I'm hosting a large family gathering with a slew of my little neices and nephews. I love having them here, but my apartment is so small! And we don't have a yard for them to run around and play in. What can I do to keep them entertained?
This is a tough question! Finding the right solution will depend on the age of kids, the difference in age of the kids, the number of kids, and the number of kilowatts of rambunctious energy they are likely to generate. Here are a few good rules of thumb:
1) Create a distraction
If you're an auntie, or just someone whose friends are starting to have more and more kids, it's a great idea to collect items that kids will like playing with - every kid is different, so be creative and attentive to what they're into. For example, my friends' four-year-old loves to come over and play Mexican train dominoes, run around with this rubber koi fish and molded rubber lizard I have, geek out looking at my lava lamps, try to put on all of my bracelets at once, set up a game of Mousetrap, and shut the lights in a room and play with this plastic beer glass I got at Mardi Gras that has a rainbow strobe light effect. If you're not keen on the idea of having rubber animals and games lying around your house, just put together a box of kid toys & curiousities and take it out when your young guests arrive.
Don't underestimate the power of books to keep kids quiet and contented! If you're planning on sitting through a long meal at a table full of adults, add some age-appropriate books to your collection.
Simple NON-MESSY art projects can work, too. Coloring books and crayons are good to have on hand. If you're dealing with younger kids, it couldn't hurt to cover your coffee table in newspaper or butcher paper. Just wrap it up like a present so you can relax in the next room without worrying about permanent artistic damage to your furniture.
Games are also a great way for kids to entertain themselves and bond with each other. Make an age-appropriate selection before your guests arrive and leave them out on display.
2) Give them space
If the kids are old enough not to stick their fingers in the electrical sockets, but young enough to lack the stamina to sit through a whole meal, try giving them their own space to hang out and relax. Clean out your back bedroom and set up a tv to play some kid-friendly DVDs.
3) Kick them out of the house
It's a fact: kids have about 17 times as much energy as you do, and it's got to go SOMEWHERE. If you don't have a yard you can either A) accept that you will have kids running all over your house, B) take them outside so they can wear themselves out. Carve out some time after dinner or while the meal is being prepared when parents or older siblings can take the little guys to the closest park or playground. This can become the highlight of the holiday - a chance for some people to work off a heavy meal, and a chance for others to gossip in the kid-free kitchen.