If you keep your event simple and stay in touch with the teacher and parent helpers, a classroom party will be a piece of cake. Start the planning as early as possible so that you’ll have enough time to gather ideas, supplies, and parents to help you!
Before you do anything, meet with your child’s teacher. Many parents feel pressured to turn a class party into a county fair, but it’s more likely the teacher would prefer the event to be closer to cookies and punch. You might want to have two conversations, the first to settle on the general details and then a second conversation to run a few of your ideas by her. But whether you have one chat or ten, be sure to ask these questions before the event:
What is the party date and duration, and how many kids are in the class?
Are there any particular kinds of food or refreshments expected? Does any child in the class have a food allergy or dietary restriction you should be aware of?
How many helpers should attend? Will the teacher recruit volunteers or should you? Are there any forms or school procedures that volunteers need to follow before they enter the classroom?
Can you send a letter to other parents and request donations of time or money? Does the teacher have a list of parents who’d be interested in helping out?
Is there a particular theme? If not, is there something the class is studying that would be appropriate? Perhaps a favorite book character or science subject that would be fun as well as excite the kids about learning?
Will the party be inside the classroom? On the playground? In the gym or cafeteria?
Does the teacher have any game or activity preferences or restrictions? What’s the general skill level of the class? (You don’t want to use a word game if every child’s not reading or choose a craft activity that’s beyond kids’ control or coordination.)
How much time will you have to prep the party area? Time to clean up?
Plan the party
Whether you’re planning your child’s classroom birthday party or the class holiday festival, simplicity is your best friend. Traditional food, games, and crafts are popular because they have timeless appeal to kids. Plus, you don’t run into problems explaining game rules or placating picky eaters. Get creative by adapting traditional games, food, and activities to match your theme. Enlist the support of other parents to help you with preparation, crowd-control, and cleanup.
Keep these tips in mind:
- Choose a theme. Try to tailor your choice to a subject the class has been studying — such as the environment or a favorite book — or to the time of year. Keep the focus on cultural (rather than religious) celebrations when planning a holiday party.
- If you’re short on time, choose a craft or activity over competitive games. It keeps everyone calm, engaged, and wards off potential tantrums. And you don’t have to worry about prizes. Making a craft also gives each child a favor she made herself to bring home.
- If you do plan competitive games, try to choose challenges that reward different kinds of skills, like memory, word, number, and physical achievement. Keep prizes conservative and come prepared with a few extras in case of ties or judging disputes.
- Consider setting up activity stations, particularly if your child’s class is large. Ask a grownup to monitor each area and rotate kids between different projects.
- Think about inexpensive and quick ways to create ambiance, such as bringing in a boom box for party music. (Be aware of neighboring classes before you blast the volume.)
- Consider buying any supplies (such as napkins, cups, etc.) in bulk. It will save you time and money when you plan the next event. This is especially true in the younger grades, where there are parties almost every month!
- Even if you’ve discussed the students’ dietary issues with the teacher, it’s probably best to stay away from foods like peanuts and peanut butter, which can cause a severe allergic reaction in some kids.
- Try to send each child home with a party souvenir. These can be as simple as the craft he made or a sheet of stickers.
- Map out the itinerary ahead of time and share it with your volunteer help. Assigning specific tasks ahead of time will not only help everything get done, but also make helpers feel valued. Plus, it will keep kids focused and reduce the chance of things getting out of control. Generally, allow 15-20 minutes to eat and for each activity. Have a few ideas to spare in case an activity idea flops or finishes early.
At the event
The key to success here is arriving prepared and staying calm. On the party day, arrange to meet other parents outside the school or classroom if possible so you can review your plans and assign any remaining tasks. You may be lucky enough to get set-up time while the students are in the library or at recess, but if not, try to be as unobtrusive as possible while you’re getting ready. Here are a few suggestions for a satisfying and smooth event:
Arrive with any supplies portioned individually so that you don’t have to waste time getting organized. For example, if the kids are making hats, try to provide each student with his own bag filled with the basic materials. For the supplies students will share, offer enough choices so kids don’t need to wait too long for their turn with a favorite marker.
If you can’t set up beforehand, have a quick craft activity that can keep kids busy at their desks while the grownups are setting up. Another option is passing out refreshments at their desks while you finish getting ready.
Be flexible. If students aren’t responding to a game or activity, move on to the next idea.
Particularly for younger students, alternate active events with quiet ones so that you don’t send their energy levels out of control. Sharing a story or picture book is a great way to restore calm.
Remember that you are the party planner, not the behavior warden. Let the teacher handle discipline problems.
As the event organizer, you set the party tone. When you stay relaxed, organized, and in a good mood, everyone at the celebration will be inspired to do the same.