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What do I teach them?

August 20, 2012

Our church’s Vacation Bible School came and went last week.  For the past seven (eight?  nine?) years I’ve volunteered in a variety of places….group leader for the 3 – 5th graders, assistant in the story telling room, assistant in the rec/games area.  This year, I took a chance and volunteered to lead the story telling room, telling Bible stories and talking about them to 3 year olds through 5th graders.

Sometime in the middle of June, the director handed me the storyteller’s guide.  What was I going to do with this? I thought.  VBS was two months away.  I set it down and went on vacation.  As July started thinking about becoming August, I picked up the guide again.  I looked at my volunteer list.  One person per day had signed up to act every day.  For two other days we had a second actor.  A third person was then transferred from another activity to help two days as well.  I glanced at the guide, realizing what was planned would never work.  I sat down at the computer and set about slightly rewriting the scripts.

Noah, Naaman and the Servant Girl, John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul.  We took large jumps through the Bible, finding stories that tied into the theme of water for the week.  I shuddered at some of the stretches the curriculum attempted to make to tie in the stories to the day’s theme.  I was relieved to not have enough actors to follow the script for the drama of when Paul was shipwrecked.  We stayed on topic, with a few modifications.

Around Wednesday or so, I went home wondering. Why are we doing this?  What are we doing everyday talking to the kids about how we love and help others to show love to God?  The answers seemed to be the same every day.  Be kind to those who others are unkind to, share what you have, go to Sunday School/Church.  Thursday was supposed to be the big “Come to Jesus” day.  Jesus died on the cross and rose on the third day for our sins.  (It was quite a jump to get from Jesus calling Peter to be a disciple to the cross all on the same day.)  Why were we doing this?  I asked my new friend who was helping everyday.

She had wondered the same thing.  It felt a little crazy, all that responsibility, that what I said was what 145 children would learn about God that week.  What do I want my kids to learn?  What is essential to their faith development?

Crazy how signing up to help out with VBS could bring about such big questions.  In my head, I remembered what I learned about both childhood development and spiritual development.  In order to eventually ask questions in a meaningful way, there needs to be a background of structure and certainty.  Without a strong base, the questions can become detrimental to faith development. Those early to middle elementary age kids are big into rules.  It’s developmental.  It’s not a necessarily a parenting philosophy as much as how kids are wired.  Rules provide the structure that eventually allows them the security to ask questions and grow.  If my kids know without a shadow of a doubt that there is a God and they are God’s beloved, then questions can help their faith grow deeper.

Again, how does that influence what we talk about with the kids?  Really, what the kids wanted to talk about was whether or not the angel was in an appropriate costume or if God wasn’t a person, what was God?  (that was from a four year old)  Talking about sharing and listening and helping and being kind were part of their rules, they knew it already.  Even the three year olds knew they were supposed to share, but, as one told me, he doesn’t like to.

Next year, I’ll probably sign up for the story telling spot again.  I think next year, I may go way off script with the questions.  If the most important things kids can learn is that God loves them with a most amazing love, then maybe that’s what we should talk about, over and over, instead of saying everyday that they should share and help others.  They hear that from everyone, church or not.  What we can give them is God’s love.  We can give them the stories and the curiosity and the mystery of God.  I can make them feel so loved when they come into the storytelling room that the kids wave at me whenever they see me at church, because I helped them know they are loved.

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