Coming up with something fun and new for your kids’ birthday parties can rank right up there with Halloween costumes as stressful mom jobs. That’s why we put our heads together to create a giant list of birthday themes for kids, complete with activities and party favor ideas. You are bound to find a theme here you can adopt or adapt to put a smile on your child’s face and save yourself a few worry lines and guilt trips.
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Activities: Go on a dig for bones or arrowheads by following a hand-drawn map to get you there. Supply kids with brushes, small shovels and trays for their discoveries. From clay, make your own arrowheads and spear tips or a coiled pot or beads for jewelry.
Favors: Sets of “excavation tools”—small brushes, scoops and trays
Activities: Have kids dress up like clowns and see how many of them can fit in a large cardboard “car.” Then let them run around and spray each other with lapel-flower water squirters and silly string (outside, of course). Kids can practice tightrope walking on a 2-by-4-inch board set up securely about a foot off the ground. Give them all some small beanbags to practice their juggling skills and long balloons to make balloon animals. Then they can put on a show!
Favors: Boxes of animal crackers or mini face-paint kits
Activities: Play horseshoes outside or have a lasso competition using a large stuffed animal as your lasso target. Dad can provide pony rides for little kids (but reward him with more than an apple when he’s done).
Favors: Cowboy hats filled with cowboy cookies
Activities: Play “Catch a Tiger by the Tail”—make a tail out of felt and tuck the end into the pants of the tiger (whoever is “it”). The tiger has to outrun everyone to avoid his tail being caught. The child who catches the tail becomes the new tiger. Play “Monkey in the Middle.” Go on a safari, with half of the children acting as animals in their natural habitat. The other children can look at them through binoculars and sketch the “animals.” Then let them change places.
Favors: Pith helmets or sketchbooks with colored pencils
Activities: Play “Orbit Challenge” using Hula-Hoops with soft foam balls glued to them. See how many planets each kid (as the sun) can have orbiting them at the same time. Learn how to do the moonwalk. Make nail-hole constellations in tin cans and add tea lights. Have a relay race gathering planets (balls of various sizes and colors).
Favors: Tang and freeze-dried ice cream
Activities: Decorate mini treasure chests for the kids to take home. Have them create their own treasure maps by tearing up grocery sacks and drawing on them. Have face painting for beards and moustaches and tattoos. Set up a 2-by-4 on top of a few bricks on either end. Have them blindfold themselves and “walk the plank.” Bury “treasure” in a big cardboard box filled with packing peanuts for kids to find.
Favors: Decorated treasure chests filled with gold chocolate coins
Activities: Set up a racetrack with orange cones as obstacles, and find two old car or bike tires. Divide kids into two teams and have kids push the tires down the course and back, weaving in and out of the obstacles, in a relay race. Or group kids into teams of four or five and have them race against each other to build a car from building blocks.
Favors: Toy cars or a toy car organizer
Activities: Play cowboy hat toss: Kids toss a hat into the air and try to catch it on their heads. Make rings out of rope and have kids try out their lassoing skills on Mom or Dad (or an orange construction cone). Relay race by placing a stuffed animal on each child’s back and having him or her race on all fours without letting it fall.
Favors: Bandannas filled with cow pies (no-bake cookies)
Activities: Play “Catch the Villains” (tag). Have a transformation race where kids have to change out of regular clothes (tie, hat, blazer) into their superhero clothes (cape, mask, tights). Make your own comic book with some printouts of comic strip templates (found online). Face painting!
Favors: Masks and capes or silly string for Spider-Man fans
Activities: Decorate shoeboxes as train cars with paint or construction paper. Play “Caboose Relay” with large, heavy-duty cardboard boxes and rope. Have one child on each team sit in the box while a second child pulls them across the yard. Have an obstacle course set up with a train-track path (duct tape and strips of cardboard). Have obstacles like stuffed animals on the track kids have to stop and move, or a shoveling “coal” obstacle using balls of black tissue paper.
Favors: Train whistles or conductor hats
Under the sea
Activities: Go on a starfish or seashell hunt with hidden shells. Have a relay race where you have to run each leg of the race as a different sea creature (walk like a crab, swim like a fish, swoosh like a squid). Make origami fish.
