Codyland, Twisted Tag & Bun Shuffle: The Secrets To Bigger and Better Recreation

October 7th, 2009

Of course recreationally-driven youth programs work! It astounds me when I meet youth workers who settle for a game of checkers and an hour-long lesson. Boring! I come from the school of “the bigger, the better,” and when it comes to recreation, my kids expect bigger and better from me. Unfortunately, my church is small with a correspondingly small budget. I've had to learn the art of juggling fun and frugality with the need to saturate teens with Jesus.

By thinking out of the box, the hard work has paid off. My kids love to talk about the outlandish things we've done at church. Yes, there are other ways to get kids to church than through games; they're just more fun. I figure once they're in the door, then you can tell them about what really matters in a way no one else will.

Here's how you can get some balance yourself.

First, know the kids who attend regularly and pay attention to how they learn. For the most part, the way they construct ideas and grasp new concepts is the same way they play games. The quiet kids don't like to run and be physical but prefer single sports and sit down games. The louder kids want to run around and…well…be loud. And kids will usually bring like-minded friends.

For example, Mary is a quiet girl and never physically rough. She's smarter than I am, and she loves to beat me at anything intellectual or strategic. Martha, on the other hand, is a varsity basketball player, loves to wrestle with anyone, and can make strategic moves while doing belly flops over the couch. How do I balance the two personalities (and all the others as well) into a recreation time worth bragging about?

If I have more quiet types than loud, I'll play low-impact games like Bun Shuffle (musical chairs), Tongue Twister (unwrapping candy in your mouth), and Spoons. If there's an even mix, I'll pull out games that require both thinkers and movers like Codyland (Sardines with a rubber chicken), Four Corners (the classic PE game), and relay games with some messy twist. If I have more loud than quiet, I take an aspirin, say a prayer, and pull out Roller Dodge Ball (Dodge Ball on a rolling office chair), Dr. Smith's Revenge (Capture the Flag in the dark with flashlight parts), or Extreme Spoons (tackling permissible).

My second secret is that youth ministry recreation is as much how you support the kids' recreation away from your youth space as it is the games you play. I go to their meets, matches, and games, and I cheer like a raving lunatic. I also have some serious Web-aholics who aren't a part of anything cheer-able. Their recreation is surfing the information super-highway. So I've developed a youth group Web site from one of those ready-made Web sites (easy on the budget and mind!). I update it twice a week with new links and articles because they really cruise through it—Christian links, forums, games, streaming video and music, digital films, the works. They'll hang out in chat rooms and we play hide and seek or some trivia game that involves surfing around. I'm slow at it, and they love chiding me for being slow and archaic, but I love getting to know them in their space.

Next, I'm purposeful with my creative time. I spend an hour a week in a quiet room with the yellow pages. I open to a random spot in the book and look at what's there. For half an hour I make a list of things that can be done with that item. For example if I open to plumbers, I think of toilet games, plungers, and plumber cracks. I go outlandish and wild as if I had all the money in the world and unlimited numbers of kids. Then I file the list in the back of the phone book and pull out the list from the week before, say, fishing supplies. I pare down that list to things I can actually do. I'll come up with at least one idea a week. It may be a game, a lesson, a program, or a service project but it's always something creative. I'll usually spend an hour a week online as well, searching for games and Web-related stuff.

Lastly, there are some easy and cheap ways to reinvent the recreation wheel to make it more appealing to your kids, your budget, and your church elders.

  • Once a month do something to blow their minds. Duct tape a kid to a wall. Go fork the pastor's lawn with notes of encouragement and prayers. Play the kazoo during worship. There's nothing wrong with the word crazy when used to describe recreation time. Keep them talking to their friends and they'll keep coming back.
  • Realize there's always a cheaper way to do it than recommended. Don't buy new. Go to a discount store, a dollar store (the second greatest invention ever), or a thrift store. Plan ahead when you go. No need for the 300 Alka-Seltzer tablets that are on clearance now, but what about next month.
  • Theme it. Have a theme night where everything is set up around this theme. For example, use those 300 Alka-Seltzer tablets you just bought and have a Fizz Night. Bobbing for Fizz, Fizz Tag with water buckets, Fizz relays, beat the Fizz, and use the fizz as a metaphor during your lesson.
  • Spin it with adjectives. Take a classic game and think of how it can go bigger, messier, louder, funnier, harder, longer, or just more. The opposite is true. How can it be smaller, cleaner, quieter, more serious, softer, shorter, or just less? Add a correlating adjective to the title and Voila, a new game that is much more exciting in the mind of a hormone-riddled creature (think “Extreme Duck, Duck, Goose,” “Twisted Tag,” “Fanatic Four Square,” “Smelly Sardines,” etc.)
  • Gross is good—sardines, Spam, anything pickled, hot dogs, cow tongues. All gross and guaranteed to get a rise out of kids. Instead of tossing Frisbees, use bologna. Relay with liver. Sculpt with luncheon meat. Replace the cream-center of Twinkies and Oreos with toothpaste.
  • If you're hurting to remember the classics or want to test out an idea, call the local YMCA or a community center. Ask if you can come in and watch a recreation time with grade school kids and test out a few of your games with them. It's trial and error without the embarrassment of your teenagers saying, “That was dumb” about a game you spent five hours prepping.
  • Always set kids up for victory. Any lessons we may want to teach them about losing gracefully or sportsmanship can be done in other ways, namely modeling. But when it's game time, make it fun and weird. If you have to keep score, don't just hand out a point, hand out 4,500 points for a goal. Points are free; don't be stingy. A jolly rancher is about 4 cents. Buy a bag and hand those out for random things. A kid runs fast or makes you laugh, toss them a candy. A big goal gets two. In about 10 minutes, kids will be begging for it and showing off to get it. Don't leave anyone out.
  • Ask for what you want. I learned very quickly that my church may be small and old, but they aren't dead and boring. I couldn't buy a lot of things when I first started, so I published a dream list of everything I could ever think of needing from gym balls and jump ropes to toilets and a Ping-Pong table. The congregation responded with enthusiasm, including two toilets that are proudly displayed in our youth room. I hardly use them, but visitors dig it, and I can use the extra seating.
  • Lastly, recognize the difference between a game with a teaching purpose and a game for fun. If you want to use a game to set up a lesson or to make a point, first set up the atmosphere for the game. Don't do a game outside that you want kids to extrapolate a biblical idea out of and expect kids to remember it while they walk back to the youth room. They've got the attention span of Pop Rocks. Get one or two volunteers to experience the event in front of the others and then talk about it rather than a mob of kids clamoring to be involved.

Above all, remember to be safe! We have it cool—there are people out there who aspire to have our jobs one day! So make sure you take the proper precautions to keep your job. It isn't always easier to ask for forgiveness.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.