Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Wrapped Walking Stick - Alternative Wilderness Craft

Several years ago for Vacation Bible School our church decided to trek into the "wilderness" and bring kids into the story of Moses and the Israelites in a very hands-on way. One craft we did for this, which wasn't part of the original program but just fit perfectly, was decorating walking sticks. It took a little scrounging around for materials, and a lot of sawing, but it was absolutely worth it--the kids loved them.

This is a fun craft that, while it takes some adult prep, is easy for kids to do. It can be simplified for a young child, yet is still an enjoyable creative project in the hands of an adult.   Our teen volunteers enjoyed this craft as much as our kindergarteners, as both were able to work on it at their own level.

Learn how to make your own below! Below the craft instruction there's tips on how to use this as a group project (and if you're using it for Wilderness Escape VBS like I was, there's a ton of extra info at the bottom on how to tweak this especially for Wilderness VBS.)

How to Wrap a Walking Stick With Yarn
We decorated our sticks with either yarn or cloth (or both). Below is a video showing how to wrap the stick with yarn. At the beginning of this video I said that I have "a few inches of yarn." I misspoke...I actually had a few feet...but what I meant was that I had a few inches of yarn left over to form a "tail."   You can add beads other charms to the left over yarn tails, as shown in the picture at the top of this page (more on that below).

I love how the yarn looked on this curvy stick.  

How to Wrap a Stick With Cloth

You can also wrap a stick with cloth tied in yarn (or leather if you can afford it).  

This is actually a useful feature as it creates a padded area for a hand-hold (the more padding you want, the more layers you will want to wrap around your stick). We used strips from old t-shirts, but you can use any type of cloth you want.

Wrapping cloth on a stick is fairly simple. First roll a strip of cloth around the stick. Then take a long piece of yarn and tie it tightly near to top of the cloth.  Make your tie in the middle of the yarn so you have two fairly equal lengths of yarn hanging down, and leave about an inch of cloth above where you tie it. For a criss-cross design, spiral one of these down the cloth, and the other in the opposite direction, so that the two lengths of yarn criss-cross, then at the bottom (about an inch from the edge of the fabric), tie these two yarn-tails together tightly.

Adding Decorations

You can add beads or charms to the strings that are left when you are done tying your yarn. You will need beads with a hole large enough that yarn can fit through. I look for beads with holes just slightly larger than the yarn, because then after I've put them on the yarn, all I need to do is tie a double or triple knot in the yarn and that holds on the beads. You can also get charms that tie on the yarn, and those will hold up all the beads above them.

Getting beads onto thick, fuzzy yarn can be tricky! But I have a trick that makes it easy! I use floss threaders (the kind found in the dental aisle of most supermarkets). Just put the yarn through the large hoop of the floss threader, insert the bead over the small pointy end, and then pull the bead down over the yarn. You can see floss threaders in use in the picture below.

Some Bead Suggestions

I personally prefer wood, glass, or clay beads to the plastic pony beads for this project, because they are closer to what they would have actually had, and I think it's special for kids when things feel real.  If you limit kids to just 2 or three beads each it's not that costly--one $10 mixed bag got me through all of VBS with plenty to spareMy mixed bag also had shells, which worked well with the story.  I told the kids I picked them up crossing the Red Sea.  The holes on the shells were too small for the yarn though so I took thread and made loops that we then attached to the yarn. 

Below are some sets I thought looked workable on Amazon (click on pictures to click though).  All are natural except the boxed "faux" wooden beads, which I included because they included a cross design.  You probably could find similar sets at your local hobby or craft store, or sometimes even in the Walmart craft section.

Other Decoration Ideas 
And a few practical considerations

You can add lots of other decorations as well. You could use decorative tape, paint, ribbons...whatever you can think of. You could even carve patterns in your stick if you like to whittle. Skies the limit!

