As society becomes more progressive, people are increasingly challenged to balance work, home, and family life. Personalizing events to cater to the needs of niche audiences means making them more inclusive. How many times have you heard parents politely decline events while lamenting that they would go…if only they could find a baby-sitter. Well, the event world is increasingly creating another option, which is to make events more child-friendly. This way, people with kids don’t have to miss out on that awesome professional development workshop...or that mandatory company conference or meeting. Or that birthday party they’ve been dying to RSVP to, for that matter!
Event planning is rapidly becoming more diverse to meet the evolving demands of a diverse range of attendees. For many working parents, advancing their careers means traveling to attend conferences and networking events. Child-friendly event planning takes on special importance when you consider all of the opportunities many professionals miss when they are unable to bring their children to conferences and workshops. These are not opportunities that people can afford to miss. As more people opt to have families and careers at the same time, they’re on the lookout for events where they can bring their children- and still reap all the adult benefits (and fun). We’re happy to share 10 creative ways to make your event more child-friendly...while still catering to grown-up preferences and palates.
1. Put Children on the Menu
When you hear the words “child-friendly food”, do you have nightmare visions of grease-soaked french fries, ketchup everywhere, and cakes that smile (or laugh) at you? As an event planner, one of your many jobs is to modify what it means to have child-friendly food at your event. Finger foods are always a neat, delicious option that requires little prepping on parents’ behalf- but this easy option doesn’t have to be limited to staples like chicken tenders or raw veggies and dip. (Although those are certainly recommended as part of any complete setup, which should include options for herbivores and omnivores).
Why not try adding mini quiches, veggie rolls, or fondue? The best part about fondue is that it caters to variety, which is something you’ll need at any child-friendly event. Although some kids are foodies in the making with sophisticated palates, many are picky eaters. The more options, the merrier- and fondue has a lot of them. For cheese fondue, try a variety of bread flavors, pretzels, cooked or raw veggies, and various meats such as beef or chicken. To add some sweetness to the deal, offer chocolate fondue for after dinner. Chocolate fondue works wonders with small cakes, biscuits, marshmallows, or dried fruit for a healthy kick.
We can’t talk about child-friendly foods without mentioning pizza at least once, now, can we? Pizza is an obvious choice because it appeals to a wide variety of taste buds, especially when there are multiple topping choices to go around. Pizza is also just as doable as a vegan option. Cauliflower pizza is increasingly popular- and surprisingly scrumptious. Speaking of special dietary options, dairy-free and gluten-free foods should always, always be on the menu.
It’s been said that a true indicator of a successful child-friendly events is that adults can hear each other speak (for prolonged amounts of time, that is). With these entrees on the menu, kids’ mouths will be too full to interrupt the grown-ups!
2. Destination: Child-Friendly
Whether you’re planning a party or a work-related conference/workshop, try to host it in a family-friendly location. Most cities have areas that are more kid-friendly than others. These may be close to attractions such as children’s museums, family fun centers or trampoline parks, child-themed restaurants like Chuck E. Cheese, or theme parks (indoor or outdoor, although outdoor parks obviously only have summer appeal). You’ll also want your venue to be within close vicinity to a shopping center or plaza where the whole family can buy convenient items and go novelty shopping if they choose. If your event will be held in a tourist area, find out about local discounts for children and promote before and during your event.
Unless it’s midwinter, you might also decide to choose a venue that is close to a park, where kids can play freely to their hearts’ desire (i.e., get all their crazies out so they don’t wreak any havoc during the event).
If many people are traveling to attend your event- or it’s a large event that attracts tourists or people from out of state- make sure nearby hotels offer family suites. Also, if you can control it, make sure parking destinations and pickup/drop-off spots for ridesharing are within close walking distance.
3. Choose a Kid-Friendly Venue
Now that we’re talking venues, many spots are versatile enough to accommodate child-friendly events, but some are better choices than others. Obviously, you’ll want a venue that’s big enough. Is the layout convenient for setting up children’s activities? Ideally, kids’ activities should be held at a reasonable distance from the adult space. After all, a conference is hardly effective if the attendees can’t hear each other speak or are distracted by activities going on nearby. For this reason, the ideal layout is not just a wide-open space in which no walls or sections buffer traveling noise. (We’ll say more on acoustics soon).
It’s a plus if the venue has hosted family-friendly events many times before. This way, the venue owners and staff are accustomed to serving families and their needs. Also, give families the options of using child care services by making them aware of close-by facilities.
Now that you know what you’re looking for in a child-friendly venue, it’s time to choose one. We know it can be challenging to find a venue that accommodates the event agenda in a way that optimizes the event for adults and children. For helpful information, you can contact the area’s local Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to inquire about venues that best suit your event’s agenda.
