Tips of all sorts

I got a $45 tip over the weekend! That is one major perk of the “edutainment” industry.

Speaking of tips…here are two important ones that have been on my mind as I plot my future in this business:

1. You must control the food. I’ve been doing a lot of research and if you can supply the food for events then you can rake in the big bucks. Some places will let you bring in your own food but I have heard from several small business owners that there are some major liability issues associated with this. Plus, you would rather your clients spend every cent they budgeted for their event with you. One place I know makes pizza, chicken fingers, and other kiddie food on site and has cakes and cupcakes made for them at a local bakery and charges accordingly. They also have special catering services available but everything they offer is fairly simple. You don’t have to be a professional chief to make the most of the food situation.

2. You MUST find a way to have indoor and outdoor events. In the winter places with indoor parties are very popular but come summer people feel more comfortable having the party in their own backyard.  I think having an outdoor picnic area at you facility is a major plus. Another way to work around this is to offer your party planning services at people’s homes. If your facility is air conditioned I would advertise this big time in the summer because sometimes it is just too darn hot to have a party in your backyard…use this to your advantage.

So those are my tips: Control the food, control the weather, and $45!!!

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Control Freaks

So I have become  obsessed with this developing my own birthday party company. Today, while cruising the web I discovered that some zoos, museums, aquariums etc…actually outsource their birthday parties to private companies. Now there is an idea worth tapping into!

Today I encountered one of the most dreaded creatures of the child entertainment industry…..the control freak mom. This mom brought her own treat bags and table settings and she insisted on the children doing an activity that really was not age appropriate.  Remember,  a birthday party is about celebrating a special day with the people you care about. A child will only turn 5 once, please don’t insist on them doing activities more suited for 10 yr olds, let them enjoy being 5!

I think the worst control freak mom I ever encountered was at the first year of day camp at the museum.  This mom would hang around camp the whole day and basically just bug me and the rest of the staff while we were clearly busy. Worse still, she would not leave her children alone. I could over look most of the issues we faced with this parent except for one: She would “help” her children with their crafts!

I let craft time at this particular day camp be very open. I give the campers directions and materials but I let them put their own unique spin on each project. On this particular day, the campers were making construction paper “W” puppets of dinosaurs. I helped the campers fold the paper into a puppet but after that they could decorate it however they wanted. Some puppets had scales, some had feathers,  some had like 15 googley eyes, some resembled actual dinos, some were Princess-O-Saurouses, whatever…let your imaginations soar! This mom would actually come over and say things like “No son, a dinosaur shouldn’t have 3 eyes!” or “Oh, you can make it look nicer than that!” I just wanted to be like “Lady, it’s his puppet, let him do what he wants!” at one point the kids had all left to go to play on the playground and the mom actually stayed in the craft tent and “fixed” her kids’ projects.

After that I added a new rule:
Unless parents are official volunteers who fill out an application, get selected, and attend training…they will not stay at camp. There are shopping centers and restaurants down the street…go there.  Camp is about the kids…not you!

Here is another thing along those lines: When selling craft projects, what looks good to the parents and what the kids actually enjoy and learn from are two very different things. Parents seem to like to see what I call “craft kits” where every kids comes home with a lovely looking craft and every kid’s craft looks the same. After nearly 5 years in this business and more years than I care to admit to at Heroes Camp I can tell you this: It means a heck of a lot more to the kids if they design the craft themselves.

Case in Point: On the last day of every camp I have the kids make picture frames and I put a group picture in each one. I’ve tried using those “foamie” craft kit picture frames in the past. The make them with a “camp” theme and each one looks basically the same.  Personally, I think they are really nice and I don’t know how much the parents liked them but the kids were unimpressed. You know what the kids do love? My new tradition is to put all the left over craft supplies like stickers, Popsicle sticks, glitter, paint, etc…on the craft tables and let them go nuts. Then I give them each a sticker with the camp name and year on it. They love it!

Well I best be off, I am doing a birthday party tomorrow!

F.Y.I In my previous post I mentioned a party planning book I am reading by a well known company. I also mentioned how I highly reccommend Oriental Trading Co. Can you guess what company that book recommended in chapter one? Oriental Trading! See, the experts agree with me!

