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Dollars and Sense and a vacation club to boot

It was the turning point when the sound of one hundred and twenty-seven children from six to twelve years old filled the room with exuberance and excitement. The children eagerly awaited this holiday club. The leaders had worked very hard to make it a memorable occasion. Jungle decorations and artwork filled the stage and surrounding walls. Net-like structures hung from the ceiling and housed a rainbow of balloons. The musicians jumped onto the stage and the children vigorously sang along to their repertoire of new and favorite songs.

Beaming parents and friends watched from the sidelines as children answered questions, competed in quizzes or volunteered their help. When the winning team was announced, the roar was deafening. The question,

“Would you like another club next vacation?” received a resounding “Yes”.

So what made this event so successful? When it comes to children’s work, the answer is always the same, planning and organization. The budget was very limited as, regardless of their financial situation, the goal was to provide a positive outcome for every child who attended at minimal cost. The organizers knew that some invited families could not pay even a nominal fee.

How to create the right atmosphere?

Individual creativity shines in this field. The team headed to appliance stores, where they ordered boxes for refrigerators, washing machines, and kitchen appliances. Palms and ferns, trees and animals were drawn on the boxes, painted with acrylic paint and then cut out. The trunks of the trees were intertwined, so they were free, just like palm trees and ferns. For the most part, only the faces of the animals were visible, peeking out from behind the exotic foliage. The birds seemed to fly through the air, but they were hanging from old fishing lines. When the team finished, you could almost feel the steam from the jungle heat rising. CDs with jungle sounds and bird songs played in the background and enhanced the atmosphere.

What crafts to do?

With such a wide age group to cater to, should crafting be individual pieces or a team effort? A combination of both was chosen. Paper plates (not laminated) of all sizes were the preferred medium.

For the young children, the lines were previously drawn towards the center of the plate, but only slightly beyond the edge. The children’s task was to cut the lines and an older person overlapped the cut areas on top of each other forming a bowl shape which they stapled in place. Younger children then gathered leaves, pieces of string and whatever else was available to make a ‘nest’ inside the ‘bowl’ and glued some of their ‘finds’ to the outside as well. They then colored simple bird templates with shadow powders, cut them out, and placed them in the nest.

Older children were encouraged to decide which animal face they would like to make. His choice influenced the size of the plate used. By drawing a pear shape, most animal faces can be made. Some ‘pears’ need to be inverted, while others require lengthening or making the bulb of the ‘pear’ a bit thicker. (This principle works for monkeys, lions, giraffes, donkeys, and even cats and dogs.)

Once the desired shape is achieved, it helps to slightly fold the plate in half and cut the two pieces so that the face is symmetrical. The cutouts can be used to make ears or horns. Sometimes an extra plate is required and definitely so, for an elephant. Staple or glue the ears or horns in place. Try it yourself. You’ll be as amazed as the kids at the fabulous faces they were able to create.

Three children’s sweaters (grey, brown, and a reddish color) purchased at a thrift store were undone. The wrinkled wool was pre-cut to allow children to make fur or manes to add to faces. Piles of yarn and glue were placed on the sharing tables. The eyes were simply made from crinkled cellophane in shades of green and yellow and glued into place. They were then outlined in pen. The mouths were drawn in pencil or pen and colored or painted with the shading powders turned into watercolor with a stream of water.


A jungle scene had previously been drawn on a roll of white paper (cut from the local newspaper) and when the children had finished their craft, they were invited to work on the mural. Some shaded while others daubed the paint (They used daubers to do this and the effect is similar to indigenous Australian art work). The end result was a magical scene with a minimum of fuss and the other children were able to spend more time with their animal faces or bird nests.

Musical instruments:

No vacation club is complete without music. Small pine cutouts were given to the team and the children decorated them with colored paper turning them into castanets, old horseshoes were painted, strung with ribbon and pounded with an old spoon, small plastic bottles were filled with rice and sealed hermetically. before being sprayed with paint and large unlabeled cans they were decorated with ribbons and turned into drums. Note: All spray painting was done by adults beforehand.


These were age appropriate and the children were divided into teams. Each boy was given one of four different jungle motifs to place on their t-shirts with their name tag, making it very easy for leaders to identify both individuals and teams. Familiar games and some new ones were adapted to fit the jungle theme. Prizes were kept to a minimum, with the final score being the team’s important goal. Encouragement stickers were as popular as ever.


The puppets, sketches, narration and drama ensured that the children’s interest and concentration were maintained during the storytelling hours. They were also involved in making the ‘sounds’ or clapping etc. as required by the leader. Variety was the key.


The leaders knew the songs well and played and sang with enthusiasm making it fun for everyone. The use of action songs used the excess energy in a positive way.


All leaders completed ‘Duty of Care’ courses and police checks were conducted, health and safety guidelines put in place, registration forms recorded allergies and emergency phone numbers and where possible completed before the start the club, which allowed identification tags, etc. ready on arrival. The leaders were responsible for accepting and returning the children to their parents or guardians.

Dollars and sense:

To keep over a hundred and twenty children happy and entertained for a total of six hours over two days for less than two dollars, a child makes money and makes sense in today’s economy! It can be done as long as you have volunteers who are well trained and attuned to the needs of the children. Bring some ‘Dollars and Sense’ to your community and enjoy the creativity you’ll have with your friends or colleagues.