This was originally written in August of 2018 about working with children at Vacation Bible School at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Conway.
I have a degree in early childhood education…and I work at a law firm. That should tell you all you need to know about my passion for working with small children. When I was deciding what major and career path to choose when I attended college twenty some odd years ago, I was in a very different place. I chose education because I had always heard that if you wanted to “be home with your kids during the summer and work when they were in school” that was the field to go into. Of course, I didn’t have children at the time, but I knew when I did, I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible, so it seemed like the thing to do. And the early childhood focus? Well that was a lapse in judgement on my part. I think I thought they were less scary than older children or teenagers!
As time went on, and I worked in the schools as both a long and short term substitute teacher, I discovered that teaching was not necessarily the career path for me. Number one, that business about summers off and working around school hours was nonsense! Teachers work harder and work longer hours than many other professions. And although I enjoyed researching and preparing lesson plans and teaching subject matter, there is much more involved in education in the public school system and I felt like it wasn’t the right fit for me. As my girls got older and became more independent, a totally different job opportunity arose and the last year has found me working in a job I greatly enjoy in a legal office. Nary a child in sight!
My relationship with church is even more complex than my relationship with education. The details are too many to list here but suffice it to say, I have been away from organized religion for many years until I started attending St. Peter’s Episcopal Church about a year and a half ago. Even now, I am still a “regular guest” whose main relationships with those in the church have developed from a small group I attend. I slip in and out of the Sunday morning services and enjoy my time there, but have not become very involved. However, earlier this summer, I was intrigued by a volunteer opportunity. Vacation Bible School was to be held at the end of July. Should I offer to help? I talked myself out of it for weeks. I was too busy, I wasn’t a member of the church…all excuses I repeated to myself when I saw the reminders. After a small group meeting a couple of weeks before VBS, I finally volunteered to “help where I could”.
It is worth noting that my aversion to small children is matched only by my introverted personality aversion to obligation. The thought of dedicating myself to be somewhere 6 nights in a row was stressful to me but I committed not only myself, but my oldest daughter as well. And imagine my delight on the VBS “prep day” to learn she and I would be responsible for…the preschool class. I was apprehensive and nervous to be working with young children, most of whom I did not know, but we forged ahead. The theme of the VBS was the Abundant Life Garden Project. It was developed as a means to share the work of the Episcopal Relief and Development program for all ages. The first night was predictably exhausting. It had been a long time since I worked with preschoolers, and Sarah had next to no experience with that age group. There were four four and five year olds between the two of us, but we managed to survive the first night. (Sarah later compared our experience to “herding cats”) As the week went on our numbers grew, and at our peak, we had seven children in our group (and extra helping hands thankfully! – thanks Jackson!) Seven curious, energetic, tired (it was an evening VBS), funny, delightful, exasperating preschoolers.
Each night we went back and had some combination of children – some came every night, and some only once or twice. Each night we corrected, directed, and led our class from activity to activity – some hits (chickens! paint! dirt!) and some misses. Each night we fielded the same request of “wny can’t we go play with the toys?” and put forth our best efforts to keep their interest as Learning Pod Leaders taught about the abundant garden of our lives through modules about water, soil, seeds, animals, and harvest. Each night we repeated “sit down, let’s listen, don’t chew on that, put that down.” at least two dozen times. Each night we were amused by funny things that the kids said or did. And each night we were privileged to have the opportunity to see young children learn and participate in activities which may – pun intended – plant a seed of love in them to continue to learn how to help others in the world around them.
Did my preschool VBS “master gardener” experience stir any longings to return to the classroom? I can say it most assuredly did not! But it did renew my faith in my ability to handle situations as they come and work with others. It allowed me to see my daughter through new eyes, as a responsible adult who took charge and handled situations on her own (often better than I did!) It reminded me of how much fun it can be to work with children and see the world through their eyes.. And most importantly it enabled me to see the love of God manifested in the lives of others both here and far away through volunteers of a church which I am proud to be a part of.
Karri Temple Brackett