The following stories may or may not be gross, funny, true, exaggerated to increase entertainment, or a dramatic interpretation of what was in fact reality. I worked with five and six-year-olds for a week. Need I say more?
VBS stands for Vacation Bible School. Children come to church every day to play games, learn about Christ’s love, make crafts, sing songs, and have a great time.
VBS teachers and helpers are there to reign in the chaos and survive. VBS, to church volunteers, is survival of the fittest. It is eat or be eaten. Dog eat dog. Glitter in your hair or down your shirt. It is the Hunger Games of church activities.
You may have guessed already that I worked in the kindergarten class.
The wisest decision I made was asking my mom to be co-teacher with me. Otherwise, I would’ve been Kindergarten-bait.
– DAY #1.
I met a nice little boy, JAYvon. I know it’s JAYvon, because he paused from licking the sticky saliva off his hands, removed the large cherry taffy from his tongue, and spit, “no, it’s JAY-von,” into my face.
I grimaced and composed myself, subtly wiping spit droplets from my face. “Oh Jayvon, I see…” I said.
He placed the taffy back in his mouth and laid a hand on my shoulder. The strong, glue-like contact of his fingers lifted the fabric on my sleeve when he peeled his hand back to run and join the other children playing.
About an hour later, we had ice cream sandwiches at snack time. I glanced around in a panic, finally spotting Jayvon and his sticky hands coming for me. I grabbed him gently by the wrists and guided him into the bathroom.
– DAY #2.
I fall in love with the sweetest little girl who thinks everything is awesome.
“This is the best snack I’ve ever had.” She sighed longingly over the zip lock baggie mixture of pretzels, fruit loops, m&ms, and rainbow goldfish crackers.
She squealed with delight when she saw our classroom, with the black streamers hanging and a black wall we covered with space ships and planets. She proceeded to run around in circles, screaming. “I LOVE THIS ROOM!”
More Alexiss quotes include: “Mmm, water is so good.” “Larah is… MY BEST FRIEND!” “Teacher? I have a lot of energy.”
I basically want to be Alexiss.
– DAY #3.
A little boy pinches the back of my neck. I glance at him, sizing him up for a don’t-pinch-the-teacher scolding or a you’re-being-silly laugh. He speaks before I do anything, grinning at me. “I put a sticker on you,” he giggles.
“Oh.” I laugh a little and feel for it but find nothing.
I spend the rest of VBS chasing the same little boy, and his twin, around church, because they run away from our group on purpose. I say on purpose because there is another little boy who strays from the group, but not because he means to. He just loses focus and gets swept up by another class, causing me to chase after him and that class, yelling, “wait! You have MY KID!”
I try not to lose my mind.
Later on, I feel something gross on the back of my neck. I can’t disguise my disgust as I swipe, and flick, and rub until it gets out of my hair and off my neck.
Pretty sure it was a booger.
– DAY #4.
David, a little quiet boy who hardly speaks English, finds his voice. He yell-sings our songs and claps his hands and laughs manically at our jokes by throwing his head back and laughing so hard that his nostrils expand. Seeing the sheer delight on his face—a face that is typically quiet and confused—was more than an awesome feeling.
We also have homemade play dough in Crafts today. As I wait for parents to pick up, I tell the kids not to squish the zip lock baggies of dough. One little girl already poked a hole in her bag and set off a giant dough-crumble, pink-glitter explosion on the blue carpet.
Larah shakes her bag at me, bumping the clay up and down inside the plastic confinement. “I’m not squishing, Teacher,” she says. Just like that, the bottom of her bag split and the clay plopped and exploded into a white mess on the floor.
– DAY #5. (Last day)
We finally get the hang of things.
We get a rope the kids can hold on to that keeps us from losing anyone in transit from class to class. I discover that lowering my voice a decimal demands attention from the children. No one runs away. There are no tears over missing mommy. The shy kids participate. The rowdy kids listen to the Bible story. I become a human couch for two children who decided to cuddle up against me during story time.
And then Aaron picked a pepperoni off the floor and studied it. I rushed to him, quickly spouting the words, “Aaron, don’t put that in your—” He saw my approach and immediately shoved the pepperoni in his mouth, flashing a malicious grin.
It was as if this were a test. It had been five days of this little boy misbehaving. Would he listen to me now?
I got down on my knees and looked in his eyes. I told him he can’t eat things off the floor. “That will make you really sick. Do you want to be really sick? I don’t want you to be really sick…”
He stopped chewing.
“You need to go spit that out right now.”
There was hardly anything left to spit out, but he searched his mouth, collected what was left of the contaminated pepperoni and thew it away in the trashcan.
For the first time, I got through to him.
The pizza party concluded our week of VBS. My mom and I leaned against each other and sobbed. We made it. We survived. We would need counseling. But we were in one piece.
Everyone told me that I looked as tired as they felt.
VBS is exhausting and gross at times, but it is worth it. It’s worth it when a boy who would listen to NO one listens to your little words of wisdom. It’s worth it to be blessed by a little girl who teaches you to love life and the little things in it. It’s worth it to hear the unrestrained laugher of a little boy.
All that to say, however, please wait a year before asking me if I would like to volunteer again, because I’m still recuperating.