Anything Could Happen!

I can't believe it's been over 8 months since my last blog post. I haven't told you about Mary Poppins or SNAPS or Pokemon parties! I have so much to tell you! I'll catch you up soon, promise, but first I need to talk about our Anything Could Happen show on Sunday 7th of May.

I've been working with the terrific Comedy Checkout. An improvisation group with nearly a decades experience and together we have created a one of a kind show. With an innovative approach to engage children's creativity we inspire their storytelling and help them feel confident in expressing their ideas and, trust us, those ideas just come bursting out. But why just take my word for it...

'Loved how you adapted the performance to all the children's ideas. They loved it all'

 'fully engaged and motivated. The children are still talking about it!'

'A fantastic way to bring creativity and fun back into storytelling'

This is the first time we're taking our show out of the classroom and into a theatre space, the delightful Seven Arts, and we couldn't be more excited. You and your children will laugh your socks off, I guarantee it and I know you're going to love watching us bring your children's ideas to life before their very eyes. Come join us on Sunday 7th of May and ask yourself.

What stories will my children tell?       

                                                                                              

 

Classroom creatives

Hey, How are you all diddling? Sorry I'm a bit giddy this afternoon. The reason? These cheeky chappies. Eddie and Chris from the Discount Comedy Checkout, an improvisation troupe who've been performing together for over 8 years. They are just terrific and this morning I got the chance to make them perform for me like little monkeys. Literally. It wasn't just me though poor Eddie and Chris also had 30 children making them do ridiculous things. But hang on I'll back up and start from the beginning.

One night, a few weeks ago, I was thinking about a conversation I'd had with one of my favourite KS1 teachers, Miss Bugler. We were having a little moan about the lack of space for creative work in the classroom and talking about ways in which I could help her encourage the children's original ideas and story writing. On this particular night I'd been to see my dear friend (and comic genius) Eddie French performing with his comedy troupe and suddenly I saw it, the answer to Lisa's problem. Improvisation in the classroom to unleash the children's creativity! 

And this is how it would work ... The kids would tell me their stories, I would narrate them and the improvising boys would instantly bring the stories to life! Today, was the first performance and it worked brilliantly. Just as I suspected the children's ideas really flowed.So I suggested to the excited 6 year olds... 

"Ok let's tell a news story. What kind of story are our news reporters reporting on?"

The kids shouted  

"All the animals have escaped from the zoo!"
"Batman has turned into a robot and has been sent to destroy the earth!" 
"There's a fire, and the fire brigade are on their way to put it out,
except they can't get there because of a big wall! Like a really big wall!!"

 And so the story of how all the animals escaped from the zoo because Robot Batman had stolen all the bricks to make a huge wall was brought to life!

We then improvised one of the children, Zara's, own stories. This was a surprise I'd cooked up with Miss Bugler She sent me the story a few days before and I had kept it a secret from the boys. As I narrated the story of the pirate of the year competition I would stop and let the boys colour in the scenes for us, it was fantastic to see Zara's face light up as the pirate characters she'd created and the world of Monkey bay was there for all to enjoy. And enjoy we certainly did!

The session did everything I hoped it would. The children showed no fear and were making the most marvellous suggestions for stories encouraged by the boys boundless energy and determination to incorporate all the children's ideas. I'll get some feedback soon from Miss Bugler about the more long term effects of our session but as a first foray I am excited about the possibilities and  the effect it will have on the children's creative confidence and exploration. Luckily I wasn't the only one who was impressed as Fiona, the schools creative coordinator sent me an email as soon as school was out.

Hi Carla,
It was fantastic to observe you all today. Your idea to improvise children's ideas is exciting and brilliant!

She also wanted to discuss with us the possibility of two more sessions in September so safe to say the concept was a hit!

The boys and I are busy planning and scheming new ways to make ourselves useful in classrooms so please get in touch if you have any ideas or would like us to bring our unique brand of storytelling to your school. 

 

Never underestimate a child

Hi Susie,

Many thanks for supporting us on Sunday. What a fantastic day!

I can't believe how you captivated so many children throughout the day - magical!

Feedback so far has been brilliant, and museum attendance on the day was a staggering 1933 people. At the core of the event, it was great to see so many mums and dads interacting with their children. 

Many thanks again for your help, you were marvellous!

Best regards

Errol

One off events, like Errol's Dadtastic day at Leeds Museum, are often my favourite part of Susie Sparkles working life. I love being part of something that volunteer organisers have put their heart and soul into. I love seeing the work of all the other contributors and performers and when the community comes together and all that hard work pays off you can't beat the fuzzy warm glow you get knowing you've been a small part of something truly special.

