Poverty Simulations are a popular way to teach students what it looks like not only to live in poverty, but also how much it takes to pay for different things that they might take for granted.
I struggled finding a way to teach our middle schoolers specifically about poverty, especially since most poverty simulations are created with adults in mind, and adaptable enough for high schoolers. So, I created my own! You can adapt this simulation for any size group, with or without volunteers.
We played this for the first time this summer at our day camp for 5th though 8th graders, and we learned a lot! This can be a frustrating experience at first for middles — ours were ready to quit 5 minutes in because they ran out of money. But, it’s helpful to keep the game moving and just let them start over. After the second round, they will begin to get a hang of it! We also learned you need to print a TON of income sheets…. like more than I estimated.
Each year for Halloween, we have an event called the Halloween Heist. Each year the Heist looks a little different — one year it was a Scavenger Hunt, another year a murder mystery party.
This year I decided to take inspiration from Escape Rooms and do an Unlock the Box-style event. There would be 4 “safes” that students would try to unlock. They would complete a series of puzzles to do so.
We did this with our high schoolers, and had them play the games as a small group. I think you could do this with any size group, and just adjust the prizes for your group’s culture. Our students had a blast, and I think we will do this type of event again!
Here are the details/script for the host:
Welcome to the Halloween Heist
The objective this evening is to solve all your puzzles first and crack the code to the safe
The first four teams to do so will win a fabulous prize. All four safes have the same code, but if you’re first place you will want to go for the largest prize, second place the second largest, etc.
The puzzles are in each room of the Lodge. You can do 1 through 5 in any order, and there is no limit of how many can work on a puzzle in the same room. (YOU COULD ALSO PLAY THIS THAT THEY COMPLETE EACH PUZZLE IN THAT ROOM, 1 THROUGH 5)
Do not cheat. Do not use google or a calculator.
When you are finished with each puzzle, a puzzle master may check it for you.
(LEADER) is the Puzzle Master upstairs, (LEADER) the Puzzle Master downstairs.
If you’re not correct, you’ll need to correct your puzzle.
We will have extra puzzles in case you have to start over.
If you’re stumped, the puzzle master may give you one clue.
Play to the strengths of your team, and work on it together.
When done with all 5, you will come get the final puzzle from me right here. When you have the final answer, it will be the combination to the lock. Come up and try your combination to win!
I chose to place locks on toolboxes and fill the toolboxes with prizes. We had small groups play together, so I placed in a treasure trove of snacks and Halloween candy that they could enjoy over time.
We also did gift cards to Dominoes and Starbucks that groups could use to enjoy together. We did this with our high schoolers, who often meet off-site or meet during an eating time. They were very excited about this!
It has been a LONG TIME since I have posted, HOWEVER I did something really cool with students at our Overnighter last month, and I wanted to share it with you here!
First of all — I LOVE Overnighters, and I realize I’m overdue with an “official” post on why they are so great, and what we do at them! But the basic trick to them is this: scheduling something every hourish to keep students engaged. This year, we added “Bob Ross” hour at 2am! That’s right, 100 middle schoolers were invited to paint along to a Bob Ross Video at TWO A.M. And you know what? It was a SUCCESS!
HERE’S HOW I PREPPED:
The most important part was choosing the right video. I wanted it to be simple enough we could follow along — especially since “real” painters use a variety of brushes and paint colors. Here is the video I chose:
HERE’S WHAT I PURCHASED:
Paint Tray Palettes. You could also, of course, use paper plates — but this was a really easy way for us to issue paint to students!
Spatulas. We also used plastic knives too — which worked just fine.
Fan Brushes. This is a variety pack — the size differences did not seem to matter.
Acrylic paint. Bob uses oil paint, but that was not realistic when painting with students. I purchased 3 cases for around 65 paintings. We only used one, and maybe an additional white.
One-inch brushes. Bob uses 2-inch brushes, but since we use a very tiny canvas, this worked better for us!
