About three years ago, I started noticing a new trend on the wedding scene, and it keeps getting stronger as years go by. I’m not sure if it’s because people are marrying later in life and actually already have children of their own, or if it’s because all their friends have kids, but I’m seeing more and more weddings where large groups of children attend. That’s where my company, Sophie’s Stress-Free Soirées comes in! Lots of these weddings hire entertainment to keep the kids occupied for the duration of the wedding. Sometimes this includes the ceremony (which is especially true for the very young ones), but more often than not it’s for the party afterward.
As I noted in my previous blog about wedding showers, wedding season is in full swing, so I thought I’d share my tips for handling large numbers of kids at formal events.
Set up an area designated just for kids with staff
If you’ve got the space, this is the best thing you can do for the kids at your event. It gives the parents a secure space in which to drop off their children. It’s best if this area can be enclosed to help keep little ones from escaping. The area should be staffed with enough folks to watch any young children (under the age of 6) closely, and allow for one or two folks to take “homesick” children to visit their parents at the party, or to take groups of kids to the potty. We usually try to have one staff member per every infant to 18-month-old, one for every two toddlers (up to age 3), and one for every three or four children over age 4. Older kids (7 and up) don’t need as much hands-on help, so you can usually do one staff member for every 6 to 8 kids.
Tips for running the kids’ area
For maintaining this space, we’ve found the following tips help us keep things running smoothly.
1. We assign one person to just watch the door. As parents arrive with young children, we have them sign in on a master sheet with their names, their child’s name, their cell phone number (should we need to reach them), their table number (if they know it), and any allergies or special needs we need to know about.
2. Since we usually have instant-print photos at our disposal, we take a family photo and write all of this information on the photo as well. We then clip the photo to any personal items or bags so that we know whose bag belongs to whom. Often those bags have children’s bottles, diapers, etc., so it’s important to make sure we know which bag belongs with which child. If you don’t have this capability, just reprint the information onto an index card and clip it to the bag. We have also found it useful to write little notes about the parents so that we can locate them later (e.g., tall, blonde, wearing aqua colored dress with flowers in hair...).
3. If you have a cell phone with photo capabilities, another option is to take a family photo and assign it with the names and phone number in your phone’s contacts.
4. For our older kids, we check with the parents about their expectations for the evening. Do they wish us to keep the child with us all night? Or is the child permitted to join for things like the speeches, cake cutting, dancing, etc. You might think this is a silly question, but you’d be surprised at the response. Some folks want an evening to themselves if they can grab it! It’s just good to know the parent’s wishes ahead of time. However, we always make sure that a staff person escorts the kids back to their parents when this is not the case.
Designate an area where kids can take off their shoes, jackets, etc. Often kids are dressed to the nines at these events, and it’s nice for them to be able to strip off any extra layers once the ceremony and photos are done. It’s important to keep all these items together, since the ending can usually be pretty late at night, and no one wants to go hunting for a pair of missing sandals at midnight.
Snacks / food
This is probably one of the most important elements of a kid’s room, but it often gets overlooked. Kids need food, and they need it constantly. This can make or break an event since a hungry kid is a grumpy kid, and a grumpy kid won’t enjoy anything that goes on, no matter how fabulous it is. Stock the room with stuff you know the kids will eat: crackers, pretzels, cheese sticks, Go-Gurts, and fruit. Make sure you have plenty of water; we don’t recommend lots of juice, soda, or sugary drinks, but that’s up to the family. Make sure you check with folks ahead of time for any allergies. If the kids are eating dinner in the kid’s room, then make sure that it’s kid-friendly food -- most kids are not going to be impressed by baby vegetables on a bed of mashed turnips served with roasted duck breast.
Setting up the room
Plan for your ages!
Babies: If you’ve got very little ones, it’s great to bring things like mats, pillows, comfy chairs, and so on. Most guests will come with their own strollers or seats, but you want an area that is out of the way of older kids who may be playing with toys, and that comfortable for babies.
Toddlers: You will need lots of fun toys to keep these guys entertained. Raid your toy room or borrow from friends; you’ll want interactive toys such as blocks, ride ‘em toys, balls, soft plush toys, dolls, books, cars, crayons, coloring books. Just make sure you’ve got lots of different items, enough for each child to have something. You can put them in a large toy chest and bring them out one at a time to keep things interesting.
Older kids: The 6-to-11 crowd is usually pretty great at going along with anything. They love crafts, board games, card games, sports, science experiments, etc. This group will often spend hours in the kid room as long as there is an ample supply of fun stuff to do. If you’ve got the space for group activities, scavenger hunts and pickup games of soccer, basketball, wiffle ball, or touch football are great for this age as well as the teens.
Teens: This may be the hardest group, just because they may feel excluded from the adults and relegated to the “little kid’s” room. If possible, they should have their own “lounge” type area, where they can hang out and interact with other teens. We usually set these areas up with some more sophisticated games (poker has been a big hit with our boys), conversation starters (you can make your own or purchase boxes of fun, silly questions; the web has tons of good questions as well) and although we’re not huge fans of electronics, we do find that video games that incorporate a few people at a time, like Wii and Xbox, are fun for this age. Often the teens will join in if we’ve got fun crafts like duct tape wallets.
Most weddings tend to go late at night, so if possible, it’s best to have pillows, bean bag chairs, and comfy couches for kids to crash and watch a movie. We tend to do this in the later hours, about 9 or 10 at night. Most of the time the little ones fall asleep during this. It’s a great way to wind the kids down after what is usually a 4 or 5 hour play period.
Weddings are celebrations, and it’s so nice to see people including kids in these events. Kids can add such a feeling of joy and energy to a wedding. However, the main thing to remember is that kids love to move, so the less sitting and the more freedom to play safely they have, the better. And just remember, nothing looks better in a photo album than the happy faces of kids at a wedding!
Although it's sometimes also funny when their faces are less-than-happy...