Favors: Swedish Fish candies, bags of seashells or shark-tooth necklaces
Activities: Play “Pin the Badge on the Sheriff.” (Use a giant picture of your kid as the sheriff of these ’ere parts). Play ring toss with a pair of cowboy boots. Make fringed vests from paper sacks. Ride stick horses in a game of cowboy tag.
Favors: Bandannas filled with gold nugget candies or a cowboy hat
Activities: Have all the kids paint medium-size rocks in different colors and patterns for the birthday kid to put together to make a colorful caterpillar for his yard. Or craft dragonflies from clothespins and craft sticks (or twigs and small leaves). Add small magnets so kids can take them home for their refrigerators. Have a bug hunt with magnifying glasses (just for looking) and sketch pads—see how many different bugs you can find and draw pictures of them.
Favors: Bug books, bug containers with instructions on how to care for bugs or bags of gummy bugs
Activities: Make yourselves some butterfly wings with poster board. Kids can decorate with markers, paints, tissue paper and stickers and take them home when they’re done. Keep some elastic or ribbon on hand and attach the wings to the ribbon or elastic with hot glue. Then kids can take their wings on and off. Play a chrysalis race by having the kids wrap each other up in toilet paper.
Favors: Butterfly wings, packets of flower seeds or potted plants that attract butterflies, butterfly books or stickers
Activities: Have guests bring their favorite toy cat along and have a cat tea party! Play “Mad Kitty” instead of “Hot Potato” or have a four-legged race by attaching three people’s legs together instead of two. Play “Pin the Collar on the Feline.” Or kids can practice their model catwalk down the runway with a toy cat on their heads.
Favors: Paw print rubber stamps, small stuffed cats or catnip toys if the guests have kitties of their own at home
Activities: If you have a fenced yard and lots of friends who have dogs, you can have guests bring their dogs to your party. You can set up a dog course and have a dog show. If Mom’s not up for that, play games like “Pin the Tail on the Schnauzer” or run a relay race where you have to run on all fours and carry things in your mouth. Don’t forget to serve hot dogs!
Favors: Dog treats, people treats shaped like dog bones or stuffed dogs with notes that say, “Woofed having you at my party!”
Activities: What a perfect time to play “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” and “Duck, Duck, Goose!” Have an animal-sounds contest as well as a milking race (use buckets and fill rubber gloves with water with tiny holes pricked in the ends of the fingers to make the udders).
Favors: Bags of jelly beans with notes that say “It’s bean fun!”
Activities: Play “Don’t Throw the Rider”—have kids place a small stuffed animal on their heads and walk then trot, canter and gallop without losing their rider (no hands allowed). Play horseshoes (use rubber horse shoes) outside. Cut lengths of string or yarn and gather into bunches. Then have kids race to braid their “horse tails.” Make barns out of shoeboxes.
Favors: Mini stuffed horses
Activities: Play a memory game with animal pairs; play “Pin the Beard on Noah” or “Follow the Leader” while acting like animals. Make animal masks out of poster paints and paper plates (let Mom do the cutting).
Favors: Animal crackers or prisms for making rainbows
Activities: Penguin bowling (paint empty 2-liter bottles to look like the penguins). Have a relay race using penguin eggs (use plastic or hard-boiled eggs or half-filled balloons) that kids have to hold between their knees as they race. Fish for mackerel with magnetic fish and fishing poles.
Favors: Penguin pops
Activities: Have a relay race using shark-fin hats and flippers. Or play “Monkey in the Middle” but with a shark. Play “Pin the Shark Teeth on the Shark.” Make shark-tooth necklaces out of Model Magic and elastic cord.
Favors: Jaws-breakers! Get it?
Activities: Snake tag! With one child as “it,” have him tag other kids and hold hands with the kids he tags to form a longer and longer snake. Play “Pin the Tongue on the Snake.” Fill a necktie with stuffing and add googly eyes and a tongue to make a snake stuffed animal.
Favors: Rubik’s Snake game or plastic snakes
Activities: Have a petting zoo where half the kids pretend to be zoo animals and the other half come to see them. They can make signs about the animals they’re going to be. You can even do some face painting. Then have the kids switch places and do it all over again. At this party, kids DO get to feed the animals!
Favors: Stuffed animals with matching treats packaged up in bags. Make labels like “Snake Snacks,” “Monkey Mix” or “Tiger Treats”
Activities: Have guests bring their favorite dolls and have a tea party. You can have a contest on who can dress her doll the fastest. Or supply partygoers with lots of fabric and scissors so they can come up with new outfits for their dolls. You can be the experienced seamstress or the hot glue “fixer” for the outfits.