But that isn't really what this blog is about. This blog is about a moment I shared at that event with a little girl called Eve who at just five years old demonstrated more compassion and emotional intelligence than many people 6 times her age are capable of.

Towards the end of the Dadtastic Fathers day event I was doing some character interaction as Anna from Frozen and as I was helping Eve make her Daddy a fathers day card she turned to me with a thoughtful face and almost in a whisper asked...

Does fathers day make you sad?

It had occurred to me in my planning of the event that as the Frozen sisters I would have to avoid talking about their Daddy since, well, you know, but it surprised me that this little girl would have the same insight.

Although it shouldn't have surprised me really I've been working with children long enough to know that you should never underestimate the ability of a child to see and understand rather more complex situations than we give them credit for.

I could have pretended I hadn't heard her and changed the subject. That would have been the easiest thing to do, but it didn't seem like the right thing to do. I didn't know what had prompted Eve's question but it deserved a thoughtful answer. So as Anna I said...

"Sometimes it makes me a little bit sad. My Daddy was very special but I know he wouldn't want me to be too sad. He would want me to be happy and to look after people and make sure they were happy too. Especially Elsa."
'That's true'

Eve said knowingly and went back to sticking flowers on the top of her pictures of dinosaurs.

"Look Anna they're wearing hats!"

She didn't dwell on the answer I'd given her and probably wasn't even aware of how deep that moment had just been. She asked her question got a satisfactory answer and moved on.

It's not easy when young children ask profound questions about life and death and there is no easy way or right way to answer but I think there's a lot of value in just listening, acknowledging those thoughts and giving the most thoughtful answer you can muster and if possible shine a bit of light into the darkness and bring a smile to an otherwise gloomy place.

I'd love to hear about the difficult questions your children have asked and how you choose to answer so please get in touch to share your stories 

 

The Thrill of a New Theme

People often say to me "o you must be so sick of Frozen by now" but honestly I'm not. The look of delight on the birthday girl's face as Elsa breezes in, her snowflake covered cape blowing in an imagined icy wind. The sense of wonder when she produces snowflakes from her finger tips and the astonished gasp as she turns her glass of water into snow is hard to beat and that's all before she's even sung Let it go!! It's truly magical and I've never known a theme capture children's imagination in the same way as Frozen.

Having said that occasionally I'll get a very exciting email that starts

"I don't know if you've done this type of party before but I'm stuck and I don't know what to do!"

I love these emails because I know that I'm going to be drawn into a new world, creating a completely new theme and have the chance to make something special and original and if I get it just right I'll be able to make a family's dreams come true.

A couple of weeks ago I was given such an opportunity and I'm still buzzing about it.

"So Schy has requested a Ruby Redfort party… so help me god! I managed the Harry Potter madness last year all by myself but I’m not sure I’m up to it this year. She’s also adamant that I make it “a surprise"

How exciting I thought but Shelly who's Ruby Redfort? A quick trip to the library and a lovely rainy afternoon curled up with tea, toast and a great book and I quickly got the gist and the ideas just came bubbling out. So she's a 13 year old genius, code breaker who becomes a secret agent with the Spectrum Agency o the possibilities for a party!!

We can make ID badges with fingerprints and code names. We can train the new agents with games and call them things like "Master of disguise" and "The guilty party" we'll have to break codes obviously but we'll definitely need a narrative for the whole party. Hmmm? What can we do? And that was when I got completely carried away.

I had this vision of the party guests arriving to find the house is a crime scene complete with police tape and everything a bit ransacked but we'd need a motivation for this and that was when I thought of the perfect set up. I'll send Schy a coded letter from the Spectrum Agency a week before the party telling her she has been specially selected to join them and they have hidden a secret object in her house that she will have to locate in order to prove her ability.

"1st letter received with much excitement. She figured out the code and then it took her a good hour to translate it all. V pleased with her 'intelligence and skill' and kept quoting it to me. It was a winner for sure. She is now excited about finding the hidden object and becoming part of the secret service. Haha"

Then a few days later I sent another letter from The Rebel Rebels (Schy also happens to be a big David Bowie fan so there were lots of references!) saying they knew she had something precious from Spectrum and that they were coming for it. Schy was apparently "Beside herself with the second letter!" and the stage was set for the party.

