The Church Outside the Church: Kids Kaleidoscope and Bookworm Bus Established for Children
By Lindsay Peyton
When Bishop Scott Jones spoke about the “We Love All God’s Children” initiative the Annual Conference this year, he recognized programs already in motion, building literacy, health and discipleship in the youngest and most in need. Pollard UMC Church, for example, has offered its preschool Kids’ Kaleidoscope for the past 40 years. In addition, new projects are in the works, like Pattison UMC’s BookWorm Bus, which will hit the road this summer.
Kids’ Kaleidoscope was established by the Rev. Sandy Smith, associate pastor of Pollard in 1978. What began as a one-day-a-week program has grown over the past four decades into a full-time preschool and kindergarten with 26 staff members serving 205 children in the Tyler area.
Kimberly Brasher is in her second year as director of Kids’ Kaleidoscope and spent seven years teaching at the preschool before assuming the post.
In fact, she has served as a preschool teacher for 25 years and said her current position has been the most fulfilling yet.
That’s because of the interactive, experiential curriculum, Brasher explained. “It’s hands-on learning,” she said.
When children are reading about animals, they end the unit by bringing in their family pets. When law enforcement is the topic, a helicopter literally lands in the back parking lot.
“We want the students to see and experience what we’re teaching,” Brasher said. “Children learn through play.”
She agrees with Bishop Jones that early education is pivotal. “Still, parents can often be hesitant to leave their children at preschool,” she said. “That’s why we want to create an environment where their child is safe, where their child is going to be loved and where we’re going to give them all of these great experiences.”
All of the themes at the school tie back to the Bible. The children learn verses and songs and attend Chapel monthly.
“You just bring God into every part of it, and it becomes so much a part of who the kids are,” Brasher said. “We can instill in children that Jesus loves them just the way we are. We want them to feel confident so they can be successful.”
God has also been at work in every stage of Pattison UMC’s recent project, associate pastor the Rev. Heather Velez explained.
“It’s really exciting to see where God is taking us in Pattison, Texas,” she said. “It’s been the Holy Spirit all of the way.”
Velez has a background in education. “I was brought into this small church that needed to find other ways to do ministry; that’s why I was hired,” she said. “I wanted to build ministry and build connections.”
One program she created is the “Reading Camp,” which unites volunteers who read with children at the local elementary. A crew of eight started the camp in the 2016-2017 school year, heading into the classrooms each Friday.
Then the principal posed another problem to Velez – the summer slide, that deficit in education that happens during the break from school.
“When kids go home for the summer, they’re not reading,” Velez said.
She and her right-hand Jeanna Guzman began brainstorming. Guzman suggested something more mobile – and the idea for the BookWorm Bus was born. Guzman became the founder and executive director.
The school bus is currently being retrofitted to carry a library of about 1,500 titles, a number of which are bilingual. In addition, there are two homework desks for tutoring. Children can play with a stuffed animal, read a magazine, check out a book and work on a puzzle when the bus stops by their neighborhood.
“This is one way to be the church outside of the church, delivering books to the community,” Guzman said. “We’re building a stronger tomorrow.”
In addition, plans are in the works for story times and other events. Guzman and Velez also plan to take the library on wheels to shelters.
“We’re meeting needs, getting books out there, showing grace,” Guzman said. “In the end, we want to give families hope that each child can have a book.”
A celebration will be held once the bus is completed, Velez added. “It started with a summer mission, but it’s become so much more than that,” she said.
The bus will continue its routes throughout the school year, and the Reading Camp will also start up again in the fall. Velez will also share both projects at the meeting of the Texas Annual Conference’s Christian educators in August.
“People are willing to give time, money and energy for this,” Velez said. “They see the need for it, and the possibility of all we can do.”
She believes that spirit is contagious – and is looking forward to seeing other ways the “We Love All God’s Children” initiative takes off.