Guest Blog by Michelle Hodnett
Project Dojo is a nonprofit community outreach program in Pueblo, Colorado, that works with at-risk children. Through the power of martial arts, Project Dojo seeks to inspire and motivate kids within a safe environment, while continuing to teach the traditions of martial arts. This is the story of Project Dojo co-founder Michelle Hodnett’s experiences in her martial art journey.
Halloween is a childhood-favorite holiday. However, due to the dangers in today’s world, many parents aren’t comfortable with the idea of letting their children roam around after dark. And, unfortunately, many children live in neighborhoods that are genuinely unsafe. Holding a Halloween event at your dojo gives them a safe way to enjoy Halloween, and gives all your students a family-friendly, fun event! Also, making your event open to the public, or giving your students “tickets” to use to invite friends, is a great way to get new prospective students through your doors!
Utilizing the Strip Mall Plaza
When we hosted a Halloween Party, the plaza we were in was happy to advertise our safe Halloween trick-or-treat event on their jumbo electric billboard. Talk about a win-win: They get families onto their plaza right before the holiday season, and an association with a family-friendly event. You get free advertising!
We also asked the other tenants in the plaza if they’d like to do their own advertisement by giving out candy with their business logos attached. At the time, there were two restaurants, a barber shop, two insurance agencies, a tax preparer, and a dog groomer in our plaza. Nothing related to martial arts, or even child-specific. But guess what? They all wanted to participate! These businesses realized that even if Little Suzy didn’t need tax services, come April, mom and dad might – or insurance, haircuts, or a new place to eat.
The point is, don’t be afraid to ask your neighbors to pitch in, no matter how disparate your services seem!
Some of the business owners took it a step further. They saw this as an opportunity to give back to the community, and even set up decorations and music for the kids. In return, we invited the participating employees from other businesses to our dojo for treats and entertainment during the event.
The Halloween event gives your black belts a chance to show off their community involvement and leadership skills. Have one black belt (or instructor, or volunteer parent, if you’re short on available black belts) run each game or event. Another black belt or volunteer should be taking pictures of the event for Facebook (note: make it clear to attendees that pictures from the event will be posted online. Most people will not have any objection, but it’s something you need to clarify.)
Another person should have flyers about your dojo available to hand out to non-student attendees and their parents.
Let your parents’ creativity shine! You’ll find that most parents are creative individuals who are happy to use their talents to run an arts and crafts table at your event. One basic craft anyone can do is to help kids create ghosts with a lollipop, Kleenex, black marker and a rubber band. Sometimes parents will offer their own ideas, or have their own talents – let them run with it and have fun!
We’ve tried many a game at my dojo. Here are some easy-to-do favorites that will work for you, too! Feel free to add in your own games and entertainment as well!
Bobbing for Apples:
My advice for bobbing for apples is as follows: don’t get a deep bucket of water or it’ll slosh and will be difficult to dump later. Food coloring in the water makes it more festive. Put in one apple in the water bucket for each kid and set a time limit. Whether they successfully retrieve it, they get to keep their apple as a prize (don’t reuse apples, either!).
The first time we tried this game, we lost five apples to the first kid. We didn’t realize his goal was to bite into as many apples as he could. And, of course, no one wants to bob for a half-eaten apple. Have towels on standby during this game; kids probably will get wet.
A cake walk is where people walk in a circle around numbers that have been arranged on the ground. Similar to musical chairs, music plays, and they walk. When the music stops, everyone stands on the number they are closest to. The one of your staff or volunteers draws a number from a hat and reads it out. The person who is standing next to that number wins the cake! We’ve found that parents of our students are always willing to bake family favorite recipes, so we end up being able to run multiple cake walks, or use cakes for prizes in other games.
Everyone at our dojo loves The Cake Table! Arrange all your cakes for prizes and games on one table, then watch everyone go, “Ohhh, I want that one!” But since those cakes are for prizes and they can’t eat them, open a second Eat Treat Table for baked goods that are free for all! Some parents are champion bakers and want to contribute pumpkin rice Krispy treats or dojo- and gi-shaped cookies, and people want to eat them.