This was the most fun I've had preparing and performing at a party and I definitely got carried away writing all the different codes and setting puzzles and putting a lie detector app on my phone as a bit of a silly icebreaker game and everything worked a treat it really did. The girls and I had a fab time as did mum who put so many terrific touches to the look of the house and the food, cake and party bags that it felt really special.

"Thanks so much again. The girls all loved it, as did I"

It's an honour to be part of these kind of parties, when someone trusts you to create something completely new. So if you have a crazy idea for a party but have no idea how you'd even start to make it happen you'll have to give Susie Sparkles a call and let me get my thinking cap on to create for you a one off original perfect party.

 

Time to let it go?

Ok, show of hands, who thinks this is a cute picture of a little boy harmlessly play acting, ok and who thinks this is a cute picture of a little boy harmlessly play acting but they're glad it's not their son doing it? Don't worry I get it, I'm pretty sure seeing my five year old nephew playing Elsa would be an odd experience. Sure he's pretending to be a sorcerer with super cool snow powers but he's doing it in a dress and that can't be a good thing. Can it?

At this stage of our social evolution generally speaking when we see a boy pretending to be a female character we start to worry that people will think him strange or that he'll be bullied. I can only think of two occasions when a boy has come to a party in an outfit that wasn't a "proper" boys outfit. One was the only boy at a fairy party and it was treated like a joke, everyone had a big laugh and it was decided that he was young enough for it not to be a problem. The second was dressed as a Princess and was a bit older so treated with suspicion and his older brother and father looked a little bit embarrassed.

For girls though the story couldn't be more different.

We've been crying out for our girls to have better role models than passive pretty princesses and of course fairies and princesses will always be popular but from what I can see we're definitely moving away from that. I see a lot of variety in the party themes and costumes chosen by girls. Explorers, superheroes, villains, doctors, pirates, army. But never, not once, has a boy chosen a theme that wasn't stereotypical manly and brave. Last year a boy wanted a Frozen party but his mum 'managed' to talk him out of it.

Thing is I actually think giving the little guys more options when it comes to creative play and role models would be a huge step for us as a society. I'll often hear comments like boys don't draw. Boys don't like crafts. Boys don't dance. Boys don't sing. Boys don't like pink or sparkle. Boys can't sit still. Boys shouldn't be expected to behave. Boys just like to kick balls and fight.

When girls are being actively encouraged to be anything they want to be, break the mould, shoot for the stars, this list of limitations and expectations of what boys do or don't do seems a bit harsh, and I don't want to over play this but don't you think that if boys were encouraged to identify and role play as female characters they might find it easier to explore more emotional depth and would help our society nurture a more healthy respect for women in general.

Ok, maybe I've taken that thought too far but we're at a point in time where we are constantly questioning and challenging gender norms but the view through Susie Sparkles eyes is that the girls are definitely having a lot more fun and experiencing a great deal more freedom when it comes to imaginative and creative play. So I guess I'm back to my original thought.

When it comes to boys dressing up like their female heroes, is it time to let it go?

 

The Hook (and I don't mean Captain)

Well, I don't know what you've been up to today but I’ve been dressing up as a mermaid. Well, it is a Wednesday after all.

 No two days are the same for me, I’m a very lucky princess. Last week, I had the pleasure to meet some wonderful children at Five Lanes Primary School, and today I made them a little video to follow up on that session.

 Their subject this term is pirates. I believe there is no better way to get their vivid imaginations flowing than a surprise visit from a mermaid who happens to be very scared of pirates. Surely, it’s going to help them remember and learn.

The Hook

This kind of storytelling and learning session in schools is typically called a 'hook' and no, not the captain variety.

 What better way to spark a child's interest in a subject than something a little theatrical and special

 These sessions are so much fun and extremely popular with teachers and more importantly the children. We tap into the children’s preferred learning style, the way children’s TV has been doing for decades but in the classroom. If you’re interested there are four main types of learning styles – they are Spatial/Visual learning, Tactile/Kinetic learning, Auditory learning, and Logical learning.

 There isn’t a right and wrong style that is better but I know children lighten up, listen and get involved when I turn up, dress up entertain and educate in character.

 It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is – I sing songs, tell stories and I interact as appropriate characters like Ocarina the Mermaid, or the moon, or even Zuma the Aztec who has been sent to collect children for human sacrifice! I know that one is so dark! But, don't worry it's just pure fun and usually (and weirdly) the children are clamouring to be taken back to Tenochtitlan.

World book week

I love engaging my young audiences though humour and my most popular character for World Book Day in March or Children's book week in October is Paige Turner and her ridiculous, rambunctious show The Secret life of books.

