Guests: What to Do With Kids

How do you entertain your young guests? We've got 15 great ideas.
You're imagining your wedding reception. You see you, your new wife or husband, your best friends and close family -- and 30 screaming kids skidding across the dance floor, throwing handfuls of cake at each other. You love your family and friends, but wish -- just this once -- that they didn't have quite so many little ones. Here's a way out: include them in the event with some kid-friendly fun. These 15 tips will keep any group of young guests happy -- and keep you calm, cool, and collected. Whether or not you provide a separate play area, consider dividing dinner in two -- kids and then adults.

Hire a Professional
Why not entertain the tots with a professional performer? Consider hiring a bag piper, clown, comedian, caricature artist, face, body and/or fake tattoo painter, fortune teller, impersonator (think Batman, Cinderella, Elvis, Mickey Mouse, or Madonna), karaoke, magician, mime, mystery theatre, story teller, ventriloquist, hypnotist, or tarot card reader. It's an easy way to keep the kids happy and the adults off the hook. Check local entertainment vendors and party-planning companies to find the right entertainer for your young audience.

Create a Cafe
Teenagers, while not disruptive, may not get into the festivities as much as adults do. If you have lots of teens attending, you could create a cafe (coffee-free, but still) with tables and chairs, sodas, an espresso machine serving steamed milk, a variety of herbal teas and designer water, international newspapers and magazines, and a dozen vintage board games. Have music playing, too (cool music). Assign one member of your wait staff to man the cafe. Your teenage guests won't want to leave.

Set Up a Sports Center
For an active gaggle of little ones, consider turning the play space into a sports palace. Rent or borrow Ping-Pong tables, air hockey, a Nerf ball, a basketball, Twister, hula hoops, jump ropes, and a putt-putt machine. If it's a hotel or country-club wedding, you may find all the equipment you need right on the grounds.

Create a Craft Room
For younger kids, turn one room into an arts-and-crafts center. Have a coloring contest, with prizes for most colorful drawings. Supply beads for necklaces they can take home. Set up a table for sand art, that colorful sand craft you've seen at fairs. You'll need pails of different-colored sand (kids can make their own with white salt and colored chalk), plastic spoons, and clear plastic jars or containers for the kids to fill.

Make Them Stars
Use this same room as "production headquarters" for a video the kids make and star in. (Ask your videographer to bring along an extra staff person to work with the kids on the video -- or get a techie friend to volunteer.) You'll need a trunk of old clothes and jewelry, a portable tape player, and several tapes for background music, as well as any movie prop paraphernalia you can find. The adult can help the kids structure a simple story (a mystery wedding, a music video) and choose the actors. The kids will dress up, rehearse their roles, and act for the camera. Show the video at the end of the reception!

Take Them For a Walk
If you're having an outdoor wedding, you may be able to hire a naturalist (or a member of the reception site staff) to take the kids on a nature trek through the grounds. Depending on your wedding location (and the time of day), the naturalist could identify native plants and animals. The kids might carry "naturalist logs" to check off the flowers, birds, and insects they see. Or they might finish the hike by drawing a picture of the favorite thing they spotted along the way.

Go Fly a Kite
On a warm and windy day, provide materials and instructions for kite making. Let the kids (and any interested adults and parents) create their own kites and then fly them. After the wedding, kids take their kites home.

Concrete Jungle
If you're having a casual wedding at a home with a wide sidewalk, or at a country club or hotel with a large, concrete outdoor area, supply huge sticks of colored chalk for kids to draw on the ground. During the reception, their artwork will be on display for everyone to see, and the chalk will wash right off afterward.

Build a Sandbox
If it's an informal wedding with a lot of little kids, build a huge sandbox (easier if there's a beach nearby). You provide the sand, the buckets, shovels, and sifters. They supply the creativity. Bonus: A sandbox lets kids entertain themselves within eyesight of their parents.

Run Them Ragged
For an afternoon picnic-style wedding, set up races. Appoint a babysitter or other adult to run the games. Stage an old-fashioned three-legged race, a one-footed hop, or a pass-the-egg-on-the-spoon relay. You'll find pennant runners and other supplies at a party-supply store. Be sure to have trophies or other prizes on hand, and make all the kids winners!

Send 'em on a Hayride
If there's a stable in the area, hire a horse-drawn hay cart to take the kids on a hayride, or, if it's not too cold, a sleigh ride in the winter. You might also ask a neighbor with a tractor to pull a hay wagon full of young guests.

Stagger the Meals
Whether or not you provide a separate play area, consider dividing dinner in two -- kids and then adults. While you and your guests may enjoy lingering over a five-course meal, most children are ready to leave the table after ten minutes. If it's a buffet, let the kids load up on barbecued chicken first, while the adults are still chatting over hors d'oeuvres. When the kids are finished, they can move on to another activity. The adults will just be starting in on the rare grilled tuna and filet mignon. Bonus points: serving fewer "adult" foods may keep your catering bill on the cheaper side.

Write On
Provide tabletop entertainment during a long dinner. Cover the kids' table(s) with white butcher paper and spill out a pile of crayons (or put them in fun plastic cups). Let kids cover the table with drawings. They'll be so busy, they'll forget they're still actually sitting at a table.

Get a Good DJ
Even if you have a band, you might also consider hiring a DJ for the kids. He or she can entertain between sets, or spin records in another room. Inquire about a team of dance instructors - another kid-friendly method of entertainment. By providing music and dances targeted at a younger age group, you're allowing them to participate in the wedding in a way they (and you, and their parents) can enjoy.

If you're expecting very young children, chances are they'll be asleep before the evening is over. Accommodate their fatigue by setting up a quiet nap room where they can rest comfortably.

With a little creative planning, you can make sure the kids -- and the adults -- enjoy your wedding almost as much as you do.


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