A bright idea came into Alice s head. "Is that the reason so many tea-things are put out here?" she asked. "Yes, that s it," said the Hatter with a sigh: "it s always tea-time, and we ve no time to wash the things between whiles." "Then you keep moving round, I suppose?" said Alice. "Exactly so," said the Hatter.

Feeding their imagination
Little girls love hosting tea parties. They set small tables with tiny cups and saucers, slide their stuffed animals into chairs, and offer them their fill of make-believe tea and crumpets. What better way to appeal to your child s sense of fantasy, than to help her host a "real" tea party.

First, you ll want to decide on a theme. There are as many possibilities as your imagination will allow. Here are some suggestions:

Mad hatter tea party
Buy a bunch of big straw hats, ribbon, plastic pearls and silk flowers. Each guest decorates a hat to wear during the party, and then takes it home as a favor. Hand out prizes for the craziest, prettiest, and most creative hats. To prevent jealousy, consider having enough awards for each child to receive one. A cover idea for your invitations is "Don t Be Late, For a Very Important Date." Following the Alice in Wonderland theme, add "Eat Me" tags to small cakes. At intervals during the party, announce to the guests that it s time to run around the table, or ask everyone to move down one seat.

Teddy bear tea party
Since many young girls often host pretend teas with their stuffed pals, a teddy bear" theme might be just what you re looking for. Address bear-shaped invitations to the kids and their teddy bears, and encourage them to come dressed in party attire. Serve a cake decorated with a bear motif and also set out bowls of gummy bears.

Dress up tea party
Do you have a trunk full of old dresses, scarves, jewelry or pocketbooks? If not, search through thrift shops and flea markets for cheap prom dresses, feather boas, and high heels. Maybe some of the guests mothers could also contribute items. Part of the fun of this party is letting the girls try on the clothes, make their choices, and then sit down to tea as little "ladies."

Storybook tea party
You might get ideas from the pages of your child s favorite books. "My granddaughter attended a tea party using Beatrix Potter tales as a theme," says Marcia Oates of Brighton, Michigan. "They extracted ideas directly from her little story books." Madeline, Winnie the Pooh and Cinderella provide other opportunities for a special tea party theme.

Tea party for boys and girls
Tea parties aren t for girls only. Beth Scamardo of Ocean Springs, Mississippi hosted a tea party for her daughter s entire kindergarten class. "The boys and girls dressed in clothes that were too big--real dress-up clothes--worn over casual playwear," said Beth. "We served punch from a tea service and offered sandwiches and other snacks from silver-plated trays.

During this time I read the children a book about manners. After "tea time" the children were instructed to remove their dress-up clothes and place them in a large box that I provided. We then began the fun and games. We started by playing "freeze" as an icebreaker activity. The kids were told to dance and when the music stopped they "froze" in their positions."

Other games included "stick" the tail on the donkey--using stickers instead of pins; and "Magic Squares," a game where the kids walked around squares of construction paper while music played. When the music stopped, the child who was standing on a particular square would win a prize.

"Then it was time for cake and ice cream and opening gifts. Following this, we played musical chairs, and finally the dress-up race game, where the kids re-dressed in their dress up clothes as fast as they could. The fastest boy and fastest girl won a prize. Then the favor bags of candy and trinkets were given and the party was over," Beth continued.

Tea time tips
Once you ve narrowed down a theme, it s time to decide what refreshments to serve. Of course, you ll want to have tea, but the kids may prefer to drink iced tea instead of hot tea. Depending on their ages, serving hot tea could be hazardous. Try different flavors. Apricot tea is especially good served cold. It s practical to also provide juices, gingerale or sodas in case someone doesn t want tea.

Along with the beverage, offer fancy cookies and small cakes. Use cookie cutters to cut out heart or diamond shaped finger sandwiches. Other food ideas include fresh fruit and assorted muffins. If the party is in honor of the child s birthday, then a birthday cake, candles and ice cream are in order.

Make the tables pretty with bouquets of fresh flowers and doilies. Don t forget to bring out the camcorder or camera. You ll want to capture this special teatime event forever.

Best behavior
Tea parties are a good way to teach children table manners and party etiquette. "I had a class of totally blind children who were mostly Hispanic and didn't know what a tea party was," said Betty Keller. "We made the tea and goodies together for our party. With only seven kids in my class this was fairly easy. Many had never been allowed to cook at home and weren't familiar with measuring, mixing and baking things."

Keller also taught her students how to set the table, arrange a centerpiece and prepare for the tea party. They sent invitations to their parents. "We had china tea pots and china tea cups and cream pitchers and sugar bowls with tongs for obtaining the lumps of sugar," said Keller. "I taught them manners before the party and was proud of their behavior while sitting with their parents at the party."

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