Fall is here and so is the barrage of holiday party planning. Almost every month from October through February, there is a classroom/church/personal holiday party that will require creativity, organization, and singing to yourself over-and-over again, “Let it go” when things do not go according to plan.
So to help to keep the calm and party plan on, here is the start-to-finish, one month countdown of getting the job done accompanied by dos and don’ts so you can, dare it be said, enjoy yourself?!?
Countdown to Party: 1 Month Prior
One blessing with the holidays is you’ve already got the party theme. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day…BAM! It’s all right there. How creative you want to get with that theme is up to you. If you are a first time party planner, stick with the basics. A Halloween Party, A Thanksgiving Party, etc…
If you have experience with the basics, try bumping it up by adding a more specific theme to the holiday party you are responsible for. How about “Hip-Hop Halloween” where the focus is on dance and music. Or “Friendsgiving”, where the focus is not as much on the foods as it is the friendship.
- Come up with your theme a month in advance. This will help you get organized not only with the rest of the planning, but it will also give you more time to think about what you will need and steps you will need to complete.
- Consider your audience when selecting a theme. Even if you are just throwing a basic Halloween party, it will be much different if your participants are middle school kids versus Kindergartners.
- Email your child’s teacher requesting logistical information like how many kids in the class, the time allotted to the party, are there any allergies? What time can volunteers come to start setting up?
- Solicit volunteers by letting them know party date, time, and the theme you decided on. Then, send out a sign-up which includes an initial planning meeting date and time. Sign-up Genius is a great web-based tool for this. Or you can send home a simple form requesting names and email addresses/cell phone numbers for people that are interested in helping.
- Decide the level of help you will need from your volunteers. Are you asking for their help with the planning start-to-finish? Are you doing all the planning but will divide the responsibilities? Do you need them to just show up and help the day of the party? What ever you decide, be sure to communicate this.
- Do not wait until the last minute to decide on a specific theme or change your theme. You will find yourself in an unorganized frenzy and become a tar-and-feather victim of those who are helping you.
- Do not assume that you know the time of the party, number of kids in the class and other pertinent information like life threatening allergies or that your child can accurately give you this information.
- Don’t wait until even 2 weeks before to try and get volunteers. Remember, you are dealing with busy parents here. Chances are their calendars are booked, or even if they are available, just the THOUGHT of adding another thing will throw them over the edge. If you want help, give a month’s notice.
- Don’t create a party theme that is too out-there. A big fan of all organic, vegan, gluten-free living? Great! However, good luck planning your Vegan-oween Party with a bunch of second graders and their parent helpers.
Countdown to Party: 3 Weeks Prior
You have a a theme which you have been toying over, a list of volunteers, and maybe you have even started a to-do list. Three weeks prior is the one-month-to-party catch-up week. If you have decided upon your theme, talked to the teacher, collected potential volunteers, and scheduled a meeting, then grab a cup of coffee and put your feet up. You are good to go! If not, this is the week where you catch up on anything that did not get completed in the previous week.
- Do make a decision on a theme and stick to it. You can always tweak it along the way but flip-flopping at this point will only make you crazy. There is enough time for crazy the day before, of, and during. Save crazy for then.
- Follow-up with your child’s teacher if you have not heard back from them yet. Teachers are extremely busy and a gentle reminder may be necessary to get pertinent information that you will need for planning.
- Contact your volunteers. If these are people you have never worked with before, a personal phone call or email are always appreciated and makes people feel at ease and know that their help is appreciated. This also sends the message that they are not in the grips of a controlling, party-planning, wacko.
- Start a to-do list and a shopping list. This will help you feel less overwhelmed as you get closer to the party. It will also help you delegate tasks to your volunteers.
- Think about having a wind down activity like reading a story out loud or having the students complete a word search.
- Consider having one parent in charge of photos. Having someone in charge of taking photos, organizing, distributing, and knowing school/district policy on this, will be a huge advantage.
- Don’t ignore the people who have expressed interest in volunteering. Even a short email that thanks them for their willingness to help and that you will be in touch shortly will go a long way in ensuring you have a reliable crew.
- Don’t have ideas written down in twenty different places. Create just two lists, “To-Do” and “Shopping”. Leave these lists in a central location where you can add to them, like a folder in the kitchen or pinned to a bulletin board. You can also use a notes or list app on your smartphone. Placing all ideas in one place will help you stay focused and organized.
Countdown to Party: 2 Weeks Prior
The focus here is delegation and finalizing which games, crafts, and other activities will be part of your party. If you are including your parents in the planning, you will have a meeting this week. During this meeting, you will share your ideas so far (which you have been accumulating on your lists), solicit ideas from your parent volunteers, and delegate tasks.
- Do reach out to parents via email or text message 1-2 days prior to your planning meeting to remind them of the date, time, and location of the meeting.
- Have an agenda. You do not need to have it typed up on letterhead with one-inch margins, but just a simple list of things you want to cover during the planning meeting: theme, classroom information you gathered from the teacher, a general overview of your ideas thus far like games or crafts, will do.
- Take notes during the meeting and be willing to swap some of your ideas for the ideas that come up during the meeting.
- When deciding on food, keep it simple. Nothing too messy or difficult to eat/drink. Also consider combining the snack with the craft or a game. This will save you from an anxiety attack when 10 kids finish their snack in 20 seconds and 10 kids have not even started yet.
