Party on, kids: How to plan the perfect sleepover

Mar 19, 2010 at 11:38 a.m. ET

It happens to the best parents. Sometime between first and fifth grade, your child comes to you with a request. "Can I have a sleepover party for my birthday this year?" And whether it's because you're tired of always saying no, you just can't take the whining, or you genuinely think it's a good idea, you say yes. A few days later, reality sinks in. You realize that four to eight (or, God bless you, even more) children are going to come to your house and not leave. You consider faking a terminal illness, or at least a severe flu, but quickly determine that your child simply won't care. And neither will all the other parents who have already booked themselves overnight spa treatments and fancy dinners, because, hello? Free babysitting! So, back to your dilemma: What to Do With All These Children. Don't panic. We've got you covered.

For the girls.

If you party is for a gaggle of girls, one possible theme is Beauty Night. If you have a friend who sells Mary Kay or another brand of cosmetics, see if you can rope her into a makeover evening for your daughter and her friends. You'll undoubtedly have to spend some money on products, but you may find the expense well worth it. You can also set up beauty stations where the girls can give each other manicures and pedicures, apply facial masks, and try on fun wigs. Don't forget to take pictures of each girl all glammed up!

Another possibility is Movie Night. The High School Musical trilogy is a lot of fun, particularly if you get the sing-a-long versions. Have the girls come dressed up as their favorite characters, and let them act out the scenes and get silly. Have your video camera ready, and let the girls be the stars they are.

If you're looking for something a little bit different, try a cooking night. Plan either a meal or a selection of hors d'oeuvres and desserts, print up recipe cards, and set up stations around your kitchen with all the necessary items. When the cooking is done, the girls can taste their work.

For the boys.

Boys can also enjoy a cooking party, but make sure the food is appropriate for your audience. Think heartier fare, like nachos, seven-layer-dip, Chinese food, and so on, rather than delicate canapés.

An obvious boy theme is sports night, but put a new spin on the game. Can you play outdoors at night? Consider a nighttime obstacle course, late-night basketball, or even a scavenger hunt. Set rules and parameters ahead of time to keep everyone safe.

Looking for a movie the boys will enjoy? Go for some classic sports films: Hoosiers, Rocky, or Bull Durham are all good choices. Pair a flick with one of the other activities to wear the kids out and you might even get some sleep.

A sleepover party is more work than a regular party, to be sure, but some careful planning can help ensure that it's one of your child's best memories.

More on parties for kids:

Perfect party games for all ages

Choosing a birthday party theme

New twists on familiar birthday party themes