A quick note about food safety: Some of your students and their friends/parents may have food allergies of which you are unaware, and it is likely impossible for you to keep track of the dietary restrictions or preferences of every attendee at your party. The best solution is to ask that, if people bring food, they also provide a list of ingredients to be set out alongside it. Also on the table, you should set out a note that says something to the effect of, “Food has been provided by volunteers, not (YOUR DOJO NAME). If you or your children have food allergies, please verify the ingredients in the dish before eating it.”
Of course a Halloween party needs costumes, and a Costume Contest is the natural extension! Kids will be excited to show off their costumes, and it’s really easy to judge: just have the crowd yell the loudest for the costume they like best. Expect a lot ninjas to show up!
If you don’t already have one, it’s a good idea to build a demo team within your school. Your Halloween party is the perfect time to showcase those certain high rank kids that you train every Friday in routine. Three to five students normally perform a Project Dojo Demonstration with martial arts, acrobatics, weapons, and dance. Parents, friends, and family love to be entertained. It’s also a valuable chance to show current parents and potential new students what skills your dojo teaches.
Kids love to dance! They learn a variety of dances in school and social media like “flossing” and can’t wait to show their dance skills on the dojo floor. A must have is fast paced Halloween dance music when it comes to kids parties. A party rocker and black lights placed across the wall gives the Halloween ambiance and the kids have fun watching their costumes glow-in-the-dark. Impromptu Dojo Zombie flash mob might be a fun for the kids to do. If you want to go really fancy you can get foggers and make the dance floor have smog but maybe keep it light, it gets hard breathe on the floor.
Use Dojo Equipment for Games:
Kids (and their parents) love it when they get worn out at parties by playing games. There are a lot different types of races, challenges, contests, and more you can do with martial arts equipment. You can make obstacle courses, play tug-of-war, and have contests to see who can throw a glove into a ring the most times. You would be surprised how adaptable the everyday equipment you already have can be!
Although these games use martial arts equipment, they do not necessarily have to be martial arts games. If your event is open to the public (and it should be, to attract new potential customers), you don’t want non-students to feel intimidated or left out. The point of the games isn’t to show off martial arts – that’s what your demo team is for.
Book an Entertainer:
If you have it in your budget, it’s awesome host a magic show or book a local magician. Balloon-animal makers and face painters can be great extra entertainment booths.
Pinata & Gift Bags:
Depending on your space, you can hang a pinata from your ceiling or use your bag stand. Fill up the pinata with a variety of candy and cheap toys, give all the kids gift bags to gather goodies with. Depending on your student body, you may need to choose one larger student to break the pinata, or let the smaller children who are unlikely to be able to break it to take a turn and “weaken” it for your heavy-hitter. Make sure everyone stays well out of the way of the person hitting the pinata!
We’ve done about 15 pinatas at various events, and in my experience, the pinata never breaks in a way that spreads candy evenly. So, to make sure everyone gets a chance in the scramble, have an extra bucket of candy on hand to dump over the children’s heads as they rush in. Trust me – this enhances the experience for them!
If you’re worried about the old “too many kids, not enough pinata” problem, don’t sweat! Instead of spending money on multiple store-bought pinatas, buy some white paper lunch bags, draw ghost faces on them. Crepe paper or tissue paper can be used for additional decoration. Hang the mini-pinatas individually around your dojo. Students may not even realize what they are until the final event, when you ask if they’re ready to hunt ghosts!
Hosting Halloween Dojo parties are a super morale booster for the students, a way to make business connections, and get the parents involved in the fun. We found that in events with free stuff or promised fun that we get walk-ins from siblings, cousins and friends who heard about us and are now ready to sign up seeing the community and resources that the dojo has to offer.
Michelle Hodnett is the co-founder of Project Dojo. She is a third-degree black belt with over 15 years experience as an instructor.
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