By Cherie Werner
VBS is a wonderful opportunity for sharing the Gospel with children of all ages and backgrounds. Wouldn’t it be great if the children who came to VBS were fully engaged and attentive every moment of your time together?
Unfortunately, that will never happen. Teachers at every church struggle with children who are inattentive, disruptive, and breaking rules. Most VBS volunteers are not trained in dealing with children on a regular basis or in large groups. Having to handle even one or two challenging children can make a volunteer think twice about helping out again next year.
Before beginning VBS, give your volunteers some strategies to deal with those children who might need some extra attention. Here are some ideas:
With the Group
Explain expectations: Begin by telling the students what you would like to see from them. Tell them and show them how you would like them to behave (try to use a positive description of the behavior rather than giving them a list of don’ts). Give them a chance to practice.
Stay positive: Smile often. Make eye contact. Keep your tone light and encouraging. Show interest and care for the children. Stay calm.
Grab their attention: It is hard to teach anything if your group is noisy or not listening. There are several different ways to get their attention:
- Start singing a familiar song or clapping your hands in a fun pattern. They will join in and then you can begin.
- Say in a normal tone of voice, “If you can hear my voice clap once . . . If you can hear my voice, clap twice . . . If you can hear my voice clap three times.” Continue until you have everyone’s attention.
- If you practice ahead of time, you can also use a call and response method. You can use any phrase you like, but here are some examples:
- You say, “God is good.” They say, “All the time.”
- You say, “One, two, three.” They say, “Jesus loves me.”
- You say, “One, two.” They say, “Jesus loves you.”
- You say, “Peanut butter.” They say “Jelly.”
- You say, “Macaroni and cheese.” They say, “Everybody freeze.”
With Individual Children
Give choices: If a child is not following directions, give that child two choices that will make you happy. “You can sit on my lap or in that chair.” “You can put your toy on the shelf over there or in your bag.” If the child does not make a choice after 10 or 15 seconds, you make the choice.
Give a responsibility: Give a challenging child a job you feel he or she can handle. Some ideas: hand out books, collect papers, or write something on the board.
Separate: When a child is being disruptive to your group, separate the child from the group for a short time. Say, “You need to sit over here until you are ready to be part of the group.” When the child is calm say, “Are you ready to try again?”
Pray before reacting: Focus on loving each child. When you witness bad behavior, say a short prayer before saying anything. Ask God for wisdom, patience, love, and gentleness.
Listen for what is happening: When you notice misbehavior, begin by asking the child, “What’s going on?” or “What’s the problem?” Sometimes an explanation will help you find a quick solution.
Plan ahead: If you are going into a day with a child you have had problems with before, think ahead of time about what you will do if that child causes trouble. If you have a plan of action, things will go more smoothly and you will be able to keep your cool.
Ask for help: It is hard to see all that is happening when you are trying to teach. Sometimes just having another person there to redirect a misbehaving child or catch a problem before it begins can go a long way in maintaining a calm environment.
These are just a few ideas to help out VBS volunteers. How does your church prep VBS volunteers?
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