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Friday, July 15, 2011

Vacation Bible School: Notes from the Trenches

Well, after 5 days, 23 hours, 15 camp songs, and countless potty breaks, my 2011 Vacation Bible School odyssey is over. It's a bitter-sweet parting. While I won't miss the early mornings and the kid-funk, that gamey brew that's one part sneakers, 2 parts glue, and 3 parts perspiration, that lingers in the air of closed classrooms at the end of the day, I will most certainly miss the wonderful children who sang their little hearts out with me everyday.

I'm not the conventional VBS teacher. I don't have children, I'm quite blunt, and I've got a bit of a smart mouth, as the old folks say. Oh, and I suck at crafts. I'm also a bit of a drama queen, though not in a bad way, which might explain why I was asked to be a drama teacher. Now, I'm not like Cameron Diaz in "Bad Teacher" - no, I'd say I'm more like "Pacifier" Vin Diesel, but in a skirt.
I volunteered for VBS (that's what those of us "in the know" call it) because I am a very guilty person and, like that song from "Oklahoma!", I'm just a gal who can't say no. But I came back everyday because it was just plain fun.

No, seriously, it WAS fun!

To start off with, there weren't any video games so there you are in a room full of rising second graders who are forced to have fun and to learn the old fashioned way - with human interaction. The kids played outside on the playground and not with a Wii controller. We played charades, drew pictures, and pretended to set up a government for the newly elected President Brett, who, at 7 years old, has promised to raise the debt ceiling without raising taxes! We talked about everything from Harry Potter to how much the Civil Rights Movement and the Beatitudes have in common. We made up skits involving costumes, props, blocking and plot lines that placed the Eiffel Tower on Mars and questioned whether those who show mercy are indeed blessed.  This was like Childhood Unplugged!

For us teachers, it was like doing improv on a tightrope. Sure, you'd walk through the door in the morning with the perfect lesson plan, but it didn't take long for the little cherubs to do a simple whip count and know that they outnumbered us, and so I riffed. When I found out, on that first day, that my homeroom class of seven-year-olds considered themselves too sophisticated to color, I punted, and those coloring pages that I'd printed? Well, the kindergarten class LOVED them!! Instead of wanting to sit and listen to stories, these children wanted the freedom to make up the stories themselves, and so we let them, albeit with some parameters. We got to hear their logic and the ways in which they think about things. I started feeling a little like a late night talk show host, trying to get my guests chatting but making sure they wrap it up and hit their main points. It makes me wonder just how year-round teachers do it!

So, I want to thank all of the children from VBS 2011. And if you're about to take your first turn as a volunteer teacher for your summer church camp, I thought I'd share some of the best kept secrets about VBS to help you:
  • The song "Kumbaya" is no longer a requirement.
  • When you (or one of the kids in your class) accidentally uses a permanent marker on the classroom's dry-erase board, you can erase the mistake by drawing over the permanent marker with a dry-erase marker (not that I'm confessing anything!)
  • Gummi Bears and Gummi Worms are to VBS as cartons of cigarettes are to the penitentiary.
  • Don't wear flip-flops as toddlers LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to stomp exposed toes.
  • Everything gets sticky.
  • Never leave your bottle of water in a room with toddlers because all of them will drink from it!
  • White pants are never a good idea!
  • Want a quick self-esteem builder? Two words - "good job" - work great for toddlers through first grade. However, be warned, "good job" is white noise to older kids.
  • Gluten free - IN/ peanut butter-OUT!!
  • If you're not as flexible as you used to be, when you sit cross-legged on the classroom floor, your foot will fall asleep, so have an action plan in place.
  • Most church camps are now guitar-free!!
And now, I'm off to scrape the glue out of the inside of my lunch bag - don't ask! I'm just saying:)

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