Think of a theme
Having a theme for your event helps set the tone for your choice of stalls and attractions, so this has to be your starting point. When it comes to choosing a theme, we often look to something topical, and the last few years have given us a wealth of subjects to choose from - the Olympics and the Tour de France - as well as the usual favourites, such as Wild West, vintage country and British seaside. Not sure whether to opt for something original or go for a tried and true solution? Use this feature to get discussions started.
Settle on a list of stalls
Review successes from previous years and build your plan from there: look at what worked well for your PTA; list new stalls you want to try and research ways to bring it all to life. Do your chosen stalls offer a broad mix of activities for a range of age groups? How much effort or manpower do they require? Group stalls into those that are 'definites', those that would be nice to have, and those that can be cut if volunteer numbers are short or if you have to move indoors due to poor weather.
Invite all the witches, wizards and muggles in your community to grab their wands and hop onto their broomsticks for an enchanting event! Headline attractions might include a Hogwarts Express steam train experience; a children's magician giving Defence Against the Dark Arts demonstrations; or a birds of prey company showing what an owl can really do!
- Potions class - mixing mocktails
- Run a magic envelopes game - children pick an envelope, inside which are a choice of prizes, from a voucher for the cake stall to a top prize of tickets to a local attraction
- Plant stall selling ingredients for all your herbology needs!
- Play table quidditch, getting ping-pong balls through the hoops
- Run a treasure hunt - with a Marauder's Map - to find the Philosopher's Stone
- A fortune-telling tent with divination classes by celebrated seer Professor Sybill Trelawney
- Transform your beer tent into The Leaky Cauldron or the Hogs Head Inn
- Add wings to Ferrero Rocher and sell them as 'golden snitches'
- Pin-the-head-on-Nearly-Headless-Nick game
- Flourish & Blotts book stall
Create a medieval atmosphere, bringing history and revelry to your school. Consider booking a re-enactment society as your headline attraction, where children can have a go at archery, learn medieval dance moves or receive fight training. Transform your food stalls into a medieval marketplace, with a banqueting tent for hot food, and traditional cakes such as gingerbread displayed in baskets. Give regular stalls a medieval twist, such as 'water into mead' - and introduce a few new ones from the ideas below. Oh, and what medieval fair would be complete without some stocks?
- Play queeks! A traditional medieval game where players toss pebbles or cherry stones onto a chequered tablecloth. Award prizes for landing on a white square
- Stained glass window craft
- Make knight's shields and damsel hats or wooden spoon jesters
- Chariot or hobby-horse racing
- Bobbing for apples
- Make a pomander with dried herbs, lavender, fabric and ribbon
- Searching for silver (silver-painted stones buried in sand)
- Jousting with foam pool floats or inflatables
- Skittles - if you don't have a set of wooden skittles then make your own 'crash the castle' game using weighted juice cartons decorated as turrets
'We decided on a medieval theme last year as it was a topic being covered in school. We raised a record £1,072 in just one and a half hours! The York University Medieval Society put on a fantastic battle re-enactment, and also set up stalls and a camp showing how people lived in medieval times. The stocks were popular - a photographer took pictures of the children and adults in the stocks for just £3.The children ran medieval-themed game stalls using the £10 that we gave each class to buy materials and prizes. Stalls included beat the dragon (like splat the rat) and a jousting game without any risk of injury! We had a great selection of quality stalls from local businesses, and asked the stallholders to wear medieval dress. We also advised them to display their wares in straw baskets and for the food stalls to focus on traditional items. Our PTA Secretary designed medieval coats of arms from which she created bunting and used on all of our printed and laminated signs, such as 'mind the cables' and 'toilets'!'
Michelle Wheeler, PTA Chair, Malton Community Primary School, North Yorkshire (299 pupils)
Set the scene with bunting and hay bales, coconut shy, hook-a-duck, tug o' war and welly wanging. Serve scones with clotted cream and jam in a vintage tea room, complete with proper china cups and saucers. Invite local clubs and societies along to demonstrate traditional crafts such as woodturning or basket weaving, and a narrow gauge railway might offer children rides on a miniature steam train. Speak to local butchers about supplying meat for your BBQ, and run a traditional meat raffle with donated cuts.
- Peg doll crafts
- Hook a duck and coconut shy
- Hire a carousel, teacup ride or swing chairs
- Tug o' war and/or welly wanging
- Invite vintage car clubs along (check your PTA insurance cover)
- Popcorn served in stripy bags
- Old-fashioned sweet stall
- Vintage tea room
- Sell home-produce - cakes, jams and preserves
- Barrow o' beer raffle
- Speak to local sheep farmers about providing a fleece for a 'guess the weight' game!
- Demonstrations of traditional crafts, such as woodturning, basket weaving, glass blowing, pottery, quilting, flower arranging and knitting
'We had a local farm bring young lambs and other small animals in for the children to see. We also ran a sheep-shearing competition, where we had to guess the weight of the fleece. We had a cut-out photo board with three cartoon-style animals painted on that the children could pose behind. Our key profits were from the tea and cake room, Pimm's tent and home produce stall. We held a raffle and silent auction and one of our dads sold tickets for a 'barrow of beer' raffle, which he wheeled around the event. We were able to increase our net profit to over £9,300.'