But whatever you do keep practicality in mind. Make sure to leave a smooth surface to hold (or a soft one). Don't put hanging beads and baubles where it will hit your hand as you walk. Be careful of putting paint where you will hold your stick as it might rub off over time (stains might work better). And make sure that whatever you decorate with, it's able to withstand a little weather and wear.

Guide for Using This Craft in Wilderness VBS
Gathering Sticks

The hardest thing about doing this craft as a large group is obtaining the sticks. Luckily when we needed them, it was in springtime when everyone is pruning their trees. We happened on a large pile of branches from a lot that had been cleared and contacted the owner who let us remove branches to use. You can ask landscapers to see if they would mind you taking branches from trees they trimmed. You can contact your local parks and wildlife office to see if there is any public land that needs clearing (where we live, Bamboo is an invasive species, and we could have easily gotten a permit to go cut some). You can also go on Craigslist to find individuals wanting to get rid of wood from tree prunings, or post a request on a local facebook page.

Look for sticks that are relatively straight, and about 1-2 inches in diameter. Watch out for sticks that are rotten or molded, and make sure to ask if any of the wood had been treated for pesticides (which you will want to avoid). You will want sticks of varying lengths for people of various heights. A good walking stick can be held comfortably with your arm at a 90% angle from your body.

Setting Up

It can be helpful to cut lengths of yarn beforehand, as well as cloth if you're using that. Set beads in small bowls that aren't easily tipped, and put the floss-threaders with them. Since there were two of us teaching we piled sticks on two sides of the area so that we could pass them out more easily.

Once People Arrive

We had everyone stand up so that we could match them with a stick as they arrived. If you're doing this craft with kids this is also a good time to explain what this craft is and isn't used for (i.e....this is a walking stick, not a fighting stick). Once everyone had a stick we had them sit down and demonstrated ways they could decorate their sticks. Then we showed them the various materials we had available to work with, and let them pick out some things to get started.

NOTE:   Walking s
ticks with thin pointy ends can't just be turned upside-down, so watch to make sure people are decorating the top end of their stick (the skinny end, not the fat end).   A few of our kids ended up decorating the wrong end of their stick (not that it's wrong to decorate the bottom...but they meant to decorate the top). 

A Few More General Tips

for using this for Wilderness VBS

  • We had problems with the sticks catching on the side draping on our tent. I suggest either using a high canopy and securing any draping up high where it's harder to catch on, or not using a tent at all. This is a craft that could be done around a campfire (a nice fake one) where it would have been natural to stack sticks. "Look at all these sticks...some of these are just too good for the campfire" your character could say.
  • If you aren't using the Sandal Making Shop, the sign for it can be used for walking sticks.
  • I made up a story about how other Isrealites kept using my walking sticks as firewood, so I started decorating my walking sticks so people wouldn't use them for kindling. This is fun background story, and you could even work at a little skit about it with another shopkeeper.
  • I find it's best to try to get your script/questions in right at the beginning, before you start explaining the craft. While this is a fairly simple craft, you'll still be busy helping younger kids who have trouble tying knots, re-explaining to kids who weren't paying attention in the beginning, and cutting yarn and passing out other supplies.
  • You probably don't want kids to take their sticks with them to game time and other stations, so I suggest having kids leave their sticks with you and collect them after celebration. If you're worried about them forgetting you can take the sticks to the door and hand them out as people leave.
  • One thing I wish I had done was take pictures of all the kids in their tunics with their walking sticks before they left. If you do that, write down the kids name and tribe before they leave so you can get the picture to their parents later. (If you print them yourself from home you can get all but the last day's to the tribe leader to pass out to the kids).
  • Many churches do a celebration on their final day of VBS where they invite families to enjoy extra activities for everyone. A great activity for this would be a hike through the camp or around the church grounds (or even around the neighborhood if this was feasible)...and you could invite kids to bring their walking sticks with them.

