Here are a few things I have found, so far, that work well when having a party in the classroom.
Talk to the teacher first. Some teachers request no siblings be present, and I know a lot of parents want or need to bring their younger children in. I just let them know that we don't want to exclude anyone, but these parties are supposed to be special for the children in the class, so I apologize, but no siblings are allowed. A lot of teachers are now doing nut-free rooms too. I have had to address that a few times with parents, but they are mostly understanding of it. Make sure to send out a list of nut-free ideas too.
Contact the parents as early as possible, and then contact them again two weeks before the party, and again a week before the party. I was worried about being too pushy or persistent at first, but you need to follow up with everyone to make sure they are still coming and that they know what they are bringing. Some parents are eager to create their own station, which can hep cut down on your expenses and planning. Make sure they will be bringing in everything they need for the station.
Don't be afraid to ask the parents to send in supplies. I have found that several parents are very willing to help out by sending in supplies, even if they cannot come. I can be a bit of a control freak, and I like to know that everything I need will be there, but if you let more parents send in supplies, it will reduce your expenses and save you time. It also lets those parents feel involved. This brings me to my next point.
Always have a back up plan. This is so important, in my opinion. Some parents may forget to bring in supplies for their station or some parents may not show up at all, and some may bring in a snack with nuts when you said it needs to be peanut free. Make sure to have a small activity as a back up, like a bin of foam stickers and foam cut outs for decorating. Also, ask at least two parents to bring in a snack, that way you have a back up (or bring in one yourself).
Plan several different activities. I will expand on this in another blog post about what activities we have enjoyed the most during our classroom parties.
Make sure to know what your time constraints are. Most classes only have about one hour for the party. Your best bet is to make each game or craft something that the children can do in 10 minutes, and then settle on three games and one craft, or two games and two crafts
Divide the children into groups of four or five. Move the tables in the classroom, so you have four or five different stations in place.
Set a timer or watch the clock closely. After 10 minutes, announce that it is time to move on to the next station.
Once the children have moved through each station, ask them all to come sit on the carpet in the room or have a table set up they can sit at. Have a parent or the teacher read them a book during the last 10 minutes. This helps the children have time to calm down and relax, and gives you time to clean up and gather all of the crafts the children made or put together treat bags for each child to take home.
Make sure to have an extra volunteer at the party. Assign each volunteer to work at one station. Make sure to completely explain what they need to do at the station. I have found that some parents really want direct messages about what to do, otherwise they stand there afraid to do anything. I struggled with this at first, as I am not used to being "in charge," but I just relate what needs done and everything goes well. If everyone shows up, then just have two parents work at one table (like the craft station where the children may need more help). We had one parent not show up at a party and I ran between two different stations the whole time, it turned out OK, but it was a lot of work.
You can serve the snack in two different ways. If you have enough time, the snack can be one of the stations the children visit (make sure it is stocked with hand wipes and napkins), or the the snack can be served right after story time. You can use the time the children are being read the story to put the snacks on all of the plates.
After having my first party, I found a blog post, on The Organized Classroom Blog, where many of the same ideas are shared. The one idea that I am definitely going to use from this blog is having a book at each station in case the children finish the activity early. We did have this issue at the last party, and it would have worked out better if I had planned on having a book or something there for the children to do when they finished early.
What tips do you have for classroom parties?