How to entertain 30 children

It’s not a simple task

As a children’s entertainer, I’m incredibly lucky that I have a repertoire of games, dances, activities and ad libs that allow me to always have something appropriate to do with groups of children.

Teachers, nursery practitioners and Cub/Brownie leaders all need to plan an entire year of activities term by term. Thankfully, my job is not so serious – and has a two-hour window. If the children are having a good time during a party, I can chop and change what I’m doing. If I do it quickly and efficiently, birthday parties and stage shows can be kept moving, and the children’s attention is maintained.

Building Rapport

Not knowing the children and their names can appear to be a bit of a hurdle. I use this to my advantage. By starting conversations and not demanding too much from the children to start with, I can ascertain a few key names (the leaders, the lively ones, the shy ones etc.) which tend to lead me down a few routes that make my life a lot easier over the next couple hours.

The children don’t know me either, so every time I have a new group of children to entertain, I get the chance to make a good first impression on them. Simply by listening and paying attention to them, they soon realise that this entertainer really cares about what they think, do, and want to talk about.

As I generally don’t entertain children for more than two hours, I can be consistently high-energy. This fascinates them. And it makes me memorable in the long list of adults they’ve met. A grown up who listens to them, cares about what they’re talking about AND has the energy and imagination to match them while they’re playing!

Discipline

Here’s the best thing… discipline is not something I worry about. Much. Inevitably, at a birthday party, most parents stay to keep an eye on their little one. This means that as soon as any of the children misbehave, their adult has moved in before I’ve even seen what’s going on. It’s tough deciding if a child’s being naughty or is just over-excited – after all it is a party! I tend to err on the side of giving the benefit of the doubt. No-one wants the party stopped to watch a child being told off. I hate that there are entertainers that do this. Please don’t book them.

Normally, the worst behaved children are the ones that get dropped off and left. That’s not to say all dropped-off children are naughty, but generally, the ones that like to push the boundaries tend not to have their grown-ups in sight (this includes parents who are present, but not ‘present’, if you know what I mean) … but that’s probably another blog post for another time.

Inclusivity

I only play games that are entirely inclusive. Getting players ‘out’ is not my style. Playing age-appropriate parachute games and making simple changes to standard party games make this very easy.

With musical statues, I don’t get anyone out. I just pick themes for each ‘freeze’, and keep the game moving. If we’re playing musical chairs, instead of asking children to stand at the side or ‘just go and dance’, if they end up without a chair, I get them all to share their chairs – the children end up bunching up and sitting on top of each other on fewer and fewer chairs until they’re all bundled on one chair with a squashed child at the bottom!

Everyone’s occupied. No-one’s out. No-one’s bored. And no-one needs to rummage in a scruffy old box to choose a rubbish plastic-y prize that they don’t really want that ends up in the kitchen bin that night!

The Magic Show

This is when it all comes together.

By using the names I’ve learnt since arriving at the party, the rapport I’ve built up with the children while playing games and maintaining inclusivity, I can make every magic show work.

The children perform all the magic in the show – and are super-willing to do so, especially when they realise that they don’t necessarily need me to make the magic happen.

They change slightly when they realise they might really be doing magic. They feel like they’re in charge. They become empowered.

That is my favourite moment in every party that I have the pleasure of entertaining at, and is what I’m most proud of in all I do. Ask any teacher, nursery practitioner or anyone else who knows the privilege of working with children. They’ll tell you the same. That’s the real magic.

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