Favors: New doll outfits for guests’ dolls
Activities: You can play “Pin the Fire on the Dragon.” Or hide some chocolate coins around the house and have a hunt to find the dragon’s treasure. To make it extra exciting, have Dad be the dragon that roams from room to room—the kids have to sneak around him to avoid his fire breath as they find the treasure.
Favors: Dragon fruit! Or cinnamon candies or gum for “fire breath”
Activities: Make sets of fairy wings for each guest with white panty hose pulled over wire hangers. Kids can cover them with felt pieces, jewels, glitter glue and stickers (fabric glue or hot glue, with a parent’s help, will help the decorations stick). Or make fairy houses using twigs, leaves and stones from a walk in the woods.
Favors: Fairy wings, jars of fairy dust (glitter) and fairy wands
Activities: Have the kids come dressed as their favorite fairy-tale characters. Play “Frog, Frog, Prince” instead of “Duck, Duck, Goose.” Or play “Smash the Pea”: Kids divide into teams and have a relay race to run and sit on a pillow with a balloon under it. They have to pop the balloon before they race back to tag the next person in line. (Parents can restock the “peas” at the other end of the course to keep the game moving.)
Favors: Books or coloring books of favorite fairy tales
Activities: Record all the kids singing at the party. Have a dress-up box so kids can be their favorite rock stars for their performance. Take a break from singing and have a dance-off! Or get all the kids together to choreograph a group number to perform.
Favors: Toy microphones and sing-a-long CDs (or, if you’re really inspired, DVDs of all the kids performances)
Activities: Make and decorate masks to wear at your ball (and have lots of sequins, glitter and feathers on hand). Make giant powdered wigs from fabric batting and hot glue them to stocking caps. Play charades or act out skits in your fancy masks and wigs. Learn how to waltz.
Favors: Glittery costume brooches or vintage gloves
Activities: Decorate picture frames with seashells for the kids to take home. Take a picture of every child with the birthday girl for the frame. Blow up a balloon (mermaid bubble) for each child, and have the kids try to keep their balloons from falling to the floor. If they touch the floor, the child is “out.”
Favors: Bags of blue and green gumballs and seashell picture frames
Activities: Make sure you have plenty of pretty dresses, fancy shoes and fabrics so girls can dress up like princesses. Have them show off their beautiful dresses in a princess parade—don’t forget a royal wave! Instead of “Hot Potato” you can play “Glass Slipper.” Or have a crafty party and have kids design their own tiara with pipe cleaners, felt and stick-on jewels.
Favors: Tiaras or scepters, or a small frame embellished with a crown
Activities: Make sure to provide lots of hats, gloves, jewelry and fancy shawls to dress up for the tea. Have conversations in a British accent. For a craft, make a sachet from loose potpourri and fabric drawstring sacks. Or draw patterns on a ceramic teacup using ceramic markers.
Favors: Flavored tea in pretty tins or fancy handkerchiefs
Teddy bear picnic
Activities: Have kids bring their own teddy bears and provide dress-up clothes and hats for both the kids and the bears. Have a race to see who can dress themselves and their bears the fastest. Hide teddy bear stickers around the house and have the kids collect as many as they can.
Favors: Mini baskets or checked fabric squares filled with honey-flavored candies
Activities: Make cone shapes from printed card stock into fancy unicorn horns, decorate, and add elastic for wearing. Turn an orange construction cone into a unicorn horn and have a ring toss using glow-in-the-dark necklaces. Play “Horse, Horse, Unicorn” or “Pin the Horn on the Unicorn.”
Favors: Unicorn horns, little “feed” buckets filled with oatmeal cookies or mini apple pies
Activities: Decorate your own poodle skirt and letter jackets (use felt and craft glue for all your decorations). Learn swing dancing or have a jitterbug dance-off. Or have a Hula-Hoop or limbo competition.
Favors: Glass bottles of flavored sodas and fancy straws
Activities: Have kids come to the party dressed in their best ’60s outfit. At the party, have kids tie-dye a white T-shirt, socks or a maxi skirt.
Favors: Tie-dyed shirts
Activities: Make your own pet rocks and decorate little shoebox homes for the rocks. Be sure to give the boxes some breathing holes.
