I can still hear my mother’s voice ringing in my 8-year-old ears: “Sophie! No toys at the dinner table!”
I’m sure it’s a mantra that has been repeated by many mothers across the nation, although now I’m sure it’s shifted to something more technological, like “No iPads at the table!”. The thought is still the same. Put down the outside stimulation, and focus on food and family. But when it comes to throwing a large party with a high ratio of adults to kids, I'd like to take that theory and throw it out the window!
I’ve learned over the years that sitting at a table for long periods of time can be very difficult for kids, especially when it’s a fancy affair with lots and lots of adults. I’ve seen it happen time and time again: a poor kid is stuck at a table with nine adults; his elbows are on the table, chin cradled between his hands, looking blankly off into space as the adults talk over his head. If this boredom isn’t addressed, the kid usually ends up sliding under the table to re-enact his favorite movie with two forks and a spoon amongst the crossed legs and tapping feet of the grown-ups. Usually the parents end up irritated and flustered, and the kid just looks forlorn.
As I've mentioned before, I'm seeing a trend in large parties with young children where they create a special room, table, or area where the kids can hang out with one another, away from the chatting adults. In these cases, I think it’s great to place a big basket of age-appropriate puzzles, mind teasers, art kits, books, and toys that can be shared up and down the table. However, if you’ve got just a few kids that have been sprinkled throughout the room, you might want to consider little boredom-buster gift bags. You want to make sure that the items in the bag are interactive, and not messy (nothing like bubbles or slime that might get all over the tablecloth; kids are prone to knocking over glasses of water as it is, why add an additional risk?). The bags don’t have to cost a fortune either -- a really good puzzle book with pencils and pens can often do the trick, but if you know the child’s hobbies you can often key into something special that they will find entertaining. Ask their parents for suggestions and advice if you are unsure.
Again, you’ll want to choose things that are age-appropriate, but I’ve found that the following selection of items does well for both full tables of kids, and for kids who are on their own.
Invisible ink books: these are awesome and come in a variety of age-grouped books. There are simple versions that offer games of bingo or baseball, and also full-out puzzle books with a variety of games. The best thing about them is they come with a special pen, that reveals the answers when used in the book.
Scratch-and-solve books: as in the case of the invisible ink books, these books have scratch-off spots that reveal answers, much like a lottery ticket. The hangman books are really fun, challenging, and can be played by one or more people at the same time.
Brain games and mind puzzles: either in book form or actual 3-D puzzles. I’m fond of self-contained units such as Rubik's Cubes and hand puzzles, because they don’t have lots of pieces. They can be tricky though, and shouldn’t be given to those who are easily frustrated.
Drawing pads, pencils, and markers: also great items to place in a bag, as the guest can create his own games!
Book kits: such as the ones put out by Klutz Press are great. Just try and choose ones that don’t have too many small pieces or messy supplies such as glue or glitter.
Activity books: number puzzles like Suduko, mazes, spot-the-differences; these kinds of books can provide hours of entertainment. Just make sure they are age-appropriate and that you include pencils or pens for writing.
Trivia and fact books: these can be awesome, especially for kids with fact-gathering minds. Sports, movies, music, world wide oddities -- these usually make excellent time-fillers.
Again, you don’t need to spend a fortune on these. It’s just a really nice thought to include children in these special events, and with some pre-planning, you can assure that the children will feel most welcome!