If you go by the book for Imagination Station in any Group VBS program, you will buy boxloads of take-home gadgets from Group, and you will spend $0.50-$1.00 per kid every single day just at this one station. We give special, creative attention to Imagination Station, but we try to do things that are just as effective without breaking the bank.
One of my favorite places to get ideas for this stuff is stevespanglerscience.com because his ideas are cheap and have awesome teaching applications. Here are affordable options we came up with to replace expensive Group Publishing gadgets for each of the 5 days at Weird Animals VBS.
DAY 1: KETCHUP PACKET CARTESIAN DIVER
For Day 1, instead of buying “Action Axls“(plastic cartesian divers) from Group, we used old water bottles and ketchup packets to create the same affect (explained here…) without spending much money. When you squeeze the bottle the ketchup packet dives toward the bottom, and when you release, it floats back toward the top. This taught the kids that even when they’re left out, Jesus loves them and brings them back up.
DAY 2: PAINT YOUR OWN FACE
DAY 3: SELF-INFLATING BALLOON ON A BOTTLE
For Day 3, instead of buying “Flip Flop Tops” to help with the Bible point, “Even when you don’t understand… Jesus loves you!”, we let the kids build “Fizz-Inflators” (explained here…), which is a balloon that self-inflates on top of a water bottle with the gases from a baking soda and vinegar reaction.
DAY 4: SWITCHEROO SPOONER
For Day 4, instead of buying “Switcheroo Spinners” (a fancy name for a wobblestone or a rattleback) from Group, we gave every kid a cheap spoon and let them create their own “celt spoon” (see a great explanation of how this works here…). This was a great, affordable lesson that tied in with the story of Jesus dying on the cross and the concept of repentance. Basically, you spin the bent spoon clockwise and after a few seconds it starts to wobble and then reverses directions, just like we might turn away from our sins and go a different direction with our lives
DAY 5: SQUASH YOUR FEARS WITH PLAY-DOH
For Day 5, instead of buying “Whistle Screamers” to help kids learn that “Even when you’re afraid… Jesus loves you!”, we kept things simple and used Play-Doh. The kids were instructed to make things that they are afraid of using the Play-Doh, and then they could squash those fears like you do with any Play-Doh creation.