Favors: Pet rocks—and blankets for their rocks made from scraps of fleece or flannel
Activities: Play snippets of ’80s songs and play “Name That Tune” or sing karaoke. Or you could have a break-dance or moonwalk dance-off.
Favors: Rubik’s Cubes, for sure—or some totally rad leg warmers
Activities: Have all the kids draw hieroglyphs of their names and wishes for the birthday child on a large sheet of papyrus (a roll of brown kraft paper with the edges torn works well.) Have kids form a giant pyramid using pillows from your couch and beds. Make a headdress Cleopatra would be delighted to wear from gold card stock, jewelry wire and seed beads. Or turn a papier-mâché box into a sarcophagus with some markers and paints. Have a race for the fastest mummy maker using rolls of toilet paper for wrapping around each other.
Favors: Plaques or scrolls with kids’ names spelled out in hieroglyphs or sarcophagus- or pyramid-shaped boxes filled with candies
Activities: Have a scavenger hunt using Bible verses and missing words. Kids can look up the verses, find the missing words and then go look for the word that’s missing. Or play Noah’s Ark relay: Print out two images of each animal onto card stock and cut them out into squares. Place one card of each animal in a deck, face down on a table, and tape the others facedown on a wall. Divide kids into teams and have the first person on each team draw a card from the deck then run to the wall to find its match. When they return with the match, the next person in line on their team goes. The team that finds the most matches wins.
Favors: Bible-themed card games
Activities: Play “Pin the Dinosaur Bone to the Cavewoman’s Hair.” Tape a giant piece of kraft paper to the wall and provide nontoxic paints so kids can paint some cave art with their fingers. Instead of “Duck, Duck, Goose” play “Grunt, Grunt, Ooh-ga.” And you’ll definitely need a piñata shaped like a dinosaur.
Favors: Dinosaur egg puzzles or inflatable caveman clubs
Activities: Have a dinosaur bone hunt in a small sandbox or outside in a set area of the yard. You can bury small dinosaur toys or real (cleaned) turkey bones. Decorate dinosaur feet out of tissue boxes and felt or stickers. Kids can stomp around the house or yard and practice their dinosaur roars.
Favors: “Dinosaur egg” papier-mâché mini piñatas filled with candy
Activities: Divide kids into two teams and fill plastic goblets with flavored waters—enough so every kid has his or her own goblet. Have kids race from one end of the room to where the goblets are and drink their “mead” and then race back to tag the next person on their team. Or play “Jester in the Round”: One jester (the kid wearing a special jester hat) stands in the middle of the circle of kids and tries to get the partygoers to laugh at his antics. The first person to laugh then becomes the jester.
Favors: Inflatable swords or goblets filled with foil-wrapped chocolate coins
Activities: Dress up in togas (use sheets and safety pins). Play “Zeus Says” or “Pin the Heel on Achilles.” Play tag with Medusa as “it.” Make laurel headbands or create an Odysseus obstacle course. Make sandals out of flip-flops and ribbon.
Favors: Mythology books or reproductions of Greek coins
The Roaring Twenties
Activities: Girls can dress up with lots of fringy shift dresses, long pearls and headbands with feathers. Boys can wear fedoras and pinstripe vests. Then have a flap-off where they dance the Charleston to ’20s jazz music.
Favors: Art-deco coloring books or, for teens, paperbacks of The Great Gatsby
Activities: Hang hoops in the air and place targets on the ground. Kids can make paper airplanes (have the kids decorate them with stickers and markers if you want to add some time to the activity). They compete by flying them through the hoops and landing on the targets. Or, have kids place nonbreakable “cargo” on their heads, hold out their arms and race from one point to another without dropping their cargo.
Favors: Balsa-wood planes to assemble or books of paper airplanes they can make
Activities: Set kids up with 12-by-12-inch canvases and paints to create a piece of art for the birthday kid. If the birthday kid is brave or a ham, he or she can pose in front of everyone as a model. Or you can have the kids use fabric paint and decorate T-shirts. They can either give them to the birthday kid or take the shirts home as a party favor.
Favors: Sheets of shrink plastic and instructions or artist sketchbooks and pencils
Baking and decorating
Activities: If you have lots of room in your kitchen, and lots of patience, kids can have a bake-off with ingredients already set out on a table. Have them compete for some of their ingredients by answering baking trivia questions or having to do something silly—like sing a song with a rolling-pin microphone. Or, give kids bare sugar cookie cutouts to decorate and paper boxes to draw on for carrying their cookies home.
