Thursday, August 27, 2009

Grapevine Bible Studies

From the moment I opened the box containing Esther: A Chronological Study of the Book of Esther by Grapevine Studies I knew I was holding a special treat. Wrapped in white paper with an adorable stick figure and the words "Welcome to Grapevine Studies" hand printed on top, my 49 page teacher's manual and three 29 page student manuals appeared to me as a special gift waiting to be opened. Grapevine's company purpose is "to provide believers with the tools they need to
know God's word and disciple others" and I couldn't wait to see if they would live up to their commission.

Grapevine offers 5 different topical Bible study programs broken down into 7 different age groups. Studies are available in e-book or traditional paper book formats with prices ranging from $7.95- $25.95 for student books and $7.95- $48.95 for teacher overview books. Pricing is dependent on length of study and format choices.

The first lesson of every Grapevine study guides students in creating a visual timeline of events using stick figure drawings drawn by the teacher on a white board and then copied by the students in their individual workbooks. Grapevine describes this methodical order of study as "teaching the Bible as if it were a puzzle". The timeline is the frame and the individual pieces once placed throughout the study will enable the student to understand the "context of the whole puzzle or Word of God".

Our family chose to complete Esther, an 8 lesson mini study, but most Grapevine Studies Bible curriculum is designed to last an entire school year. Each study is designed around Grapevine's unique "reading, drawing, review" method because publishers John and Diana Wiebe believe that "students who are taught using reading, hearing and drawing will have a higher retention rate...." I am in complete agreement with the publisher and smiled when I read this in the teacher's manual knowing I was in like-minded company.

Every lesson of Esther began with specific scripture of the book of Esther being read aloud. Next a breakdown of events of the scripture was reviewed requiring students to take time to draw a stick figure representation of each event. Although Grapevine recommends the use of a white board, our family adjusted the process by my holding up the book as a visual while my three students copied the stick figure drawing in their books. Five or six discussion questions followed up the drawing session as yet another review. My favorite question at the end of each lesson was "What can we learn about God from this lesson?"

My students ranged in age from 15-7, so the challenge to communicate an effective study to this age group was great. Although the stick figures seemed juvenile to my 15 year old son I believe they were an important factor in helping my 7 year old retain information. After the first lesson I asked a discussion question and even the 7 year old was able to tell me that the Persian Empire stretched from Ethiopia to India at the time Esther was queen. I was impressed that the process of drawing the story had obviously cemented detailed comprehension for my youngest student.

Each lesson took us about 30 minutes to complete with the longest being the first timeline lesson taking about 35 minutes. Unfortunately, we did not have access to a quality Bible dictionary or encyclopedia; a must for looking up vocabulary words drawn out of the scripture. Making use of vocabulary study would ensure enough depth for older kids and adults involved. Esther being one of Grapevine's multi-age studies is designed for an age range of 7 and up.

Each day of our study brought giggly comments from someone regarding how "thin" Esther and company were; a definite dynamic of being a stick figure. We worked on memorizing scripture from the book of Esther as a family, discussed the events and implications of them, but most importantly applied the scripture to our understanding of the power and character of God. This multi-age study lived up to its claim of "providing us with the tools to disciple" one another.

I have always held firm to the belief that the more senses engaged in an activity the greater the chance of creating long term memory of it. How valuable this approach is when utilizing Bible study where the goal is to "hide God's Word in our heart" not simply read and move on.
Grapevine Bible Studies has developed a method to engage young minds, hands and hearts in Bible study through the use of stick figure drawings, maps to label, vocabulary research, reading and discussion of scripture.

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