4. Control Noise at Your Event
We know what you’re thinking. Control noise at an event with kids? No, that’s not an oxymoron. If you’ve ever attended an event with children, we hardly need to lecture you on the importance of acoustics. When a venue has poor acoustics, noises become so loud it can be hard to hear others, even without the amplified effect of children at play. Consider how sound travels throughout space at your venue before committing to it. Hint: Low ceilings and large, open spaces (such as warehouse-style venues) are loud or echoey.
5. Plan Child-centric Activities
If you’re planning a conference or professional workshop, it’s hardly feasible to lump all of the children together in one space and expect them to entertain each other. Leaving organization to the kids is a recipe for disaster. That’s why you should set up at least a few fun, engaging structured activities for children. (And, like we mentioned before, make sure your event space accommodates them!)
Depending on your space and resources, try an organized activity like a scavenger hunt. Not only does it give them something fun to do, but the incentive of prizes holds their attention. Since many young people want a taste of what it’s like to be grown up- and to feel included in their parents’ or caregivers’ grown-up agenda- educational activities are great for child-friendly events. Many children learn best through play and hands-on activities, so why not let them play out problem-solving items? If you have access to technology like tablets, interactive computer games can be quite absorbing for kids. Or you can plan a game of charades with an educational theme, letting kids learn by acting out their ideas and guessing the meaning of others’ pantomimes.
6. Give Your Event Kid Swag
We mean this literally and figuratively. Why should adult attendees be the only ones to take home swag bags? Give kids something to be excited about by creating special event swag for your younger crowd. For smaller children, go with Play-Doh, Silly Putty, Legos, books, children’s and coloring books, Mad Libs, or even mini Rubix cubes. For older kids, try paperbacks, journals, custom totes with your logo, stress balls, personalized pens or pencils, or temporary tattoos. Only you know your audience, so if none of the items on our list apply, feel free to use your creative license to dazzle their children.
7. Make New Moms Feel at Home (Or As Close As Possible!)
Many new moms have to bring their babies to events, especially when they’re traveling for business or pleasure. Since a lot of new mothers of young babies are still breastfeeding, make their experience as pleasant and comfortable as possible. If you’re not sure exactly how to do this, it can be helpful to speak with venue owners and staff. But you can also employ some of your own creativity. For example, you can offer to store breast pumps in a secure space or fully staffed area. You might also arrange to put a refrigerator a small room in the venue. Of course, you’ll want to use labels and markers to label bottles with names. This way, mothers don’t have the added burden of carrying them around all day. You can go the extra mile by making shipping information readily available in case the milk needs to be shipped home.
8. Make Your Event Speak to Children
We know this is not always possible, but if you’ve got a room full of kids, try hiring a speaker who is highly trained and experienced in talking to children about a child-centered topic. This will give kids the feeling of “going to work with Mom or Dad” and keep them busy and focused during a professional conference or workshop. Teach them how to If you can’t swing this, there are variations on the idea: Ask one of your most child-friendly staff members to create a mini-workshop for children, teaching them how to use a certain technology by demonstration, and allowing them each to try it.
If you don’t have access to multiple tablets or any particularly interesting technology, don’t sweat it. Take the path of least resistance and set up some fun, educational board games. Group Scrabble, anyone? You can also play the Game of Life, which is a particularly fitting choice for conferences; it simulates making professional decisions, making children feel included in what their parents are doing.
9. Hire Live Entertainment
When it comes to entertaining children, it takes a village. So if you don’t have the resources to create your own child-centered activities, there’s no shame in hiring live entertainment to do the job for you. Since most conferences are held indoors, ask the venue owners if they know any local children’s talent and entertainment to try. If your inquiry doesn’t turn up any results or you want more options, we recommend calling the area’s local Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to ask about your best options. Face-painting is a quiet option that can often be done indoors; many entertainment companies hire actors to dress as Disney characters and read fairy tales or otherwise interact with kids.
10. Have a Movie Day (or Night)
If you’ve got a wide screen TV, and your venue has a spacious room that can accommodate it, why not show a movie? You can give your space movie theater ambience and kid-friendly appeal by offering traditional movie snacks such as popcorn and candy. (Make sure you have healthy, organic, and vegan options as well- your trouble will be worth it when you avoid livid reviews from health-conscious parents...especially if your event is happening in the Bay Area. Just saying).
Showing a movie is also one of the cheapest, quietest ways to entertain kids during a conference- and it ensures that children will be in a different space than the conference is being held, which is always the best way.