Next Big Idea

So the thought that has been on my mind nonstop lately, besides the whole finding a teaching job thing, is that I need to hit on another big selling point for my business. I’ve got the “make your own stuffed animals” and “Glamour Girl” workshops, which I love but what else can I offer?

Here’s what I need:

Games

Decorations

Dress-up

I think my next project will be developing birthday party packages all based around some popular themes.

So enough of my ranting and on to some useful advice for myself and anyone in my position looking for the next big idea:

Take a look at Oriental Trading.

Either get a catalogue or visit there website www.orientaltrading.com (or call 800.228.2269 even.)

This company has everything! Their motto is “Fun products for every occasion!” They have party supplies, craft supplies, toys, games, craft kits, and a line called “Hands on Fun” which has everything you need for classroom activities for all occasions. This would be really helpful for daycares.“Hands on Fun” has a line of fabric markers that Noah’s Ark Animal Workshop uses for their “Color-A-Shirt” activities so you know they must be good. If nothing else, I use them.

All I have to do is look through some of these catalogs and I am bound to come up with some sort of amazing idea.

Here’s one now: Carnival games! Like duck pond. They sell those. I wonder if people would pay to have my crew come and run a small carnival in their backyard… My friends and I raised a lot of money with a backyard carnival for a good cause when we were like 13.

Well I am off to explore the Oriental Trading catalogs strewn about my floor. Then, I think I will take a look at “The Penny Whistle Birthday Party Book” which I picked up at the local library along with 16 other books on the subject of activities for children. Expect quite a few book reviews in the near future.

Wheel

A couple of years ago, I was asked by my boss to take part in a short Q&A session at a conference. I don’t remember exactly how we got on the topic but somehow, we got on the subject of the #1 piece of advice I would give someone trying to start any children’s program.

So here it is. Let’s start this new blog off with the best I have:

“Don’t reinvent the wheel.”

As I told the people at the conference (a few of whom were members of MENSA so why they wanted to hear what I had to say I shall never know,) start with a format you are familiar with then work your way from there. When we first decided to start a day camp at the museum I was a little overwhelmed. I didn’t know where to start. How long should the camp be? What age groups should we have? What are we going to do with these kids all day?

Now, for a rather substantial part of my life I have been blessed with being involved in an amazing Catholic version of VBS known as Heroes Camp. It’s an amazing day camp program for children ages 4-11, runs 9:30-12:30, consists of 4 activity stations, opening and closing activities where the whole camp is together, and every activity the campers do (even snacks and games) reinforce the topics learned that day. Well, since that model worked so well for Heroes Camp and after 6 or so years of being a Heroes Camp counselor I knew it pretty well, I took it and applied it to “Dino Camp” as the kiddies call it. Overall, I have to say it works pretty well. Camp costs about $80 a week, we get a nice turn out every year, and most people keep coming back.

Ok, so I realize that these camps are very different. One being about dinosaurs and fossils and the other being about Catholic Saints but I used the bare bones of Heroes Camp (hours, how the hours are broken up, age group etc…) and applied it to my Dino theme. No need to reinvent the wheel and I did not break any laws…this time.

Hello world!

Well, well, well…here we are again! After I swore I was done blogging. Well, this time it is different because I am blogging with a purpose. The inspiration for this blog came to me last year when some museums similar to the one I work at created a yahoo web group. I got a discussion going about children’s programming. To my surprise, I found we were the only museum doing such a variety of programs. This is in part to do with the fact that I am obsessed but it is also a brilliant marketing strategy on the part of my boss because kids are where the money is. Let’s face it, even in these tough economic times; people will still spend big bucks on their kids. Just last weekend, I saw a woman spend $700 on a birthday party for her four year old daughter. Unfortunately, it was not a party booked with me but that is beside the point.

I am blogging now because I want to share some of my ideas with whoever may come across this blog. I talked to some of the people from the other museums and some other educators and they all seemed to agree that if there was a resource explaining how to come up with children’s activities: they would all read it. Sometimes I may post complete lesson plans, sometimes I may just post some tips or a random idea I had. Anything I think that could be useful I will post because I wish when I was starting from scratch I had something like this to turn to.