If you've decided that children are going to be part of your wedding day, congratulations! They can make a brilliant contribution to your day, are natural ice-breakers, and provide some gorgeous photo opportunities! A little bit of careful planning will make sure that they (and therefore you) have fun and enjoy themselves and everything goes smoothly. Children are merely very honest untrained versions of ourselves. If they're bored, they will fidget; if they're tired, they will play up; if they're given free reign on the wedding cake, they'll probably try to stick their hands in it! Ensure having children at your wedding doesn't turn it into a comedy show or horror movie. Make some provision for your mini-wedding-guests as you would any other, and you'll be back to producing the fairytale. It'll be worth the effort.
Here's a step by step list of ideas for keeping children entertained during all the main stages of the wedding day and the crunch points you'll want to circumnavigate;
1. The ceremony
THE CRUNCH POINT: THEY NEED TO SIT STILL AND BE QUIET BUT THEY'LL BE REALLY EXCITED
The wedding ceremony itself is a tricky one for children, as they really just need to sit still and be good. As this is the first major event of the day they should be alert and interested in everything going on, but they may have had a long car journey, or the wedding ceremony may be taking place during a normal meal-time so be prepared. Firstly, think about areas of the ceremony venue that would be most ideal for children to sit. Ends of aisles are always good for children at weddings, as they will be able to see, and parents with small babies can make quick and quiet exits if needs must. Ushers should be in charge of reserving and directing parents to these "quick exit" zones. You may consider a children's wedding activity book if you're expecting your ceremony to be particularly long (over 25 minutes of sitting still would be deemed long for any child under 10), or have a separate play area (out of earshot) for parents to take toddlers who just can't resist the temptation to wriggle and make noise. A quiet mention of these "opportunities" in the order of service may ensure children are seen and not heard during this important part of the day.
2. The drinks reception
THE CRUNCH POINT: THEY'LL WANT TO LET OFF STEAM, YOU'LL WANT THEM TO LOOK GORGEOUS IN THE PHOTOS
After sitting ever so still and quiet during the wedding ceremony, children will probably need to stretch their legs and run off a bit of steam before being expected to sit still again during the wedding breakfast. This might be an ideal opportunity to have a wedding treasure hunt for the children in the wedding grounds (if safe and suitable) or arrange for a few mini garden games for them to play with. Children are pretty much always happy when they're eating, so maybe have a separate tray of child-friendly snacks and canapes for the children if your ceremony has run close to a meal time. If the children are needed for the official wedding photos, try to arrange these so they can be done and dusted fairly quickly...and before they start the snacks if you want to keep wedding outfits clean!
3. The Wedding Breakfast
THE CRUNCH POINT: YOU'LL WANT THEIR PARENTS TO HAVE A GOOD TIME BUT DON'T WANT THE KIDS RUNNING WILD
Children are likely to be happy at meal times. They're often slower eaters so you may ask your wedding caterers to serve children's meals just after the top table to give them a head-start and give them a reason to sit down. Mini-portions of the adult menu is a lovely idea, but making things simple and choosing something child-friendly will probably be better to avoid any tantrums or problems at the dinner table. It will mean the parents will have a more relaxed time too. The Wedding Breakfast can take longer than a normal mealtime so it's ideal to have something on the table for the children to do to TRY to stop them getting down too early and running around, causing hazards for the waiting staff. Wedding colouring pages, wedding quizzes, and wedding activity books are all quiet ideas that you can utilise for this part of the day which should help.
3. The Speeches
THE CRUNCH POINT: EVERYONE WANTS TO HEAR THE SPEECHES BUT FOR THE KIDS THIS CAN BE A BIT BORING
During the wedding speeches is another time for the children to keep quiet and listen, but you can make it more interesting for them by providing their own way of joining in. "Score sheets" for who is the funniest, most romantic, can help keep their attention and keep them sitting still. You could also give them a camera to take photos which again involves them in the day whilst keeping them at their table - and will create some funny photos too. Or, if you think the speeches might not be suitable for little ears, this might be a great time for a supervised children's activity set up in another room. It'll give the parents some breathing space too!
4. The bit between the speeches and the first dance
THE CRUNCH POINT: EVERYONE WANTS TO START LETTING THEIR HAIR DOWN
When the speeches are over and before the evening wedding reception starts, is when children (and their parents) finally feel "set free" from the day's formal restraints. And the parents probably feel exhausted too from keeping them entertained and quiet and still for so long. If you have the space and the budget, this can be the perfect time for a chidren's wedding entertainer or a babysitter to take some of the responsibility for a while. Children could be taken for a walk, or some entertainment could be provided for 30 minutes to an hour. Alternatively, if you have a smaller space, or only a couple of children to entertain, a children's area could be set up - a colouring table or an outside space with some toys or games, or a teepee tent with a chill-out zone. Younger ones may need to go to bed around now, either in a quiet area in pushchairs or, if a nanny service is available, in a separate room.
5. The First Dance and beyond
THE CRUNCH POINT: MINI GUESTS WILL BE STARTING TO FLAG BUT THE FUN IS JUST BEGINNING
Some younger children may have had to go to bed by now, but some may be staying up a bit later to see the bride and groom dance. Children love dancing, and can help break down barriers of those adults that are shy, so utilise them and task them with getting everyone onto the dance floor at the end of the first dance! After that, depending on what type of evening reception you're having, you may encourage them to go to bed (in which case a babysitting service would be ideal if you're hoping both the parents to stay and join in the party), or you may just let them dance the night away with the other wedding guests - perhaps providing a small corner with a few cushions or bean bags for when energy levels finally drop.
Inviting children to your wedding can be a beautiful thing. Their own enthusiasm for your wedding will be infectious, and children always lighten the mood and cause a conversation point. They also make gorgeous photos and can be lots of fun on the dance floor! Just make a few subtle additions to your wedding planning to account for their "childness" and you'll be onto a winner. Happy wedding planning : )