Learn To Party!
Most parents look forward to their children's birthday parties with a certain amount of trepidation, mostly because of their concern about how to keep 10 small people happily occupied for two or more hours. Forward planning is always key, but aside from the more obvious areas such as time, place, food and theme, the type of games that are played is often paramount to the success of a birthday party.
Talk with other parents beforehand
One of the best pieces of advice that I ever received when I was planning one of my children's parties, was to take time to speak to the parents of each of the invitees to identify their child's strengths and weaknesses. This means that through party play, each child could be given a chance to demonstrate their particular talent, whether it be memory, concentration, co-ordination, singing, counting etc. It also means the number of tears shed would be minimized, that no child would feel eliminated and that everyone would win a prize.
There are literally hundreds of superb party games, yet how often do you resort to the same old games such as pass the parcel, musical chairs and musical statues? Of course, a lot of children love the more well-known games, but how about playing these with an added twist?
Pass the parcel
With pass the parcel for example, a small prize can be wrapped into each layer. Each time the music stops, the child who is holding the parcel should be asked to do something like sing the first two lines of a nursery rhyme, count to 12, tell the time and so on before they can open the layer and claim the prize. Alternatively, for very young children, you could place an educational toy, such as a shape sorter, in the center and ask the child who is holding the parcel when the music stops, to put in a shape of their choice. The possibilities are endless!
The adult in charge of the game can ensure each child has the opportunity to unwrap a layer and that the task they are asked to perform correlates with the area of aptitude of that child. If you know, for example, that a child loves singing, they could be asked to sing a few lines of their favorite pop song, or a child who is especially numerate could be given a simple sum. Obviously, a younger child could simply be asked to count to 10 or touch the end of their nose with their eyes closed.
Other creative games
Some of the more creative games I have come across include variations of the Memory Game, Toy Walk, Through the Hole, Chain and Chinese Whispers.
When selecting a theme or devising party games, it is important not only to take the child's age into account but, where possible, to identify the dominant interests of the invitees.
If you decide upon a set theme, then try and follow the theme through the party by adapting the games accordingly. For example, if you have decided upon an animal or jungle theme, then you could play games such as Kangaroo, which involves the children jumping a certain distance with an object between their knees, such as a soft animal toy.
If you don't feel that you can cope with too many boisterous games, then why not choose a theme like a video/quiz party, where the children watch a short, interactive video, followed up by questions about the movie/story, with special prizes for the top scorers. This will not only help to improve the children's observational and listening skills, but will encourage healthy competition, which most young children love.
You may decide to use an entertainer for the event, in which case it would be a good idea to ask for references, or even video footage if you have not seen the person perform before. This would avoid the worst case scenario of the entertainer not living up to their classified ad, or using material that is inappropriate for very young children.
It is also important to remember that some children are scared by certain costumes. To avoid this, you could request that the entertainer puts on his or her attire whilst the children watch.
Let the games begin
So, at what point in the party do you play the games? This is very much down to personal choice, but as a general rule, it is a good idea to begin playing games after the initial arrival and present-opening session. This means the children will have burnt off some energy before party food time, hopefully ensuring there will not be too many fidgety bottoms and hyperactivity during the eating period!
As the party draws to a close is the time to introduce some quieter games, or even a story time, when the party bags can be handed out and the children have time to calm down before their parents arrive to collect them.
Finally, plan more games than you expect to use to avoid running out of activities before the party is over and always make sure you purchase more prizes and party bags than you think you will need!
Up next: Basic party planning tips