Favors: Mason jars filled with cookie mix, fun cookie cutters and measuring spoons or a recipe book
Activities: Compete to see who can do the best cartoon impression or laugh. Get a DVD together of different cartoon clips and theme songs and have kids “Name That Toon.” Have kids draw their own cartoon characters, cut them out, and add craft sticks to the backs. Draw a scene for the background and hang it up on a wall. Then act out a cartoon play.
Favors: Inexpensive DVDs of cartoon shorts or cartoon drawing books
Activities: Have a pottery-painting party at a studio, or keep the party at home by painting terra-cotta pots with fast-drying outdoor craft paint. Or create your own pots, bowls or plates with air-dry clay—kids just need to be careful when taking them home. If your guest list is small, you could even take a class at a pottery-throwing studio.
Favors: The pieces of art they created
Activities: Create stations where kids can create simple recipes for a four-course meal. Each station can create a course and take turns using the oven. Parent supervision is a must! Once the dinner is cooked, have a table set up with fancy napkins, a tablecloth, candles and flowers. The kids will get a kick making such fancy food! Or, bake the birthday cake with a little help from all the guests—each can add their own ingredient, help stir the batter and spread the frosting.
Favors: Personalized chef’s hats (toques), aprons or oven mitts
Activities: Make simple origami creatures or boxes with scrapbook paper, or mosaic picture frames with scrapbook paper for the guests to take home.
Favors: Small pads of patterned scrapbook paper or rolls of washi tape with notes that say, “Here’s to friends who stick together.”
Activities: Decorate a plain box (wood or pressed paper) with paint and jewels to make a jewelry box. Make friendship necklaces or bracelets or make their own beads from the pages of magazines.
Favors: The jewelry boxes and jewelry they made—or small pieces of costume jewelry (like birthstone rings) in little travel jewelry pouches
Activities: Save up lots of boxes and empty cans ahead of time and have kids race to build the tallest robot they can. Have a scavenger hunt for robot parts. Or have a race using wind-up toy robots.
Favors: R2-D2 itty bittys! or mini robot toys
Activities: Set up an obstacle course in the backyard with things to climb over and under. Play color war: Create boxes of colored cornstarch by adding different colors of food coloring to each box and let them dry. Wearing white T-shirts, the kids divide into teams and throw handfuls of the colored cornstarch at each other (aiming at the shirts, not faces). The powder will color the shirts.
Favors: Newly colored T-shirts and parachute-man toys or a camouflage bag or hat
Activities: Find a park with a sand volleyball court and play a game of sand volleyball. Scour the sand for shells and driftwood to create sand sculptures, or draw pictures in wet sand with a stick. For no-sand parties, inflate a beach ball and keep the ball in the air as long as you can. Or have a relay race, transporting water from one inflatable kiddie pool to another.
Favors: Blow-up beach balls and flip-flops or colorful beach towels
Activities: Set up tents outside using clothesline and sheets, or make forts inside with some sheets draped over tables. Go on a bear hunt with stuffed bears that have been strategically placed in your yard. Grab a flashlight and have the kids practice making shadow puppets. Turn down the lights and swap ghost stories.
Favors: Flashlights or cupcake versions of our campfire cake
Activities: Create carnival games in the backyard: Make a ring toss game from soda bottles and shower curtain rings. Have a face-painting station, a tattoo station and sparklers.
Favors: Cotton candy, popcorn and peanuts
Activities: Decorate a terra-cotta pot with outdoor paint and plant seeds or a small plant for them to take home. Have a tea party outdoors. Try to catch butterflies, ladybugs or fireflies (gently, and them let them go). Make or paint a birdhouse or bat house.
Favors: Decorated pots, birdhouses or packs of seeds and trowels
Activities: Play “Kite-tail Tag”—one child is “it” and tries to tag other kids. The tagged kids hold hands to form a longer and longer kite tail. Play “Pin the Tail on the Kite.” Or build and decorate your own kites out of wood dowels, newspapers, poster paints, glue, ribbons and string. Then, if the weather’s suitable, go fly them!
Favors: Homemade or purchased kites or books about making kites
Activities: Make grass skirts out of strips of green plastic tablecloths and then have a hula contest. Bowl with coconuts and do the limbo. Make paper flowers to color or felt flowers and string them onto elastic cording for leis.
