From an amateur magic show to a ‘mini’ fete, Wendy Bowkett recalls a few of the imaginative ways her nursery setting found to raise money for good causes…
uring the period I worked in mainstream schools, our capitation allowance meant that raising funds for ‘non- essential’ items was necessary. As such, we would hold an assortment of sales – tabletop, nearly new, jumble, book and cake. Rarely was money raised for charity, until ‘Children in Need’ was established in 1980, after which we introduced a focus for any ‘extra’ fundraising. In 1985, ‘Red Nose Day’ (now Comic Relief) began, and what fun we had with noses and face-painted clowns everywhere!
When I started my own nursery, it was self-sufficient. My accountant once said that I should be making more money, “After all, it should be a business – not a hobby!” I loved the fact that after working in state education, with all of its constraints on freedom and money, I could afford to pay for extra staffing and spend whatever I wanted, on whatever we wanted (or needed) in the nursery. Consequently, our fundraising efforts became completely charity-based. However, we wanted to diversify from the huge organised events mentioned. Staff were encouraged to think of interesting ways of making fundraising more unusual, and different causes were identified.
On one occasion we’d had a circus theme running through the nursery, and I had practised for hours to perfect several tricks in advance of becoming a magician for the afternoon. When we realised how entertaining it could be, especially when the children had a go too, it was decided that we would put on a performance. As we didn’t have a large hall, two performances were staged to different audiences made up of children and their parents. There was huge applause and laughter when one of my plastic balls would not disappear. The audience thought it was a deliberate part of the ‘show’... It wasn’t. I needed to think quickly because the double-sided tape on the scarf would not stick to the ball when I tapped it with my magic wand. So I taught everyone the magic chant so that I could stick the scarf to the ball and try again. It worked!
With everyone paying an entrance fee, and my colleagues selling biscuits and drinks at the interval, we raised over £120 in 1989. It went to a local Brownie group, who were raising funds for a disabled member of their pack.
Another time, we wanted to raise money for our local wildlife hospital after we re-homed two of their rabbits. A pet show was arranged. No dogs or cats put in an appearance, but we had a room full of gerbils, mice and rats (all in their cages, I hasten to add). Another room had reptiles and fish, and a further room had a couple of budgies and a canary. The two rabbits and guinea pigs were kept in the garden in little pens.
A local vet came to judge our show. He asked each owner three questions about his or her pet before deciding on the winner in each category. Ingeniously, children without pets at home were able to enter the show too! They could draw or paint a picture of their ‘pets’ and answer questions about them. Our veterinary judge eventually chose one of these ‘would-be’ pet owners as the winner of our overall pet carer badge – she knew her pet so well and could obviously look after one admirably. Everyone present knew why she was pet-less; a ferret in a flat is no joke!
One of our favourite events, though, was joining the carnival procession in our town. All proceeds raised from each float went to local charities, youth or sports groups. We never knew how much we raised, as the collection buckets were handed in at the end of the route, where parents – those who had not been present on the float – collected their excited but tired children. The participating groups were lent lorries by a local firm, and these vehicles would then be decorated to complement the carnival committee’s chosen theme.
When ‘songs with countries or cities in their title’ was chosen as a theme, being ‘The Windmill of Old Amsterdam’ was tiring but fun – mice galore on bales of hay stairs needed lots of supervision, but we sang our hearts out throughout the town route! Another year, the theme was children’s TV, and we became Rainbow complete with George, Zippy, Bungle and plenty of colourful flowers (the rest of us) on board. We sang the theme tune all around the route. The Disney year was fun, too; we were ‘Alice in Wonderland’ – the pack of cards plus the usual characters, the white rabbit, Mad Hatter, Queen of Hearts and, of course, Alice! Our repertoire of songs along the route included ‘We’re painting the roses red’.
‘Favourite books’ year saw our nursery become the 101 Dalmatians, with our cook as Cruella, parents as Pongo and Perdita’s owners and the crooks, the rest of us all dressed in white with black dots attached and red or blue fabric around our necks. We won the first prize of £50, which we donated to a charity for autistic children.
We had to stop participating in this yearly event when the insurance for taking under-fives on an open-sided lorry became prohibitive.
Another of our fundraising ideas was a ‘mini fete’. Most people who attended assumed it would be a small affair, given its name and the fact that we didn’t have a huge garden or playground. What we actually had was a fete specifically for ‘mini’ people – i.e. children. All the games and stalls were at child height but still suitable for parents to have a go too. The ‘find a prize in the tunnel’ was fun to watch, especially when one of our dads (who was a rugby half-back) got ever-so-slightly stuck on his way through. He won a notebook for his trouble!
After taking part as a small group in a ‘toddlerthon’ one year, we decided that we wanted to do something that all the children at nursery could participate in. Many suggestions were offered, from parents as well as colleagues and the children themselves. We settled on something called ‘Sponsor 10’. Each child could choose from a variety of activities to complete their sponsorship, and we came up with a number of scenarios that would not exclude our younger children. For example, little ones shook maracas or bells, or clapped along with music to the beat of 10. One 10-week-old baby, whose parents wanted to sponsor him, suggested that he could knock a musical mobile 10 separate times. Other younger children shuffled or crawled 10 yards, while older ones ran an obstacle course encountering 10 different items, cycled or scootered around a track 10 times or played a simple game of 10 pin bowling. Some of our less able-bodied children sang 10 nursery rhymes or counted to five or ten 10 times. One of our three-year-olds said he was going to do 10 tens and counted to 100!
If a child managed 10 of anything, they had completed their sponsored activity and were duly signed off. The children received certificates for taking part, and a huge amount of money was raised for a special needs charity.
These are just a few of the fundraising events we tried. Other ideas included planting bulbs in pots, which were sold later at a plant sale – similar to Marie Curie’s idea of mini pots of care. We also had a ‘readathon’, where stories were read throughout the day to parents and children, who donated a book or two for sale at our book fair later in the week. Think of almost anything and it can be turned into a fundraising event!
Wendy Bowkett has worked in early years settings for over 30 years, and ran her own private day nursery for 15 years. As well as contributing to Teach Early Years, she has written a number of books for those working with 0–5-year-olds.