I have spent this week as the preschool leader at our community-wide Vacation Bible School program. Our curriculum was entitled Workshop of Wonders, produced by Cokesbury. This is now my third year leading the preschoolers and I learn so much from the experience every year. So, this year I thought I would share some of those learnings with others. Here are 10 things I learned teaching preschoolers at VBS this year:
1. Kids love science…especially if things explode!
One of the neat aspects of this particular VBS curriculum was that each lesson included a science experiment to do with the kids. The first night we took a 20oz. bottle of Diet Coke and two Mentos candies. The kids watched with interest as I dropped the two mints into the soda (or pop, as I prefer to call it). Their excitement bubbled over as the reaction of the two items caused Coke to blast out the top of the bottle and into the large plastic tub I had selected to conduct this experiment in. Every kid there was engaged in the moment (which is saying a lot for a room of 3 and 4 year-olds). The second night, we built a pulley using twine, a spool, and a bucket. Every child wanted a turn to pull the string and lift the bucket. On the third night, we made a makeshift lava lamp with oil, water, food coloring, and Alka Seltzer. And on the fourth night, we put water and vinegar in a Ziploc bag, then dropped baking soda that was wrapped in a coffee filter into the bag and sealed it. The result was another minor explosion as the carbon dioxide filled the bag till it popped. The preschoolers loved every one of them. That was one of the only activities that truly kept their attention.
2. Puppets are always a good idea…even if the puppeteer is terrible.
For the third year in a row, I decided it would be a great idea to have a puppet to help me with my lessons to the preschoolers. For the first year, I had a high school helper who voiced and controlled the puppet (Ocho the Octopus). Last year, I decided to try my hand at a bit of a ventriloquist act. There was no puppet in the material that year, so I created one (Dionysius the Dodo Bird). That seemed to go okay, so I decided to do my own puppeteering again this year. The material had a puppet and a puppet script, so I began each lesson talking with Rivet the Ant. Now, I am a terrible ventriloquist. Yet somehow the kids just loved it! They were always excited to see Rivet!
3. There are a lot of fun things you can do with preschoolers using simple things you have around the house.
Not only were we able to do some pretty cool science experiments through the week using simple household ingredients, but every game we played was using simple things from home. I created an Esther obstacle course using some things I found at my house. Step 1 was choosing the queen by shooting small basketballs through a kids’ basketball hoop. Step 2 was to ascend to the throne room, which involved walking up a set of steps I borrowed from our church. Then Step 3 was avoiding Haman (orange traffic cones). Step 4 was setting up the banquet using a place setting from my daughter’s tea set and a piece of cardboard that I drew an outline of each item to show where to place it. And the final step was saving the Jewish people, which involved digging around in a cooler filled with shredded paper to find five Little People toys. It was a lot of fun and pretty simple to put together.
4. Large amounts of sugar turn preschoolers into little balls of energy.
Each night we had a snack for the preschoolers. It consisted of cookies and juice. Prior to snack time, the kids were usually pretty well behaved and attentive (for the most part). After the snack, I had to work very hard to keep even a handful of them at attention. By the time we went into the sanctuary for the closing, they were so wound up that they moved around like the Tasmanian Devil, with a whirlwind of energy flowing around them. This was particularly noticeable on Blue Kool-aid night. 🙂
5. Working with preschoolers is exhausting.
What can I say about this except that there was not a night this week that I did not come home completely spent. The energy it required to try to both engage the kids with the lesson material AND corral them when they would undoubtedly start messing around was just astronomical. I came home starving and tuckered out.
6. Preschool kids do not absorb information like older kids do.
My kids are 7 and 5 years old. They both retain a lot of what they learn. My son in particular has an incredible memory…even when it seems like he is not listening. I’ve gotten so used to his memory skills that I sometimes forget that preschoolers don’t usually retain things like he does. Even my daughter does not always remember as much as my son does. Yet every night when I would ask the preschoolers questions about what we had learned in the opening session or what we had learned the previous day, they never seemed to remember.
7. When you invest, you discover the realities…good and bad.
Prior to entering full-time ministry, and even for the first few years being a pastor, I often watched certain ministries like Vacation Bible School happen and was amazed by how easy it all looked. Even the years where I served as a helper when I was in high school or college, I just went and had fun with the kids. But I didn’t really invest in their lives or help to make sure they were learning about God. Now, as a pastor and as the preschool teacher for VBS, I see that when I invest, I’ve discovered how difficult of task and how great a responsibility it is. I also see how important and life-changing it is.
8. Preschool kids should never be turned loose on a stage with no adults within reach.
On the final night of VBS, we had a program so the kids could show their parents what they learned during the week…particularly the songs they learned. The way we set things up, during the singing, the kids were all up on stage (preschoolers in the front) and all the adult volunteers were sitting in the audience. It seemed to go fine during practice, but when we did it during the program, it proved quite challenging. Since the adult leaders were in the audience and the kids were up on the stage, there was no one to direct them and help them know what to do and where to stand and all of that.
9. Signs mean very little when you can’t read.
For each night of VBS, I created signs with our Bible verse for the day and our Wonder Words (the saying for the kids to remember that summed up the lesson of the night). Making those signs was pretty well pointless because none of the preschoolers could read. It was basically there for my own benefit and was probably unnecessary.
10. Videos are more enthralling to preschoolers than I am.
During the times when I was not making things explode, the preschoolers’ attention was generally difficult to keep. But the one activity besides science that they really seemed to pay attention to was the video clips on DVD that came with the Workshop of Wonders material. They enjoyed Dr. Wow and his assistant Sam and their silliness.
Overall, I learned a great deal about preschoolers and how to communicate effectively with them. I look forward to using some of these learnings next year. Have you worked with preschoolers before? Would you agree or disagree with these things? What might you add? I’d love to hear about your experiences!