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Creating Cool Kid Places

Franki Barra

Make the most of what you've got -- whether it's a little or a lot -- for an irresistible, kid-centered environment.

 

In the beginning, God set the standard. He created the sky with its colors and light. He placed soft sand on the ground for our wiggly toes. He worked hand in hand with his son, forming striped zebras, long-necked giraffes, and miles of sunflower fields. He smiled as he watched people's faces light up with the first smell of the morning air and the first tickle of the ocean's wave. Then, with a proud sense of accomplishment, he rested, excited about the coming days when he'd enjoy his creation with its audience.

Just as God created the earth so he could connect with us, we create compelling environments where God can connect with kids. This means kids are enticed to come inside, stay, learn, and come back.

When God created the world, he didn't look at the empty, dark place that would be our earth, compare it to heaven, and say, "I can't do this with what I've got here!" And we can't do that either! Regardless of your space and money limitations, you can create the coolest place for kids right in your church.

Design With Flexibility

I've designed compelling spaces on a very modest budget. And to be honest, if I had the option, I wouldn't spend big bucks for permanent themes. Don't get me wrong -- there are awesome ministries blessed with tons of space, super-cool designs, and cash that've created amazing permanent environments for kids.

But before you drool over those spaces, take a different look at why those of us without those types of resources are equally blessed. What wows 3-year-olds won't wow them when they're in the third grade...and later in the fifth grade. Seeing the same environment over and over gets old. Kids here in Orlando aren't as giddy about Walt Disney World as kids in Michigan. Why? Because our kids have seen it and done it again and again.

When your environment is always the same, its "wow" factor fades and becomes the norm. But if your environment is more flexible, you can change your theme and décor as often as you'd like. That way kids are always excited about what's next.

We created our environment with the flexibility to adjust individual rooms as needed. Due to a recent surge in our preschool numbers, the existing preschool areas weren't large enough. So we needed to rethink our spaces. Since we had a more mobile environment that we could move from room to room, we avoided having to tear down expensive décor and then replace it just because we had a growth spurt.

Create "It Is Good"

Could God have done even more when he created the world? Could he have added one more animal or two more flowers? Absolutely! Could he have obsessed afterward, wondering if there should've been one more moon? Yep. Did he? No. When he finished his creation, God said, "It is good." He knew where the line between well done and not good enough ran.

We also need to know that line for our ministry. When I first joined our church's staff, all our walls were white. The entire children's area was like a big blank piece of paper screaming for someone to bring it to life. Unfortunately, I didn't have permission to paint. So we bought material and hung it from the ceiling along our walls. That was our version of "it is good" because it was the absolute best we could do with our resources.

We recently went through a construction overhaul here. Our large group space for kindergarten through third grade has a long, chocolate- colored wall and the other walls are the color of cream. We share spaces with others, so we can't keep anything up permanently. So our version of "it is good" is a big, brightly colored bouncy house in front of the chocolate-colored wall. To a child, there's no brown wall. Is this our first choice? No. But for now it's our best choice, and that's what God expects -- our best.

Choose a Focal Point

God created a visual and purposeful focal point for Earth. It appears in almost every picture a child draws. It creates the beautiful sprays of colors in our sky. It provides energy and food for life. It's our sun.

I inherited a great gift from the pastor before me: the bouncy house. I didn't realize its full potential until the week we didn't put it up. Kids were distraught over their missing friend. Parents were disappointed because they couldn't show it to guests.

During tours of our facility, I've heard adults mention our bouncy house. It's become part of who we are. Our ministry name, FL!P, is reinforced by the big bouncy house. As kids get older, they get an inflatable house that's bigger and better. These bouncy houses not only help our ministry image, but they also help us splash color into our room. (They also help families be on time because our bouncy houses are only available before the service.)

Partner With Your Team

God didn't create the world alone. He said, "Let's be imagination junkies together. Let's make this dark ball a glowing, rainbow-filled amusement park."

I'm naturally creative and can think big thoughts, but I'm horrible at moving the idea from my head into being. So I asked God to place friends around me who could not only make my ideas a reality, but could also make it better than just my idea alone. And God has been faithful. We've done some super-cool things here with lots of paper, hot glue, sweat -- and very little me.

