29 June 2011

Watching parades with kids: a survival guide

Amazon: Crayola 52 Ct Chalk CartonParades and kids are a natural combo, right? Sure, but in practice, it can be more complicated. Possible trouble spots: the noise, the crowds, the hawkers of sugary treats and expensive-but-cheap toys...and the many long minutes spent waiting for the parade to begin.

Tracy observed a good solution for passing the time while waiting:

Not so much a hack as an 'aha' moment. Was at a local parade over the weekend; saw a family with a bunch of kids waiting for the parade to start, and the parents pulled out chalk!  What a great way to keep the kids occupied before the start of the parade!

...which got me to thinking about parades-with-kids prep in general. A little strategic planning makes everything go more smoothly -- including a sudden exit if necessary.

Logistics: Find out when the parade begins and plan to be there at least an hour or two early (or more, for big parades). The time spent waiting for the parade is MUCH less painful than trying to get situated after the crowds are thick (especially if you've got a stroller).

Amazon: Hearos Ultimate Softness, 20-Pair Foam (Pack of 2) Street corners offer nice visibility, but the marching bands sometimes play on the straightaways and are quiet while turning corners. Actually, that might be a good thing for kids who dislike too much noise.

Weather protection: Outfit your kids as you would for any outdoor activity. If it's sunny, remember the sunscreen, and insist on hats and sunglasses. If not, dress in layers, and pack cheap rain ponchos (they cover you well when seated).

Comfort: Blankets, folding chairs...you know what works best for your family. Bring what you can comfortably carry in a single trip from the car. Or, bring along a wagon or collapsable crate to tow everything. If it's a hot day, bring a squirt bottle full of water for instant air conditioning. For the noise-sensitive, consider a pair of foam ear plugs. Amazon: Radio Flyer All-Terrain Cargo Wagon

Food and drink: And lots of it! If you've got the room, you can pack everything into a hard-sided ice chest, which doubles as parade seating. Prepare yourself: no matter what you pack, the cotton candy- and/or ice cream man will still cast his Peter Piper-like spell. Bring cash for a few parade treats.

Entertainment while waiting: Sidewalk chalk, bubbles, a camera, and a book for reading, writing or coloring.

Exit strategy: Keep your stuff as contained as possible in case you need to make a quick getaway. I've been at more than one parade that turned sour for my kids as soon as the crowd pressed in and the clowns, bands, and horses came out. If the tears come, consider packing up and trying again when the kids are older. You've got all the supplies packed: head to a quiet park for a picnic!

What are your best tips for maximizing fun and minimizing hassle at parades?

Your comments

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Haha, in central Texas, in the middle of summer, parades are just a big Don't. It's just dangerously hot outside for little kids - we're having another triple-digit summer this year.
These tips are great for watching Independence Day fireworks, though! Fireworks always happen after sundown, bringing the temperature down into the safe zone.
We always try to watch the fireworks in a spot close to (or in) a park or a field, so that we can bring balls, jump ropes & frisbees to pass the time before the show starts. Another good choice for fireworks is to pick a watch spot near a shopping center parking lot, so you can wait in the comfort of the shops/restaurants.
Also, don't forget to watch parade/fireworks videos beforehand to prep first timers (especially for sensitive little ones who don't handle new situations well).

I recently took my little kids (2 and 4) to a much smaller local parade -- and it was PERFECT! Policemen on motorcycles, firetrucks, a couple of princesses, tiny cars, plenty of clowns, and only one person throwing candy (!!!). Got there 15 minutes early, easily found a front row spot, the parade lasted exactly 30 minutes, went home with everyone glowing at the glory of it all and mom feeling surprisingly fresh and happy, too. Big parades are fun and all, but I was amazed at how much more suited to us the little parade was with my tinies in tow. They are short hitters, and we live in a hot climate, so this was ideal.

We could have used the chalk at our local parade last Friday. I would have drawn a line in the street and told the little ones to stay behind that line!

We also show up as close to the start time as possible. In the small towns, they tend to wait until right before parade time to close the side streets... so we stand back and then when they close the side streets we scoot up and sit in the road area that was closed off. Works perfectly.

We've used chalk for years! Our favorite thing to draw on the street is a "Candy Bull's Eye". My kids get a lot more candy than they would otherwise... granted, we always pick a spot on the end of the parade route and the candy reserves are pretty depleted by the time they get to us. (The kids do not know that).

Here's another tip: try to take as less as possible while still following itinerary. Bulky luggage can get annoying.

Parades, festivals, and fireworks, I use those hard plastic over the ear protectors that you can get at do-it centres for my wee (and not so wee) ones. I personalized them with stickers. Can't count the number of times I have gotten supportive comments about them from police and passersby!

For older kiddos, we often bring frisbees (especially the cloth kind), jumpropes, and footballs or soccer balls. The kids have a great time alternating between bubbles, chalk, and active sports play in the streets for a couple of hours before the parade starts.

We also play Horse Poop Bingo, where we draw a giant grid in the street and each person who wants in ($1 buy-in; parents can pay for their kids, although older kids can bring their own dollar if they earn money) gets their name in a square; if a horse poops in your square, you win all the money! If no squares get pooped in, we donate the money to one of the nonprofits fundraising during the parade.

Great ideas! Especially the earplugs. I always forget those. >.<

We observed a great trick for crowd control at a large city parade last year:
The family had staked out a corner spot against a guardrail. They had a large tarp/blanket set out just behind the gaurdrail, and then 3 or 4 adult sized camp chairs. Then, they use skipping ropes BETWEEN the camp chairs to tie them all together. With the adults sitting comfortably in their chairs, and the kiddos on the blanket in front, the crowd behind them was much more respectful of the space they had ropes off.
I certainly will be using this trick for my kiddos at the same parade this year!

I live in New Orleans where Mardi Gras & Parades are king! These are all actually great tips for hitting the parades with kids. If the parades you're attending throw stuff, be sure to bring ample bags or what not to carry the stuff home in. The roping off the chairs is a good idea, however we have ordinances in some parts of town that don't let you "stake" out space like that since it's public property. Just something to think about.

Even though I often felt we needed earplugs, I always forget to pack them - now, they officially will be added to my 'to take' list.

The 4th of July parade in our neighborhood is a small one. We woke up, then had a breakfast picnic outside while waiting for it to start. The kids loved it!

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