Tips And Tricks To Make Your School Carnival A Smashing Success!

At many schools, carnivals are more than well-attended family events. They're beloved traditions. One reason so many schools hold carnivals is that they can be easily customized to suit a particular community, becoming as simple or as over-the-top as people want.

Pulling off a successful carnival can be a big job, but you can make the event manageable by tackling the planning one step at a time. The reward for all your hard work is when you see kids, parents, and teachers having a blast. Here are the steps for a winning carnival.

Assemble a committee. There is a lot to coordinate. Get help. Look for creative, enthusiastic parents who are not already bogged down with other commitments. Recruit volunteer leaders to head up food, games, and logistics.

Decide on your goal. Carnivals are often fundraisers, but sometimes the goal is just to provide a fun event for the school community. Some carnivals are offered as a safe alternative to trick-or-treating. Make sure everyone involved in planning the carnival understands your group's goal.

Talk about a theme. Themes can add a lot to the atmosphere of your school carnival. Harvest festival and Halloween are good fall themes. In spring, think about a luau or barbecue. An international theme offering food and activities from a variety of cultures is a hit at many schools. But get so hung up on the theme it takes away from your carnival. Many schools are just as successful taking a traditional approach with attractions, cotton candy and snow cones.

Choose your location. Will your event be indoors, outdoors, or both? If the event is held outdoors, work out a contingency plan in case of bad weather. Make creative use of space. If your carnival is held indoors, stage each game in a different hallway so that everyone isn't crowded into the cafeteria or gym. If your activities are outdoors, you can use playground structures for part of a maze.

Set the date and time. Think about weather and other commitments families have, especially youth sports. If your community is into college football, make sure your fall carnival doesn't conflict with a big game. When you have a date in mind, check your town and school district websites for scheduling conflicts. Set a start and end time.

Apply for permits. Check with local government offices to find out whether any permits will be required for your carnival. Many cities require permits for rides or inflatables, outdoor use of electricity, and food preparation and sales. Liability insurance is often a requirement for obtaining a permit. Permit applications may be due 90 days or more before an event, so it's important to find out your communitys rules early in the planning process.

Check on insurance coverage. If your parent group is insured, find out whether the policy covers carnivals. If your group is covered under a school insurance policy, ask whether a binder is needed to cover the carnival. Be sure to ask about coverage for carnival rides and inflatables like bounce houses. Ultimate Inflatables carries a $3 million policy to help protect you and your organization. With a little advance notice, we can also add your school as an additional insured on our policy, which helps keep all of the administrators happy.

Nail down your budget. This will drive your big decisions. Many parent groups have put on wonderful, well-attended carnivals with tight budgets. With a bigger budget, you may be able to afford better rides, more elaborate games, and additional food options.

Whatever the size of your budget, look into ways to cut event costs. Common cost-saving strategies include borrowing homemade carnival games from another school or asking parents to make and donate them. Some parent groups defray costs with business sponsorships or donations. Ask local businesses to donate goods or for sponsorships. If your group gets support from businesses, be sure to publicly acknowledge them with a sign or banner posted at the carnival.

Staff your carnival. You'll need plenty of volunteers to run your event. Keep in mind that parents, especially those with younger kids, will want to participate in the carnival with their children. Those parents may be limited to helping with event setup or cleanup. Some parent groups find teachers willing to help, and others don't want to pressure their already stretched-thin faculty. Older students can be a great resource at one elementary, high school football players in their team uniforms manned the booths, and the kids loved it! Some groups have arranged volunteer exchanges with other schools so that parents can join in the fun and games at their own child's school. Other potential volunteer sources include scout troops, community organizations, and church groups.

Plan on food. With many of the logistics in place, you can start talking about everyone's favorite subject: food. The first step is to consult your local health department to find out what rules you'll have to follow to prepare and serve food. Ultimate Inflatables rents all of the equipment needed to provide carnival classics like hot dogs, popcorn and cotton candy. By letting your volunteers man these stations you can cut costs significantly. Don't forget to include drinks and desserts, which local businesses are often willing to donate.

When deciding how much food to prepare, consider a best-case scenario for attendance and assume everyone will arrive hungry. Then prepare enough food for a crowd of that size plus 10 percent. Once you have a few years of data from previous carnivals, you'll have a better idea of how much food to make or buy.

Play games. Interactive games are one of the hallmarks of a carnival. They can also cause anxiety among parents who fear kids will reject homemade games. Test-market new games on your children, and don't be surprised if they're just as happy throwing a ball in a hoop as playing an active video game. Standard go-to games include a cakewalk, a ring toss, and a fishing activity. If you go to an amusement park such as Lagoon, make sure to check out their games to see what can be adapted for your school's carnival. Contests such as a bake-off or a chili cook-off are also popular.

Provide an attraction. Find something that will draw people in to your carnival. Inflatables are always a great addition. They are big, colorful, and they tell everyone in the neighborhood that you are having a carnival. Other ideas are pony rides, face painting, and even hayrides. Musical performances by students or local bands are another good way to draw a crowd.

Think (hard) about money. Your goal is to have as few people handling cash as possible to reduce the risk of mismanagement and theft. One way to keep money in a safe, central location is to sell tickets or tokens at the door and have participants redeem them for food or activities. Another approach is to charge a flat fee for admission and give each participant a wristband that covers all food and activities.

If your goal is to raise money, tickets may be more profitable since you can charge a higher price for more elaborate and popular activities. If your community is value-minded, parents may welcome the wristband. Or you can do both. For example, wristbands could be sold for $10 each with a $3 discount for siblings, while tickets could sell for 50 cents each. That way, parents and children had options.

Setting prices is a challenge, especially if it's the first year for your event. The delicate balance is to price your carnival high enough to cover expenses while taking care not to price families out. The less money you spend, the less you'll need to charge. It's a good idea to send out surveys asking parents how much they can afford to spend at the event. For a baseline, estimate how many kids will attend and how many activities each will do. Determine the per-child price needed to cover expenses.

The common thread among successful carnivals and festivals is a keen understanding of what the school community wants. With that knowledge, your parent group will put on an event that students will talk about until next year!

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