- Ensure that everyone leaves the meeting with very clear knowledge of party logistics and the items delegated to them. If you feel it necessary, send a follow-up email with this information. Organize the email by volunteer name and the task(s) delegated to them.
- If you are not having a meeting but delegating tasks, be sure to send out an email informing your volunteers of the tasks you are delegating to them.
- If you will need to order items online, do this now so you receive them on time.
- Don’t assume that people who said they will help when you first reached out to them will show up at the meeting without a reminder. This is a one-off event and will be easy to forget or de-prioritize.
- Don’t wing the meeting. Your time is precious and so is the time of your volunteers. If you wing it, your time (and their time) might get sucked into the black-hole of mindless, unproductive conversation. Ever been to a pointless meeting at work? Avoid THAT.
- Do not blow off other people’s suggestions or ideas. You don’t have to take them all but if someone has a good idea, let them know it and be willing to add/revise/replace what you had originally planned.
- When selecting crafts for a party, don’t choose a craft that is very detailed. Chances are the kids will lose interest and/or you will not have enough time to complete the project.
- If you have a game or craft that was a favorite and went well from a prior year or holiday, don’t be afraid to use it again. Just make small changes to incorporate the theme or holiday for this party.
- When deciding on games, agree to NOT have prizes and just play the game for fun. Otherwise, it gets too complicated and competitive. Bonus alert: You don’t have to buy prizes!
Countdown to Party: 1 Week Prior
You know which games will be played, crafts will be completed, and activities that will be presented. Now it’s time to start shopping, photo-copying, cutting, and organizing. This week’s goal is to get your supplies in order, prepared, and ready to go.
- Designate an out-of-the way place in your house for your party’s supplies. This will ensure that after each shopping trip or as things arrive in the mail, they are all in one place and will not go unexpectedly missing.
- Think about how you want to organize each component during the party. If you are making popsicle stick photo-frames, how many popsicle sticks will each child need, and how will you distribute them? How will the glue be handled? Standing in the front of the room with 25 children waiting as you count out 25 popsicle sticks to each one is a recipe for disaster. Letting first graders take control of their own destiny with bottles of Elmers glue might not be the best idea either. Pre-count, cut, prep, and sort what you can ahead of time. Make friends with Dixie cups and Q-tips for anything that can create a mess.
- Start an email chain with the other volunteers and use it to post any questions or new information as it arises. Keeping everyone in the loop will make for less surprises the day of the party.
- Don’t wait until the night before to start the prep-work. You might find that there is not enough coffee in the world to into a class of 25 excited kids on no sleep. Procrastination is not an option. You need to be on your A-game here.
- Do not forget about clean-up. Plan on bringing supplies like Clorox wipes, paper towels, and a broom.
Countdown to Party: 1-2 Days Prior
If you have done all of the weekly tasks, then 1-2 days prior is all about dotting your i’s and dotting your t’s. During this time, you will check in with the classroom teacher to see if there are any last-minute changes or updates to the schedule or student population.
“What’s that Miss Jones? 30 minutes were added to the party due to shortened lunches? You have a new student who is allergic to everything???” Good to know.
You will also want to check in with volunteers and see if there are any updates on their end.
Finally, this is the time you will want to complete any prep work or last-minute shopping.
- Send an email to your group of volunteers reminding them of when the party starts and when to be there. Recap who is responsible for what as well as updates from the classroom teacher.
- Check your to-do list and shopping list to make sure you have everything.
- Go through your supplies and make sure everything is in order and accounted for. The last thing you want is to go hand out pretzels and peanut butter to a group of hungry second graders only to realize that your dog ate half the pretzels and most of the peanut butter and that your 4-year old thought it would be a good idea to make her own popsicle photo-frames.
- Consider music. Create a play list ahead of time or have a CD and player ready to go.
- If you have everything checked off your lists, don’t throw them away just yet. These are still good reminders of last minute tasks and supplies you need to grab. Plus, seeing all those items crossed of will bring a sense of inner peace.
- Do not over-think things or make any unnecessary last-minute changes. You have done a great job planning to this point. You got a great thing going…don’t mess with it.
Countdown to Party: T- 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…blastoff!
You communicated, planned, prepped, counted, sorted, and kept things away from pets and small children. Your day has arrived! The only thing to worry about today is the clock and your email. You will want to make sure you are on time and aware of any changes that occur the day of.
- Think through how much time it will take you to load the car, make any last minute stops, and drive time. Arriving on time to set-up will be key to not feeling flustered.
- Check your email several times prior to leaving your house just in case there are any updates from the teacher or volunteers so you can, at the very least, mentally prepare for any surprises for which you will need to adjust. The last thing you want to do is be a frazzled mess in front of a class of 5th graders. They will chew you up and spit you out for snack.
- Do not be late. Enough said.
- Do not expect that everything will go exactly as planned. Relax, be flexible, and know that no matter what, kids are extremely forgiving and are just glad you are there.
- Don’t leave the classroom a mess. Chances are the teacher will be transitioning the students from the party to lunch or dismissal. This is a task in and of itself. Do not leave them with a messy class to come back to.
If you have not added a bottle of wine or a fine cup of tea to your list, do this now. Sit back, put your feet up, and smile. You just did a GREAT job not only coordinating a classroom party, but creating childhood memories.