The Kids' Table Grows Up: How to Decorate for Your Son or Daughter's Party
(All photos © Cate West Zahl)For the past couple of summers, we've hosted a family cookout in our backyard to wish friends and neighbors Bon voyage as they migrate to various vacation destinations. The group of attendant children has been ever-increasing, and this year when I sent out invitations (handwritten, because I refute the Evite culture and, really, what else am I going to use all these stamps for?), I realized we had a whopping 11 kids coming over—not including my own two boys. What to do? Well, for the adults we usually set a long table on our deck with cafe chairs, lanterns, and seasonal blooms. This year, we decided there was no reason not to provide the kids with a similarly deluxe setup.
1. Rent the table and chairs
Back when my oldest son turned 3, I discovered that most rental companies stock kids' furniture—chic white folding chairs and long tables sized down for toddlers. I found a local company with astonishingly low rates ($2 a chair, $15 a table—the delivery and pickup charges cost way more than the furniture itself).
2. Don’t dumb down the decorating
When it came to setting the table, I approached it from an adult perspective. These kids have plenty of Pixar-themed, Frozen princess parties in their future; this event would be all about their garden surroundings. We put the long table down in the middle of our backyard, close enough to the adults so that we could see them but far enough away to create a separate “world” for them to enjoy. For the tablecloth, we combined a basic painter's canvas drop cloth from Lowe's with a white craft paper runner. The drop cloth is durable and comes in a neutral (rather chic) shade. Best of all, it can be washed after its inevitable destruction!
3. Kids love plants and flowers too
Two white lanterns anchored the paper runner. And yes, we did light the candles, which were citronella and helped keep mosquitoes at bay. Small ferns placed casually in wax paper cupcake holders lined the middle of the table. Interspersed were garden rocks that we encouraged the kids to decorate with colorful oversize chalk placed at each seat.
In addition to the plants on the table, we took various vines and groundcovers from our yard and tied them to bamboo posts strung with white streamers, creating a garland effect. At first I thought that going with white streamers was a bit selfish on my part; after all, kids love color, and just because I have an aversion to it (I promise I’ll be out of my white/cream/beige rut soon!) doesn’t mean I should project that onto my young guests. But in the end, the white just looked so summery and blended nicely with the rest of the yard. I continued the theme with simple white paper cups and plates for the lemonade and grilled hot-dog dinner we served. It felt so good not to have a Thomas the Tank Engine theme for once!
4. Let the chaos happen
The beautiful display did not last long—and I didn’t expect it to. One of the best parts about the garden party was working with my own kids to set up the table. Once their friends arrived, we just let them loose, and the fact that it rained halfway through the night added to the fleetingness of it all. But the kids did enjoy sticking their hands in dirt, drawing on rocks, eating from grownup-style plates, and sitting at their own long table. And we enjoyed looking down on them in their semi-civilized state.