 I wanted to design a show that unashamedly said ‘Go on, read more books!' I wanted to talk about books in such a silly way that if a child by the age of 9 decided that books weren't for them, they might consider giving them a second chance and so far it's been very successful.

If you have a subject or topic at school that you want brought to life to engage your pupils give me a call or drop me an email – I’d love to add some sparkle to your classroom.

 

The Extra Mile

Magically making my shiny new website has given me the opportunity to reflect on the lovely reviews Susie's received over the years. The reviews are not only heart-warming and encouraging but they've helped shape the perfect Susie Sparkles party formula of a little magic, a lot of hard work and my ethos 'going the extra mile'. 

I love hearing what a fun time everyone had and that the birthday girl "is absolutely besotted with you and dresses up like Susie Sparkles almost every day" or that a guest 'told his mum that he NEEDS a Susie Sparkles party" and that Mums have "done parties in the past where it has been terribly stressful but today we actually sat and enjoyed the party!!"

It makes me so happy when parents notice "all the little details and personal touches" that made their parties so unique and special. And, I really love hearing that after a party planning session, when the party is still 6 weeks from happening, that the children 'had so much fun and haven't stopped talking about you!!'

"Thank you so much for coming & discussing the party with Lucy last Friday. She loved meeting you & has told everyone that she has seen since that Susie Sparkles is coming to her party to entertain her friends!"

But, there were a few comments in my reviews that really highlight for me the Susie ethos of always going the extra mile at her events and for new friends.

 "She was committed and was the first to arrive and the last to leave making sure that every child went away happy" 
 "Thanks also for cleaning up afterwards – not sure the garden was ever that neat!"

 This one made me laugh, and those who know me well will find it funny too! You can't stop me from tidying, even when I'm a princess, in a beautiful ball gown! 

"You had such a great way with them and the fact that within no time at all you knew all their names was very impressive – it made the whole party feel very warm and personal so thank you for that."

Lots of people mention my memory for names which is so helpful for parties but honestly, it's not something I learnt a special technique for the kids are just so memorable.

"They just couldn't understand how Rapunzel knew all their names - but then I guess you should never ask a princess where she get's her magic from!"

Nothing stops Susie from getting to a party!

"I hope that you have managed to recover from your throat infection and that you are back to full fitness again."

In 10 years I have never missed a party and have only once considered that I might be unfit to host. I was practically deaf! But, luckily I spoke to the family and they rallied like troopers and like all good shows - the show went on. Although, on a few occasions the birthday child has been too unwell for their own party. It's just the worst - and Susie feels so terrible that sometimes she'll just turn up at your house with chocolate buttons to make it a little bit better.

Just to confirm we are okay swapping to 22 December for Abby’s party. Thank you for being so flexible, and a big thank you for calling in on Saturday! It hasn't been easy keeping Abby cheerful, and I think you got the biggest smile all day.  It was very thoughtful of you. Hopefully she will be back to school tomorrow! Thanks again and speak soon
Claire x

So, there you go trumpet well and truly blown hope you didn't mind too much but I truly love being Susie Sparkles and feel very honoured to be invited to share families special days and help them make such wonderful memories.

 "Calm, magical, exciting, unique, interesting and very special. Just perfect"

If you've got a review you want to share with me, please visit the reviews page and fill in the form. Susie loves getting mail from her friends. 

Love from,

 

Top 5 Simple Party Game Hacks

If you're looking for inspiration rather than an entertainer this article is just for you.

Party games for large groups of children need to have structure but they also need to be all fun so here are my top five party game hacks to liven up traditional party games and keep the fun, rather than the tears, flowing.

  1. Musical statues with tickling feathers. Tell the children that you think the game is too easy and when the music stops not only should they freeze but they should also prepare to be tickled. Gigglers can then join the tickling team and be given a feather rather than being out of the game.
     
  2. If any children are feeling a bit nervous and are on the outskirts of the party giving them a feather during musical statues often helps them feel a bit braver. Another good job for children who aren't quite sure they want to join in is Official Sweetie Tester.
     
  3. Pass the parcel is the classic children's party game but if we're honest doesn't it get a bit dull? Try putting notes into the layers with little dares on them so the children have to do something silly to earn their lollipop.
     
  4. Oh and always have lollipops as the sweets for Pass the Parcel so that at a glance you can see who hasn't had a turn. 
     
  5. Buy a kazoo! They're fun, they're silly and a quick little fanfare makes sure all eyes are on you again.

I hope these 5 hacks are useful. I'd love to hear your party hacks. 

Love from,