Tea with the Animals, a Tea Party for Children

Tea with the Animals is a tea for children. It can be held any time of year but it is especially nice at Christmas. While my animal friends are teddy bears, any stuffed or toy animal is appropriate. A little boy might not have a teddy bear; a toy dinosaur is probably more up his alley. Each child should be encouraged to bring his/her favorite to the tea.

Have some ribbons, lace and other trims that the children can use to “decorate” their animals. Craft store doll hats, small garlands, scraps of felt or fabric are also good to have on hand. You might even consider raiding your own costume jewelry for things the animals might wear.

A good idea is to arrange a little photo spot with a small chair and table set for tea. Pose each child individually and take his/her picture while both the child and the animal are still looking good. Print out the photos and slip them into little frames to take home. Any office supply store will have these frames and often you’ll find seasonal ones.

After the children have dressed their animals and had their photos taken, invite them to the tea table. While I don’t recommend using your best china, I do think children deserve to put on their dress-up manners and eat off real plates with real silverware. They really will notice pretty things even if they don’t comment on them. Mix some of your own animals in with the decorations around the room but don’t place them on the table. You don’t want anyone reaching for or fighting over those animals.

I recommend sending paper invitations addressed to the child. If you look, you can find ones with animals around a tea table but of course, that isn’t absolutely necessary. This invitation could become a keepsake of the child’s very first tea party so make it special.

Each hostess knows how many guests she can handle. Consider the age of your tiny partiers and whether they can sit at the tea table and behave well or whether they’ll need mom or another adult standing by. There is a huge difference between age 4 and age 8. I believe though that children of any age can appreciate this tea party. Just don’t invite more children than you know you should. Too many guests and the party will be ruined.

Instead of having tea in the usual courses, for children, offer everything but the desserts at once. You might want to consider filling plates in the kitchen. You can’t expect small children to pass serving dishes. If you know your little guests well you probably know what they won’t eat but it never hurts to encourage them to try a bite of something new. Just to be safe, check with a parent about any food allergies.

Although I’ve been drinking tea for as long as I can remember, you’ll have to consider whether you want to serve it to your guests. Some parents object to the caffeine and have their own ideas about what’s right for their child. You could serve a fruity tisane instead or a chamomile tea both of which contain no actual tea. You might even try lemonade or a fruit punch. Whatever drink you decide to serve, do use real cups and saucers. Demitasse cups work especially well.

There is no reason to avoid background music at a children’s tea. For Christmas, there are some CDs especially for children. My favorite for this tea though would be Saint-SaĆ«ns’ “Carnival of the Animals.”

A consideration when hosting a children’s tea is what to do about parents. Do you want them to stay around or do you want them to drop their child off and leave? At Christmas, most people will appreciate a couple hours to get away on their own. But you probably will need some help to serve this tea. Think about how you want to handle this because, if you don’t, the parents will make the decision for you.

Another unique problem with children’s teas is how to handle an overwrought or out of control child. Hopefully you won’t need this but just in case, you might want to prepare in advance a room where you or a helper can take a child until s/he feels better. Stock a few books or a small toy. Sometimes a quiet environment away from all the excitement is all it takes for the child to calm down and enjoy the rest of the tea party.

If you’d like to have an activity after the tea is finished and the table cleared, you might want to make treats for some real animals. If the children are older, they can string popcorn and whole peanuts into garlands to be placed outside on trees for the birds and squirrels. Pinecones spread with peanut butter and rolled in birdseed is another nice treat. Orange cups can be filled with berries and nuts and placed on the tree branches.

I often like to send little gifts home with my tea guests. For this Tea with the Animals, each child will have the photo taken earlier. I think that’s enough. Children are so used to fancy birthday party goodie bags. I wouldn’t want them to think of teas in quite that same way. That’s just my own feeling though. If you do want to give the children something to take home, a big cookie wrapped in cellophane or a popcorn ball snowman are both simple and sweet.

Here are a few Tea with Children Dos and Don’ts

1. Do invite boys.
2. Don’t make decorations overly feminine if you’re expecting boys.
3. Do ask the children to dress up. This helps to reinforce party manners.
4. Stand back and do let the children’s imaginations lead the way.
5. Do keep paper towels handy and expect some spills.
6. Do serve the foods most kids enjoy.
7. Don’t plan for the tea to last too long. Kids have short attention spans.
8. Do give a couple tea pointers but don’t stand up and lecture.
9. Do have one helper for every three small guests, more for very tiny children.
10. Do ask the children to stay in their seats, no jumping up and down.
11. Do have some adult refreshments in the kitchen for any mom-helpers.
12. Do set a specific time for the tea to end and include that information on the invitation.
13. If you are hosting a tea for little family members, do sit at the table with them. No need to play waitress.
14. Do use seasonal decorations around the house.
15. Do prepare yourself that things might not go as you’ve imagined and planned.
16. Do enjoy yourself and the children will have fun too.

Coming up tomorrow, Tea with the Animals recipe ideas! And by the way, my bears in the picture are sitting in a high chair that held generations of my husband’s family. They are drinking tea from a little set that belonged to my mother when she was a child.