Our next Virtual Field trip is to the wonderful world of Woodland Hills Family Church in Branson, MO. We have loved seeing all of the awesome pictures that they share on Facebook of the fun events that they have for their families with preschoolers! When we asked Stephanie Watson, Children’s Ministry Director, if we could “visit” her church next, she said, “Of course!” Our question is this: If we could bring leaders to your church, what do you feel like you are doing well that you would share with them? So come along for a trip west (for us) and join the fun!
Our church meets in an old amusement park. Our building looks like a castle. It gets us lots of cool points from the kids, but it definitely has given us lots of challenges opportunities to be creative. Now, we look at it as a giant ‘upcycle’ project. The best advice I could give on achieving a themed environment on a budget; Choose a theme you can work on, over time. Work on it little by little, and spend your budget on items that can stay permanently. It’s surprising how quickly the elements add up to an engaging and creative environment, where kids have a blast! We want their first memories of church to be full of surprise and wonder!
The best thing I ever did for our children’s ministry is to step towards every week leaders. Once a couple leaders caught the vision, it was a domino effect. I do still struggle with keeping every single group staffed with every week leaders. But, I will continue to brainstorm ways to get more volunteers to make that commitment because I have seen the difference that type of leadership has made for the kids. Once you have your every week leaders, identify a few as your “ministry partners.” I had always felt I had to be the one to give support to all the volunteers. But, I have learned to rely and trust a select group of invested leaders, who I allow to sharpen and encourage me. Leaning on them has been an overwhelming blessing!
The biggest change we made to take our preschool ministry to the next level, was moving to the centers approach. I was most nervous about removing the toys from the 3-5 year old rooms, creating an enviornment where the leaders would have to be much more intentional. We went to work making the changes in the rooms, and launched the new approach on move up Sunday last August. It was a success! I got 100% positive feedback from all of my volunteers, and we didn’t even lose one single leader! I could not even believe how much more the kids were getting out of the lesson, the results were immediate. I received Facebook and email messages from parents noticing that their kids were learning! We took a giant step away from babysitting towards teaching! We now make the very most out of the 52 hours a year we have with these kids. This approach also gives us the opportunity to make a big deal out of the monthly themes as we can plug just about anything into a center rotation we want. Since the kids rotate, versus all doing things at the same time, there are significantly smaller numbers at each center. Things that would have been chaotic, or even unsafe before with our large numbers, can now be done effectively and purposefully in much smaller leveled groups. We have been able to do weekly dress up pieces for the kids during worship center, animal visits, character visits, tons more interactive hands on activities, and we even include the toddler room to our rotations! We are now able to bring the lessons to life in ways they won’t forget! This process has been incredible, and it has really created numerous opportunities for our team to find their “sweet spot”. We are all in, and loving it!
Here are some pictures they shared:
Our Welcome Center turned “Pirate Adventure Ship”
This is our story room (excuse the blurry photo, I can’t believe this is the best one I could find:/) But I just wanted to show how we used a beam in our room to make this tree effect We draped the different fun fabrics over top. And we used a collapsable laundry hamper as the structure for our trunks (which are covered in wood grain oil cloth). You can’t see it in the picture but there are clouds that were cut and painted from sheets of foam insulation).
Our school age area has a similar theme. We made theirs more realistic and the preschool area is “whimsical”. But the space we use is a great big hall that we divided up, so we wanted them to go together.
I get tons of inspiration from other churches, pinterest, etc… Here is an example of a large group space that inspired two of our center rotation spaces. You can also see the small doors in the pics. We were trying to reduce any security risks when we did rotations, so we put in little doors that the kids go room to room through (keeps our time in the main area at a minimal). I want to make trees and mushroom type murals around the doors so they look like little fairy doors or something. We will doll them up soon 🙂
Thank you, Stephanie for the tour and the inspiration!!!
You can see “Critter Street” on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/CritterStreet
Here’s the link to our previous post about the Center Approach