At first glance, speed dating for kids may seem like a crazy idea. But with more thought, you realize the purpose of speed dating is getting to know a large number of people in a short amount of time. Since older kids, preteens and teenagers tend to be shy and stick close to people they know when they are exposed to groups of new people, speed dating for kids can help break the ice.
First, when working with kids, don't call it speed dating. You're using the concept, but not the name. It's inappropriate for younger ages, and much too intimidating for older ages. Call it Round Robin, The S'Up (What's Up) Circle, Who Do You Know, or some other neutral name. Secondly, don't create a situation that feels like dating. Divide the kids into two groups in some other way, and say group 1 takes the seats on the left side of the tables, group 2 on the right without regard to gender. Have an adult step in if there is an odd number of kids.
Carefully Chosen Questions
Remember to choose age-appropriate questions. Instead of considering standard speed dating questions, look at kid's icebreaker questions for ideas. Some great questions for kids and teens are: "Were you named after anyone?" "What is your favorite breakfast cereal?" "Do you ever eat cereal at another time of day besides breakfast?" "What are your favorite foods?" "What was the best movie you've seen and why did you like it?" "What places have you traveled that you really liked?" "Do you have any brothers or sisters? How many? Where do you fit in the family order?" Have a list of questions at each table and vary them as much as possible. If you use the same questions at each table, put them in different orders.
Keep things sunny, fun and bright. Consider having a group song or active game before the Round Robin speed dating game and provide name tags for the participants. Using bright balloons or other colorful decorations on tables and around the room helps create the comfortable atmosphere you want. Remember to avoid centerpieces at eye level if you have the children sitting at tables. Consider serving snacks after or move onto another game.
Add Fun Elements
If you are concerned about keeping kid's interest, add elements of fun and games to the event. Have the kids collect a sticker or feather for their hat or some other token at each table. Another tactic is to give prizes to those who have the most questions answered on their sheets. Another fun element is to have a treat at each table, or a little piece of the meal or refreshments. In these instances, be sure the inside group has a way to collect the items as well.