8×10 Canvas – This was the best bang for our buck, and worked just fine for our paintings. Each size item we purchased accompanied this size canvas perfectly.
Flat Brushes – I don’t think Bob actually uses anything like this, but it’s nice to have a “normal” paint brush.
HERE’S WHAT WE DID:
On each table, we set up cups of water, paper towels, and extra plates so that students could use them to blend colors
We learned the hard way: You should also put down plastic tablecloths or butcher paper.
On the Palettes, we put white in the center. Then we used the rest of the colors for the other holes. The only colors you don’t need are pink and orange. We also had adults do this — it was easier to create an assembly line than have students do theirs themselves.
We passed out canvas and permanent markers first and told students to sign their names on the back. The canvases we used give space for students to even name their paintings!
I led this activity, and painted along. I would tell students to listen to Bob fully, then I’d pause it after he did something and allow students to catch up.
We let students “skip” painting the parts that they didn’t love. As it gets to the end and Bob starts doing the bushes and the path, it doesn’t make sense at first. This would be an awesome thing to preach on, if you have a message that evening! Sometimes you can’t see what God is doing, but if you go along with it you might get something beautiful and unexpected.
Here is a look at my painting (the best art I’ve ever done!) and a few other pictures of our activity!
I would 10/10 do again! We finished around 3am, and they were dried and ready by 7am. We had several kids get frustrated (our boys, let’s be honest) and trashed so they could play foosball or “reinterpreted” their paintings, as you can see. But overall, everyone loved the activity.
REINDEER GAMES MATERIALS:Panty hose, balloons.
INSTRUCTIONS: Divide group into teams. Each team gets one pair of pantyhose, and a set number of balloons. Give 2-3 minutes for each team to blow up their balloons, put in the pantyhose, and get the pantyhose on someone’s head (like reindeer antlers). Judge to see who has the best-looking reindeer antlers!
WRAP BATTLES MATERIALS: Rolls of wrapping paper, tape, and bows for each team
INSTRUCTIONS: Each team must wrap one of their members up like a gift. The best wrap job in a 5-minute period wins!
SANTA BEARD MATERIALS: Cotton balls, vaseline
INSTRUCTIONS: Play up-front or in groups. One willing participant will put vaseline on their chin, and their partners will place cotton balls on their face to make a “beard”. There are SO MANY variations to this — make it relay-style, throw the cotton balls, or whatever makes it fun for your group!
STOCK EXCHANGE MATERIALS: Stockings, bells or gift bows
INSTRUCTIONS: This is another game that you can use variants to make it relay style or an up-front game. One person holds a stocking, and the other tries to throw jingle bells or gift bows into it. Most in a minute wins!
SNOWBALL FIGHT MATERIALS: Balled-up pieces of paper
INSTRUCTIONS: Dodgeball-style, divide the team into two, and have them use paper instead of dodgeballs, getting each other out!
CHRISTMAS ME MATERIALS: Items to decorate a Christmas tree — garland, bows, ornaments, ribbon, etc.
INSTRUCTIONS: You can play this relay-style, in groups, or up-front. One person gets decorated by a friend or a group into the best Christmas tree!
TREE TOSS MATERIALS: A Christmas tree, a tape circle around the tree, two colors of ornaments
INSTRUCTIONS: Divide groups into teams, and put them against one another to see who can throw the most ornaments on the tree in a one-minute period. They must stay outside of the circle surrounding the tree. Ornaments that bounce off the tree and outside the circle are fair game.
I haven’t posted in a while; I got married last month! I’ll post some pictures soon (and I’m excited to tell you our love story).
I just wanted to pop in to share a few of the games that we have been playing in our middle school ministry this fall. They’re a little random, but a total blast. Feel free to use any of this material, including the graphics, which I created quickly in Canva.
The “Gobble Hobble” is the name I gave this game in a frenzy this last Sunday morning, when everything was going wrong and I needed to come up with a quick game. I remembered playing a version of this a few years ago and wanted to give it a quick funny name. Best part: It takes 3 minutes to prep.
