Monday, March 14, 2011

Teaching Children Hospitality as the Hostess

Have you ever viewed a play date, birthday party or special event as more than just a fun occasion for children?

My four year old daughter, Ellie, recently hosted a play date for her friends from our home school co-op. Because I want Ellie to one day be an excellent hostess I took a little extra time and included her in all of the hostess tasks*.

Ellie (in the denim jumper) with her friends

We planned the event together.

Ellie wanted a special play date so we decided to make it a tea party. As we discussed food for the tea party I steered her toward ham and cheese sandwiches, chips, fruit salad, and lemonade. I explained to Ellie that we wanted to keep the food simple and easy to make. Also, that we wanted to choose foods that our guests would enjoy eating.

Ellie helped clean and prepare our home for her guests.

In all honesty, she resisted cleaning her room at first, and by resist I mean refused with much whining and crying. But I reminded her that the party was for her and that as the hostess she needed to help get ready for it. She agreed that we want our home to look nice for our guests. Eventually she came around and cleaned up her room.

Once her room was clean, we moved her child-sized table and chairs to the living room for a special place to eat. We also brought up her girlie toys from the basement and placed them in her room. As we arranged the toys we talked about how it's important to share with our friends - that she can play with her toys anytime but her friends will only have a few hours to play with them.

We greeted Ellie's friends as they arrived.

As each friend came to our door I called Ellie to come and say "Hi, [Friend's Name]! Come in. May I take your coat? We are playing in my room right now." Then she would take the girl's coat to the boys' bedroom and join her friends in playing.

Now, please understand that she's only four years old so I didn't expect perfection. Practicing a new skill always feels awkward and uncomfortable the first time; so she didn't say all of this every time and she often mumbled it as she parroted me. But I am satisfied with her efforts as a first time hostess.

We also practiced serving our guests.

Ellie didn't help me prepare plates and carry them to the table but she did practice eating last. As she grows older, I will have her help me refill glasses and offer guests second helpings. For this play date the lesson of letting your guests go first was enough.

Our event was just a play date but I'm not sure how I would handle this if it were a birthday party. What are your thoughts on the birthday child being served last at her birthday party? It is her "special day" but isn't it good manners for a hostess to meet the needs of her guests first?

Ellie thanked her friends for coming.

As her friends left, I instructed Ellie to retrieve their coats and make sure they took their coloring pages (our activity for the afternoon) home. She then walked each one to the door and said, "Thank you for coming to my tea party. I had a lot of fun." As the last girl left, we stepped outside and waved as they all drove away.

Ellie learned that hostesses still work AFTER guests leave.

After her friends left, Ellie helped me clean up her room (again). We also returned her toys and table to their usual places. My goal was to teach her that cleaning up immediately after a party is much easier than procrastinating.

One thing I DIDN'T do, but will do next time, was to write thank you notes. Even though this was only a play date, it was a special day (we don't usually have play dates with these girls) and made a good opportunity to practice writing thank yous. Blank white note cards are wonderful for children to practice hand writing a note thanking their friends for coming. Including a photograph or link to event pictures on line would also be appreciated by guests.

Teaching my daughter to be a thoughtful hostess is important to me. It takes a little time and effort on my part but that investment is well worth it!

How are you teaching your daughter to be a competent hostess? At what age did you begin the lessons?

* In this post I have used the term "hostess" and used my daughter as an example. It should be understood that I am using the same methods to teach my sons to be proper hosts.


  1. This is a great idea, Stephanie! My oldest (4) is a boy, and I should be more intentional about involving him. We host people at least once a week, and I'm sure we would both benefit by him being more directly involved in the preparation, serving, and clean-up.

  2. Love the tea party! What special mom/daughter time and what a fun teaching opportunity!

    Yes, we are intentional in teaching our children to be host and hostess. Certainly it is a process. The kids help with preparation, we have a talk before guests arrive reminding them about serving others and how to be a good host/hostess. At our house, the party isn't over until everything is back in place. So, clean-up is generally a family event! For us, entertaining and offering hospitality is a family affair! We want our children to have ownership and feel a definite part of offering hospitality! We all have a lot to learn...but was encouraged to hear other children are learning, too!

    As a side note, we have also had talks with our children about not being alone with guests (especially adults, we reinforce this discussion depending on our guests), and "safety" issues. As we intentionally teach them about serving and being host and hostess, we also found it important to be sure they're aware of unsafe situations, and how to handle them. Not directly related to this post or situation, but worth mentioning?

    As for birthday parties, good question! I think (key word think, could be wrong) that I have actually served the birthday child last. I often plan an activity for the children while they're waiting to be served (reading a book to them, a coloring page, etc.) so it hasn't seemed to be a big deal who is served first vs last. Everyone eats at the same time...looking forward to reading other thoughts...

    PS Check your mail this week! :) We forgot to give you our coloring pages/word searches so M3 wanted to mail them! :)

  3. I love this idea. I don't remember knowing whether or not my mom was being intentional about teaching me how to be a hostess, but I do remember her correcting my hosting over the years and also always modeling selfless hosting herself. I like to hope her example bears fruit today.

  4. This is great! I definitely involve my four year old in planning events. From shopping (presenting a few choices at the store for him to select between in prep for guests) to choosing table decorations - I think it's important to involve him. Plus, there's a set list of things he does to help get the house ready. He's always responsible for, say, turning on the outside lights if we're having people over at night and he takes great delight in the responsibility and in greeting guests at the door.

    As Katie said, my mom was also really good about having things prepared ahead of time when we had guests over. So I learned from her and ENJOY having people over to my own home. I hope my children learn to do the same.

  5. I would say that I have been unintentionaly intentional (LOL) about teaching my kids to be good hosts. Our hostess is only two, so we haven't done much with that yet other than practicing manners. But, with the boys I try to involve them in all areas of the planning of hospitality. Honestly though, I was doing it out of a need for extra hands, I never thought of it as training them to be better hosts.
    With the birthday party question, I think of me as the hostess for my child's party and they are the honoree. Their party is part of their gift from me & my hubby. So I don't have them do a whole lot (other than clean their messes) and I usually do buffet style for kids' parties and have the birthday kid go first, then the other guests and the rest of our kids and my hubby and I go last.

  6. Crystal, good point on the birthday party question!

  7. That's really good! I think I need to work on some of these.

  8. Great ideas, ladies!

    Amy, I hadn't thought about telling my kids not to be alone in a room with adults. Great idea! I've got to start working on that kind of training more.