What is a mom to do when her parish Vacation Bible School costs $90 per child, does not have an option for preschoolers, and is not (on paper at least) very special needs/adaptations friendly?
Well obviously, she should call up her friends and plan their own event!
Our planning process went something like this:
"Hey, I think we should do this." ... "Hey, I think we should too!"
Here is a more elaborate version of what we did and how you can easily run your own backyard VBS.
Planning Meeting: I suggest a minimum of two. One to hammer out initial details and one to touch base and finalize plans.
Honestly, our planning meetings looked like play dates with 15 minutes of planning thrown on the end. You really could do a lot of this by email.
Initial details to Hammer Out:
How many days?
Types of Activities?
Our plan was 3 days for 1.5 hours in the morning, plus a 4th day attending daily Mass at the nursing home as a group. Location was easy since my backyard was the most accommodating for a group.
We went through a few ideas for topics including the Rosary, Super Hero Saints, and Old Testament Bible Stories (which we eventually settled on). We had an age range of 2 months to almost 9, with the heaviest concentration of age 3, so we decided on a typical preschool type schedule of activities. Music & Story time, Snack, and then Activity/Craft time. This is about where we were after the first meeting and planned a second meeting to look at ideas/resources and narrow things down further before our final planning meeting.
At our final planning meeting we narrowed our original list of Old Testament Stories down to the 3 that we would like to cover and gave each day a specific story. We decided that with 3 moms, 1 would lead music, 1 would present the story, and 1 would organize the craft/activity time. We decided to rotate snacks, each taking a day. We also came up with a rough daily schedule:
9:30- Music & Story
10:15-10:55- Craft and Activities (Stations- see more below)
10:55- Music & Prayer
We kept in touch via email in the days leading up to VBS to hammer out materials and last minute set up details.
We had distinct areas for each part of the day. A quilt on the ground for our opening and closing time, 2 quilts for activity stations, 1 low coffee table for art/projects, and our picnic table for snack time. Since I was hosting and also in charge of craft and activities, I set up these areas before everyone arrived. Music, story, & snack added their materials as they were needed at the time. We used the play area in our backyard as something to do while we waiting for others to arrive and also as an additional option during activity time. The house was open but only for hand washing and potty.
Since all kids in attendance also had a mom in attendance we didn't give much time to rules or discipline other than being responsible for our own kids. For the most part this worked great, the kids were (by in large eager) to move together and cooperated! Since every mom had a 2 or under there were a few times when we were leading that our little ones also needed us, but it really did keep work. I did take advantage of my 8 year old's responsible hand to run a few errands and help with Logan (2) when I needed it. With a bigger (or older) group, however, I think we would have needed to be a little more clear about rules and expectations with the kids directly instead of just between the moms.
For music we used the opening and closing songs from the Making Music Praying Twice program, we use for our music curriculum. We also sang classics such as Jesus Loves Me, This Little Light of Mine, Father Abraham, and at least one theme related song each day. At closing, we also used chunky rhythm sticks with one song before we prayed and sang goodbye.
For affordable rhythm sticks for a large group- purchase dowels in the desired thickness (we used 1.5 inch), cut to preferred length (8-12 inches is ideal), and sand smooth. For about 16 dollars Tim cut 10 sets of rhythm sticks perfect for little hands.
Our group chose to use the Godly Play approach to biblical story telling for each day. I own several of the volumes (you can see some of our previous presentations here) and already had the outlines for each of the stories we chose. Our story teller gathered the materials and did an excellent job of presenting, even though she had never even seen a Godly Play presentation before! This also added an extra activity station for later in the morning, which was great for older kids (who weren't as interested in some of the activities).
Day 1: Noah
The Noah Song
Rainbow Fruit Parfaits, with Yogurt Clouds
Animals in the Ark Stamping
Animal Dress Up
Animal Memory Match
(made here, follow directions and select Animals-Mammals as the theme)
Day 2: Ruth
Wherever You Go Song (This isn't the exact version we used, I couldn't find a link to those lyrics)
Bread with Honey Butter and Fruit & Cream (for the land of milk and honey)
Gathering Acorns (due to food allergies and the unavailability of fake wheat- wheat would be better)
Day 3: Jonah
Who Did Swallow Jonah? Song
Fish shaped pizzas
Fish that eats Jonah craft
Ocean Animals Reading Spot
(I was planning on doing some sort of water play but it was not too warm that morning so I punted)
Let's Go Fishing Game
(could substitute Go Fish, Magnetic Fishing, Ocean Puzzles, or other Fishing Game)
In the end, a great time was had by all! There are a few things I might do differently *next* time, but honestly not much. I think it would have been nice to have 1-2 more families to spread the ages out a bit better (the 3 oldest kids all came from my clan) and also to divide snack and activities into smaller jobs. The craft & activities were a big prep job and I needed to rely quite a bit on my big kids to pull it off each morning. The day I also had snack was especially challenging.
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