Activities: Set up some games in the driveway like four square, hopscotch or a Hula-Hoop competition, or dodgeball, badminton, Frisbee and tag in the backyard. You can also set up an obstacle course for a scooter. Or fill water balloons for a wet game of tag.
Favors: Sidewalk chalk and a hopscotch rule book, or a jump rope, kite or Frisbee
Activities: Bring Frisbees, kites, balls, bubbles and other outdoor toys to an open field where kids can run. If enough children are there, play red rover or freeze tag. The birthday child can determine where to set up the picnic and gets prime seating in the middle of the blanket.
Favors: Picnic blankets or a kite
Activities: Make snowmen out of white tube socks, stuffing and rubber bands. Sew on button eyes and make hats and scarves from scraps of fleece. Play snowman freeze tag and stand like a snowman when you’re tagged. If it’s a snowy day, build a snowman outside. Kids can try to throw carrots into a top hat. In teams of two, take turns wrapping each other with toilet paper and putting on a scarf, hat, mittens and felt buttons.
Favors: “Snowman soup” (flavored water bottles) and white chocolate
Activities: Play Twister using a homemade Twister board out of a painter’s drop cloth, blow bubbles, or play croquet or badminton. Watch a summer-themed movie.
Favors: Frisbees, sidewalk chalk or fancy thermal cups
Anime and manga
Activities: Kids can dress up like characters (cosplay) from their favorite anime show or manga. Take photos of the kids enacting favorite scenes. Or, create storyboard templates and have kids draw their own manga or anime characters and scenes. Have a karaoke competition singing the theme songs of favorite shows.
Favors: Manga books or small boxes of Japanese snacks
Favorite board game
Activities: Everyone brings his or her favorite board game (to share at the party), and kids break into teams and play them. Have kids work in teams to create a new game on pieces of poster board. Provide dice and small trinkets as game pieces.
Favors: Travel-size versions of the birthday child’s favorite game
Favorite book characters
Activities: Guests bring their favorite books and dress up as their favorite characters from the books. They can take turns acting out favorite scenes.
Favors: The birthday child’s favorite paperback books or mini book lights
Favorite movie characters
Activities: Have kids play a version of charades where they speak a movie quote and others have to guess what movie it’s from. They can act out hints with their bodies. Pin a movie character’s name to the back of each guest and have the kids ask questions until they figure out who their character is.
Favors: DVDs or movie clapboards
Favorite TV show characters
Activities: Act out scenes from favorite shows. Dress up like the characters (you can even have a makeup station) and pretend to be those characters during the party. Or, play one of the shows on the TV, pause the show, and ask the kids to guess what the next line is.
Favors: Pillows or pillowcases with their favorite quotes written on them with permanent marker
Activities: Play “Deal or No Deal” with construction paper cases and the money amounts printed on the back. Let kids take turns getting to be the host, the player and the suitcase holder. Give chocolate coins to the person who gets the furthest in the game. Or play board game versions of your favorite game shows.
Favors: Large candy bars wrapped to look like packs of cash or little wooden cases painted silver
Activities: Kids can dress up at the party or before. Then, roll out a red carpet for them to make a grand entrance. Have some paparazzi there (Dad or big sister) to take lots of pictures and interview them. (“Who are you wearing this evening?”) Watch a favorite movie or have the kids act out their favorite movie scenes.
Favors: Cereal treats made into an Oscar statuette or inexpensive DVDs
Rock and roll
Activities: Have a dance contest or teach kids different dance moves. Dress up like your favorite rock stars and sing karaoke to your favorite songs or play “Name That Tune.”
Favors: CDs or iTunes gift cards
Aliens and UFOs
Activities: Decorate Frisbees to look like UFOs and have a competition in the backyard. Give prizes for farthest landing, least shaky liftoff, etc. Or you can make some “alien matter” using cornstarch, water and food coloring (1 cup cornstarch per ½ cup water).
Activities: Sing the happy birthday song backwards—it’s harder than you’d think! Give out party favors at the beginning of the party, and then say “Hi, welcome to my party” when the guests are leaving. Walk and run backwards during games and relay races. Serve cake with the frosting in the middle. Kids can paint their names backwards on T-shirts and then take that home as a party favor.
