Posted by: Del Suggs – Saltwatermusic.com
Perhaps the fastest growing demographic group of college students are the so-called “non
traditional” students. Think of traditional students as young (18-22 years old), unmarried
and childless, the stereotypical college kids as defined in such classic Hollywood films as
Non-traditional students are therefore everyone else. That means older students, who
perhaps delayed college to work; and, returning students, who may be coming back to
change careers. Because they are older, they may also have other accouterments of a
more mature person– such as a spouse, young children, a full-time or part-time job, and
other responsibilities. They may be caring for aging parents, or they may be grandparents
themselves returning to college just for intellectual enlightenment and the joy of learning.
As non-traditional students become a major population on college campuses,
programming boards are facing a new paradigm in activities. Family Friendly programs
may provide one solution to meeting the needs of these students.
Family friendly programs are often overlooked on campus. It is easy to understand why
they are neglected. Non-traditional students are often under-represented in student
government, and on the campus activities board or council. These students often have less
free time to devote to volunteer and service positions because of their other
responsibilities. It can be a challenge for a typical program board composed of 20
year-old students to consider the needs of non-traditional students, particularly without
the involvement and guidance of someone outside of their own peer group.
The general exception to this is on the community college and vocational-technical college
campus, where the entire SGA or CAB my be composed of these non-traditional students.
These schools are often at the vanguard of family friendly programs and events.
Family Friendly Programs Defined
In developing family friendly programs, consider the following factors:
First, family friendly programs should appeal to non-traditional students. That often
means older students, with interests other than video gaming, MTV, skateboarding, body
piercing, and other aspects of youth culture.
Second, they should be enjoyable for students’ spouses, partners, or significant others to
attend, too. Family friendly programs aren’t just for students.
Third, they should be “kid-friendly.” That means the event should at least be “G-rated” or
“PG-rated” (on the motion picture scale) whether the program is a children’s event or not.
Fourth, they should be inexpensive to attend. For a program to be truly family friendly,
the entire family group should be able to attend cheaply. Admission fees can add up
quickly when multiplied by additional family members.
Fifth, the most successful family friendly programs are all-inclusive. If a meal can be
included, along with (or part of ) the event, then it’s perfect.
Finally, sometimes family friendly shows can appeal to traditional college students and
their parents. It’s not always for non-traditional students. Sometimes it’s for traditional
students and their parents and siblings, such as a “Family Weekend, “ “Parents’
Weekend” or “Little Sibs Weekend.”
When Do They Happen?
In planning these family friendly programs, consider when “families” might be available to
attend. Certain days will be apparent, such as weekends and holidays. Other days and
times will be obviously poor choices, such as midday events during the school or work
But don’t just assume that family friendly events can only happen on Saturday morning.
Consider children’s programs on those free days off from school (Teacher Planning Days,
et al) that often fall on Friday or Monday.
Some of the most obvious opportunities for family friendly programs revolve around
social and cultural holidays. Whether it’s a Thanksgiving celebration, Independence Day,
President’s Day, or Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, these days provide both a theme and
a reason for an event.
It goes without saying that you should be aware of cultural sensitivities. While pictures
with Santa Claus or an Easter Egg Hunt may be innocent fun, make sure you aren’t
offending groups within your community. For example, some schools enjoy
Halloween-inspired events, while other schools might avoid those programs because of
some perceived satanic connection. Just be aware of your local standards, and if you
chose to exceed them be prepared to explain, educate, and defend your actions.
Plenty of Events To Choose
There are plenty of program choices in the marketplace. Events and attractions can be
touring professionals, they can be local artists, or they can be student-created. The ideas
are abundant, and they include music, performing arts, novelty, and more.
Here are a few examples:
Everything But The Mime’s "Shana Banana" presents a Saturday morning program at
many colleges. The non-traditional students bring their families to campus for a box
breakfast and Shana’s music show for kids.
But music programs don’t have to be children’s shows to work for families. For the last
few years, Barry Drake’s most successful shows on the history of rock music for have
been Family/Parents Weekends. “It’s amazing to see what happens to the parents and their
college age kids when they get to relive a decade of Rock & Roll History together,” says
his agent and partner Pat Padla. “Unfortunately for us, most Parents/Family weekends
occur in a brief 6-8 week period in the Fall. The show that works the best is his 60s
lecture, ‘60s Rock – When The Music Mattered.’”
Likewise, Robin Greenstein does a number of family concerts around the holidays. “I
have had success with my multi-cultural December show "Songs of the Season," she says.
