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Between roasting the turkey, glad-handing the in-laws, and spiking the eggnog, it's easy to lose sight of the little ones underfoot at a holiday party.
But we have some easy ways to make the children at your celebration feel special by making the kids' table the place to be. After all, happy kids equal happy grown-ups.
By Rebecca Ffrench
Make chalkboard place mats
With a jar of chalkboard paint and some recycled cardboard, you can create place mats that do more than catch crumbs – they keep the kids happily engaged during that long wait for dessert.
Making these place mats costs less than half of what it would to buy them, and you can customize the size to fit your table. Another option is to cut a piece of cardboard the size of the whole tabletop and make a chalkboard topper.
Six 14-inch squares of cardboard
8-ounce container of chalkboard paint
Apply one even coat of paint to each cardboard square. Allow to dry 1 hour. Apply a second coat and allow to dry 24 hours before using.
For the party, set tins with chalk and pieces of cut-up sponge for erasers around the table.
Keep the kids busy making place cards
To keep kids away from hot ovens and frantic food preparation, send them into the backyard to collect pinecones. Then, have them decorate place cards with stickers and markers, and stick the cards between the scales of the pinecones to create nature-inspired placeholders. Have the bigger kids write each name with a bold marker and allow toddlers to scribble away.
Craft paper punches also make great snowflakes for sprinkling on the table.
Count the kids in on the toasts
Instead of everyday kids' cups (or disaster-prone glass ones), serve the kids milk, juice, or festive, alcohol-free mocktails in plastic wine glasses. This small touch will make them feel like they're truly a part of the celebration.
Kidsmartliving.com carries BPA-free plastic glasses. The short-stemmed Barcelona-style goblet pictured here is made from SAN plastic, which has a substantial look and feel and is more resistant to scratches, cracking, and breaking than acrylic. These goblets are also dishwasher-safe.
Make a beautiful – but unbreakable – centerpiece
Create a festive atmosphere with battery-operated pillar candles, like these from Pottery Barn ($12.50–$34.50). They're made of real wax, but with an LED center, so there's no dripping and no danger.
To make a kid-proof centerpiece, surround three battery-operated candles with a cheery felted wool ball garland, like this one from jamaligarden.com. With no fire and unbreakable decorations, there's no worry – even at a table of rambunctious kids.
Bring on the dinner games
Inspire conversation by setting Family Dinner Beginner Games on the table. Older cousins and friends can engage little ones with games and activities printed on the 51 laminated cards. Bonus: Some cards even encourage kids to eat their veggies and drink their milk.
Make surprise-filled tins
The more diversions you add to the table the better. Activities keep kids entertained and at their seats, so the adult party doesn't get derailed. Create a surprise tin for each child and fill it with simple things to keep small hands busy: Depending on the ages of your guests, you could try Model Magic, block magnets, pipe cleaners, small plastic animals, or a bag of beads and a string. You may even be able to use stuff you find around your own house.
Empty food cans
Make sure all cans are clean and free of sharp edges. If needed, sand any rough spots.
Cut strips of decorative paper to fit each can and adhere to the can with glue. Fill the cans with small surprise objects. Cover the tops of the tins with paper circles cut from parchment and secure with ribbon.