In England, preschoolers enjoy a tea party at least twice a day. Every midmorning and midafternoon, they gather at tiny tables, filling their teacups, munching their biscuits, and singing their favorite nursery rhymes.
While this time-honored British tradition will probably never replace milk and cookies in U.S. preschools, interest in children's tea parties in America has exploded, says Dixie Duffey, founder of Protocol International in Phoenix, who recently hosted one for the daughter of rock legend Alice Cooper. "A growing number of hotels and resorts offer children's teas -- or have a special children's menu during adult tea. And they sell out fast."
Tea parties in the home -- for birthdays or just for fun -- have become increasingly popular too. "Parents see tea as a great opportunity for their children to learn social graces in an entertaining way," says Duffey, a children's etiquette consultant. When Duffey hosts teas for children ages 4 to 8, she teaches them how to hold a teacup, how to properly use a napkin, and how to introduce themselves to other kids at the table. "Children who learn manners during tea will behave much better when you take them into other social situations -- like out to dinner or to a friend's house," promises Duffey.
And while traditional tea parties conjure up images of ruffled pink dresses, floral china, and lacy tablecloths, they don't have to be fancy to be fun, says Sue Christian Parsons, Ph.D., an assistant professor of elementary education at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, OK, and coauthor of Let's Have a Tea Party. You can plan a tea party with your child and her friends on the lawn, in the playroom, or in her bedroom. Paper cups and plates are fine. "A tea party can just be a gathering of friends who share a cup of tea or lemonade, a tasty snack, and a good time," says Dr. Parsons.
Duffey has hosted parties where young guests can bring their favorite toys, especially teddy bears. "Taking along a stuffed animal helps children overcome their shyness," she says. "Some children who might otherwise feel reluctant to introduce themselves will happily tell the group about their special bear." You can set places for the toys at the table, if there's room.
While you can certainly use store-bought foods, we prepared a thoroughly modern tea party for six, complete with delicious and easy-to-make recipes kids will love. Use these recipes and ideas to help brew a new family tradition.