Kids at the conference!

Originally uploaded by artificialignorance

Here I am festooned with kids at BarCampBlock, a geeky unconference that I helped to plan and coordinate. With very little effort or planning, we set up a kids’ room in a central area. It was a kind of kidquarium, actually, with big glass walls the kids could write on in whiteboard marker. Those big windows and central location meant that everyone could have a bit of responsibility for kids, and they weren’t hidden away.

For future unconferences, I’d put the kids’ room on the schedule. And I’d also allocate a baby-friendly room or area that’s blocked off to keep younger kids separated from the older ones. This would be handy to keep choking hazards like tiny Legos away from the babies; and it would keep the older kids happier since they don’t have to deal with tiny kids who don’t share or follow rules and who cry and have (ew) diapers.

But the main consideration is putting the kids on the schedule. Not just talks for parents — parent hacks — but simpler stuff kids will like that are still low-effort for grownups. At BarCampBlock it helped even to have an extra grup look in and play with the toys and pay attention for 15 minutes, or to take the kids out for half an hour to run around and get a cookie.

Some people were probably annoyed by children running around… but they’ll just have to deal with it!

I felt annoyed myself at times, but on the other hand, it was a welcome relief from the intensity of grownups or talking about issues in social media or whatever. I went and laid down on the beanbags and made a dinosaur castle out of blocks, and did some exciting experiments with mirror writing — and came away from the kids’ room feeling really relaxed and happy.

There were also a few rides down the ramps with kids on my lap in the wheelchair!

And on top of all that, I got to feel incredibly proud and happy to know these great little people with creative, active brains. I wonder what they’ll remember of conferences like this? And what it’s like for them to grow up in the thick of all these freaky geek “adults”?

BarCamp donations, and a small donation from me, provided the blocks and legos and K’nex. Your conference could do the same… and could hire an agency, or simply provide the space and a list of trusted local babysitters… for its participants.

I noted many dads as well as moms bringing their kids on Day 2. We didn’t publicize the kids’ room at BarCampBlock all that well, but clearly when people saw it working, they liked the idea and brought their kids along.

This has the extra benefit that your kids get to see you at work, and get a neat glimpse of the grownup world.

Well, that’s if you count BarCamp as “grownup”!

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