Choose one person (we chose 4 — one from each grade) to go out into the hall and be blindfolded by a leader. Tell the group to, together, hid a “turkey.” The “turkey” can be anything, as long as you can decipher it with a blindfold on. In a pinch, we used a basketball. Invite the blindfolded person in, and lead them to the “turkey” only using “gobbles.” The same way you’d play hot-or-cold, the closer they get to the “turkey,” the more the crowd gobbles. First person to get to the “turkey” wins. It was complicated playing with four people, because no one knew if they were correct when we were gobbling. It worked out for us, though, and we were able to play two rounds (with instructions) in less than 7 minutes. Not a bad way to start off a Sunday morning!
Dice Wars is another great game — otherwise known as “1 to 100.” Since we are in a multi-purpose space, sometimes we find out last-minute that we have to switch to round tables for an event right after our youth group. That’s how I came up with this game. Here are a few games — that I, truthfully, copied and pasted from the internet. There are tons more games, too!
What you need: Each player needs a piece of paper to write on. You also need one die and one pen.
How to play: Everyone sits in a circle, either around a table or on the floor. One person starts out with the pen, and the person to their left starts out with the die.
Let’s say Paul has the pen, Tasha is to his left with the die, and Adam is sitting to Tasha’s left. When the game starts, Paul starts writing legible numbers, starting with 1 and going up to 100, as fast as he can on his paper, while Tasha starts rolling the die as fast as she can, trying to roll a six. As soon as she does roll a six, she gets to grab the pen from Paul and start writing numbers on her paper, while Adam grabs the die and tries to roll a six. As soon as he does, he grabs the pen, and the person to his left starts rolling. Play proceeds around the circle like this. The next time Paul gets the pen, he starts writing where he left off. The first person to write to 100 on their paper wins.
I love puns, and I was inspired by a Buzzfeed post to create this game. I used some from Buzzfeed, some from elsewhere.
One of the timeless games that is played in youth ministry is a variation of what we call “Mission Impossible.” I remember playing this game each year at camp, running around in the dark trying to find a secret “chip” and avoiding flour bombs.
In four years of camp, I don’t think I EVER found that secret chip.
Here’s the way we are playing the game THIS Friday night!
Supplies: glow sticks, flashlights, super-soakers
1 Volunteer at the Lodge with glow sticks (enough for each student, plus extras)
Heather: Horn/Whistle/Megaphone. Located in the general area outside.
4 color of bandanas and face paint for each team. We also got fake mustaches for “secret spy disguises”
4 hidden buckets throughout the campus with labels on them for each color.
Volunteers scattered throughout campus with flashlight lasers (4 people) or super-soakers (4 people)
1 Volunteer at each bucket (to make sure that no one steals those glow sticks). They are given a noodle that they can hit students with.
PJ is hidden with his secret costume — if a student finds him, they get a SPECIAL item in a secret envelope (immunity for one capture, ten extra points, etc.)
Object of game:
This is MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE. Students are faced with the impossible mission of getting their Glow Sticks to their team’s bucket, which is hidden around the dark parking lot. The team with the most Glow Sticks wins.
But it’s not that easy: Throughout the parking lot are leaders with flashlights and water guns. If a student gets “tagged” by either, they must stop, drop their glow stick, and go back to home base (The Lodge) and begin again.
There are four leaders by the buckets with pool noodles to “watch” the buckets and make sure no one steals from another’s bucket. They may tag students with noodles.
There are more leaders scattered with flashlights/laser pointers and water guns to tag students.
A student may grab a fallen glowstick and attempt to make it to their bucket with it.
Leaders MAY choose to instead torture/humiliate the student by making them do a challenge: Sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” or do 10 pushups or propose to the next person who gets caught. Then students can go on and do the challenge.
Once students have dropped their Glow Sticks in the bucket, they will run back to Home Base and begin the challenge all over again.
