|Host a Preschool-Powered Easter Egg Hunt -- and Survive!|
I stood on one side of a line of orange plastic tape as Mickey's second hand ticked towards twelve. On the other side, forty or so preschoolers prepared for blast off. Their eyes looked past me, out onto my lawn, and the bounty that awaited them. I called out the seconds. "Three, two, no, not yet, Michael, oh, all right, GO!"
Last year, inspired by an article in one of my favorite print magazines, our family decided to host our own Easter Egg Hunt. We'd been thinking of ways to make Easter just as special to our preschoolers as Christmas, and figured, how hard could it be? The good news is that it's not hard at all. In fact, last year was such a success that my kids, their friends, and even my husband and I are ready to make it an annual event. And the best news is that you can do it, too, and involve your kids in every stage of the hunt, from the initial planning until the final jelly bean disappears.
If you'd like to try your own Easter egg hunt, the first thing you need to decide is when you'll have it. Since we wanted the hunt to kick off our family Easter celebration, we scheduled it for Palm Sunday. We also had a back-up date, just in case the weather didn't cooperate. We included both dates on our invitations, and instructed invitees to phone our answering machine on the day of the hunt if the weather was iffy.
Next, you'll need to decide on your guest list. My kids had such a hard time narrowing down the list that we decided to invite nearly everyone -- all the kids from preschool and Sunday school classes, all the friends from dance class, all the friends they'd met at the park. Since the activity was going to take place outside, and we would invite parents to stay and help with crowd control, we didn't need to limit our guest list.
Once you know how many you're going to invite, you can prepare your invitations. Let your kids be as creative as possible with these. Last year, I bought some card stock and envelopes from a local stationery supply store. We folded the card stock to make a greeting-card that would fit in the envelopes. On the inside of the card, I hand-wrote all the pertinent information. Then on some plain white paper, I drew large eggs which my daughter cut out. She and her brother then decorated the eggs with crayons and markers. We glued the decorated eggs to the front of our invitations with glue sticks, which are less messy than the traditional white school glue. When the glue was dry, we stuffed the invitations into the envelopes.
This year's invitation will give my husband a chance to try out some of his new software. However, since the kids had so much fun decorating last year's invitations, they will still be in charge of some of the design elements.
No matter how creative you get with your invitations, make sure they provide your invitees with all the important information they'll need. Do you want the parents to stay with their kids, or should they drop them off and return later (do you have enough riot gear to control a horde of children filled with excitement and high fructose corn syrup)? If you have a rain date, include it. State whether or not siblings are invited. Give the exact starting time of the hunt (nothing is sadder than the face of a child who just missed all the excitement). Be sure you give a "respond by" date, or half your guest list will call you the morning of the hunt to tell you they'll be there, and you'll go frantic worrying whether you'll have enough eggs.
real or plastic?
Once you send the invitations, you need to decide whether you're going to use real eggs or plastic eggs. We chose plastic eggs, because we didn't have the room to properly store real eggs, and didn't want to take the chance of poisoning forty preschoolers with bad eggs. Besides, plastic eggs are cheap, colorful and reusable (we have been known to hide eggs all the way into July before the kids tire of hunting for them). You can find them at grocery, drug, and discount stores or order them from Oriental Trading Company, my favorite source of party goods.
Buy at least one dozen eggs per child. My kids conducted semi-scientific experiments and discovered that one dozen plastic eggs will fit nicely in the average Easter basket. The eggs usually come in packages of a dozen anyway.
The next decision you need to make is to fill or not to fill? Toddlers won't care if the egg is filled or not; they just like the pretty colors. Some older preschoolers, however, may be sophisticated enough to know that those eggs are hollow for a reason, and expect to find a surprise inside. We decided to fill our eggs, because we have terrible sweet tooths and needed an excuse to buy Easter candy.
If you choose to fill your eggs, there are some things you'll want to keep in mind. Don't use chocolate. It will melt on a warm day, or on a cold day when clutched tightly in a little fist. Don't use wrapped candy unless you're willing to pick up zillions of wrappers from your lawn after the kids leave. Don't use hard candy if you're inviting toddlers and preschoolers. In fact, don't use anything that could possibly choke a small child. Little bunny-shaped erasers may be cute, but they are not intended for children under three.
Last year we filled our eggs with jelly beans, pastel colored candy corn, and Easter stickers. Because we wanted to remind the children of the religious significance of Easter, we used cross, lamb, and angel stickers that we bought at our local Christian bookstore. Filling the eggs with these goodies was my children's favorite part of our egg hunt preparations because they got to sample the candy as they worked.
And it was work! Do not underestimate the time it will take to fill the eggs, especially if you plan on a large crowd. Schedule an evening up to a week ahead of your hunt for a family egg-filling fest. As you fill the eggs, gently place them in two or three large containers. Large plastic bags with sturdy handles are ideal.
The kids will get their fill of Easter candy, but any adults who stay might want a little something, too. This year, like last year, we'll be serving candy-coated pretzels, M&M cookies, and Bunny Dip with carrot sticks. All of these will be prepared in whole or in part by my kids. All of these except the dip will be made in advance and frozen. The dip we'll make the day of the hunt. For recipes, click here. Last year, we forgot about drinks. This year, depending on the weather, we will serve either hot chocolate or pink lemonade.
As the appointed date draws near, scout your yard for a perfect hunting ground. Make sure you have plenty of space for your egg gatherers to spread out. For young hunters, you'll want an open space where the eggs can be scattered in plain sight. For older hunters, you'll want a place where eggs can actually be hidden under bushes or at the base of trees.
On the day of the hunt, do one final ground check before scattering the eggs. If necessary, use colored plastic tape to rope off any areas you don't want the kids to trample, such as your tulip beds or rose gardens. Your kids can be the designated yard patrol, picking up stray twigs and alerting you to the tell-tale evidence that your neighbor's dog has been visiting again.
If the day of your egg hunt dawns bright and sunny, breathe a sigh of relief. If not, consider whether you need to switch to your rain date. If so, record a simple message on your answering machine, if you've got one, or be prepared to man the phones in person.
About half an hour before your hunt, gently place your eggs in the hunting grounds. If you've stored the eggs in two or three different containers, you can deputize your kids to scatter or hide the eggs while you attend to last-minute details. If you are going to have very small children at your hunt, save some of the eggs in a small, opaque sack (you'll see why later).
As your guests arrive, herd them into an egg-free zone so they don't start the hunt prematurely. Check to make sure everyone has an Easter basket. We keep two or three spares on hand just in case someone forgets theirs.
When the time arrives, move the kids out to the starting point. I like to give the kids a count down to build excitement. Once I yell GO!, I get out of their way -- fast.
If this is the first egg hunt for any of your guests, keep a close eye on them. They might not get the hang of things until most of the eggs have already been grabbed by someone else. This is where your small opaque sack of eggs comes in handy. Surreptitiously drop one or two eggs within range of the bewildered child. Then point them out to him. This simple strategy can save a lot of tears.
After the excitement of the hunt is over, the kids will want to empty their baskets almost as quickly as they filled them. Last year, we all sat in our yard in the sunshine, eating jelly beans, adorning ourselves with stickers, and enjoying the blessings of Spring.
If you host your own Easter egg hunt this year, send us your photos and tips (mailto:email@example.com). We'll post our favorite ones in a follow-up article.
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