VBS top pick:  Program centers on growing faith and feeding people
VBS top pick: Program centers on growing faith and feeding people

Abundance Orchard
Where Faith Grows and Hungry People Are Fed
Society of St Andrew
Cost: Free download

Robin Denney, the seminarian who reviewed this VBS program couldn’t say enough good things about it. “I would totally use it. It is a lot of work to use, but I’m getting the feeling that all the really good [programs] are a lot of work. It is the kind of work that would unify and motivate an adult leader group, and possibly lead to better local mission engagement by the whole parish if it was done well.”

She was particularly taken with the use of potatoes for one activity: “the wonderful thematic details like those potatoes are what make [the program] so fabulous (also they are made from materials that would be trash!)  Here is her review of Abundance Orchard, selected as a top pick for 2016 by the Center for the Ministry of Teaching.

Abundance Orchard weaves the theme of food through biblical stories, activities, snack suggestions and mission. Theological themes that run through the curriculum illustrate the abundance of God’s love and presence in our lives. The curriculum encourages the development of empathy, and invites the children not only into the stories, but also to reflect on the meaning of the stories in their own lives.

Abundance Orchard contains two full sets of material, one Old Testament-based, the other New Testament-based. Since each day is self contained, sessions could be selected from either set. The curriculum does not describe a target age range, but it is most appropriate for pre-school and young elementary school. Although all children will enjoy the program, it especially speaks to visual and kinesthetic learners.

The program is broken into 20 – 30 minute segments, with an opening, Bible story, crafts, music and dancing, games, snacks, mission activity, and closing.

The program’s strength is in its theological underpinning, its detailed instructions, and its flexibility. With creative leadership, this VBS program could be modified to fit a wide variety of situations, numbers, ages, local contexts, and mission projects. For example, organizers could plant a few garden beds that would be ready to harvest at the time of the VBS, and children could harvest and deliver the food to a community food bank.

Leader preparation for storytelling invites leaders to engage deeply with the material. Reflection questions from the training materials could be modified to create a curriculum for an older audience.

Little in the resource is ready-made, but comprehensive instructions invite adult organizers to use their imagination and skills to build a fantastic learning environment around growing food for others. The program requires a high level of commitment from leaders who can also be very flexible.

This curriculum encourages sustainable practices by enlisting the help of people with a variety of skills and using re-purposed materials. The program could be simplified, but it would lose some of its appeal.

The downloadable materials include two complete VBS curricula, links to music files, detailed instructions, checklists, and activities. In the mission segment, the children are introduced to the programs of the Society of St. Andrew to reduce food waste and hunger, but are also encouraged to connect with local food organizations.
Robin Denney is a seminarian at Virginia Theological Seminary from the Diocese of El Camino Real. She is an avid gardener and co-leads a seminary garden program.

The above VBS program is a top pick from the CMT’s 2016 VBS Reviews. Click here to read all the reviews.

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