The challenge will end at 8:30 sharp (so, about an hour and a half to carry out the mission). Buckets will be collected, and the winning team gets a prize!
If you play the game, research the SEVERAL ways to play it! Last year we played with Skittles, and if caught the students would eat their Skittle. The issue was that everyone’s hands were covered with dye!!!
A few years ago on our mission trip, we played a game one evening called “The Awesome Game” when a different outing was cancelled. We had THE MOST HILARIOUS time, and now it has become a staple for our youth ministry on Kickoff Sunday.
Here’s what you do:
Type up a list of different challenges — I’ll share mine below. You want these challenges to be a mix of things. You want to do some things that cause them to get to know one another, some that give good photo or video opportunities, or some that are just OBNOXIOUS.
Cut up those pieces of papers, and put one copy in a gallon-sized plastic bag.
Split your students up into groups (we did small groups). Give each group a bag and a time limit (anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes).
Give some way for them to count what they’ve done — give them another bag, tell them to ball up the ones they’re done with, or put the ones they’ve done in your pocket.
At the end of the time, the team that has done the most wins!
Here are some examples of challenges you can place in the bag:
Make a two-minute video talking about your love for cheese
Interrupt another Small Group completing their challenge.
Run around for 60 seconds yelling “We won! We won!”
Come up with a team chant
Join in another Small Group completing their challenge
SOMETHING STINKS! Walk around the room for 60 seconds and act like you’re trying to find the smell. Get obnoxious!
TIME TO PROPOSE! Have two people give a two-minute proposal, with everyone else encouraging them to break up.
Create your own “challenge” like Ice Bucket Challenge or KeKe Challenge. Make a one-minute video inviting people to take part in your challenge.
Spell out MSM (for Middle School Ministry) on the floor by laying down!
FORM A BAND: Sing a nursery rhyme at the top of your lungs using full air-band motions and sounds
Go to the Ga-Ga pits outside and play one round of Ga-Ga Ball (basically–hitting the ball and not getting hit in the feet–if you get hit, you’re out!)
Play Duck-Duck-Goose for 2 minutes
Challenge another group to a dance battle. Battle it out for two minutes, even if they don’t participate back.
Run up behind other players and make farting noises for an entire minute.
I’m not crazy–you’re crazy. Create a straight jacket that one person must wear for the remainder of the game.
Choose one person to stand on one foot for the remainder of the game
GET ON ALL FOURS! Each person choose a different farm animal and act it out for one minute.
MAKE A PROMO VIDEO: Choose an accent and talk about why Middle School Ministry is awesome for an entire minute.
Each person must do 10 jumping jacks.
Do a runway walk from one end of the Great Hall to another
Have one person pretend like they’re underwater until the next challenge is completed
Try to get another group to dance like robots with you.
Each person talk to another person on your team like they’re your celebrity crush
Pretend like your clothes itch. Scratch, roll on the floor…JUST GET IT OFF!
Run up to another group. Narrate their challenge like a Sports Announcer
Have everyone spin around 5 times, then walk ten steps in a straight line
Run up to another group and tell them “YOU MADE ME CRY” and drag it out until they ask why!
Choose one player to talk like a cat the rest of the morning.
Run up to another group and ask them if they believe in fairies until someone says yes!
VROOM VROOM. It’s the Indy 500! We’ll let you off with just one lap, though: run one lap around the gym.
1,2,3,4, I declare a thumb war! Have a thumb wars tournament. The winner gets cheered by the rest of the group!
Go around the circle and say your FULL NAME–INCLUDING MIDDLE!
Create a new Yoga pose and give it a name! Everyone must do the yoga pose.
RAP TIME. One person raps while everyone else beatboxes.
Choose a fitness instructor–lead the group in a workout routine for an entire minute!
TIME FOR THE GREAT DEBATE: Debate for two minutes on whether you are pro-pickle or anti-pickle.
TIME TO RAGE: Run up to another group, and start a mosh pit! (for those of you youngins…that means to jump up and down, bumping into other people)
Pick a random object in the room and make a one-minute commercial for it.