Picture showing a typical egyptian staff
Photo taken by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin and shared under

Biblical/Historical Significance of Moses' Staff

Of course, I can't neglect saying a few words about the most important walking stick in the Israelite camp--the "Rod of Moses"--more significantly called the "Rod of God." It was an ordinary walking stick, but God used it, and Moses, and ordinary man, to do extraordinary things.

"You shall take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.”

It is significant that when God sent Moses to Egypt he commanded him to take his staff, and that he asked Moses to use it when God performed most of His miracles both in Egypt and the wilderness. In Ancient Egypt the staff was a sign of authority, power and dominion. The Pharaoh, Egyptians priests, and many of the Egyptians gods were often pictured with a staff.

And so it makes sense that God would have sent Moses with such a symbol of authority, one that the Egyptians could easily recognize. Imagine what Pharaoh must have thought, a man who considered himself a god, when Moses arrived with his ordinary shepherd's staff, and did wonders Pharaoh could only dream of?  It was a display of God's true authority.

Sources and Additional Info

A thorough article about the significance of the Rod and Staff in scripture from the Christian Life and Doctrine section of The Dawn Magazine, August 2009.

This article overviews how shepherds in Bible times used the staff.
I got my information on the use of the staff as a symbol of authority in ancient Egypt here.

Historical Background: Yarn

While the Egyptians mainly used linen, the Israelites mainly used wool for clothing.   They would have had plentiful wool to make yarn from their herds.   Can you imagine crossing the desert wearing wool? But since the Bible says they took clothes from the Egyptians when they left, as well as gold and silver items, it's likely they would have had linen clothing items too.

The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing.  The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.
 - Exodus 12:35-36 NIV 

Tents though, most certainly would have been made with wool, which is water resistant (making tents more waterproof).   Modern Bedouins still make wool tents with small, transportable looms that are carried with them.   I imagine the Isrealites would have done the same.

The section in Group's material for the Weaving Tent Host should have some historical background related to the making of yarn...and you can also find more at my page on weaving and dying I did for Nazareth.

Historical Background: Beads

If you want to use beads that seem authentic to the time period and the story, you have a lot of choices. Egyptians used beads for jewelry and also for their hair. We know that the Isrealites took gold and silver items from the Egyptians when they left Egypt, so metallic beads would make sense. They also had beads of glass, stone, wood, and bone in Egypt. In my shop, I also included sea shells beads (I told kids I gathered them when we crossed the Red Sea). These had holes too small for yarn, so I put jump rings through the small holes, which could then be easily tied to the yarn.

Beads shown at right are actual ancient Egyptian beads from the Walters Museum.   Picture is in the public domain.  That and more pictures of Egyptian bead from the museum can be found on Wikimedia Commons.

Wilderness Bible Points - Alternate Tent Host Script
Here is a daily script you can use which goes along with the daily Bible point for Wilderness Escape. This is from the perspective of an Israelite who trusts God and is trying to encourage others who are worried about the dangers they are facing on their journey.  You can also find a printable version here.

DAY 1: Israelites Cross the Red Sea
What a year it's been. Here we were, stuck making bricks for Pharaoh in Egypt, and along comes Moses and starts doing all these amazing things with his staff trying to convince Pharaoh to give us a break so we could go worship God in the wilderness. He throws down his staff and it turns into a snake, and then back into a staff. He goes out to the Nile river and hits the water with his staff, and all the water turns to blood. All sorts of crazy stuff like that. Have you heard about all that? Well, let me tell you, I thought thought that was one amazing staff he had. I thought it was magic or something! But when I met Moses he set me straight. The staff wasn't was just an ordinary walking stick, just like we have here, and he was just an ordinary man. It was God who was really doing all that amazing stuff. Isn't that great to think about...that God can take an ordinary stick and an ordinary man and use them to do all that?

DAY 2: God Provides Quail and Manna
Session 1 (Before the Manna): 
Not much to eat here in the wilderness. Some people are worried that we're going to run out of food. But I don't think God would rescue us from Pharaoh just for us to starve in the wilderness. What do you think?

