MANATEE -- This summer hundreds of kids will be going back to school -- and celebrating it.
Dancing, singing and praising are all on the to-do list for many of the Manatee County churches hosting their annual Vacation Bible School.
"It's something that builds a solid foundation," said Marsha Watson, VBS director at Calvary Baptist Church.
"We hope to reach children who would not have otherwise come to church, children who already come to church, and hope to have an opportunity to explain the gospel. To introduce to them the important aspects of who Jesus is and what he's done for them, as well as providing fun and creative outlets."
Vacation Bible School, weeklong summer church programs discussing religion, scriptures and faith, can draw as many as 800 participants of all ages every summer, said a representative at one church.
Each year churches choose a different theme under which they creatively deliver religious messages.
Calvary Baptist Church's 2012 theme has a camping flair, "Sonrise National Park."
In a camping style, participants from 3 to 12 years of age will learn about five different truths: true peace, true riches, true power, true love and true hope, Watson said.
"They are all truths found in Jesus Christ," she said. "He's the ultimate source of all things."
Calvary Baptist Church will host its VBS from July 30 to Aug. 3.
At Trinity Lutheran Church, participants will dive into a
nautical "OperationOverboard" theme June 10-14.
"The main thing is diving deep into God's words," said Vicar Travis Meier.
"We are taking five Bible stories and talking about who God is and about following Jesus."
Meier said he hoped participants would take away the message that "faith is an active part of who we are," and that faith and the way one leads life are not separate things, "they are part of each other."
Trinity Lutheran Church expects about 30 participants this year, he said.
To visit several of the wonders of the world,children from 4 to 10 years old can attend the "Amazing Wonders" VBS at Wood-land The Community Church, said Jennifer Passmore, preschool director at Woodland.
"One of the things that children can understand is how we first really meet and understand God through creation," Passmore said. "The way to know him is through his creation."
In past years, as many as 800 children have attended Woodland's VBS, she said. Woodland will host its VBS July 16-20.
"The kids definitely want to be a part of it because it's a lot of fun," Passmore said.
"We think that the most important thing is foryou to know your creator,if you understand your creator you can navigate through life and make better choices."
Harvest United Methodist Church in Lakewood Ranch wants its approximately 300 participants to learn and have fun under the theme "Sky: Everything is Possible with God," June 11-15.
"Kids have a terrific time," said Alison den Boggende, VBS volunteer at Harvest United Methodist Church.
"It's about the retelling of popular Bible stories to help them recognize that they are in fact God's creation, loved and accepted for who they are."
The church's VBS has a mission component as well, she said, with a goal to raise $3,000 for local and international donations.
The church hopesto use the money to buy and donate diapers to families who receive services through the Bill Galvano One Stop Center in Bradenton and to buy mosquito nets for families in Mali, den Boggende said.
"It's probably the most fulfilling week I spend all summer," she said.
Miriam Valverde, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow on Twitter @MiriamValverde.