Yvonne Ginno, Weald School, Kent
Beside the seaside
What image do you conjure up when you think of the British seaside (besides eating fish and chips in the rain!)? Pony rides, candyfloss, a Punch and Judy show and peep-through photo boards. If your budget will stretch to funfair rides, then teacups, swing seats and inflatable slides will prove popular. Hire deck chairs to create a space where parents can relax. For alternatives on the theme, take fairgoers to a more tropical location, with a Hawaiian Luau! Or how about a pirates and mermaids party?
- Photo boards (ask other local community groups, make your own or purchase them ready-made for as little as £30)
- Pin the beachball on the seal's nose or pin the eye patch on the pirate
- Lucky shells - take a collection of shells and put a £1 coin under a third of them! Find a £1 to win
- Ring toss fun with an inflatable rubber ring
- Run a tiki bar
- Guess how many sea urchins (rubber balls with tentacles) are in a jar
- Make your own jellyfish from paper plates, googly eyes and crepe paper streamers,
- Paint a beach pebble paperweight
- Pass the water relay game - tip a cup of water behind you, team-mates catch it and pass it on
- Pass the beach ball relay game - without using your hands!
- Throw the ball in a bucket game
Can a local farmer support your event by donating hay bales? Dot these around your school field or use them to line your 'arena' performance area. Invite a line dance troupe along to perform and teach the children some moves. A treasure hunt around your fair site will provide added interest, with sheriff badges for those who complete the challenge. And test your sharp-shooters with a tin can alley, using water pistols - start collecting your old baked beans cans now!
- Pin the sheriff badge on the cowboy
- Cactus hoopla
- Teachers in the stocks/in gaol
- Quick draw/tin can alley
- Inflatable rodeo
- Pony trekking and/or wagon rides
- Gold rush treasure hunt
- Panning for gold - gold-painted pebbles in a tray of water and sand!
- Sizzling BBQ and a saloon bar
- Line dancing performance or a good old-fashioned hoedown!
- Lucky dip with prizes hidden in straw
- Guess the number of baked beans in a plastic tub?
- Moonshine stall ('water into wine'!)
- Gunge the teacher with the contents of the spitoon!
'We needed a WOW attraction for our fair, and a member who is a keen horse rider suggested pony rides. She contacted her stable, who were willing to come along on the day and split their takings with the school. The theme grew from there! Our treasurer made a wanted-style poster to promote the event. On the day, some pupils danced a Hannah Montana hoedown! It was definitely the gunge chair which kept everyone at the fair! The children paid 20p a time in the weeks leading up to the fair to vote for a teacher to be gunged. We made a profit of just over £2,000!'
Lynne McFarlane, PTA Chair, Loseley Fields Friends Association, Surrey (272 pupils)
Tour de France
'We had 23 different stalls and activities at our Tour de France-themed fair. These included the traditional firm favourites such as super-soaker, coconut shy, ice creams, craft making, teddy tombola, beauty area and bouncy castles. But we added new stalls to fit in with the cycling and French themes. For example, we had 'rap the ratatouille' instead of 'splat the rat'; a French-themed 'lipstick on the teacher' - teachers were photographed wearing berets with a backdrop of French landmarks; and the wheel of fortune. Our craft stall saw children making cardboard sunglasses in the shape of bicycles, and the food included baguettes and frites.
We asked children to decorate their bikes and bring them along for a competition. The local bike shop sponsored this, and ran a bicycle obstacle course. The police came along to provide advice to families about keeping their bicycles safe. Many parents work for local businesses, so we use these networks for donations and support. The local branch of Giant was already involved in local promotions because of the Tour so was keen to be part of the fair, and our community police are usually happy to come along to events. Some stalls didn't need tweaking, such as 'water into wine'! All our promotion was cycling and French themed, including posters, tickets, signage and the programme. The weather was terrible, so we had to move some events indoors, however we raised around £2,500 and both the children and parents loved it.'
Siona Mackelworth, PTA Co-Chair, Park Grove Primary, North Yorkshire (263 pupils)
'We don't have a summer fair but have a summer picnic instead. It's BYO food and we have a cash bar, live band, raffle, strawberry stall, football challenge, maypole, bouncy castle and tuck shop, to name just a few attractions. We sell trendy wristbands as entry tickets, which the kids all think are super cool! It's successful because it's a reasonably low maintenance, low cost event. Last year we charged £2.50 for adults, £1 for children and made £816 profit. Our only real costs were the band (£200), wristbands (£15 for 500) and TEN (£21). Everyone loves the relaxed atmosphere and this year we'll be organising even more attractions for the children.'
