Children can add an extra special dimension to a wedding – but it’s not just a matter of including their names on the invitation. A few creative and thoughtful plans can make all the difference in ensuring everyone has the best day ever!
“Cover the basics first: keep them fed, keep them warm or cool, keep them busy!” advises wedding planner Hazel Parsons from Out of the Ordinary Weddings (outoftheordinaryweddings.com). “Happy children equals happy adults, and you and your guests will be able to enjoy spending time with the children at the wedding if you have these three basics covered.”
We’ve asked those in the know for their advice when it comes to keeping your young guests busy, entertained and having fun.
A job to do
There are some lovely ways to incorporate children into your day so that they get a lot out of it too. This doesn’t have to be restricted to your own children – you can get all your younger guests involved in proceedings.
Before the ceremony begins, consider getting the children involved in the preparations (in an age-appropriate way!), says Elsie Preddy of Cornwall Childcare (cornwallchildcare.com). “Let them help set up a small part of the reception and they will feel like they are doing something important and can tell everyone later on in the day, which makes them feel special.”
“Give them a role they will love or an activity they will enjoy, because if the children are enjoying themselves, it is fun for all involved,” agrees Hazel. "You could ask them all to be flag bearers for the bridal entrance, be on ‘team confetti’ – giving out the confetti to guests – or get them blowing bubbles during the arrival drinks or throughout the ceremony.”
Once the ceremony is over, the fun really begins! “Weddings are generally quite an intense, noisy, high-energy environment for children so they’re likely to adopt a slightly frantic, sugar-fuelled energy themselves,” says Eve Somers from Ren Yoga (instagram.com/Ren_YogaUK) who runs workshops that combine sensory play, storytelling, song, yoga asanas (postures), breathwork, mindful moments and joyful chaos. “A creative or active workshop offers a space for children to harness that energy and channel it towards creative play.” Offering a workshop or structured play session can work well for the ‘downtime’ periods of your day, when the adults might be having welcome drinks or during the speeches.
“I think creating a bit of magic is the most important component,” Eve continues. “Give children something that will really capture their imaginations. I root my workshops in stories, each time going on a new adventure, to a new place, to meet new creatures. Children’s imaginations are so strong that once you sow the seeds, they will be right there with you on the adventure, helping to shape and create a story.”
As well as organised workshops and activities, you can set the children tasks to complete throughout the day. You could start with a form of scavenger hunt, which can either be done walking around or sat at their table – great for keeping them entertained during the wedding breakfast. “Give them a list of things to find; for example, a lady in a green dress or a man with a cool tie,” says Elsie. “This could be adapted to asking guests questions; for example, the guest who’s travelled the furthest and who’s known the couple the longest.”
Another fun idea is to give each child a disposable camera and get them to ‘help the photographer’. “You could give them a list of prompts or just let them have free rein – either way they’ll enjoy using the cameras and the happy couple could get some precious memories created by their younger guests,” says Elsie. “You could also give them a blank card and envelope and ask them to create a wedding card for the bride and groom – they could draw their favourite part of the day or something that reminds them of the couple.”
If you’re wondering about getting children who don’t know each other to play together, a treasure hunt is a great icebreaker, as are garden games – and Eve’s top tip is to “keep it silly”. “Laughter can make even the most nervous or shy little one relax and engage,” she says. “Start with a warm-up game to learn names and then a high-energy activity that allows them to get out of their heads and free their bodies up. Utilising props that they can explore individually and as a group can really help. Weaving things like colourful sensory scarves that become bird wings or a giant parachute that becomes a cave into the story or theme will help them to start collaborating without even realising it.”
You can also use games where the children are working towards a shared objective. “Can they all collect the blocks to build the tower?” says Eve. "Can they form a chain to help each other across the river? Can they all run to the corner and curl up small to hide from the giant?”
Throwing children of different ages together can sound like chaos – and it may well be! – but there are some easy ways to get them all playing happily. “Giving all the children an easier version of a game works as even the older children like to go back to basics and have fun – it's not school, after all,” says Elsie. “We also find that if you give the children something to do like Lego, you will often find that the older ones take the younger ones under their wing and help them or show them how to do things.”
If it’s an organised activity, you can utilise the older children as your assistants or leaders for the little ones to follow. “If the older ones are invested, the little ones are naturally reassured that what we’re doing is going to be good fun,” says Eve. “I’ll normally ask the older or more confident children in my workshops if they can demonstrate yoga postures or animal sounds as we work through a story. Even things like asking the big kids to help the little ones collect or move props acts as a way of empowering them and making them feel that bit more grown up.”
“As we all know, children have a lot of energy! They can’t sit still for long and we need to lean into that,” says Eve. “I always move my workshops around a lot. We physically travel to different parts of the space together so we are all on a shared journey. If we turn this journey into a treasure hunt or quest to find animals in the jungle, it becomes even more exciting. If we then find props, games or prizes along our quest, it keeps the momentum up and keeps little imaginations engaged.”
As well as a treasure hunt, a sports day is a fun addition to any quieter moments of an afternoon, especially if you have a beach or garden wedding. You can team up the children with adults and give them silly races to compete in, letting them burn off some energy while also staying involved in the day.
Try not to worry about keeping children entertained – you might be surprised at how little you need to do. “I find that most children love a wedding – getting to see cousins or family members and friends they haven’t seen for a while,” says Elsie.
“In a wedding environment, I don’t think you need to break the mould so go for games that they are likely to have played before at birthday parties and feel comfortable with. I use things like Grandma’s Footsteps, Musical Statues and Simon Says all the time. I just adapt them to suit my theme,” says Eve.
If you have a magician, caricaturist or live music planned, it’s sure to keep children smiling. Just wait until the music starts, and you can guarantee they’ll be first on the dance floor! And as Hazel says: “Keep it fun, not too complicated!”
Don’t forget about the children when it comes to food. “Young children need to eat regularly, so depending on the time of the wedding make sure you have covered children’s mealtimes or that the parents have it covered to avoid any hanger!” says Hazel. “Make the food simple but fun. Mezze plates of kids’ snacks, mini fish and chips cones, macaroni cheese bake or a ‘high tea’ all work well.” An ice cream trike or sweet station is always a hit with both children and adults alike, which prompts another tip from Hazel. “Involve them in each part of your day but cater to the things they love too – you are all there to enjoy yourself!”
Set up a tipi or create a comfortable and quiet space where children can go and add these fail-safe books and games, as recommended by our experts.
-Where’s Wally? books
-Thread for friendship bracelets
-Colouring books or tablecloths
Garden games are a brilliant addition to a wedding if you’ve got outdoor space. Here are some ideas which can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.
Bean bag toss
Giant Connect 4
Main image Steven Prebble Photography