Session 2 (After the Manna): So, did you hear about the manna? Did you try some? See, here everyone was worried about running out of food, but I knew God would come through.

DAY 3: The Amalekites Attack
It can be really scary out here in the Wilderness...first with the Egyptians chasing us, and now with the Amalekites! It's good to have a nice sturdy walking stick for defense (though I better not see any of you using your sticks on each other! We only use these for walking in the camp, understood?) But then, a stick isn't much good against swords and spears and arrows...and that's all a lot of us have! Well...not all we have. We have God, and I know he can keep us safe. Do you trust God to keep you safe?
DAY 4: Remembering the Passover
For a walking stick, you need a stick that's light enough to carry, but strong enough to hold your weight. If it's not strong enough, if you lean on it, it will break, but if you choose a good strong sturdy stick, it will help make your journey easier. know, that makes me think about some of my fellow Israelites--a lot of them don't seem to trust God very much. It's like they don't think he's strong enough to lean on, like a puny twig. But after all he's done I would think they would trust him. Maybe they've forgotten how strong and powerful God is, and how much he loves them? How can we help them to remember?
DAY 5: The 10 Commandments
So, you're interested in making a walking stick? A good staff can be very useful. You can lean it while you're walking, you can use it to help herd your sheep. But it's not very good if you don't use it, it would just be a weight to carry around. That's kind of like God's word...if you trust in what God says, it's useful to you. But if you don't trust enough to obey, knowing what God commanded won't help you any more than a staff you don't use.  Do you trust God enough to obey what he says?

Friday, April 27, 2018

What To Do With Stacked Chairs

We have a bunch of chairs we usually stack in the corners of our marketplace during VBS, just to get them out of the way.   When we did Rome we found a creative way to hide the stacked chairs under sheets, turning them into scenery.   (You can often get donations of old white sheets from hotels).

When we had an Egypt themed VBS, we found another way to use our "chairs."   We made "houses" out of them, and used these for our "Tribe Time" (which I believe was called "Family Group Time" that year). 

I liked how a colored piece of cloth looked like a lintel over the doorway (pictured above). A tribe sign also decorated each house.

Inside we made less effort to cover up the chairs (ran out of sheets).  We decorated with blankets and pillows for the kids to sit on, and various other knick knacks our tribe leaders brought.   Each tribe got a camp-fire for their room...something left over from the previous Wilderness VBS.


While they didn't look perfectly like houses, the outside was still a lot nicer to look at than stacked chairs.   

You can see two of our rooms in the corner of this picture...they looked nice with the marketplace tents.  We had four in total, one in each corner.   Having these rooms right in the marketplace made for less traveling (there was also two Sunday school rooms used, right outside our marketplace...but we didn't have to use rooms in our other building, which is a further walk). 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

More Greco Roman Decor

Just a mish-mash of cool Greco-Roman decorating pics from various churches doing Holy Land VBS.

Pictures by Jill Bettinger

Picture by by Jill Bettinger - Mural by Tiffany

Picture by Michelle Barrera from 
Teaching Word Faith Center (Fort Worth, TX) 

Picture by Michelle Barrera from 
Teaching Word Faith Center (Fort Worth, TX) 

Picture by Michelle Barrera from 
Teaching Word Faith Center (Fort Worth, TX)

Picture by Michelle Barrera from 
Teaching Word Faith Center (Fort Worth, TX)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

How to Make A "Tile" Roof

If you looked out Greece and Rome, you would see, in many places, a sea of tile rooftops.   It was the same in ancient time.   So many of the buildings in ancient Greece and Rome, as today, had red tile roofs.

I wanted to include at least a little of this when we did Rome VBS, and I found the easiest way was pretty simple:  red construction paper.   It was simple, cheap...and not unreasonably time consuming, though that would depend on the area you wanted to cover.    It was much easier than cutting up and painting paper cups or oatmeal cannisters...some of the other materials I had considered. And the matte texture of construction paper is actually close to the look of real roofing tiles.

