Formal events and children generally have a passing familiarity with each other. Many hosts will forgo including children at the event to avoid the chance of interruptions or meltdowns. But there’s no real reason why children couldn’t be included if you want them to be there, and options abound for how to keep the littlest attendees entertained and happy while the adults enjoy the event.
Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Kids Only Areas
Arrange for a Kids Only area, if there’s space at your event location. This can be outdoors if the weather is cooperating, but make sure you have a backup plan. Hire a sitter or two to keep the children engaged and involved in safe activities, minimize separation anxiety, and free up the adults so they can enjoy the party. Depending on the ages and number of children, you may need more than one sitter. If all the kids are over age three, typically one adult for 8-10 children works well. For children under age two, the adult-to-child ratio is 1:3. If space is available, but hiring a childcare provider is not an option, make sure you assign volunteers to take turns staying with the kids.
Art tables, located off to the side in the event space or in a separate room, are a fabulous idea to keep the little ones occupied. Make sure that the table is stocked with enough paper, coloring books, and art supplies for kids of all ages to enjoy. PRO TIP: If the children will be in formal clothes, avoid paint completely and stick to washable markers. The kids can draw, color, and create whatever they want at the table. Hiring an artist or other adult to run the table frees the host and the other guests from managing the kids and allows them to enjoy the event. If you choose to have an unsupervised art table, it should be within sight of the adult guests.
Hire an Entertainer
If your venue has a separate area for the kids, you can hire an entertainment group which specifically caters to children at events to handle all the work for you. Some may do magic acts while others may include more “carnival” type entertainment, such as balloon animals, face painting, and clowns. Still others might have actors dress up as specific characters, such as superheroes, and come in character to play with the kids. Some of these entertainers can be enjoyed by all ages and could be included as part of the main event if it is appropriate to the event program.
Consider securing a room in another location convenient to the event venue and hiring a babysitter(s) – see childcare provider to child ratios above. Finding a good babysitter can be a challenge, though, especially if you don’t have kids yourself, so think about asking for recommendations or going through a known website to find someone you can trust. For a typical wedding, you want to book them for about 5 hours to cover the ceremony and the reception, (more if the ceremony and reception are in different locations). For other events, such as corporate office parties, book for the full time of the event.
Provide Quiet Toys or Activity Boxes
If your venue doesn’t have room for a separate area for kids, and they need to be where the festivities are taking place, bring some quiet toys or activities to keep the children occupied at their tables. For example, drawing paper and crayons, mini Etch-a-sketch, or fidget toys that don’t make sounds would be great to keep the kids entertained without adding extra noise.
If there is space for a supervised kids only area, feel free to include toys that are louder or which need more space, such as balls, balloons, Play-Doh, bubble wands, and classic outdoor games like cornhole.
Play “I Spy”
One idea I especially love is from a Buzzfeed article about entertaining kids at weddings. You could buy disposable cameras for all the kids and provide a sort of search-and-find game. This has the kids searching for specific items on your list that they have to take a picture of, such as “take a picture of someone laughing.” I love the creativity behind this as you could have the kids search for anything you want, it keeps the kids actively occupied, and it could even add to the wedding couple’s photos after the fact.
How do you keep children entertained at a big event or family function? What has worked for you in the past? Share your experiences with us!