30 Vacation Bible School Themes, Games and Ideas
Vacation Bible School is an amazing opportunity to draw in your community and your congregation with a week of fun and, more importantly, a life-transforming message. If you've been given the task of planning this summer's Vacation Bible School, it's never too early to get your creative juices flowing. Here are 30 themes, games and ideas to jumpstart your planning!
With creative decorations and super-cute snacks, themes are fun to brainstorm, but the main focus of the week should be incorporating truth and life lessons. Here are a few themes with the Biblical messages that can be taught through them.
- Jesus is My Superhero - Incorporate a "hall of wonders" (with illustrations and descriptions of Jesus' miracles), have dress up days for a favorite Bible hero — or even made-up heroes with good character traits— and help teach your kiddos that the power given to us by Jesus is greater than any power on earth!
- Ocean Deep - Dive right into the word to see Romans 8:39 come to life: no height or depth can separate us from his love! Make a photo booth with lots of underwater friends on the blue background (add a snorkel or two for props), and dress your stage in some fun sea creatures (inflatables are easy and abundant as summer gets closer) with lots of green paper streamers serving as seaweed climbing up the walls.
- Great, Great Outer Space - You can really learn some amazing things about God's creativity when you start looking at the stars, discovering all the amazing truth about how God perfectly holds the universe in balance. Decorating is a snap with some twinkling lights, planets made from large bouncy balls and all kinds of fun snacks with silly interplanetary names.
- Armor of God - Girls and boys alike will enjoy honoring courage and trusting God when going into the battle of life. Your decorations can go the camouflage and canteen route or incorporate the steel suites of armor from long ago. Include ideas such as citizenship and patriotism, and incorporate songs that honor both our country and our God.
- Come to the Clubhouse - Think of all the fun you can have in a backyard clubhouse, and draw some parallels into inviting all into the kingdom of God. This is a great theme for incorporating kid-to-kid service opportunities and learning to see others as God sees them. Decorating and snacks, just like a real clubhouse, can be a hodgepodge and kid-friendly.
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- Let's Go Camping - Think s'mores, campfires and lots of tents (minus the bug spray!) for this theme. Using an outdoor or camping theme is a great avenue for teaching your kids to serve others, even when it's hard. You can incorporate some fun camp-style songs sung around a faux campfire made of red and orange tissue, wrapping paper rolls and a small fan to blow the tissue up like a real fire.
- Old Testament Kings and Commoners - Build a faux brick fortress entrance and introduce some Old Testament kings and characters whose lives illustrate both the blessing of trusting God and the burden of turning from God. You can use a Bible Herald to announce the official title of the person you are studying that day, and include a court jester who can keep your kids laughing during chapel meetings.
- Passport to _____ (Pick a country name or The World) - If your church supports a missionary family (or several), immerse your students in the sights, sounds and challenges of living a life of faith outside the United States. Encourage children to make a prayer calendar for other cultures and missionaries, and incorporate a flag-making craft to celebrate your focus country.
- Western Week - Your little cowpokes for Christ can focus on wrangling, campfires and the Wild, Wild West as they learn about the Good Shepherd who shepherds us with compassion and care. You could even incorporate simple square dancing and a family BBQ at the end of camp to get everyone involved in your closing ceremonies. Genius Tip: Plan the perfect potluck with an online sign up.
- Sleuthing with Science - This theme turns curious kids into hands-on inventors who discover they are lovingly created by God as they create great concoctions and try fun experiments. Lots of science beakers and bubbles make for fun decorating, and incorporating fizzy drinks into snack times can help make this week a real memory-maker.
Thoughtful and Fun Games
Some activities can be just for fun, but always think of ways to apply a Biblical concept. Consider these games, and note which are appropriate for indoors, outdoors or both.
- Amazing Race - Each group will need supervision based on age. This game encourages working together to overcome challenges, but with this twist: adults along the route need the team's help (think Good Samaritan-type situations), and the team has the option to help them or pass by. At the end, reveal that the winning team is not the first to complete the tasks, but the team that stopped to help along the way.
- Pool Noodle Games - Noodles can be made into racetracks for marbles, gigantic hoops for an over-sized ring toss or hoops for throwing footballs through. These games easily segue into talking about how challenges we face are like a race or a contest — we often have to endure with patience and persistence to see what will happen in the end.
- Minute to Win It - These fast-paced games make for great rotation-style activities if you have a very large group. These are fun games to start a discussion about patience and what happens when we hurry (or want God to hurry with an answer to prayer). They also let the laughter abound. Some ideas: Divide into teams and see which group can write down the most Bible verses in one minute or see who can give the best summary of a book of the Bible in just one minute.