Here is a picture of our small tile roof.  I had meant for it to go on a portion of slanted roof...but alas, it ended up getting put up straight up and down.   Still, it didn't turn out badly.

And below is a close up of how we made it...

To make the roof tiles I stapled red paper at a curve to black paper (12" x 18" for both, not 9" x 12").   If you stagger the paper you can keep going up to make more rows.

It actually would have been a little easier if I had made this more accurately, because most ancient Roman tile roofs had a flat space between each curved tile, like these ancient Roman tiles below....

So an ancient tile roof would have looked a little more like this....

Picture by Wolfgang Sauber licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

More VBS Rome Resources and Ideas

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Greco-Roman Decor: Fountains

Having a fountain is a great way to bring in Greco Roman Decor.   Below there's see some examples of how other churches have done it and some links to other sites showing other ways to do it.

Make a 3D Fountain

There are several ways to make a three dimensional fountain (some working, some merely decorative). 

This looks difficult, but impressive.

Please excuse the "beer" in this one...but yeah, it's a great idea, and with a little spray paint on the outside could look like stone.

Stacked Planters and Tinsel

Picture by Michelle Barrera from 
Teaching Word Faith Center (Fort Worth, TX)

I love this ides...planters and tinsel, stacked, and you have a fountain.  

 Borrow a Fountain

Fountain Statue Borrowed From I-35 Statuary

We were blessed at our church to be able to borrow several statues from a nearby statuary, including the one above, which doubled as a fountain.  We had a tub underneath it which we surrounded by stones and greenery.

Something simpler, like a bird-bath, could work too in a pinch, and is something one of your church members might have and be willing to lend.

Make sure you have a good safe means to transport anything you borrow.   We asked about a multi-tiered fountain but there were concerns about being able to transport and assemble something like that without it breaking (and of course there's always the concern about kids knocking things over, so be careful about where and how you set up anything borrowed).  

Make a 2D Fountain

A two dimensional fountain can be stunning too.  Check out the examples below.

Picture by Michelle Barrera from 
Teaching Word Faith Center (Fort Worth, TX)

I love how just adding a little tinsel gives a flat drawing a three dimensional feel.

This fountain was painted by a lovely and talented woman at our church.   It was on cut plywood, to allow us to store it and re-use it later.  


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Decor: Making "Pottery"

Michelle Barrera let me use lots great pictures of how her church, Teaching Word Faith Center (Fort Worth, TX) decorated for Athens VBS several years back. Here is how they made large pots.

You can see the bases of the vases
are made of cardboard and duct-tape
which is then covered with paper mache.

They then covered the vases with plaster 
(At least, I think that's plaster).

The greenery really looks stunning on these.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Colonnade Gallery

Some pictures of colonnades from various churches doing Holy Land Athens or Rome Vacation Bible School.

From Vineyard Church in Hopkinton, MA taken by Areli Biggers

From Faith Baptist Church

From Snowd Branch Church

Picture by Jennifer Mounce 

TIP:  How to Create Depth

If you are making a colonnade on a stage you can create depth and and add an illusion of a larger scene by starting with taller columns and then using descending smaller columns, set at an angle like the picture on the right...continuing the colonnade with a backdrop with painted columns at the back.   You'll notice that in many of the colonnades above.

(The drawing at right is by cdevries, who writes a number of wonderful articles on theater design. It was from a section on 3 More Ways to Improve Your Theater Set about creating depth. Used with permission.)

Made from large cardboard box, with roof added
Picture by Michelle LaFlamme

From Dayspring Baptist Church

Pictures by Michelle Barrera
From Teaching Word Faith Center  in Fort Worth, TX

Learn more about how to make columns here.

More VBS Rome Resources and Ideas.