kids tableAmong my favorite childhood memories is the Kids' Table. I come from a big family (five kids) within an even bigger family (my dad has 13 brothers and sisters). The grownups were always only too happy to seat us all at a separate table so they could actually have a civilized conversation with each other. And that was just fine with us! The last thing we wanted to have was a civilized conversation.

Ordinarily I'm all for families all eating together around the same table, but there are certain occasions when a kids' table is called for.Here are my kids' table guidelines.

1. More than one family. I only have one child and I'm not making him eat alone! But even in my childhood family of five kids, if it was just us, we all ate together. Bring in another couple with their kids, though, and I think everyone has a better time if we break it up into a kids' table and a grownups' table.

2. Kids are mature enough to eat alone. Obviously a kids' table isn't going to work for toddlers (although who hasn't fantasized about throwing the toddlers into a room with a bunch of goldfish crackers and just shutting the door?). Sometimes you'll need to do a combo -- independent, older kids at the kids' table with babies and toddlers at the grownups' table. How old is old enough? I think only a parent can decide that.

3. Have a few rules. The kids' table shouldn't turn into Lord of the Flies. Make sure everyone has forks and napkins, respects everyone else's space and plates, and doesn't throw anything. There should be some actual eating taking place, not just silliness. No outright screaming or yelling.

4. But accept a little chaos. It should still be fun, though. Maybe your kid won't eat enough. Oh well. Maybe there will be a lot of laughing and silliness. Great! The happier those kids are, the more time and space you have to enjoy the company of your grownup dining companions.

5. Make it their own. If you have time, have the kids decorate the table their own way. Have them set the table and remind them to clear their dishes after dinner.

6. Space, man. The kids' table should be close enough so you can tell if anyone is choking or injuring another. But I think having some space between the tables is more enjoyable for everyone.

Do you ever have a kids' table at your big gatherings?