Start a back-rub train: Each person must rub the shoulders of the person in front of them. Once you’ve rubbed for 30 seconds, turn around and rub the other person’s shoulders.
Start a conga line–take one lap together around the gym.
This year for our annual “Confirmation Awards” (the awards I give to students who have actually completed all of their requirements), I decided to do something different and make trophies for each of the students who won!
This was such an easy DIY, and I learned some things, so here we go:
The first thing to do is collect your supplies. I went to the local Dollar Tree, where dreams are made.
I hot-glued plastic plates onto plastic cups. I decided to double up the plastic plates, because I thought it made it sturdier and matched the texture of the cups more.
Then I hot-glued the various figures on top. For some of them, I added plastic cups that I found. For the football one, I hot-glued a “gold medal” to it. For the princess one, I broke the wand in half and hot glued it to the plate.
I spray-painted them after this. I noticed it was tough getting into some of the crevices, but if I spray-painted it from the bottom first, it made it easier. ALSO: DO NOT OVER-SPRAY PAINT. It gets tacky.
Here they are! I wish I took better pictures, but this is how they ended up looking. My one regret, besides over-spray-painting, was not picking the hot glue off before I spray painted.
Seriously easy! My favorite trophies were the dinosaur ones, and the corn one.
One of my biggest strengths is that I am a Master Curriculum Planner. In my setting, I kind of have to be. We have a Sunday School-style program in that because we have one main hour of programming each week, and we have Confirmation smack dab in the middle of our middle school years. So, we split off into three groups: 5th & 6th grade, 7th Grade Confirmation, and 8th grade. We still have large-group teaching and small groups, but each group has their own curriculum and discussion questions… which equals a lot of work! Fortunately, I’ve had the ability to work on it one or two years at a time, and refine the previous year’s as I work on a new year.
You might be saying, “Heather, why don’t you just purchase curriculum? That’s what it’s for!” My answer: I love most purchased curriculum out there. I’m a huge fan of Orange, Sparkhouse, LIVE, Credo Confirmation, The Thread by y360, and other comprehensive curriculums.
But for us, I assessed the needs of our context and decided to do a four-year comprehensive curriculum. 5th & 6th grade rotates Old & New Testaments, 7th grade does Confirmation, and 8th grade addresses their identity through Spiritual Gifts. You can read more about how I develop a long-term curriculum by reading my article published in YouthWorker Journal.
Here is a look at the way I format curriculum over the course of 4 years:
On top of Sunday mornings, we also have lots of retreats–it’s one of the hallmarks of our ministry! I typically plan the curriculum for our retreats, as well as for Middle School Mayhem, our weeklong Day Camp. Again–I could buy curriculum for these events, and I do for some retreats. But for Middle School Mayhem, I like to mimic what is happening in Vacation Bible School since it happens the same week. This year we’re branching off from VBS week, so I may have more freedom in the future.
But again…I enjoy writing curriculum and am good at it.
Today I want to share my favorite way to plan curriculum over a series.
Basically, I fold a piece of paper into the number of lessons that I need.
I write the things that I need to plan: Date, Title, Bottom Line, Scripture, Notes, etc.
Then, I fill in the blanks. My big secret for finding scriptures that match themes is the Topical Bible.
Easy, right? Here are some examples:
This is how I planned our 8th grade year on Spiritual Gifts. I divided up the 15 gifts (from LeaderTreks) into 5 categories: Leaders, Teachers, Movers, Judgers, and & Helpers. Then I planned out some scriptures.
This is how I’m planning Mayhem for this upcoming summer! I’m drafting this on paper, then I’ll form it into a document (like the next two)
This was our first year of creating Mayhem, a day camp, so this was my first way of formatting what I drafted on paper into a document, with additional details: like, notes and games. This year’s camp was MOUNTAIN themed!
