Here are some keys to keeping it fun:
Before you start to plan your party, as with a face to face event, it’s crucial that you clarify what you’re trying to achieve. Who is this party for? What do you want them to get out of it? How will you know if you achieve your aims? This will help you especially if you struggle with technology to make sure that you’re keeping the main thing the main thing.
Have kit which you post or delivery to people, or which they collect from you. If you don’t do this, you are limited to using only things people will have in their homes, or activities which involve no kit. You are also left trying to keep people with you online with only what you have in front of you. I’ve found having things in front of them really makes all the difference.
You can’t have as many activities if you have a party in a bag as if you are face to face, so chose the ones you think will work best for the people who are coming. Think about the ages of children, whether their parents will join in or not (you have less influence of this online), and how well they know the Christmas story.
Keep it personal
Have a guest list of people who are coming, get them to change their ‘Zoom names’ to something you can use to identify them, and use their names to welcome them and to ask them questions. This makes everyone feel like you are expecting them and are glad they’re there (which you are!).
Keep it simple
Once you’ve decided what the purpose of your event is, you can plan one key activity and build everything else around that. This helps to streamline everything, and, if you’re a creative like me, helps me edit out all the nice-to-have extras which will actually take me ages to do and no-one will mind if they’re not there!
Don’t make it too long
I found having something fun to do while everyone arrives is helpful, then keep to short things, making sure everyone gets to join in and do things, rather than just watch on the screen. This is where the kit comes in! Remember, they will be excited to know how they are going to use each item so use this to your advantage to keep them with you. Saying this I’ve also found longer, creative activities also work well. Giving everyone the same activity to do, but giving them freedom to do it in their own way allows for different ages to join in. It can also helpful to draw in parents to assist with things. For example, you could give them paper plates which they need to turn into a mask of someone in the Christmas story. This is an activity which you could allow 20-30 minutes to do. Have short fun things to do with those who finish early e.g. I spy!!
Have a team
If you are setting out 30 activities in a building you definitely need a team. Online, it’s tempting to think you don’t, but I can say it’s essential to have a technical person helping you and the guests with the technology. You might want to get someone to come along simply to help people access the call, as you can’t keep popping on and off screen to h help people who are sending SOS messages on Whatsapp or Facebook!
You will also want a team to help you prepare activities, which will need to be done carefully and in advance if you are delivering a bag of kit to everyone. You might even want to ask around to find someone willing to be a delivery driver!
It doesn’t have to be big to be good
Some of the best parties I held have had less than 10 children present, but each of them has been involved and had lots of fun. Remember that siblings may well share a screen and so you can give them tips for setting up their screen so that both of them can be seen. It’s helpful if they put the tablet or laptop or phone on a table and sit on the other side. You really want to be able to see both (or more) of their faces clearly during the party.
Tell the Christmas story
This sounds simple, but it’s easy to forget that many children (and adults!) won’t hear the Christmas story this year. Doing a simple version, 3-5 minutes max, using some simple props, goes a long way to filling in that gap and helping them connect with Jesus in an important way.
You could read it from a book, showing the pictures (old school but it works on Cbeebies!), or tell it off by heart, acting it with a nativity set on screen.
Pray in a fun way
Plan a simple, repeatable, creative prayer which you can do together and which families can repeat together at home. I love Satsuma Prayer where you take out a segment and ask God to bless someone you know then eat the segment. (Remember to give an alternative for those people who can’t or don’t eat satsumas.)
This might sound tricky, but if you choose the right activity can be quite simple and fun. For example, you could get them to press 25 blobs of bees wax onto a long white candle which they can then use as an Advent Candle. This takes a lot longer than you might imagine! While they’re doing it, you can chat about ways they could use their candle to pause each day in Advent, thank God for something (there’s a printable sheet with 25 thanks prompts to help them).
Or you could give them ‘blank’ gingerbread people biscuits and get everyone creating people of the nativity story with writing icing.
Or you can use paper plates and make nativity masks then use them re-tell the story at the end!
You could also use all these ideas to create a well-spaced Advent Party in a building, or a short one outdoors. Simply give people the kits as they arrive and off you go!
If you’d like a bit of help preparing an Advent Party, I’ve created a downloadable pack which including tips for timing, invites and planning, over 30 activities including step-by-step instructions with pictures, 5 printables to use at the event and/or give out in party bags PLUS a Spreadsheet with links to places to buy all the kit you will need!