Janet Jones, St Bridget's CE School, West Kirby
Mad Hatter's tea party
'We decided on an Alice in Wonderland theme after the success of our Narnia Christmas fair! Alice in Wonderland is a classic tale and perfect to have fun with! I make and hire out environmentally-friendly props, so this added to the theme with six giant mushrooms and a croquet game with flamingo mallets and hedgehog balls. We also offered themed cones of sweets and 'drink me' potion; had a follow the White Rabbit hunt around the fair; afternoon tea and other stalls such as splat the Cheshire Cat! We had about 30 stalls in total - 10 of these were themed stalls designed and run by Year 6 children, and approximately five of them were guest stalls. The theme and props were definitely the biggest talking point. We offered afternoon tea (with a sleeping doormouse) to keep in with the theme! For those wanting hot food we also ran a barbecue.'
Olivia Brown, PTA member, Whittington Primary School, Lichfield (345 pupils)
Vintage fair (and other ideas!)
'Last summer, our theme was "vintage" - we had lots of old-style games such as a coconut shy, skittles, retro sweets and candyfloss, tombolas and a raffle. We even had teachers being soaked in the stocks! A family within the school have a large steam engine, which they kindly brought along for children to sit in. We invited local businesses along to sell crafts, books and soaps, and a sports group attended to put on free games. The Lions Club catered, which took the pressure off us finding volunteers, and gave us a percentage of the takings. Our total raised was £2,358.16!
In 2016, the theme was "emergency vehicles". We had police, fire, ambulance and a blood bike. The children absolutely loved being able to dress up in uniforms and sit in the vehicles.
We always have groups from within the school take part - the breakdance club generally opens the fair, the gymnastics group puts on a display and in 2016, Year 4 performed a musical extravaganza! This year we're doing the World Cup, and then "circus" and "farm" are on the list!'
Chrissie Read, PTA Chair, Okehampton Primary School, Devon (700 pupils)
Create a carnival feel
'The themes for our summer carnivals have been "circus", "under the sea", "space", "around the world" and "L-fest". All children and teachers get involved, as do our PTA volunteers. Space and L-fest were two of the most popular themes. All our carnivals start with a parade of the children and teaching staff dressed in costumes relating to the theme. For example, for our space theme we had aliens, spaceships, rockets, astronauts and Star Wars characters.
We have our regular stalls no matter what the theme, as they are popular money-makers: pony rides, bouncy castle, go-karts, tombola, hog roast and raffle. Additional stalls for the space theme were lime jelly (AKA alien brains!) a spacecraft tent, and a photo booth. Each year group also organised a game or sold crafts related to space.
"L-fest" was everything beginning with "L", because it's the first letter of our school's name. Visitors came along dressed appropriately, and we had Little Red Riding Hoods, a lighthouse, LEGO men, lumberjacks, lions, leprechauns, Little Mermaids, Lassie, lollipops and even Leonardo DiCaprio! We had a "luscious" cake stall, L-coholics Pimm's bar, "lots of teddies" tombola, lucky dip, LEGO lotto and Looby Lou face painting.
We always make around £2,500.'
Karen Cale, PTA Chair, Ledbury Primary School, Herefordshire (450 pupils)
Not only does a circus make an easy-to-organise and profitable fundraiser, you could also link your event to learning. A circus lends itself to a whole host of topics, including animal welfare, travellers, the changing views on 'freak' shows, and myths and legends, as well as practical circus skills. Circus spaces book up quickly, so get in quick!
'When I became PTA Chair, I read about Happy's Circus and mentioned it at a meeting, and we booked it straight away. We sold tickets through PTA Events, which made our event a huge success, as it allowed us to sell tickets online and advertise to the wider community. Tickets were priced at £8 for both adults and children, or £24 for a family of four. We sold 500 tickets online and more on the day. The circus ran from 2-4pm, with stalls open from 1-6pm.Happy's Circus offers such a professional service. They sent us checklists leading up to the day, took control of the event and ran the circus without a hitch. The show itself was brilliant - full of amazing acts and funny clowns for the children. There was plenty of humour for the parents too.
The circus cost £2,500+ VAT, and we made a profit of £4,300, which is a record for our summer fair. I cannot recommend it enough.'
Eve Bell, former PTA Chair, St Andrews CE Primary, Salford (460 pupils)
Football frenzy - a bit of Brazil!
'For our Brazil-themed summer fair, we had samba dancing and Brazilian cuisine mixed with penalty shoot-outs. Football training was a popular feature, with many children eager to learn tricks from the experts. We turned our wildlife garden into the Amazon rainforest, complete with unexpected animals and jungle sounds. While visiting the "jungle", children could make music with our rainbow junk orchestra, while parents bought tea and cake. Younger children enjoyed storytelling featuring traditional Brazilian tales. And a Caipirinha cocktail bar - with donations from a local pub - was a standout success.
The fair ended with a carnival parade, where children and parents/carers could show off their Brazilian costumes and headdresses.
Our fairs are community events and are not all about the fundraising - they're also about giving everyone a memorable experience. Our Head is really supportive, and is always impressed with our creativity.'
Jane Holgarth, Friends of Dalmain Link Governor, Dalmain Primary School, South East London (470 pupils)
- Do you have some great summer fair theme ideas? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org telling us all about it and you might well find yourself in this feature.