Happy Memories of the ALE2011 Spouse and Kids Program

I was having lunch with Jurgen, Olaf and others at XP2011 in Madrid earlier this year. The details for what would become the first ALE conference would start to be worked out later that week. Jurgen asked me if I had any thoughts about what we could do that would be a little different. I thought it would be good to find a way to include spouses and children in the conference program – not just bring them to wherever city the conference was going to be in, but actually integrate them into the conference.

The Spouses and Kids Program

Monika KoniecznyOlga Woronowicz and Christiane Lewitz took on the job of leading the Spouse and Kids Program and did a great job organizing the program. Mornings were filled with games and other activities in the conference hotel. There was a trip organized for each day after lunch. On Wednesday, there was a visit to Berlin Zoo. On Thursday, it was the Berlin Communications Museum. On Friday they had a dinosaur tour at the Natural History Museum.

Post-It Art

Last week I wrote about Post-It Wars, and how we tried it out at work. I had the chance to hang out with families of other conference attendees (and my own family) at ALE2011, so I got them all to play too. We started off in the room that was reserved for families. The kids had a great time. After some negotiation, they quickly agreed on the music, picking out the Beatles and Bob Marley. Music blaring, they got to work. It was amazing to watch as a group of kids who had never met until a few hours earlier came together to create pictures using Post It Notes.

ALE2011 Kids Making Post It Art

ALE2011 Kids Making Post It Art

While the other conference attendees were in one of the sessions, we broke out into the coffee break area (bringing music with us) and used the windows there too (top left). The parents got in on the action too, and had fun with it. I got some pictures of the work-in-progress from outside the hotel (top right), and their work attracted the attention of some passers by (bottom center).

ALE2011 Post-It Art Collage 1

ALE2011 Kids Make Post-It Art

ALE2011 Kids Making Spongebob

ALE2011 Kids Making Spongebob

ALE2011 Kids Making Spongebob

ALE2011 Kids Making Spongebob

ALE2011 Kids Making Apple Logo

ALE2011 Kids Making Apple Logo

The hotel windows provided a great canvas to work from, and fortunately the hotel staff were very understanding 🙂 Here is what their work looked like from outside the hotel:

ALE2011 Kids Make Post-It Art

Afterwards, we went outside to admire their great art work. Never one to pass up on some fun, Mike came too 🙂

The ALE2011 Post-It Wars Team

The ALE2011 Post-It Wars Team

Some of the kids put their new skills to good use at Thursday night’s dinner.

Marshmallow Challenge

The Marshmallow Challenge is a fun game that I often play with teams. You can play it with friends and family too. At ALE2011 I played it with the ALE families. This time they picked Red Hot Chilli Peppers, U2, Bon Jovi and the Beatles. Rock’n’Roll!

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

Other Games and Activities

Oana Jancu, whose kids were also there, taught everyone ‘Where Are Your Keys?“, an amazing game for learning new skills, particularly new languages. The kids used the game to learn some Portuguese, French, and Irish. Monika played lots of games, arts and crafts activities.  Christiane spent all day Wednesday and Friday with the families. She taught them origami and brought them to the Zoo and Natural History Museum.

ALE2011 Spouse and Kids: Zoo Tour -The Elephants at Berlin Zoo

Learning About Elephants at Berlin Zoo

That’s an elephant’s tooth the tour guide is holding.

ALE2011 Spouse and Kids: Zoo Tour - Watching the Monkeys at Berlin Zoo

Watching the Monkeys at Berlin Zoo

ALE2011 Spouse and Kids: Zoo Tour - Feeding the Monkeys at Berlin Zoo

Feeding the Monkeys at Berlin Zoo

Why Include Spouse and Children in a Conference?

There are at least three big reasons why I think its important to include a Spouse and Kids Program in the conference:

  1. Some of us attend a lot of conferences. That’s a lot of time away from home and family. Being able to bring them with us and hang out during and around the conference is a good thing. Even if you go to only one conference, it’s still nice to be able to bring your spouse and kids. Of course you can bring your family on any trip; the difference with ALE2011 is they were an integrated part of the conference. I like that my wife and children could meet some of the people I have come to know and consider friends. It’s fantastic that my kids can have the opportunity to make friends with other kids from around the world. Vasco tweeted that it made his quality of life better; I concur.
  2. It gives our families a chance to see what we do at conferences. It can be hard sometimes to explain to our families what we do for a living. This gives them some insights.
  3. It is an opportunity to inspire kids to consider a career in our industry. Many countries are struggling to find people with the right skills to fill job vacancies, and there is a growing shortage of children (particularly girls) taking science, maths and engineering courses in school and university. This is a real crisis for our profession. Attending a fun conference can leave them with positive feelings and memories. If they can see that what we do can be a fun and rewarding path, and spread the word to their friends, that can only be a good thing for the future of our industry.
ALE2011 Kids Post-It Art Team with Ice Cream

ALE2011 Kids Post-It Art Team with Ice Cream

Looking Ahead

It was a great pleasure to meet and spend time with the families of Oana, Vasco, Kurt, Andrea and others. I hope this is a tradition we can continue at ALE conferences, and maybe even extend to some other conferences. Based on feedback so far, including the retrospective output, it seems to have been a positive experience overall. Let’s see how we can make it even better for next time.

10 Responses to Happy Memories of the ALE2011 Spouse and Kids Program

  1. Pingback: ALE Ireland First Meetup in Galway February 2012 « System Agility

  2. Pingback: Impressions from ALE2011—Day 1 « OlafLewitz

  3. Pingback: Marcin Floryan » I’m back from Berlin

  4. Vasco Duarte says:

    I totally agree! The kids and spouses program really made the experience much more bearable for the whole family. Monica and the rest me the team did an ALEsome job!

  5. Chris Matts says:

    Ken

    One of the highlights of my conference was when the kids invaded my session. It was great to have their energy at the conference.

    I think the presence of the kids and spouses had a deeper and more profound affect on the conference. Everyone knew that they were on the periphary of our activities and that anytime the kids could appear. As a result I think the conference had a slightly softer edge with people being nicer and more polite with each other. A bit like the difference between a football match at in the league and one in the park with family and friends. “Mummy/Daddy, Why did that person intellectually slide tackle that other person?”

    Great idea. Look forward to seeing it happen elsewhere.

    Chris

  6. Sónia Won says:

    Ken,
    Thank you very much for this.
    As a mom@ALE2011, I did not have the chance to actually see all the activities done by the kids.
    Only what my daughter told me and through some pictures mostly of the outside activities.

    Sónia Won

  7. It was exicting to see kids walking and running around us. Thank you for great idea to bring them!

  8. Ken,

    Thank you for a great summary. I have had a chance to spend one morning with the kids and I was impressed how well they got on together. I made a small attempt at explaining what we do and unsurprisingly they didn’t quite understand what is all the fuss about such obvious things like respecting people and being flexible about changes. One of Oana’s daughters even demonstrated some impressive gymnastics agility.
    I’m convinced it is a great way to build a network for our children and make them experience and appreciated diversity. A big thank you to all the organizers of the kids & spouses program, I saw what Monika did and I was blown away. We need to tap into the creativity they provided.

    M.

  9. Olaf Lewitz says:

    Ken,
    Thanks for writing this down.
    I mainly saw the spouse & kids program from an organiser’s perspective…
    Good that I spite of all the unknowns and struggles it was such a great experience for you!
    Take care
    Olaf

  10. Lisa Crispin says:

    such an awesome idea. I love that y’all did Language Hunters (WAYK). I hope this idea will spread to other conferences!

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