Favors: Painted T-shirts or decorated frames with the guests’ names spelled backwards
Christmas in July
Activities: Kids can help decorate for Christmas by putting ornaments on a tree. Play Christmas music, make gingerbread houses out of graham crackers, sing carols, and watch a Christmas movie. Have kids race each other in a game where they unwrap candies while wearing mittens.
Favors: Little stockings filled with small gifts or “coal” candy
Glow in the dark
Activities: Decorate a pillowcase with glow-in-the-dark fabric paints for kids to take home. Paint your nails with glow-in-the-dark polish. Use glow necklaces and play nighttime ring toss in the backyard. Paint the inside of a mason jar with tiny dots of glow-in-the-dark paint for fairy jars. (This is best done at an overnight party so the jars have time to dry.)
Favors: Painted pillowcases, glow sticks and Wint-O-Green Lifesavers (they spark!)
Activities: Have fun turning everything at the party into halfsies: Get the party started by sending out invitations that have been cut in half. Make half a birthday cake. Play musical chairs in a semicircle (so the kids have to run to the other side). Cut T-shirts in half and sew two different shirts back together. Play a game halfway and then go do something else. And only sing the birthday song halfway through.
Favors: Black-and-white cookies, half a pack of markers and a spiral notebook cut in half
Mash-up party (putting two themes together): Zombie princesses
Activities: Face painting and dress up, definitely! Have a zombie scavenger hunt to find all the “braaaiiiinnnns” (birthday cupcakes decorated like brains). Dance at a zombie ball where you can lurch around in fancy dresses.
Favors: “Brain food” and zombie survival handbooks
Mini party (where everything is tiny)
Activities: Have a party where everything is teeny tiny! Serve mini cupcakes for the birthday cake and food in bite-size portions. Play games that require running as small as you can (squatting). Build the world’s smallest zoo and make teeny tiny animals out of Model Magic clay.
Favors: itty bittys with a note that says, “Mini thanks for coming to my party!” and some mini M&M’S®
Activities: Create some creatures out of felt. Mom can stuff them and glue the monsters together with hot glue. Send them home with their creators. Play “Hot Potato” with a rock painted like a Cyclops’ eye, limbo under Loch Ness’ tail, and go on a hike to track Bigfoot’s footprints.
Favors: Monster creations, “Monster Mash” trail mix and a mini plush monster
Activities: Have a rainbow scavenger hunt: Divide everyone into teams of three of four and give each team a basket. Tell them which rooms are OK to hunt in. Have them find one item of every color of the rainbow—but all items must fit in the basket together. Whichever team gathers its items first wins.
Favors: Prisms, packs of crayons or markers and Skittles candies or gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins
Activities: Race in a game of dress up, except kids have to wear shirts on their legs, pants on their arms and shoes on their hands. Have a “Chinigan Choir”—draw eyes on the chins of several kids with washable marker. Then have them sit next to each other upside-down on the couch and cover their faces from the nose down with a small towel. Let them them sing songs to the rest of the kids. Be sure to take videos of all the kids to share with parents later.
Favors: Mini pineapple upside-down cakes
Activities: Book a ballet teacher to teach the kids some ballet moves (or do it yourself, if you’re limber!). Then the girls can come up with a routine to perform to music at the end of the party. Make your own tutus with lots of tulle tied in knots around lengths of elastic.
Favors: Tote bags made from recycled leotards and tutus
Activities: Get all the partygoers to sign baseballs for each person to take home. Have a Wiffle ball game in the backyard, or go see a local team play. Make a baseball piñata and have the kids use bats to hit it open—a home run!
Favors: Group-signed baseballs and packs of bubble gum with notes that say, “My party wouldn’t have been the same without chew!”
Activities: Make ribbon wands. Have cartwheel and tumbling competitions in the backyard or take turns on a trampoline.
Favors: A Hula-Hoop with a note that says “You’re fun to have around.”
Activities: Set up a course route in your backyard or on a playground. Kids who don’t want to participate in the run can be “course correctors” and reset any obstacles that fall over during the run. You can have the kids run the course more than once: frontwards, backwards, skipping or hopping. Give out ribbon awards for things like most creative or highest bounce, in addition to “fastest.”
Favors: T-shirts with their running number and date of the birthday “run”
Activities: Have each child choose a country they want to represent and draw their country’s flag on a T-shirt with fabric markers to wear during the games. Have endurance challenges, speed challenges and balance challenges so kids have different ways to win. Give out chocolate coins glued to ribbons to the winners. Download the different countries’ anthems to play during the award ceremony. For the cake, use single layer cakes set up and decorated like the Olympic rings logo. Make flags for the countries represented.
