So I realize I haven't written anything in a shamefully long time, and I can only offer two words in my defense: Annotated Bibliography. Annotated bibliographies are not fun, especially if your professor expects really long annotations. Especially especially if you're dumb enough to wait until the last weekend because you had counted on finding journal articles about your topic, and instead get stuck reading 10 full-length academic books on your topic. If the bibliography had been on anything other than C. S. Lewis, I would have hated my topic by the time I was done.
But enough about that. It's February, and in the Christian retail world, February marks the start of Vacation Bible School. Really, mid to late January is the start of VBS season, since that's when we were given the list of resources to study but, as you may have gathered from the first paragraph, I'm somewhat of a procrastinator. Anyway, this means that last week I went through the websites of our main suppliers and tried to determine the pros and cons of each new VBS program offered. It's actually a pretty cool job. VBS has been a hallmark of my summer ever since I moved to English-speaking Canada. I was 11 at the time, and it was my first exposure to themed VBS. I lived in in Quebec before then, an French Christians are lucky if they get a VBS at all, forget cool themes. Since then I've gone from student to helper to full-fledged leader, and loved every minute of it. Some of the themes were great, like the "Around the World" VBS (I was also doing the drama with my sister for that one, and our roles involved eating large amounts of chocolate) that focused on a different country everyday. Others, such as Jesus to the Rescue (affectionately called the Fireman VBS) were less so. So how do this year's crop of Vacation Bible School Programs stand up to their predecessors? I decided a competition (culminating in a mini-awards ceremony) was in order. So, without further ado, I give you the 2009 VBS Awards.
Here are your contestants:
From David C. Cook Publishings, Wildwood Forest: Discover the Untamed Nature of God
From Group Publishing, Rome: Paul and the Underground Church
From Group Publishing, Crocodile Dock: Where Fearless Kids Shine God's Light
From Gospel Light, Kingdom of the Son: A Prayer Safari
From Standard Publishing, Studio Go! Game Show
From Regular Baptist Press, Polar Extremes: All of Me, All-Out for God
The websites do quite a respectable job summarizing the programs, so I won't bore you with that. Instead, I'll skip right to the awards, as chosen and presented by me :).
This one goes to Crocodile Dock. It's ridiculously fun to say. Sometime, if you're really bored and desperate for ways to amuse yourself, try it three times fast. For extra rhyming fun, try shortening Crocodile to Croc. Croc Dock. Maybe my physics was right after all, and small things do amuse small minds.
Unquestionably Rome. The early church is an uber cool theme, and I don't think it's been done before. I used to play early church when I was little (okay, so I was an evangelical poster child) and I'm stoked that this VBS will introduce this fascinating period of church history to a new generation of kids.
Best Snacks goes to...Wildwood Forest. Seriously, the snacks are easy to make but tie in really nicely to the themes. As a plus, the allotted snack is ice cream at least once. My personal favourite snack is on Gideon Day, and it’s called Battle on a Bagel. The bagel is spread with a sweetened cream cheese or some fluff, then half of it is completely covered in chocolate chips to illustrate the enemy army. Gideon’s army is shown by a couple of butterscotch chips and one colored one (representing Gideon) and presto: Battle on a Bagel. I may actually steal some of the snack ideas for when I have kids of my own.
Best Potential for Decorations:
With some creativity decorating for any one of these themes is sure to be a blast. However, I think the prize for Decorator’s Dream goes to Kingdom of the Son. I mean, who doesn’t want to decorate for an African Safari. Plus, leaders can choose to wear binoculars. How cool would that be?
Best Bible Lessons:
These are actually all well done. My only reservations are that RBP and Gospel Light use the KJV in Bible Lessons. I think Gospel Light could have won this one without the KJV focus, because I love the way they go through the Lord’s Prayer and what we can learn from it (God Listens, God Provides, God Forgives, God Protects, God Rules). RBP also had an excellent survey of the lives of 5 people from the OT and NT who embodied various "extreme" characteristics such as faith and obedience. In the end, I think I have to go with David C. Cook’s Wildwood Forest, because it does a great job of combining Old and New Testament stories, and covers what 2 or 3 of the other VBS’s are trying to teach combined. A close second would be the Rome VBS (theme: God’s Love).
I'm going to have to give this one to Studio Go! Game Show. Is the music my personal favorite? Not really, but it's catchy, easy to sing along to, and lends itself well to actions. I think the kids will love it. Kingdom of the Son would have been great, had it used a more contemporary and understandable translation than the KJV for the Scripture memory songs, because I love the African rhythms. But honestly, there are few better ways to spoil otherwise good VBS material than to use the King James Version of the Bible. I love the KJV. It's beautiful, it's poetic, it sounds grand and educated, but if you're teaching 5 year olds it's completely useless. It's absolutely vital that you use a translation that they can understand.
At risk of sounding repetitive, this one goes to Wildwood forest again, mostly because this website has the most detail as far as crafts go. The other VBSes have crafts planned, but I can't see what they are without purchasing the material. But there are some pretty cool ones in the Wildwood Forest program, and they also offer crafts with different levels for each day, which is a nice bonus.
Leader’s Choice Award (Meaning the one Christina would like to do if she was in charge of choosing for her church):
Rome. No question. The theme is fantastic, leaders get to dress up as New Testament characters and the families (or individual classes) tiptoe off to their secret caves (or classrooms) for their meetings. As well, one very lucky guy (ten to one if my church does this they'll ask my dad. Sometimes I hate being a girl.) gets to play Paul, who is under house arrest. The classes visit his "house" one by one and he talks to them. There's also a marketplace setting where kids get to practice sharing their faith with leaders who pretend to be at different stages in their faith walk.
Cool Extra Feature:
Studio Go! is put out by Standard Publishing, and their VBS programs tend to be service-based. This means that every day kids can choose to do one thing to serve their family, friends, or community. Not only does this help the kids learn the importance of serving, it provides leaders with cute stories about what their kids consider "service." Our church did a standard VBS last year, and each day they had to serve a different group. Monday was family, Tuesday was friends, Wednesday was neighbours, Thursday was community. One little 4 year old guy somehow managed to fit taking out the trash (his daily chore) into all 5 of those categories and wouldn't hear of anything else.
So that's it for this year's crop of VBS programs. Anyone have any memories from either teaching or being a student during VBS?
Edit: I've just been told that Regular Baptist Press offers their curriculum both in KJV and NKJV. Good to know, because it makes the curriculum a lot more accessible to the younger students.