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Cokesbury offers virtual vacation Bible school option during COVID-19

Knights of North Castle logo. Courtesy of Cokesbury VBS. 2020.
Knights of North Castle logo. Courtesy of Cokesbury VBS. 2020.

As churches continue practicing social distancing into summer, the United Methodist Publishing House is offering a way for them still to host vacation Bible school. On May 6, Cokesbury’s Vacation Bible School division announced it is revising the content of its 2020 “Knights of North Castle” curriculum to let children and families participate completely online from home.

As part of its effort to help churches hold VBS during this difficult time, Cokesbury is making its digital  content available for free to any church that wants it and making sure all churches that purchased “Knights of North Castle” kits earlier in the year are aware of it. All digital VBS-related content will be available in early June.

Scott Spradley, director of the vacation Bible school division for Cokesbury, and marketing director Tony Stogsdill worked directly with VBS leaders across the United States to meet the needs of local churches during the pandemic. “While there are still some churches hoping they can do VBS in-person later in the summer, we decided right away we needed to make virtual versions available,” Spradley said.

“We’ve actually been offering digital video and digital leader guides as part of our VBS kits the last couple of years,” he continued, “so some of the work of converting our new curriculum was already done.”

The online VBS curriculum will include downloadable PDF kits for each day that families can use at home along with videos to play during each activity for the children. Churches can choose to host VBS whenever they want or as many times as they want using the materials.

“Our formula for any VBS program is research, testing and implementation,” Stogsdill explained. “We do research on different curriculum that is thoroughly reviewed. Then we give it to real churches to test out for themselves and send feedback to our reviewers. Every VBS program has been vetted through this three-step process.”

Art and crafts were easily adaptable as long as everyone has the right supplies at home. “The challenge was adapting the parts of the program where all the children gather in assembly to learn. We put together video versions of the assembly time with full instructions for songs and dances,” Spradley said. Developers are also working with churches that want to create their own videos based on the curriculum.

For many children the most fun part of VBS is being together with their friends. Recreating that sense of togetherness was another major challenge for the team.

“We encourage the churches to assign kids group leaders just like they would normally,” Spradley said. “These group leaders will do daily check-in with their kids using video chat, asking them to share how their  day’s going and what they’ve learned.” said Spradley.

“We also encourage churches to plan to schedule a big in-person party later in the year when it is safe for them all to get together around the theme of VBS,” Stogsdill added.

Churches can access and download the content using the United Methodist Publishing House’s media app Amplify without having to sign up for a subscription. Amplify has also made numerous other children’s and adult ministry resources available free during the COVID-19 pandemic. All materials for VBS will be available on Amplify by early June. You can stay posted on new updates from Cokesbury VBS by liking their Facebook page or signing up for their newsletter.

Philip J. Brooks is a writer and content developer on the leader communications team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tennessee, USA. Contact him at [email protected]