Planning for Prizes
There are four basic approaches to carnival prizes:
No prizes: Players play just for fun. Little kids can just get caught up in the fun of playing and don't really care about prizes. If your carnival is for a preschool, consider doing the games just for the fun of it. Maybe add a few games with instant prizes (like a fishing pond).
Prize pre-packs: Players pay for a tyvek bracelet when they arrive at the carnival and can play the games as much as they want. When a player is ready to leave, they trade in their bracelet for a pack of prizes. This method makes it easy to control how much you spend for prizes for each player. It also helps to prevent a player setting down their loot bag and forgetting it at a game. It does take away some of the thrill of "winning" a game. You can put together your own prize packs or we do sell pre-made prize packs in our Catalog. The advantage to buying pre-made packs is that you can buy more than you need and then return the rest after your carnival. If you put together your own, you can always save the leftovers for your next carnival.
Instant prizes: Players get a prize at each game. This is easier to plan than redemption, but the prizes generally have to be very inexpensive. Some parents get tired of having these "junky" toys cluttering the house, but kids love them.
Click here for Instructions on Estimating Quantities for Instant Prizes.
Redemption prizes: Players earn tickets that they collect and redeem for a larger prize. This is the hardest to plan, but you can really give away some great prizes. It's a little nerve wracking to plan for just the right amount of prizes, but it gets easier over time if you keep good records.
Click here for Instructions on Estimating Quantities for Redemption Prizes.
Many carnivals will use a combination of these approaches. We usually have some games with no prizes, like an air hockey table or a bounce house, that are played just for fun. We also have some instant prize games, like a fishing pond and a surprise wall (see the games list for more information). But we also do a prize redemption room, where players can turn in the tickets they win at games for anything from a gumball or licorice stick to a stuffed animal or an inexpensive camera.
Choosing prizes is fun but challenging! It can be hard to stay within your budget when you find something you think the kids would love. We suggest keeping a list of the prizes you like with their price per each, that will help you keep in your budget. In our Catalog, we've selected prizes that have worked well for us at a variety of prices. Check it out for ideas even if you decide to buy elsewhere.
Running a Prize Room
There are two main things to remember when setting up a prize redemption room, crowd control and staffing. Early in your carnival there will be just a few people drifting in to check out the prizes. As the carnival winds down, the crowd will descend on you.
For crowd control, set up ropes or flags to keep the mob in an orderly line. Designate a volunteer to patrol the line, helping the kids count their tickets and directing them to the next available prize room volunteer. We forgot about this our first year and had everyone pushing to get to the front. It was not pretty.
If you can, choose a room with separate entrance and exit doors. We have used the school library because we can send them out the exit door and directly outside without struggling back past the line. We have also used a corner of the gym where most of our games are. The advantage there was that the kids had prizes in mind because they saw the prize area throughout the carnival instead of just at the end.
Post signs along the line that show the available prizes and how many tickets they take. Again, have some volunteers work with the kids while they are still in line to count their tickets and help them see what prizes they could get. Anything you can do to help the kids make up their mind before they reach the front of the line will make your life easier. If you run out of a prize, cross it off the signs so they can make another choice.
Plan to keep adding staff to the prize room as your carnival goes on. You may need to have all the game volunteers come into the prize room as soon as they shut down their game. It also helps to have a few of the same staff in the prize room through the whole carnival. They know where things are and what you are running out of. Patience is a big virtue in a prize room volunteer! Remember to thank them profusely after the last prize is given out -- which may be quite a bit later than your carnival's "closing" time.