This year’s Mayhem was CAVE-themed. As you can see, I added “Snack” and some other categories to plan all aspects of the camp.
Hope this helps someone out there plan their pwn curriculum! For me, I always find looking at the week as one comprehensive piece and viewing its parts as part of a whole helpful. It’s allowed me to be really imaginative and thorough, whether the series has been exegetical or topical.
And this Lite Brite used for a stage decoration, but not for interactive play
SO. I had to do this from scratch! And it wasn’t easy. Thus begins my journey:
Step One – procure Lite Brite pegs
I found Lite Brite pegs on eBay, no where else. Not on Amazon, not on Facebook Marketplace, not on Craiglist. I figured initially that I would need 1500, but after I purchased the pegboard, I realized I needed more like 2500. It cost about $80 for all of the pegs…not a cheap venture. I also had to wait for some of the pegs to arrive (but that was no big deal – I was working in advance!)
Step Two – procure pegboard
I went to Lowes, and decided to make two 4×4 Lite Brites. I tested the pegs in the board to make sure they would fit. I realized it could work with just one peg board, but might be best with two. I thought “let’s just get this in my car first.”
It wouldn’t fit in my car. So I karate-chopped it.
Then I knew I’d need two more pieces– and I just knew they’d fit in PJ’s vehicle, since he has a crossover. I waited a week, we went to Manards and found the same 4×4 pegboard.
And it didn’t fit. So I karate-chopped it.
Step Three: Adhere pegboard with wood glue
I thought I could make it work: So I overlapped the pieces to make them strong. I used almost an entire bottle of Elmer’s Wood Glue.
But the pegs didn’t line up. I had two options:
Drill each hole individually in order to get the holes to line up better
Start over from scratch (yikes)
I called some buddies – a group of men at our church that love doing construction projects. They took it off my hands, purchased four new pieces of pegboard, put them in their truck, told me next time to just call them, glued it together, and put studs in to keep the holes all lines up while it was drying. Bravo, men.
PS, I definitely called these men on International Women’s Day. I didn’t take it personally: The best thing a woman can do is ask for help when she’s overwhelmed. Did I mention I was fighting off a flu-like plague during all of this?
Step 4: Paint Black
It took me under two bottles of matte black spray paint to paint the peg board. I only painted one side, because… remember how I was initially ahead of the game? By this point it was the day before the event. I made sure to paint inside of the holes too to make the pegs vibrant.
Step 5: Light up
This was tricky, too: We were using the Lite Brite at our “Neon Night,” which was great, considering the pegs shined better with a blacklight. However, it still needed some bright light from the back in order to make the pegs shine bright. We were fortunate that our staff’s videographer came by, and he hooked us up with 3 lights that he uses for filming.
Thoughts for improvement:
I have a few ideas that might make it better:
glue a piece of black butcher paper or tissue paper between the two pegboards. This would allow it to be REALLY black in the spaces that are unused.
Block out the sides with blackout curtains or tablecloths. That way the light is super-contained behind the lite brite.
More blacklight! That would really make it special. We experimented with putting the light in front or in back.
Spray a clear paint over it, so that the black spray paint doesn’t transfer on our hands/clothes as we transported it. It’s too awkward to move without getting dirty.
PS – We spent about $130 total on this project. $10 per sheet of pegboard, around $15 per 500 pegs (2500 total). Affordable, but definitely an adventure! I will be thinking of ways to reuse it, for sure.
All in all, this truly was an easy project; someone just had to be the first one to do it. You are welcome, world.
More about “Neon Night”
Neon Night consisted of many more components, including:
Neon hats (last time I ordered these I could have sworn they glow, but they didn’t this time…)
Neon night is always a favorite of mine…but it is absolutely the most expensive evening of the year, and takes hours to put up. I was very fortunate to have some great volunteers, including DJ PJ, to help with all of it. Can’t wait for next year!
**By using my Amazon Affiliate Links, I will receive a small amount that helps keep my blog and Women in Youth Ministry Alive! Thanks!