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Special Section: A Midwinter's Night Picnic

The holidays are over, families are back in their regular routines, and winter is beginning to seem endless. So why not shake up things at your church with a midwinter family picnic?

The holidays are over, families are back in their regular routines, and winter is beginning to seem endless. So why not shake up things at your church with a midwinter family picnic?

A picnic in the middle of winter? People might think you're crazy -- that is, until they take part in the midwinter celebration you've planned for them. Delight the families in your church with an evening of food, games, crafts, and friendship -- and reach out to the families in your community with a warm invitation to join the fun.

No matter the weather, your budget, or your church's size, this fun family night is the perfect solution for the midwinter doldrums -- and a great way for families with kids of any age to fellowship together.

• Getting the Word Out-Publicize your winter picnic for four weeks before it takes place. To reach the widest audience, use a variety of publicity methods. For creative publicity ideas, go to www.cmmag.com. Encourage everyone to wear dark, comfortable clothing that they won't mind getting messy.

• Wide-Open Spaces-For this family event, you'll need a large, open activity area to accommodate all the activities. Remove any furniture such as tables and chairs prior to the event. Also divide the room into quadrants using masking tape. Label each quadrant with one of the following team names: Big, Bad Blues; Grungy Greens; Yahoo Yellows; and Rip-Roaring Reds.

As each family enters, assign them to a team quadrant. A simple way to do this is to cut up an equal number of blue, green, yellow, and red construction paper squares. Give each family a square, switching colors with each arriving family. Keep family members together. Teams don't have to be exact in number, but they should be approximately the same size.

• Grub Before Games-The family night begins with a real picnic, so invite each family to bring their own blanket and picnic dinner. Also have families bring a dessert or snack to share with the entire group later in the evening. You'll need to supply drinks, paper plates, napkins, and plasticware.

When the families arrive, they'll spread their blankets on the floor for their picnic. Allow 45 minutes for families to meet, greet, and eat. Once the food and blankets have been cleaned up, have families go to their color-coded team quadrant so the games can begin.

• Game Time-You'll need several volunteer referees with whistles to start and end many of these games.

Also consider purchasing several disposable cameras to place around the room for families to take snapshots of the action throughout the evening. Later, develop the film and create a fun photo montage of the night's festivities to display at your church.

Start the evening of games with a prayer and devotion. For great devotion ideas, go to www.cmmag.com.

LET IT SNOW
Age Level: 3 to adult
Activity Time: Five minutes
Materials: Four bags of cotton balls, a referee, "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" (available on The Ultimate Christmas Album [Collectables Records], www.oldies.com), and a CD or cassette player

This giggle-inducing snowball fight is perfect for families with young children.
Spread a bag of cotton balls in each quadrant.

Say, "We're going to have a snowball fight! When the referee blows the whistle, start pelting the other teams with your 'snowballs.' But you must stay inside your team's quadrant-no stepping out of bounds. The object is to get as many snowballs out of your team's quadrant and into the other teams' quadrants as possible. When the whistle blows at the end of the song, everyone freezes. Then each team will count the snowballs in its quadrant."

When the referee blows the whistle, play the song "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow." As the song ends, have the referee blow the whistle again and shout, "Freeze!"

Instruct each team to count the snowballs in its quadrant.

SHOVELING SNOW
Age Level: 3 to adult
Activity Time: Five minutes
Materials: Paper cups

Follow the snowball fight with this fun clean-up game. You'll need a paper cup "dustpan" for each adult in each quadrant.
Have adults team up with one or two children in their quadrants and "shovel snow." Snow-shoveling teams each hold hands or lock elbows as they work together to collect snow in their paper cup dustpans. Collect the paper cups when the teams are done shoveling.

BIG SNOW
Age Level: 10 to adult
Activity Time: 10 minutes
Materials: Socks, baby powder,
a plastic trash bag, and referees

For families with older children, try this version of the snowball fight.
Three weeks before the winter picnic, place a "spare sock" collection box in your church. Ask families to donate clean socks that are mateless or have holes. Once all the socks are collected, roll each sock into a ball. You might want to recruit help for this task.

Just before the winter picnic, coat the socks with baby powder. An easy way to do this is to put several socks at a time in a plastic trash bag and sprinkle powder over them. Then tightly hold the bag shut and shake it to thoroughly coat the socks.
For the game, have kids and adults form pairs or trios and hold hands or link elbows. Give each team two sock snowballs.

Say, "On 'go,' your job is to knock out other teams by hitting them with your powder-covered snowballs. If your team member gets hit, your entire team must sit down. You'll know if you've been hit because the snowballs will leave a mark on you. Choose carefully before you throw since you only have two snowballs. You can also use snowballs you find on the floor. Good luck!"

Have one referee blow the whistle. You'll need several referees to monitor the snowball fight. Teams try to hit each other with the powder-covered snowballs. Play until there's only one team left standing.

NESTING PENGUINS
Age Level: Toddler and adult
Activity Time: 10 minutes
Materials: Goldfish crackers and
small Dixie paper cups

This is a game that'll delight the very youngest at your picnic. Kids age 3 and under especially enjoy "feeding the seals." Form trios with one child and two adults.

Have one adult in each trio pose as the seal. These good-humored people need to be on their knees, and they'll flap their hands up and down in front of them while barking like a seal whenever they're fed. Have all the seals line up 25 feet from the other adult in their trio. Give the other adult -- not the seal -- a small cup of Goldfish crackers.

The child's job is to run back and forth between the two adults, taking one Goldfish cracker at a time to feed the seal until the cup is empty.

FEED THE SEALS
Age Level: 3 to 6 and adult
Activity Time: 10 minutes
Materials: Two red, two yellow,
two green, and two blue poster board circles; eight inflated balloons; 96 plastic eggs; and a referee

Here's another game especially for young children. You'll need two volunteer "penguins" from each quadrant. Give each penguin a "nest" -- a poster board circle that represents his or her team's color -- and 12 plastic eggs. Give each penguin an inflated balloon.

Have each penguin place its nest in the center of the quadrant, and place all 12 eggs on top of the nest. Penguins must then stand 10 feet away from their nests and place the inflated balloons between their knees. On "go," the penguins waddle toward their nests.

As the penguins waddle toward their nests, the kids' job is to steal eggs from the other teams' nests and put the eggs in their team's nest. Kids can steal eggs over and over, but they can only take one at a time.

When the penguins finally waddle to the nest, they can help protect the eggs -- but only by using their feet.

After eight minutes, have the referee blow the whistle. The team with the most eggs in its nest wins.

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