) and not Vacation "Bible" School (VBS)?

An Orthodox vacation "church" school program embraces the teachings and traditions of Orthodox Christianity: Scripture, saints, feasts, worship, music, and prayers. A vacation "Bible" school focuses primarily on stories from the Bible and may or may not incorporate other dimensions of the Orthodox Church. Ideally, a strong VCS program will address various learning styles and provide an eclectic set of experiences – engaging all the senses (sight, touch, sound, taste and smell) – for the participants.

Why "Vacation" Church School?

Summer vacation's slower pace and mild weather make it the best time to schedule a camp-like program. In addition, most Orthodox parishes suspend their church school activities for the summer, so VCS provides a summertime "boost." VCS is the perfect way to bring together Orthodox children, parents, grandparents, teachers and others in an intensive environment for a total immersion experience in Orthodox faith, learning, and fun. It’s also a good way to work with neighboring Orthodox parishes, planning one area-wide VCS program.

Why does your parish want to offer Vacation Church School?

An Orthodox VCS program can provide opportunities for all participants to grow closer to Christ and His Church. It can also allow friends of your children (and others who may be interested) to learn about the Orthodox Christian faith while having some summer fun. An Orthodox VCS will focus on deepening the knowledge and experience of the Orthodox faithful in a fun learning environment for children and teachers alike.

What can an Orthodox VCS program accomplish for your parish in the long and short terms? It can:

  • Build community between and among participants and workers.
  • Forge new relationships in a fun environment.
  • Involve community members who might not be involved in the regular church school program. (This is an opportunity to “test the waters” for potential new teacher and helpers.)
  • Build collaboration with neighboring Orthodox parishes by developing one area-wide VCS program.
  • Teach, in an informal environment, about Orthodox traditions (saints, feasts, fasts, foods, hymns, symbols, etc.) as well as missions, stewardship, church behaviors, and so forth.
  • Involve participants in daily worship services.
  • Raise awareness about the importance of ministries to children.
  • Provide a day camp-like experience for elementary aged children.
  • Give children the opportunity to learn and to practice singing hymns of the Church.
  • Provide opportunities for children to learn fun songs that complement their learning.
  • Reinforce learning in a fun and active manner.

How is VCS different from regular church school?

During the regular Church school year, classes tend to focus on a lesson and an activity to reinforce the lesson. While both traditional Church school and a VCS program have formal lessons, a good VCS program should incorporate a number of activities not normally possible or practical during a typical church school lesson:

  • Daily assemblies are an integral part of any VCS program as they provide a “summary” for the day tying together learning, worship and fun activities. Children also have an opportunity to perform their songs and learn new music.
  • Puppet shows during daily assemblies reinforce the lessons in a creative manner. Children relate well to puppets and when the puppet is asking or answering questions, learning is more fun!
  • Activities reinforce the lesson through movement and interaction. This is also a great break during the day and builds camaraderie among students.
  • Liturgical music is incorporated into the program so that children become more familiar with music associated with feastdays, saints, etc.
  • Non-liturgical music is incorporated into the program to reinforce learning and broaden their musical exposure.
  • Memory verses from the Bible or parts of the Orthodox Tradition (especially prayers) can be learned a little bit each day so that by the end of the week each child can recite a verse associated with the “theme.” This is a great way for children to demonstrate what they've learned to their parents and other family members!
  • Snack time is important “down time” during the day for children and teachers to relax and visit with their friends.
  • Recreation gives children a chance to be physically active with their fellow classmates. It is very important for elementary-aged children. As they play games they practice following rules, and cooperate toward a common goal. Sitting in a classroom for prolonged periods is not conducive to their learning.

When is the best time to conduct a Vacation Church School program?

  • After the regular school year ends in your area and before the new school year begins - during "summer vacation"
  • A time that avoids conflicts with other events and activities scheduled at your parish or neighboring Orthodox parishes (festivals, feast days, clergy vacations). Be sure to discuss scheduling with your parish priest before setting dates
  • Avoid schedule conflicts with your Metropolis’ summer camp or other major activities
  • Find out the preferences of potential participants (children and staff) by taking an informal poll.

