The biggest commitment, by far, that we've made this summer was to coordinate the Preschool division of our church's VBS. Our church chose the Go Big! VBS, a TRU Resource published by David C. Cook. It's awesome curriculum, but unfortunately not written for preschoolers, rather elementary kids. It worked as is, for upstairs (our Elementary VBS), but downstairs there was some rewriting required.
Part of the VBS plan was to have a large group time where all the preschoolers would worship and hear The Big God Story together. A lot of prep was spent on getting a classic Sunday School classroom transformed into a "playhouse" that would facilitate 40-60 kids. The good thing was that our kids were able to be with us and "help" with the process. We chose our largest classroom and got to work. Like most classrooms across The States the walls were covered with lots of visual stimulus. There were also lots of toys that would be nothing more than a distraction.
The first step was to empty the room. All the cupboards were removed. The chalkboard, whiteboard, TV, VCR, and even the paper roll hanger came down. The toy cupboards were removed. (We took them to another room that was part of their "PLAY" rotation.
Once the stuff came down off the large wall we repainted with the help of Eric's cousin Brian. We chose where we wanted to hang the screen (actually a 30" x 40" canvas that cost $20). Eric hung it, then the projector. The VBS program is media heavy with lots of fun videos for the worship and we played an actually video the last day that was a nine minute presentation of the entire Big God Story beginning to end.
Once those elements were done I was left to get decorating, my favorite part. We were on a thin, thin, thin budget, so we needed to think inexpensive. I had found a rug I liked at Lowe's for $40 (splurge) that went perfectly with the colors in the room. I needed to do something really cheap to create some interest on the wall, so I got some colored plates at Walmart (yep, less than $2 to cover the wall like I did!) and echoed the pattern in the rug on the wall.
I borrowed the chair from a friend. I had the round table, which I used a can of spray paint on. The awesome suitcase was a clearance find at Hobby Lobby that I bought with my own money (same with the pillow), figuring my girls would love it to put their Barbies in after VBS. The mailbox, which was the HIT of the room was literally the cost of the spray paint. My friend Clarene had an old mailbox in her garage she let me have. We painted it. Eric attached it to a couple of 2x4's. I spray painted an old planter I had in the garage, we stuck it in and held it with a ton of rock (that we had in our yard from some graveling my hubby had done in our driveway). We used the mailbox for introducing our scripture, Mail from God. We also "sent" money to Africa in the mailbox. (Our mission project was sending money to Sister Connection, an organization that helps widows and orphans in Burundi.)
Covering the two bulletin boards was pretty simple too, and cheap. Using the same solid color on both bulletin boards helped to calm down the room. And I used dollar plastic table cloths (again from Walmart). Then using construction paper I made a timeline. Then we added the photo elements (provided in The Big God Story TruWonder curriculum) to the timeline. At the end of the week the kids got to add their own photo to the timeline (putting themselves into The Big God Story).
We tried two different methods for keeping the kids in their own "spots" in the Playhouse. First I had colored spots that coordinated with their group colors. In theory it sounds like an awesome idea. I loved it, until the first day when one kids started pulling them up and hurling them at the other kids across the room. Bad idea. Plan B was black gaffers tape, designating lines for the kids to sit on, with ONE colored spot at the end of each line (by the wall). We still had a couple of active kids who wanted to pull the whole line up, but for the most part it worked, especially if a small group leader sat next to those kids as a deterrent.
One other fun detail my hubby helped me do (I couldn't have done any of this without the hubby, who took all week off to be my tech man and mental and emotional support, thank you LOVE) was string white lights across the ceiling. Just a fun thing. Thanks to my friend, Wendy, who let me use some of her stash (her hubby does amazing light displays at their house every Christmas).
Also in the hallway we had some directional signs to help the parents find where their kids needed to go, especially on the first day.
As the parents picked up their kids this bulletin board also got a lot of attention. It was our week timeline of photos. I updated it each day with candid photos taken throughout the day. The parents and kids loved seeing the photos. Truly the best photos were of the kids! (I'm not posting those, obviously.) The background for this timeline is actually a canvas drop cloth from Lowe's. I happened to already have it on hand, but it was less than $10 when I bought it!
As kids arrived the first morning we had them come into the playhouse and get their photo taken. Here is my Gracie getting her portrait. She had no problem smiling because Uncle Andy was taking the photos (thanks, Andy!). In hindsight I would have done pictures later in the week, simply because a lot of kids were nervous about it on the first day, especially kids new to our church. We used the photos for the timeline and for a Create project on Friday.
I love this picture! The main concept of the curriculum we used is communicating that The Bible is ONE story, God's Story and that the smaller stories within that story are part of that much larger story that God wants to invite us to be apart of. So we had timelines in each classroom. Each morning when the kids arrived they had a treasure hunt for envelopes that had photos that gave clues to different parts of the narrative. They got to place them where they go on the timeline, helping to give them the order in which things happened in the story.
I wish I could share all the photos of the kids, but I don't want to show faces, unless they are my own kids, so I'll have to stick with the more artful shots showing some of what they were doing during VBS...
We had three small groups. One three year old class and two classrooms that were a mix of four and five year olds. I had the most amazing, amazing, amazing small group leaders. It wouldn't matter how much prep was done, if you don't have great teachers the kids don't have a positive memorable experience. And we had awesome teachers!
VBS was a ton of work. I think next year it would be easier, having done it one year. But I am so glad that our family intentionally spent time on it this year. I'd do it all over again. The last morning when I was opening the mailbox to put in the letter from God I discovered a card for Eric and me. It was an anonymous gift (significant amount of cash) for us to go out to dinner or get away for a night. I was so deeply touched! We decided that since the kids were significantly involved in VBS we would use the money as a family in some "splurge" ways and communicate to the kids the significance of the gift and what it was for. That very day we went to McDonalds and let the kids each get a Happy Meal (not a normal thing in our family). That evening Eric and I went on a date night to a favorite New York Style pizza place in Everett. Then, this weekend we used up the last bit of it when we went to the local Silvana Fair as a family. It covered our lunch too!
What an incredible gift and an amazing blessing to get to be apart of the preschool VBS team! What a great way to intentionally spend time as a family this summer!