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Intergenerational Vacation Bible School

March 1, 2009
by Debbie Bouknight, BS, ACC
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An intergenerational Vacation Bible School program is a way to bridge the past with the future. The children of today are the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, nursing assistants, social workers, researchers, and activity professionals of the future. They will be responsible for the new initiatives, procedures, medications, and services that will improve the quality of life and care for the elderly. The more opportunities they have to interact with the elderly today, the better their understanding of aging issues will be as they get older.

The Bible school at the nursing home or assisted living community is conducted in much the same manner as a church Bible school, but less formal and more flexible. At Lexington Medical Center Extended Care (LMC) in Lexington, South Carolina, we have been hosting a Vacation Bible School program since 2003. Our classes are offered to residents and the children or grandchildren of staff members. We begin at 9 a.m. and conclude at noon, typically for five days a week during the summer months. The age of participants has ranged from 5 to 101 years old. The program blends the young with the old and not only helps everyone grow spiritually, but helps them learn about each other as well.

Start planning early, especially for the first Vacation Bible School you hold. Ask local churches if they would be willing to save their materials and decorations for you to use. If they hold their programs in late summer, they can save these items for you to use the following year. If that is not an option, conduct an online search for Bible school materials. Two helpful sites are http://www.cokesburyvbs.com and http://www.lifeway.com.

Get up and running

First, decide on the location and schedule for your program. Then work out the necessary details-how you will decorate, where each session will be held, will tables be needed, and so on. Once you have a schedule, make assignments as to who will be responsible for leading each session each day. At LMC, we use our activity staff as well as volunteers. There may also be some residents willing to lead the Bible study or music portions of the program. A member of our nutritional services staff has been playing the piano for us since the program's inception. Check around-you may have other staff members in your facility with talents that can be utilized. Willing helpers can also be found at your local churches.

At LMC, the day begins with Bible study, and from there moves to music, crafts, snacks and recreation, and missions. Once we are finished, the children remain seated as we escort the residents back to their rooms. At the end of the day, each child receives a small gift (pencil, magnet) related to that day's theme and then their parents pick them up.

Most of the sessions are in our activity room, which is divided into sections. Sessions are held in different parts of the room. Each section is decorated in the Bible school theme. When one session is finished, residents are moved to another part of the room for the next class. Although most of our residents are in wheelchairs, this all happens very quickly with the assistance of junior volunteers (ages 12 to 18) who also help at all the sessions. Bible school can be held in any part of your community and you may need to get creative if space is an issue. One local community hosts most of its sessions outdoors and calls its program the “Backyard Bible Club.” The most important thing to remember throughout this entire program is to be flexible. There is no right or wrong way and you can adapt anything to fit your needs.

A sample schedule for the Bible School is:

9:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m.-Bible Study

10:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m.-Music

10:30 a.m.-11:00 a.m.-Crafts

11:00 a.m.-11:30 a.m.-Snacks and Recreation

11:30 a.m.-11:50 a.m.-Missions (usually includes a brief DVD segment)

Next, decide on each day's craft project and purchase or ask for donations of the necessary supplies. Snacks are served each day. At LMC, crafts are held in a dining room next to the activity room. We obtain crafts from suppliers that sell in bulk at lower prices. Use a search engine for suppliers of Vacation Bible School/religious craft supplies, such as http://www.orientaltradingcompany.com. Ideas for crafts and snacks can be found in the curriculum books available at http://www.lifeway.com or you can develop your own. Keep it simple, especially if you have a large number of residents participating. We use sugarfree drinks for everyone. Ice cream, popsicles, cookies, and snack cakes work well. We serve snacks before the recreation period, which consists of simple games like ball toss, hot potato, ring toss, or various word puzzles. The children enjoy playing games with the residents and their enjoyment is reciprocated. Because games usually get the children wound up, the missions session that follows helps bring them back down to earth!

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