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School Carnival Planning for Rookies

School Carnival Planning for Rookies: Last Minute Tips

If this is your first time organizing a school carnival, you probably think you’ve anticipated everything that could possibly go wrong. We hope so! But just in case, here are some things to watch out for, and some helpful hints to implement before event day.

Keep it Together

school carnival

You can’t be in 2 places at once, much less 4 or 5. If you spread your carnival out all over the school, you will be running madly from one of the school to the other all night, and in general be unable to effectively coordinate. Keep everything in one area, within eyesight.

If that’s not possible – let’s say your event has to be inside due to rain and you have a smaller school – then designate one good volunteer for each separate space. Hopefully these are people who have helped organize the event and know what’s going on and can run the site independently.

Make sure they know which vendors to expect when, and what the requirements for each vendor are (who needs a check, where does the equipment go, etc). They should also know how many volunteers to expect. Putting a list of volunteers and their time slots in each area is a good idea.

Be Ready for Vendors

This many vendors in a small space? Plan ahead!

Vendors have tight schedules, and yours is not their only event. Have any required payments ready to go when they get there, and know exactly where the equipment will go. You might need to designate someone to do this job, but be prepared for the possibility you’ll need to do it yourself (we were just at an event where the designated vendor greeter didn’t show up). And on behalf of all vendors everywhere, please please do not have a meeting with your team about where to put things while the vendor waits.

Where should things go? Ask the vendor ahead of time. Here at Kidsmart, we welcome photos, and especially videos of the area, so we can identify potential space problems ahead of time (i.e. it’s a fire lane, the incline is too steep, etc.). And remember – vendors need space to set up and a nearby spot to unload. Make sure they don’t have to compete with each other – or your volunteers! – for access.

Concessions Need Power

cotton candy and popcorn machines

If you have concessions or other powered equipment, you’ll need to be within reach of a power outlet. It’s usually 50-100 feet, depending on the vendor’s requirements (here at Kidsmart it’s 50 feet). That means directly to the wall outlet, not to a power strip or other extension cord. Otherwise, you’ll need to rent a generator from the vendor. (And please don’t plan to plug one vendor’s equipment into another’s generator unless you clear it with both vendors – generators have wattage limits).

Dunk Tanks Need Water

dunk tank

If you rented a dunk tank, you need to provide the water. And be careful what you place downstream or near the dunk tank – if you leave the hose in and forget it, it will overflow and could flood the ground nearby or run downstream. Likewise, when the tank is emptied, it will run out and you’ll need to think about what might be nearby or downstream that you don’t want to get wet. Hint: Kidsmart won’t place tents or wooden games close to or downstream of a dunk tank.

Sno Cone Machines Need Ice and Coolers

shaved ice sno cone machine

No vendor we know of supplies ice with a sno cone machine. Make sure you designate someone to get bags of ice, and – this is important – coolers or at least buckets to put them in. If you leave bags of ice on the ground, they will melt, and you will have water everywhere. If you’re outside on concrete this might be ok, but if you end up inside due to weather you will have a flooded and slippery school floor, and if you’re on grass, the area around the table will turn to mud.

Sun and Shade

school carnival

If your event is outside on a hot day, in a hot place, and especially if you are on shadeless blacktop, you will need to be mindful of sun and its direction throughout the day. When placing Kidsmart tents, try to place them with the backs to the sun to create shade at the game table. That means taking note of the sun throughout the day beforehand. Get extra tents for concessions, face-painters, and anyplace you will have volunteers or vendors standing for long periods. Remember also to place tents so that they provide shade – if the sun shines directly into the front of the tent, the tent will not be very helpful. Shade is more important than what will look the prettiest.

Avoid the Crowds

crowd at school carnival

If your school has 700-800 students or more, you can probably expect a very crowded event. That means more stress and more mess. You can reduce crowds by stretching out your event over a longer period – for example 3 or 4 hours instead of 2.

Don’t Just Schedule Volunteers – Coordinate Them

event volunteers

The Welcome Table

Ideally, put a list of volunteers along with their time slots at each station. That way, people know who is replacing them and when. This is a hard thing to do, of course, if you find most of your volunteers last minute, or end up just hoping some extra people decide to show up. If your volunteer count is not looking good a week out from the event, then consider changing or eliminating things to create less need for them. We can help you find games that require less supervision, for example.

It’s best, if you are able, to designate a volunteer coordinator who job is simply to round up volunteers and make sure they go to the right places. A volunteer check-in at the welcome or ticket table is a good idea, and usually one of the easier volunteer positions to staff.

And here is where having it all in one place will really help – it’s much easier to coordinate your volunteers if you can actually look around and see which areas are staffed and which are not at that moment. Trying to get messages back and forth to different parts of the school is difficult and inefficient, even with cell phones or radios.

If you are using high school students who need “volunteer hours,” be aware that you may not be getting the most willing volunteers, and they are more likely to abandon their posts (we’re not knocking teens – they can be great volunteers – but when forced into service, not all will be enthusiastic). One thing we saw that seemed to work well was for the volunteer coordinator to have all the teens show up a half our before the event, and then have them all wait in one area until she was ready to give everyone instructions (versus trying to instruct each person as they came in).

Plan the Parking Lot and Beware of Buses

parking lot with carnival setup

If you are using a parking lot for your event, make sure you block it off well before the event starts. Ideally, two hours before, when vendors begin arriving. Be aware that some schools have bus parking in the evening, meaning that you may be surprised when several large school buses show up with the intention of parking in your event space. Occasionally, even the principal might not be aware that buses will park there overnight, as in some school districts this decision is made independently of the school or even last minute. Check with the appropriate facilities office to make sure your parking lot is really available.

Be Financially Responsible

If you will be charging money for tickets, we’d like to strongly suggest that you encourage parents to pay with a check (or if you have the ability, a card or other electronic payment) instead of cash. You can sell tickets for concessions as well, reducing the need for cash all around.

Cash can go missing fairly easily. It can be lost, or….well, all PTO’s and PTA’s are vulnerable to fiscal mismanagement and even outright theft. It happens more often than you would think. Checks and electronic payments ensure that money will be deposited into the correct accounts, and the last thing any organizer wants is to find out that the monetary fruits of all their hard work have literally disappeared.

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