Although some couples choose to have a strict adults-only rule for their wedding guest list, there are plenty of brides and grooms who want to have little ones be part of their day. No matter how many children you're planning to host at your reception, you'll need to plan ways to keep them occupied—we'd also recommend dedicating a section to your wedding website explaining what options (activities- and menu-related) available for little ones. Not only will this save you from the headache of any potential outbursts or tantrums, but your friends—you know, their parents!—will be able to truly enjoy themselves. Here, wedding planners share a slew of creative ideas that will keep kids busy and entertained at your wedding.
Be picky about the sitter.
The easiest way to handle kids at your wedding is to provide childcare. This means parents can drop off their tots before cocktail hour and pick them back up before the end of the night. But wedding planner Gina Wade of Gina Wade Creative says to be smart and selective about who your hire. A first aid certification is a must, but it's also important that the sitter is creative, enthusiastic, and active. "Find someone engaging and energetic. The more engaged they stay, the happier the kids will be. Give them a schedule of activities so that they have a plan of attack for the evening," she suggests. "Call up a local daycare ask for recommendations or find out if they have staff that are available for private events. Sitters with a lot of experience with kids of all ages are your best bet."
Make a schedule.
If there's one thing any parent will tell you about their kids, it's that a child's attention span can be limited. That's why Wade suggests planning out events throughout the evening, so kids don't begin to whine or cry to be brought back to their parents. "It's not enough just to have a kids' room filled with toys since kids get bored with a toy after about 20 minutes. Plan a basic schedule so that there are different things going on to keep them interested," she says. "The first hour could be arts and crafts, the second hour could be Legos and blocks, the next hour could be dinner with a movie. It doesn't have to be overcomplicated, just a variety of things that will keep them entertained.
Create a treasure hunt.
In another effort to make sure kiddos don't lose interest before the cake cutting, wedding planner Leah Weinberg of Color Pop Events says to create a treasure hunt for the babysitter to lead in an area near the wedding. While you'll probably want to check with the venue first, this can be an interactive and fun way to keep kids occupied. It can be as simple as spotting different colors or nature, reading signs or looking for Easter eggs (even if it's not technically springtime).
Make an arts-and-crafts kids table.
If you'd like the kids to join for dinner, you might not want to sit them down in front of the fine china you rented or the expensive tablecloths you splurged on. Instead, Weinberg suggests covering their table in white paper so they can draw and color while they take bites of food. She also says to go the extra mile, you can have the table be decked-out in kid-friendly treats and activities. "Setting the table with cute place cards for each child and a gift bag is a surefire way to let the kids know that this will not be another boring wedding. Stuff the gift bags with things like crayons and coloring books, puzzles, miniature toys, or glow-in-the-dark bracelets. Bubbles are a must! The kids will be entertained for hours," she says.
Once kids have finished up their meal? Have another activity waiting for them, like card making for the bride and groom, wedding planner Tessa Brand of Tessa Lyn Eventssays. "It's a win-win: The couple gets an adorable keepsake while entertaining the children."
Be mindful of age.
Think coloring pages, dinosaurs, and Barbie dolls work for all? Think again. There's a big difference between what your four-year-old niece and your eight-year-old nephew are into. And while kids may be small, their opinions are mighty. "Make sure that any activities you plan are appropriate for the ages of the kids that are attending. Six-year-olds won't want to play with kiddie toys and will likely reject the kids room if they deem the activities too young for them," Wade says.
For older kiddos, take a page from Weinberg's personal wedding plans and engage the older kids with light-up plastic sabers. "I had these at my own wedding for both the adults and the kids. But the kids had so much fun with them. I received messages years later that the kids and their parents were still playing with them occasionally," she said.
Make a kid-friendly menu just for little guests.
Sure, a toddler might want the chicken over the steak, or the mushy peas over broccoli, but really? They want their go-to kid favorites. That's why Brand says to make sure kids have their own menu, with options like grilled cheese, spaghetti, or tacos. And don't forget about beverages! Brand suggests Shirley Temples, milk in a cookie cup, or frozen smoothies.
Wade also adds the idea of a fun dessert station for the kids with decorative toppings that match your wedding gown. "Have a cookie station setup in the reception for the kids with frosting, sprinkles, etc. and let the kids decorate their own dessert," she explains. "The kids will likely be dressed up so stay away from brightly color frostings with a lot of food coloring. Stick to whites and light colors so that the kids don't ruin their clothes! The parents will thank you!"
Hire live entertainment.
A musician? A balloon animal artist? A puppet show? Face painting? All of these fun activities will keep kids engaged and excited for your wedding because to them, it'll feel like a birthday party. Wade says to spread the word ASAP for the best results. "Tell the parents about it before the wedding so that they can get the kids excited about it before they arrive."
Provide cots and sleeping bags.
If your wedding reception goes well past typical kid bedtimes—7 p.m. 8 p.m., or 9 p.m., depending on age—Wage says to prepare for sleepy little ones toward the end of the evening. "In the separate kids' room, it's a good idea to have some comfortable areas for kids to rest, complete with cots or sleeping bags. Some will tire out easy and will stay down if they are tucked in and in a proper sleeping space," she says. If you don't want to buy these, it might be another item you suggest parents bring along, or ask the hotel if they have rentals for your event.
This story originally appeared on Martha Stewart Weddings.