- Toilet Paper Games - Teams can construct costumes, pass the TP down a row in various manners or use it for get-to-know-you games (each square represents how many interesting facts you share about yourself). These are great as icebreakers as your group gets to know each other at the beginning of your Vacation Bible School. Genius Tip: Try these 30 icebreakers for youth groups.
- Water Games - These are great for when you need to get everyone outside and cooled off! Try a group challenge where you give each team a frozen wet T-shirt (this takes a couple of days prep beforehand, of course) and see who can unfreeze and put it on the fastest. Another fun game is filling a pool with ice cubes and asking teams to try and remove them using only their feet! Bible connection: great to talk about how we can overcome limitations.
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- Post-it Note Thoughts - Use these sticky little modes of communication to encourage discussion. Have three walls labeled "God," "Jesus" and "The Bible." Kids can write their related questions on their Post-its, and leaders can pick questions to answer. It’s a great thinking activity for older kids who can read and write.
- Group Think – While one person leaves the room, the rest of the group picks a trigger word or phrase — something everyone will fear — and how they will react (or overreact) when the volunteer returns and starts asking questions to figure out the word. Some biblical examples: leprosy, the plagues or the great flood.
- Animal Farm - A good game for non-readers, this activity gives everyone an animal type or picture of an animal (not to be shared) and they then group together by only making sounds. Group children in two-by-twos to simulate Noah’s Ark.
- Encouragement Game - Sit in a circle, and instruct students to put their names at the top of a piece of paper. Pass it around the circle while group members write encouraging messages with things they appreciate about the person at the top of the paper. This helps remind students to be good to one another.
- Change Game - Similar to the group think game, have one person leave the room. Everyone in the group changes something (take left arm out of sleeve, take off a shoe, stick one hand on your hip), and the person outside has to come in and figure out what is different. Questions for discussion afterward: Do we overlook details in God's Word? How can we notice the small details that can make a big impact on our life?
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Vacation Bible School Ideas
These are a collection of extra ideas and tips for making your Vacation Bible School week run smoothly.
- Preparation is Key - Do as much as you can ahead of time, including pre-registering kids, pre-assembling parts for crafts, pre-recording songs in case musicians get sick and buying things on clearance (and asking volunteers to do the same). Genius Tip: VBS registration is easy with a sign up.
- Fundraising - Budgets can be a challenging aspect of running Vacation Bible School, so get creative about fundraising: sell CDs with VBS-themed music, have special weeks at your church service when the offering goes specifically to VBS or even have families "buy in" by charging a small fee for a week of great teaching.
- Decorative Impact - If your budget is limited, think about having one theme-related wall or room that really is memorable and can be used for an activity and/or picture taking. Be sure to include a great Bible verse used during the week to help reinforce your theme.
- Bargain Costumes - When you are looking for costumes, remember that post-Halloween is a great time to snatch up things like beards, hats and theme-related gear. Post-Christmas is an ideal time to find deals on lights, and post-Valentine’s Day will offer plenty of heart-shaped décor at a bargain.
- Thank Volunteers – Set up a station that gives a break for your volunteer leaders to go and grab a grown-up snack (read: something besides fish crackers) and have a little down time while other volunteers lead their group in a story or large group game. It is a really blessing! Genius Tip: Thank volunteers with low-cost appreciation gifts and ideas.
- Music to Remember - It's always good to have some songs the children might know from Sunday school and a few new, theme-related (if possible) fun tunes. Scripture memory songs are a smart way to go to impart a message straight from the Bible, and simple hand motions can make the songs even more memorable.
- Take Home Projects - Scripture cards are a craft you can create year after year (with a different selection, of course). Children can be reminded of their great week and also have meaningful verses to look at the whole year.
- Maximize Down Times - Encourage your volunteers to use transition times and down times as opportunities to build relationships and talk about Christ in a natural way, like sharing a favorite Bible story or giving a short testimony — or just getting to know children who may be at church for the first time. Relationships matter!
- Plan for Safety - Grouping kids by colors, numbers or group names help with not only tracking attendance counts but keeping groups together and providing security for pick-up times.
- Missions Development - If your VBS will have a missions ministry element, get kids actively involved by doing tasks like packing shoeboxes to send overseas (it's summer, but November comes quickly!) or collecting items for local children in need like clothing or packs of diapers for a homeless shelter.
Vacation Bible School is a week of fun many children look forward to year after year, but it's also a week of transformation and learning lessons that kids carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Julie David is married to a worship pastor and after 20 years in ministry together with three daughters, she is still developing the tender balance of thick skin and gracious heart. She currently leads a small group of high school junior girls.