Favors: Glow-in-the-dark necklaces, flags and T-shirts from the party
Activities: Play the birthday kid’s favorite sport like basketball, touch football or soccer. Try games of skill like free throw shooting. Play “Hot Potato” with a baseball or tennis ball. Set up an obstacle course in your backyard where kids can race against the clock.
Favors: Sports balls signed by everyone at the party
Activities: Have balancing competitions by balancing planks of wood on a tennis ball. Or if you have a large paved area, have a skateboarding obstacle course: Use sidewalk chalk to mark off a course for them with orange cones as obstacles to maneuver around and small ramps. Ask the guests to come equipped with boards, helmets and pads, or provide them at the party.
Favors: X Games iron-on logo, a bungee cord (no jumping, though) and a box of colorful bandages
Activities: For older kids, have a timed scavenger hunt to see if they can find something that starts with every letter of the alphabet. For younger kids, have them sit in a circle and take turns naming something that starts with that letter. Give each child a large wooden letter to decorate. They can take it home and display it in their room.
Favors: Wood letters they decorated, alphabet books, sets of alphabet stickers or magnets, or rubber stamp alphabets
Activities: Card games, for sure! Set up folding tables for different card and dice games and let everyone try their “hand” at the different games. Include instructions at each table for newbies. Shuffling machines are handy to have around. Don’t forget to have a “cash in” station where kids can exchange their winning chips for small toys.
Favors: Cool decks of cards
Activities: Have a scavenger hunt in the neighborhood and collect canned goods for a local food bank. Bring a cart or wagon along (and a parent) for all the cans you collect. Draw cards and pictures to take to a nursing home or send overseas to the military. Or supply kids with trash bags and gloves and have a cleanup party at a local park.
Favors: T-shirts from the charity of choice
Activities: Make Mexican tissue paper flowers for the kids to take home, or paint rocks to look like cactus and place them in terra-cotta pots for a non-killable pet plant. Play “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” or have a salsa dancing competition.
Favors: Maracas or mini piñatas created from toilet paper rolls covered with tissue paper fringe and ribbon pulls
Activities: Create a stage where kids can try their “sleight of hand” at a variety of magic tricks. Keep a box on hand with plenty of magician’s props, such as scarves, a rabbit, a top hat, a wand, a cape, a deck of cards and a quarter. Instead of a beanbag toss, try tossing toy rabbits into a top hat. For the tour de force, learn a card trick and perform it for the kids. Then teach it to them.
Favors: Decks of cards and books about card tricks
Milestone: The Big 10
Activities: Roll 10! Place a bowl full of small candies (such as M&M’S®) in the center of a table and give all the kids a straw and a plate. Have kids roll two dice. If they get a combination that equals 10, they have 1 minute to suck up as many candies as they can from the bowl to their own plate. The kid with the most candies when the game is over wins. Here’s an idea for the super brainy: Have everyone translate his or her name into binary code (go online to see how). Make top ten lists and have a dance-off in which judges can give the top dancers a “10” rating.
Favors: 10 candies in a bag
Activities: Host a “whodunit” murder mystery game (lots of downloadables available online) or play Clue and dress up as the characters. Watch a Sherlock Holmes movie. Play “Pin the Magnifying Glass on the Sleuth.”
Favors: Mystery books or Sherlock Holmes hats
Activities: Make paper sailboats and have a racing party in a kiddie pool. Learn to tie sailor knots. Write a message and seal it up in a bottle. Play Go Fish.
Favors: Anchor temporary tattoos and toy boats
Activities: Older kids can make their own soaps using essential oils, glycerin and soap molds (Mom should help with the pouring). Give each other manicures, pedicures and facials or set up stations with an adult to help make everyone fancy.
Favors: Fancy lotions, bath salts or nail care kits
Stars and stripes
Activities: Have a flag-waving parade around the neighborhood or park. Use tin cans and string for “stilts” and make sure you have Uncle Sam hats and patriotic vests to wear. Play an American history trivia game. Play Mad Libs with the Declaration of Independence. Have a water balloon fight outside using red-white-and-blue balloons.
Favors: Red-white-and-blue beach balls or paper fans
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