You and your family are making plans for the weekend. What should you do? Camping? Tye-dying in the garage? Indoor Waterpark? Cider Mill followed by pumpkin carving? Playground followed by a movie?
Why not take the whole family to a Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention?
Many Conventions have entire programming tracks designed just for kids and teens. To learn more, I interviewed Larc Bogdan and Lisa Ragsdale, who oversee and organize the youth programming for ConFusion (January 17-19 in Dearborn, MI), and volunteer for youth programming at other conventions as well. If you’ve ever worried that your children wouldn’t have anything to do at a Con, allow Lisa and Larc to put your worries to rest.
Andrea Johnson: Hi Lisa and Larc! thanks so much for joining us to talk about teen and kids programming at Conventions. How was it decided that ConFusion needed programming tracks for kids, and for teenagers?
Larc Bogdan: It was already up and running when I joined up. I started becoming involved at Kidfusion in 2005, when my daughter was a baby.
Lisa Ragsdale: It was up and running when I started as well, but the logic behind the decision was probably much like it was for many other conventions. There started to be con com members with children that they felt needed more for them to enjoy the convention than to hang out with mom and dad or to be with a sitter in a hotel room.
AJ: Can you tell us about some of the programming on the schedule for those age groups?
LB: Kookieklatch (cookies, juice and stories), Decorate Your Badge (this is always a hit!), Swimming time, Free Lego play. I did a Make A Unicorn Horn the year Peter S. Beagle was guest.
LR: Each year we try to have “something for everyone” so to speak in EACH age group so we plan activities that touch science, art, costuming, literary, creative play, as well as movement, music and theatre. In KidFusion, we have had our Science GoHs come in and do a demonstration or slide show on their area of expertise for the kids. We have had our Author GoHs come in and be guest readers at our KookieKlatches where the children enjoy cookies, and juice while the guest readers read to them. We have had KinderFilks where musicians come in and lead a concert for the children with songs that they would appreciate. We have costuming panels where we make themed crafts like light sabers, unicorn horns, monster masks and many other things.
In TeenFusion, the schedule is a less busy. We offer them CocoaKlatches and Author Readings and Q&A sessions with Young Adult authors that attend the convention. There have been writing workshops, origami panels, workshops on making survival bracelets and chain mail as well as costuming panels where they made their own hats out of duct tape and newspaper. We have had a stage fighting demonstration and stage makeup workshop as well. The big event for the weekend has been planning a D&D character on Friday evening in preparation for the campaign Saturday evening and night. We are hoping to have a songwriting workshop this coming year.
AJ: Give us an idea of how much time you put into all of this. Completely volunteer, right?
LB: I don’t put as much time as Lisa, but I now attend the ConCom meetings once a month. They can run a few hours. Also, planning with Lisa online, via text and at the con for the next con! I spend a good portion of my weekend in the Kid Suite, but again, not as much as Lisa. I love the pajama party on Saturday night!
LR: I put in a couple hours each week on ideas and emails and such throughout the year. I start planning the week after ConFusion by clearing out the old schedule and placing new ideas we had over the weekend on an idea list that we build over the course of the year. As the convention gets closer, I spend more time on the convention by gathering supplies and emails. When the convention arrives I am in the convention spaces from 30 minutes before the space opens to the public to at least 30 minutes afterwards to make sure the space is ready for the next day. I usually get out and about to meet and greet folks and run to the con suite when I am running between the spaces to check on things. The space opens at 6 PM Friday night and closes at 9 PM then on Saturday KidFusion is open from 10 AM until 6 PM then we have a break until 7 when the Pajama Party starts and it runs until 1 AM. TeenFusion is open at 10 AM and closes by 2ish AM after the D&D campaign has ended. Sunday morning we open both spaces at 10 AM and close at 3 PM. I am very grateful that Larc has joined my team so she can be our representative at the monthly meetings. Since I live out of state, it makes staying connected to the con com much easier.
AJ: What’s been your favorite activity that you’ve organized in the last few years?
LB: I don’t organize too much, but I love Decorate Your Badge and Kookieklatch because they are so calm. During a convention, it is so nice to be able to give kids quiet, creative downtime. The pajama party is a lot of fun, too!
LR: My favorite activities are those that touch each youth’s creative side. I love seeing them create and build something with their own personal flair. For instance, the year our theme was monsters we had a Munchable Monster Mosaic panel where the kids created a mosaic with frosting on a tortilla and then added candy to make a monster face. They were all unique and the kids loved the creating and eating of their projects. Last year we made light sabers out of PVC pipe and the kids LOVED that. Another panel I enjoyed was “Imagination Station” where a leader told a story and the children acted out the story as it was told. It got their creative minds going as well as encouraging movement and critical thinking.
AJ: For families who have never been to ConFusion before, what one thing would you like them to know? How would you convince the parents that yes, they should bring their kids?
LB: They can ask our kids how much fun it is! My daughter and Lisa’s kids are very good friends, despite the fact we only see each other once or twice a year. Plus, it is very safe. Both of us are educators, and several safety features are firmly in place. Parents are welcome to hang out with their kids, too!
LR: By bringing their children to KidFusion, their children will begin friendships that will last a lifetime and will begin their journey in fandom. I would encourage the parents to ask other parents who have had their children in the program but also what Larc said. Kids LOVE it and look forward to it year after year so they will encourage other kids to come and join the fun too! My two youngest children look forward to KidFusion each year because of the programming but more so because of the friendships they have made. We are fortunate that sometimes we get to see each other at another convention throughout the year but lately it has been only at ConFusion. The program is safe place for your children to enjoy the convention on THEIR level while you participate in the convention at your leisure. The volunteers that are helping are very good with children and are either teachers themselves, or teachers at heart.
AJ: We have readers from all over the country (and world). What other conventions are you aware of that offer so much family friendly programming?
LB: Marcon has a nice kid’s track, and most Worldcons do, as well. I hear wonderful things about Wiscon. Oh, and Windycon, which I have still not been to, despite the fact it is usually on mine and Lisa’s birthday! This year, I can promise Detcon1 will have a great kid’s track!
LR: Other conventions with solid Kid’s Programs that I am familiar with are MARCON (in May in Columbus, OH), Arisia (in January, in Boston, MA), Boskone (in February, in Boston, MA), Millennicon (in March, in Cincinnati, OH), Capricon (in February, in Chicago, IL), OryCon (in November, in Portland, OR), Duckcon, (in June, in Chicago, IL), Origins Games Fair (in June, in Columbus, OH), Archon (in October, in St. Louis, MO) Con on the Cob (in October, in Hudson, OH) and WindyCon (in November, in Chicago, IL). Several of the above conventions I am directly involved in as a volunteer but others I have first hand knowledge of the quality of the programs from either attending or knowing families that have or help run the programs. Also Worldcons generally have phenomenal children’s programming and this coming year in July 2014, Detroit is hosting the North American Science Fiction Convention (NASFiC) /Detcon1 and Larc and I are leading the programming for the youth (children and teens).
This is where I’d usually post some links to some upcoming Conventions as a column conclusion. But Lisa and Larc mentioned so many excellent ones that I’m just going to let you follow those links.