You’ve checked everything off your list. You have the food, the cake, the location, the decorations, but you’re still missing that special something that will take your celebration over the top. You decide to skip the traditional games, and make this one a DIY party. Everyone agrees, it’s a great idea! What’s not to love? The kids will get to create something new and fantastic to bring home to their parents (who will all be very impressed by your ability to pull off such an amazing activity), and they’ll all be excited for the next big event you have planned.
That’s how we expect group crafting projects to work out, but the reality is usually something much different. The kids are all screaming for help, there is trash everywhere, and little Johnny is crying because he just doesn’t know why he can’t get it right. You want nothing more than to lock yourself in the closet and contemplate all the ways you’ve failed as a parent. Your child, of course, is stuck smack dab in the middle, embarrassed and wondering how on earth she’s ever going to face her classmates again. The wonderful birthday party you planned is a travesty, everything is covered in glitter, and life as you know it has come to a glue-coated, screeching halt.
Okay, so maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but it isn’t too far off. The good news? It doesn’t have to be this way. Not in the slightest.
In all the years we’ve spent teaching, crafting, and helping others do the same, we’ve fallen flat on our faces in every possible way you can imagine. Yeah, it was awful. Sure, we wanted to go home and cry into our soup, but instead we went to work creating this little handbook to save you from the same fate.
Please note: this article is geared toward smaller groups. We are currently working on another article geared toward those hosting larger scale events with a quicker turn around times.
Know Your Audience
When working with a group of children, the range of abilities and temperaments may vary quite significantly from child to child. The same holds true for adults, but we can’t necessarily assume that kids will have the emotional regulation or problem-solving skills necessary to help themselves when things get tough. That’s why it’s important for you to know your audience. You may have one child that needs help with every single step of the process, a couple who just need a gentle nudge in the right direction when they get stuck, and another who is a whiz with crafts. Use that. Strategically seat your kids in places where they will be of the most use. Put your whiz-kid next to your neediest, and your mediocre crafters in a group so they can help each other when necessary. Trust me, you’ll be needed elsewhere, so let the kids pick up some of the slack.
Avoid Unnecessary Questions and Confusion
Making decisions is hard. The last thing you want to do on the big day, is field questions and mitigate disaster. Our goal is not to survive the party, it’s to enjoy it, and you can’t do that while running around barking orders and making impossible choices. That’s why it’s so important to anticipate any questions or problems that may occur, and develop solutions, in advanced of the big day. What supplies will you need? Where will the kids sit for the activity? How many adults do you have on hand who would be willing to help you with the project? Are you eating first? Who will clean up the table in between, and what will the kids be doing during this time?
Make a list of questions, and find their solutions. It’s better to over prepare than to under prepare.
Prepare Your Space in Advanced
Depending on the craft activity you’ll be doing, you may have different supply needs. We include all the craft materials you’ll need in our kits, but every group activity will require unique accommodations to help streamline the process. For example, if you’re painting, you may need water cups and paper towels for brush cleaning. If you’re doing a bead project, it’s wise to provide each kit with a tray to prevent the beads from falling on the floor or getting mixed up with everyone else’s (the trays they use to package meat from the grocery store work nicely once they’re cleaned up).
While preparing the space, don’t forget to consider your audience. Which brings me to our next point…
Don’t be Afraid to Assign Seats
Do you remember how we planned to pair our whiz-kid with our less capable crafter? Can you anticipate any issues here? Well, we all know that Suzie wants to sit next to Jessica, and Aaron wants to sit near Michael. So, how do we avoid the argument that will surely ensue when you ask Jessica to sit with Aaron? Assign seats.
No, it won’t make the party miserable. Nobody is going to run home and be like, “Mom, this mean old lady made me sit next to Michael while we did an activity! I got to make this cool thing, but I wanted to sit near Jessica! The outrage!” It’s just not going to happen that way. The craft project is only going to represent a small portion of time in the grand scheme of things. The party will go on. The kids will play and eat cake, and they can sit near whoever they like during that time period. If it makes you feel better, use some cleverly placed compliments to convince the kids to cooperate. They all like to feel special, and they all like to feel helpful. Use this to your advantage.
Do Your Homework
This ties into the “fielding disasters” part we discussed earlier, but I felt it was worthy of its own section due to the sheer level of importance. How on earth are you going to help these kids complete a craft project if you don’t first know how to do it yourself? Once the adult is confused, the party is put on hold while the grown-up (you know, the one who is supposed to have all the answers) steps into the struggle zone. If you know how to do the project yourself, you won’t have this issue. You’ll have all the experience necessary to confidently step up to the plate and solve problems as they occur.
No matter how well behaved the children, if you put a bunch of supplies in front of them, at least some of them are going to start touching them immediately. It doesn’t matter if you ask them not to. They are still kids. They have to touch things. It’s the rule.
This creates an issue for you as “the teacher” because now half the kids are only listening to your instructions with one ear’s worth of attention (if that). Do NOT let them get their hands on those supplies until AFTER you provide instructions.
These instructions may include your expectations for behavior, a brief demonstration, tips on brush cleaning, or an explanation as to why they have an old (clean) meat tray sitting in front of them. Regardless of what you need to say, it is absolutely VITAL that you say it with their full attention. Clap and say “all eyes on me” if you need to. That’s expected in school, and it isn’t rare for them to hear. IT doesn’t make you controlling or mean, it makes you wise, and ensures they will find greater success with their craft project.
Keep it brief, and keep it distraction free.
Plan to Circulate
As a teacher, the best way to avoid disaster is to circulate the room. Walk around. Be seen and available. Use your emotional thermometer to get a feel for the kids. This will help you to avoid meltdowns, arguments, and confusion. You will hear questions before the kids get up the nerve to ask. You can also use this time to collect garbage and other materials that seem to be getting in the way, disperse supplies as needed, and have some fun with your littles.
That’s it! You now have all the tools you need to create the perfect DIY celebration, and trust me, it will be totally worth it to see those kids smiling, having created something that is uniquely their own.
As always, we encourage you to share any tips and tricks you’ve picked up on your journeys.