When and how often during the week will your program meet?

  • Monday through Friday of one week: half-days, full days, or evenings. This is the recommended format as it provides an intensive one-week commitment. Attendance is more likely to be consistent and learning retained.
  • One day a week over several weeks. This is not recommended, as attendance during the summer months tends to be rather spotty for many families. It is easier to set aside one week during the summer rather than to expect commitments extending over several weeks. Establish the dates on your community calendar well in advance so that potential participants can plan around these program dates.
  • Whatever works best for your parish situation!

What resources are needed to implement Vacation Church School?

  • Space
    • How many children and which age/grade levels do you expect to participate? This will determine the amount of classroom and assembly space required
    • Will you have crafts, snacks and recreation activities in separate spaces, in classrooms, or outdoors? Do you have enough space?
    • Will you have access to the church for worship services?
  • Staff
    • A faithful, outgoing, well-networked, and highly organized person is necessary to direct the program. Do you have someone or a team of people who can get the program up and running?
    • How many teachers will you have per classroom - two is recommended, and assistants (high school and college students) are helpful with the younger classes. A student – teacher ratio of 6 or 8 to 1 for younger grades is a good idea, and that can increase to 10 or 12 to 1 for older grades. Will you have enough willing and able teachers/assistants to fill the need?
    • We recommend having 1 – 2 teachers and a helper for each classroom – emergencies arise and there are times when a “runner” is needed or the “other” teacher needs to prepare the next item on the schedule.
    • Other staff may include persons to prepare for and implement crafts, music, recreation, snacks, puppetry, registration, finance and physical set-up and break-down. Do you have people with talents in these areas?
  • Budget
    • How will you pay for the curriculum and supplies? How much will you need? Is there money available in the church school budget or can you add VCS as a separate item? Solicit sponsorship by church auxiliaries? Ask for donations?
    • Will you charge a registration fee per child? How much? Discounts for multiple children in the same family? Discounts for staff? Scholarship funds so needy families can participate?
    • Who in the church will be responsible for handling monies collected and paying expenses incurred?
  • Curriculum
    • Orthodox catalogs carry a few materials designated as VCS materials, and others which are adaptable for a summer program
    • Word-of-mouth: Lessons have been developed on varying levels in local churches throughout the country. Contact those churches and ask to buy or borrow what they've used
    • Non-Orthodox VBS curricula have been adapted with varying degrees of success for use in Orthodox churches. Be especially careful of programs which emphasize "coming to Christ" as the primary goal of the program. Bible story programs adapt best.
    • Write your own! The VBS Smart Pages, edited by Linda Crisp, Gospel Light, 1998, will help you get started.
    • It's in the works! The Department of Religious Education is now preparing for publication a multi-dimensional program that fits the description of an Orthodox VCS program provided here. Coming in early 2008!

Now that you've decided to have an Orthodox Vacation Church School program next summer… what should you do next?

  • Pray - about all the decisions and tasks outlined below, and for the children and staff who will participate
  • Set a date and put it on the church calendar (if it is during a Lenten period, be sure to inform the snack person)
  • Inform your parish as well as neighboring parishes that might choose to participate. Involving more than one parish could be an excellent opportunity to consolidate people and material resources as well as “share the work and the fun."
  • Publicize to your church school families through special displays, posters throughout the church, notices in the bulletin and newsletter, special flyers/letters via U.S. mail or via email messages
  • Find a “director”
  • Select a curriculum
  • Establish your budget
  • Recruit teachers and other staff
  • Develop a timeline of tasks, including:
    • Publicity
    • Registration
    • Preparing materials for teachers and assistants
    • Identify and stock crafts
    • Identify music
    • Set aside a date for teacher orientation and training
    • Set aside time to decorate the assembly room and the classrooms
    • Identify and recruit other helpers
    • Prepare a post-VCS evaluation
  • Get ready to grow in your knowledge and experience of the Orthodox faith in a fun environment!