“Travelin’ Max” is also a popular musical act for family weekend events. According to
Everything But The Mime’s Bill Fry, Max drew a crowd of over 3000 students, families,
and locals at the University of Tennessee/Martin this year.
Ken Abrahams of FUN Enterprises features a number of very popular family programs,
including sand art and other novelty items such as personalized mouse pads and photo
keychains for Family Weekends. But his most innovative ideas are used at Orientation and
Welcome Back events. “We make a photo keychain of parent’s dropping off their kids for
Orientation. That alone would be a great souvenir, but we imprint emergency phone
numbers on the back for the parents,” says Abrahams. Parents always have contact
information for the Residence Assistants and the Dean of Students at their fingers.
Fairs, Festivals, Carnivals and More
Combination events are nearly always family friendly, because there is something for
everyone. Fairs, Festivals, Carnivals and similar programs fall into this category.
Shannon Huffman of Young Harris College (GA) says “ We do have two activities that
are not just family friendly- but community friendly. The Student Activities Office
annually hosts a Fall Fest that offers Trick or Treating to the community in the Residence
Halls, a haunted house, and student booths outside on the plaza. The student booths offer
a variety of events from concessions to face painting to dunk the dean, etc. The booths
are run by the student organizations and it is a great fund raiser for them. Spring Fest is
much the same- but only open to YHC students, faculty and staff and their families. It is
held during the day and offers a free picnic, bands, student booths, inflatables, tie-dye
shirts, make your own cups, wax hands, etc. Just a huge variety of things to do for almost
Similarly, the Savannah College of Art and Design (GA) features a children’s booth at
their famous “Sidewalk Arts Festival” held each April. Linette Chalifoux, a student at
SCAD, says “the Student Activities Council runs a children’s booth, and every year the
school makes the booth larger because of it’s success. We have tables set with face
painting, flower crowns, stain glass making, make your own pin, jewelry making, mask
making, sand art, and more. I can not express the look on a child’s face when he or she
leaves the festival with something they made with their parents.”
Other “do it yourself” events can include a Vintage or Hot Rod Car Show, a Motorcycle
Show, even a film festival. A “cartoon film festival” featuring such well-know stars as
Bugs Bunny or Rocky & Bullwinkle can be a major success, and appeals to both young
and old alike.
But don’t overlook the touring professional attractions for your festivals and carnivals.
Roanoke College (VA) used "Balloons by Lester" and "Body Art by Susan" for Family
Fun Days. And, Radford University (VA) recently marched in a community parade. They
brought in "Balloons by Lester" — in costume — to march with them!
Bethany College (KS) and Wayne State University (NE) use balloon artists "Mike da
Roving Guy" and "Dave Evans" to perform at their football games. College football on a
fall afternoon attracts both students and the community, and their performances were big
Some schools bring in family friendly attractions for such events as Renaissance Fairs (St.
Joseph’s University in Philadelphia), or community festivals held on their campuses such
as Thomas Nelson Community College (VA) and Eastern New Mexico State University.
Pat Padla says “We usually get a large turnout from the town folks and the older non-
traditional students who are looking for an event they can relate to. Penn State/York (PA)
and Brookdale Community College (NJ) always do a great job promoting Barry’s shows
to the community. For schools like these, any decade of Rock & Roll History will do but
‘The 60s’ and ‘The 70s’ seem to work the best.”
Promotion is Vital
It’s always important to promote your events. It’s perhaps even more important to
publicize your family friendly programs, because they are reaching out to an audience not
usually drawn to campus activities.
Fortunately, it can be easier to promote these events than you might realize. The first
step is to think about your target audience. If it’s families with children, you can put out
flyers in daycare centers or send announcements home with kids from school. If it’s the
community you’re after, then go to the city newspaper, TV and radio stations. You might
not utilize these media for strictly on-campus events, but they’re ideal for reaching an
Family and Alumni events can also be targeted through your school Media Relations
Office. They may do targeted mailings for you to alumni or parents planning a visit to
The Right Show
With any show featuring a performer, choosing the right artist is crucial. Mark Nizer,
award winning juggler and comedian sums it up: “It is a very difficult balance to find a
performer that can entertain a diverse group. College students, parents and young children
all have different sense of what is funny, entertaining and holds their attention. You need
to be able to be funny (or entertaining) to a tougher high school/college age group but
conservative enough to keep parents and grandparents in the game. A large part of this is
the ability of the performer to be likable and honest on stage. Giving the audience a
pleasant experience and not making them uncomfortable is what it’s all about.”