Issue #23

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Today’s Topic: Youth. While the info below was written with the WordPress and WordCamp communities in mind (I’m also a PHP developer so the PHP community I know can pick from this), there are many other industries and communities this can generally apply to.

Organizers 😊

There’s talk of making events more accessible to a wide range of individuals, but often I don’t see enough attention being paid to the young ones in the communities. While it’s important to provide provisions and accommodations for new parents (private rooms for breast feeding) and those with infants (I see now speakers bringing their young ones to events) – what i primarily have in mind are the young ones that can actually get something out of the conference.

Why Are The Youth Important To Your Community And (Therefore) To Your Conference?

For any community to grow long-term community members and leaders need to make sure to involve the next generation. Similarly if you are interesting in expanding the diversity and size of your conference, consider how you can make your conference more appealing to younger ones who have anywhere from a passing interest to a “i’m ready, I want to get started” interest… perhaps them getting this from their parents or role models that might be attending the conference with them.

Some questions to ask:

  • Do I see a need for the younger generation to get more involved in my industry? Is my industry showing signs of “aging” or not getting enough “new blood”?
  • With so many coding and non-coding interests (or pick your industry) distracting youths today, what are the best ways to apply the principals my conference shares to connect with them?
  • What leaders or mentors in the community can set an example or connect with young ones that might attend?
  • Does or could my conference connect with parents, teachers, and schools and could some goals be aligned there?

Decide Early

Not all conferences want to tailor to having “children” at a conference, and that’s totally their right. When you have children (which you can define “under the legal age”) there are extra considerations (alcohol, food choices, profanity in schedule, overall atmosphere, etc.). It’s up to conference organizers VERY EARLY ON if this is actually worth it and once a decision has been made make sure the various organizational team members (sponsor team, programming, party team, etc.) take this into account in their decisions.

Appeal To Multiple Groups

Decide what age group(s) you want to appeal to. This can depend on the number of youths signing up, although if you can “pre scout” (ask in your early surveys if community’s children would be interested in coming) that would help. But in my experience you have two main potential groups:

  • Age 6-12. Age 6 is about the age where the attention spans for young people are up to a point where they can sit in a workshop. The ages of these youths would place them in elementary and early middle schools (in the US) so subject material would be straight foward, simple, and likely rely on a lot of “hand holding” and very demonstrations. WordCamp Miami in the past usually covers “How To Publish Content With” for young ones.
  • Ages 12-18. Typically youths in this age group have greater attention spans, deeper interest, and more familiar with technology and devices. WordCamp Miami in the past has showed young ones how to (1) build a small ecommerce site and (2) how to market/promote it.

Have A “Kids Camp”.. But Think Bigger

Kid’s Camps are common among WordCamps and similar community events, but as organizers try not to think SOLELY about these setups. Children, especially teenagers, are not a “special group” that you should think about separating from the rest of the conference. So while Kid’s Camps are nice, that’s not enough.

Like other areas of diversity, offer subjects and speakers that younger people can relate to. Have young people speak on the regular schedule is the best way to do this. Youth panels are great too. But remember to not simply present youths in your schedule as a “dog and pony show” or a way of saying “look! young people! we have young people!”. To fully take the next generation seriously, work them into the schedule in a way where they feel like the rest of the speakers and the material being covered.

What WordCamp Miami (2019 And Earlier) Has Done

I get asked often what WordCamp Miami has done in the past (this would be 2019 and prior, when I was heavily involved in the lead organization). Although the event didn’t invent or come up with the concept (I believe WordCamp Phoenix might have started the first one at least in the US, but I can’t remember) we did have over 100 kids at a single WordCamp (which might be a record). Thanks to people like Sandy Edwards and a ton of others, things went pretty smoothly. Here are some tips for organizers:

  • Make sure to create tickets for children and parents. I’ve seen WordCamps totally forget about the parents – which means they miscount on food and other accomodations. You don’t want to assume it’s one parent/adult per child. Also don’t assume it’s just one child either.
  • Communicate Early On What They Need To Bring. It might take longer for parents to arrange for kids to bring their own laptops if you aren’t providing computers. Be prepared for tablets, if you say that’s ok. Typically if kids are comfortable with a device that can connect to wifi that’s great (remind parents to bring devices charged and with a way to plug it in).
  • Make Sure To Get Allergy (And Accessibility) Information. If you are serving food, it’s important to ask parents for this information. Sometimes just make the conference “nut free” is easier. Stress to parents to bring “backup lunches and snacks” if their child has special needs. Ask if the child has any accessibility or special needs the conference needs to know about. Some children need a quiet space, other parents might want to know where the nearest first aid or medical facility is just in case.
  • Make Parents Sign A Waver. We can touch on this in a future newsletter but this goes beyond just making parents aware there’s a code of conduct. You want something legally binding in writing that a parent/guardian MUST sign before participating.
  • Separate location for registration. This helps with crowd control the morning of a WordCamp. Don’t forget the signs.
  • Vet Your Volunteers. Be careful and selective about anyone coming in contact with young ones at your conference. If possible, do actual background checks.
  • Can You Provide DayCare? WordCamps are beginning to look into this (WordCamp US 2019 provided this for example) although there’s a bit of logistics and cost to consider. However if you DO NOT PROVIDE it, make sure to NOTE TO PARENTS THEY CANNOT LEAVE THEIR CHILDREN ALONE (this is more towards the younger children).
  • Provide Special Swag For The Kids. Even if it’s just stickers (although if you have the budget a small amount of youth-sized t-shirts are awesome), the kids will love it and parents will be appreciative.
  • Make Them First Class Citizens Of The Event. From the overall schedule (get young speakers!) to the after parties, keep in mind how your event can be more inclusive to younger people (more on this in future newsletters).

Speakers 🎀

  • Looking for ideas? Reach out to young ones. Often speakers cover subjects that could benefit from a younger person’s point of view. Honestly there have NOT been a lot of topics that I’ve seen involving the “next generation” or young ones at WordCamps… and i’m not talking about talks FOR young people but just ABOUT young people. If WordPress (or whatever aspect of the community you want to talk about) is to survive and grow, then isn’t it a good idea to share with the current generation how to reach out to the next in this regard?

Attendees πŸ™‹πŸ½β€β™€οΈ

  • Thank Parents. This issue is mostly focused on organizers and a bit on speakers, so in regards of supporting youth at conferences the average attendee has a simple job. Be supportive. If you can, show thanks to parents and appreciation to the younger ones you do happen to bump into (hopefully not literally but it happens). Making parents, children, and families in general feel welcome is as important as making ANYONE ELSE at a conference feel welcome.

Misc. Stuff πŸ€·β€β™‚️

These tips were written and/or gathered by David Bisset, someone who’s been helping organizing conferences (such as WordCamp Miami, but others too) and meetups for over a decade. He’s still learning so share any of your tips and it might be included in a future newsletter.