You’ve been waiting a long time to have a real wedding, the kind little girls dream about. It’s only fair that your own kids get to share the magic. Your daughter is the perfect age to be a flower girl, your toddler looks adorable in his mini tuxedo, and with the help of an online graphic design course, you’ve even created cartoon versions of your munchkins to put on the invitations. Finally, you’ve let all your friends from college know you’re trading your sorority dress for a bridal gown.
There’s only one problem: all your sorority sisters are bringing their kids. You start to think your ceremony is going to be awfully long and boring for all those guests under 12, and your china and crystal might be a little too breakable for all those tiny hands. Planning a wedding that guests of all ages can enjoy can be a challenge, especially if you need to be cost-conscious. However, there are plenty of relatively inexpensive ways to keep kids entertained.
Take a page from family restaurants and pass out crayons before the ceremony. You might design your own activity sheet or find one online. While you’re saying your vows, younger kids can be scribbling with abandon, and older ones can do word searches or crossword puzzles.
At the reception, continue the coloring theme by covering the tables with butcher paper and letting kids doodle. If everyone at the table is old enough to avoid the choking hazard, make the centerpiece a bowl of legos and watch the construction unfold. You could also set up a separate arts and crafts area where kids can make cards for the bride and groom.
While some couples spring for bouncy castles, magicians, and face painting artists to entertain young guests, that’s not in everyone’s budget. In her article for The Knot, Wendy Paris recommends lawn games like cornhole or a three-legged race for outdoor receptions. If your reception is in a hotel, take advantage of any gym equipment available like jump ropes, hula hoops, and stability balls and check if there’s ping pong, air hockey, or pool table.
Any kid’s game can easily be adapted to suit the occasion. Use a giant gold wedding band for a ring toss, have a less messy water balloon toss by using plastic bouquets instead, or let kids bowl with a nerf ball and plastic champagne bottles for pins. Marrygrams.com points out the surprising popularity of wedding-themed piñatas.
One way to get kids involved more directly is with a special game of I Spy. Give each child a disposable camera and a list of people and things to photograph, such as the bride standing with the maid of honor, something blue, or someone getting a hug. “If you offer activities that have a wedding theme,” says wedding planner Mimi Van Wyck in Vogue, “then kids feel like they’re actually participating—not just doing something random.”
Budding writers will love this Mad Libs-style worksheet that tells the story of how the bride and groom met. Make it a contest and choose the version of the story you find most hilarious. Then hand the author a mic to read it to everyone if he or she isn’t too shy. It may be the most entertaining speech of the night.
When it comes to catering, a four-course sit-down dinner is probably not the best choice. “A kid-friendly buffet is key,” says Van Wyck. “That allows for an immediate plate to be made, and kids can take what they like.” Don’t feel you need to have a separate kids’ menu, as finger foods like these mac and cheese mini pies will be a hit with grown-ups, too; though you might want to serve kids individual cupcakes and let them choose from an “open bar” of toppings, so they don’t get impatient while the adults fuss over cutting the cake.
Child-friendly weddings can still be fun for adults. Wedding photographer Amanda Helmick observes many couples hire professionals or recruit relatives to provide childcare for at least part of the evening, so parents can relax and enjoy themselves. It also pays to have a kid-friendly DJ armed with the latest Pixar soundtrack, so kids can burn off some energy on the dance floor while the adults are socializing over cocktails.
If your guests include infants and toddlers, make sure you reserve a private room at your venue where mothers can breastfeed or bring little ones who need some quiet time. Crowds of strangers and loud music can cause anxiety and sensory overload even in children who are normally well behaved, so if a kiddo has a meltdown and needs to be taken home early, let your guests know it’s no big deal.
Are you planning a wedding your whole family can enjoy? Let us know in the comments.