Recently, I got introduced to some other Pagan parents who were looking for…well, mentoring might be a good word. They were interested in writing for Pagan parents and Pagan kids, and we got to talking about events that have programming tracks for Pagan youth, and how that works or doesn’t work, and why some books get more publicity than others.
And we talked about why it’s often difficult to get people to submit children’s programming at family friendly events.
I had some ideas on this, but I decided to ask in one of the big Pagan Parenting groups I’m in, and a lot of their answers paralleled my own experiences.
One thing that came up repeatedly was that programming and babysitting are two different activities, and most events treat them the same…as do many parents. Kids programming is often seen as a place to park your child while you do something you’d like to do instead. While there’s space for this, the event needs to be clear on what they’re providing.
There need to be clear rules about how children are expected to behave in the children’s area, and a way to reach parents whose children aren’t acting in accordance with those rules. There is a balance to be had between “free range” parenting that allows children to go wherever they want to go, and the liability that the venue and organizers may have if something happens to a child.
And if what an event is providing really is childcare, they need to consider providing, at a minimum, materials required for the activities involved. It may not have occurred to the organizers if they don’t have small children, but child care is expensive, and if that’s what an event is really providing, it may be worth charging for that service and hiring a company to provide it.
Another thing that came up repeatedly is that children’s programming really is often different than programming for adults, and those presenting need to understand that. Presenters who want kids to sit down and listen for their entire 45 minute (or more) block are not likely to be as successful as someone who is flexible, keeps attention spans in mind, and uses movement, song, and story-telling together to create a multi-sensory environment.
One complaint that came up several times was that it often seemed that parents took children’s’ programming and events for granted. They were frequently late, if they showed up at all, and getting a consistent group going was a struggle because of this. At larger events, parents often send their children in the direction of the kids’ area, without any expectation that they will get there or stay there.
I’d argue, from a parent’s perspective, that as a mom with two autistic children, we struggle to find activities that are set up in a way they can actually participate, even with hands-on 1:1 help. Managing kids’ energy is much like managing ritual energy, and I rarely see that in events in the community, which makes most programming a non-starter for us.
So then, the question is, what do we do with this info? How do we create sustainable family friendly programming for all ages, when we all have different opinions of what it should look like? How do we make our events safe without making them too confining? How do we learn to be a true community and share the workload?
I think the first task is to have that discussion. What does the local community need or want? Who is willing to organize, and what are the parameters required to make it work?
I would love to hear what’s working for you and your community.