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.
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!
It is important to remind staff who may have experience with traditional church Bible schools that this program is informal and flexible. Sessions may run over their scheduled time, but it all seems to come together by the end of the day. Focus on feelings of self-worth, not task completion. Be flexible, go with the flow, and adapt as needed. Doing so will keep stress levels at a minimum. Residents are allowed to come and go as they please. Some will stay for the entire program and others will only come to certain sessions. The children, however, are not allowed to leave the room without supervision.
Where do the participants come from? Prior to the Vacation Bible School, we post fliers in the building and send memos to the staff, letting them know it is time to enroll. Later, we post fliers and posters to inform the residents of the dates when the Vacation Bible School will meet. The week before the program starts, we give handouts to the residents, letting them know each day's schedule. We also send memos to the nursing staff asking that they have residents up and ready, with medications given, since this program starts earlier than most regular activities. To date, our staff members have been very good at preparing residents.
Any resident is allowed to attend. Some come as spectators and some participate in every session actively. It is their choice. Many others just enjoy watching the children and they often comment on how smart the children are. We only accept children and grandchildren of our employees. This way, if we have any misbehavior problems or other concerns from a child, we can find the guardian quickly. LMC also limits the number of children it accepts. You need to determine the number of children you can accommodate based on the amount of space available. Our first program began with 10 children and at the most we have had 17. To participate, a parent/grandparent must fill out an application that asks for the child's basic identifying information, allergies, dietary restrictions, emergency contact numbers, and permission to participate and have his or her picture taken and possibly published. We also stress that the children must be picked up by a certain time. We have a deadline for applications and state on the form that children are accepted on a “first come, first served” basis.
We have criteria in place as to which children can participate. You may set any standards you choose. To participate in our program, children must have completed kindergarten. They need to be able to sit still and pay attention during some sessions. They must be brought to the activity room on time and picked up on time. Someone must be available to pick them up if there is an emergency or they misbehave and are disruptive (that has not happened to date).
The benefits of this program far outweigh any negatives that might arise. The older children offer assistance to the residents. The residents often help the younger children in completing tasks and vice versa. The children always exhibit unconditional love for the residents. Every year, we have residents who say they wish Bible school didn't have to end. Some residents who may not participate in other group programs eagerly join in Bible school.
The Bible school provides spiritual, creative, emotional, intellectual, and physical outlets for the residents and greatly improves their quality of life. They also learn new things and give credence to that old adage, “You're never too old to learn!” Both the residents and children learn from each other and that is very special.Debbie Bouknight, BS, ACC, is a Certified Activity Consultant and is Public Relations Trustee for The National Association of Activity Professionals. She also serves on the Board of the South Carolina Activity Professionals Association. She has received honors in her state as Activity Professional of the Year and for Distinguished Service, and was the NAAP Activity Professional of the Year in 2007. She has been employed by Lexington Medical Center Extended Care in Lexington, South Carolina for 23 years.
The National Association of Activity Professionals (NAAP) was founded in 1982, and is the only national organization that exclusively represents Activity Professionals working primarily in geriatric settings. NAAP provides opportunities for professional development and personal growth through national and regional conferences that offer a variety of topics and numerous hours of education. NAAP has established partnerships with allied organizations, governing bodies, consumer groups, regulatory agencies, and provider groups. They continuously work toward uniform Standards of Practice for all Activity Professionals working with elders. For more information, contact the NAAP Office at (865)429-0717, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://www.thenaap.com.Long-Term Living 2009 March;58(3):14-17