Surprise! Stories of Discovering Jesus
Surprise! Is a straight-forward, well-designed VBS program with age-appropriate, Bible-based activities. The activities and program elements are clearly explained, adaptable, and well organized, but will require considerable preparation in selecting specific activities and assembling supplies.
The main program is for children kindergarten through 5th grade. Website resources add adaptations for older children, but some 4th and 5th graders may prefer those adaptations and changes. The Starter Kit contains a separate set of adaptations for preschoolers that allows them to attend on the same days as the elementary children, but in their own group.
This program shines as a coherent program to teach comprehensively five different Bible stories: Jesus in the Temple as a child; Jesus blessing the children; feeding the 5,000; Jesus and Nicodemus; and Jesus on the road to Emmaus. The emphasis is on ‘discovering’ Jesus both in the Bible and in the world. Issues of sin, atonement, and Jesus’ death are not raised.
The program encourages the collection of money for outreach but does not specify to whom it should be given. One Bible verse (Mark 1:14b-16: “Let the little children come to me…”) is memorized over the course of the program.
The starter kit includes a music CD and songbook, registration and volunteer forms, alternate schedule(s), a director’s guide, and two sets of activity guides. Additional costs, however, may be incurred for supplies for crafts and other activities.
The format encourages learning and reflecting on the five featured Bible stories, and the music is lively, developmentally appropriate, and encourages singing.
Some activities, particularly some of the crafts, require collecting many supplies, and may be a bit ambitious for some groups. Using Surprise! requires considerable advance planning to take advantage of curricular components that need adaptations.
Surprise! is a slower paced program for leaders wanting to add reflection time to active games and drama. It will give children a good foundation in basic biblical stories about Jesus.
Catherine Gibson is a student at Virginia Theological Seminary from the Diocese of Virginia.