So, you've taken temporary leave of your senses and decided it would be a good idea to have a big group of kids decorate cookies. Whether the party is in your child's preschool classroom or in your kitchen, plan for a fun, silly and messy activity, not to mention the creation of one-of-a-kind decorated confections. Provide a plentiful supply of wet wipes, ask a few other brave parents to provide extra hands and celebrate the holidays or a birthday with your young cookie monsters.
Set up several decorating stations around the room where the kids will be working on their cookies. Kid-size playroom tables work well, or you can use card tables. Cover the tables with plastic tablecloths or butcher paper. Remember those splat mats you used under the baby's high chair? If you still have them, you might want to put them under the tables the kids will be using -- decorating cookies with kids is definitely not a mess-free activity.
Make up some small bowls of frosting and toppings for each table. With little kids, your best bet is to make everything uniform so none of the kids feel like one group has cooler colors of frosting or a better array of stuff to sprinkle on their cookies than any other group. Put the toppings on the tables, along with some plastic knives or wooden craft sticks for the kids to use as spreaders. Put a small plastic spoon in each bowl of sprinkles, candies and other toppings.
Put 3 or 4 cut-out cookies on a paper plate, making one plate of cookies for each child. Heavy-duty paper plates with ridged edges work well, as do the cardboard containers used by fast food outlets. The ridges or sides help reduce the sob-inducing moments caused when the cookies slide off one of the youngster's plates. Write each child's name on her plate so she knows which culinary masterpieces are hers when it's time to go home.
Explain briefly to the kids that they can decorate the cookies in any color or design they wish, using the goodies provided. Show them how to use their "spreader" to put frosting on a cookie. Remind the kids not to push on the cookies too hard so they don't break. At this age -- OK, at any age -- it's virtually impossible to not lick your fingers when you're frosting cookies, so you won't be able to prevent that altogether. But do try to keep the young chefs from licking their spreaders -- or fingers -- and then putting them back into the communal frosting bowl.
Show the young cookie mavens how to use the spoons to sprinkle the toppings on their frosted cookies. Sharing is not high on the list of favorite behaviors for most little people, but at least take a stab at encouraging them to share the toppings and refrain from pouring the whole bowl of red sugar or colored sprinkles onto a single cookie. If you can get the toppings in the plastic containers with holes in the top, the kids can just sprinkle toppings on their cookies -- this is easier, and usually less messy, than controlling spoonfuls of toppings, especially for the youngest decorators.