Enjoy Little Brilliances

On day one, light and dark were created. God didn't say, "Let there be earth" and it was. He added little bits day by day. His work became more complex as he got deeper into his week.

For a long time I had this foolish notion: If I can't do it all, I won't do it at all. I was humbled when God showed me that something as simple and small as a few colorful helium balloons can add big flair to our small spaces.

When we first moved our young elementary kids into their room, we had a large, blank screen covering most of the main wall. We bought fuzzy, funky-colored material and used Velcro fasteners to hang it around the screen for a border. In our preteen area, we bought tons of blank CDs and hung them from the ceiling with fishing line and floral hangers. The reflecting light produces a cool effect kids love. We can't paint on walls, so we use large sheets of paper as walls. We use overhead projectors to enlarge pictures that we trace and paint. We hot glue cutouts for a 3-D look, then hang the sheets.

There are so many fun things that communicate kid-friendliness.We use a varietyof objects very differently from their original purposes. We've used bubble machines to welcome kids as they enter the room. They love it!(Just make sure you have carpet -- soap on tileis slippery!) In preschool we use big, colorful carpets on our floor. We hang shower and bedroom curtains from dowel rods. We've twistedplastic tablecloths all around the room to formcool designs. Slinkys hanging from the ceiling keep it interesting!

Multiply Excellence in People

After God rested, he watched. He saw Adam enjoying the lions, tigers, and bears. He walked with Adam in the cool evening. But still, something was missing. So God created a special friend for Adam.

Recently my husband, some friends, and I went to a local theme park. Almost every worker we encountered seemed miserable and not interested in helping us. We loved the roller coasters and the really fun décor, but we left frustrated and not eager to return. The environment alone wasn't enough to draw us back.

We can make "wow places" but if there aren't "wow people," it's still just a place. Make your environment a "wow" place with kid-friendly people for kids and adult-friendly people for their parents. Always position someone friendly and outgoing to greet kids at any door they enter. Situate informed people where adults will be. Place confident, upbeat kids as buddies for the day with new kids. Talk about friendliness with your kids as a group.

Connect Kids to God

God enjoyed his creation with his audience. Remember -- in the cool evening he hung out with Adam and Eve.

It's critical that our spaces are filled more with God's presence than fun, color, or music. We're all talented enough to throw one amazing party that'll get kids rocking and wanting to come back, but that's not why we create cool places. Just as God created the world to connect us with him, we must create spaces so kids can connect with God. If we don't, we're just another Chuck E Cheese or Walt Disney World. We're called to create these spaces so we can fulfill the Great Commission.

God is a creative being. He thinks outside the box. He makes amazement out of nothing. God's power and creativity is completely available to you! God helped Noah build an ark, Nehemiah renovate a wall, and Solomon erect the temple. Be confident that God will help you create the coolest place for kids in your community so they'll be compelled to come back again and again. cm

Franki Barra is the FL!P Kids ministry director at Discovery Church in Orlando, Florida.

Divine Design

Follow Franki's expert tips to create environments that inspire your kids, parents, volunteers, and entire church.

• Fill your rooms with fun, kid-friendly music.

• Stay tuned in to kids' current events, trends, and interests that could become a design element in your ministry.

• Create great programming and encourage prepared teachers. It's all fluff if you don't have this substance.

• Know your kids and their parents. All cool spaces for kids need to be parent-approved.

• Neat and tidy spaces, organized processes, and safety are just as important as the "wow" factor.

• Send your environment home through handouts with fun fonts, kid-friendly pictures, and colored paper or ink.

• Create an upkeep plan. Spaces can look old and worn quickly. Dents, dings, and sometimes big old holes can quickly and easily be repaired if you catch them early.

• Stay current with hip themes so you can use them in your design. Franki's church is currently doing a series with race cars as the theme because of the popularity of the Disney/Pixar movie Cars.

• Find a great source for affordable, portable murals, such as Group's Create a Place (www.createaplace.com).

 



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