Birthday Parties for Preschoolers & Kindergartners

By Carol Band

l">Big Fun for Ages 4 to 6

l">1. Treasure hunts – Hide treasure in a sandbox, stage a scavenger hunt with photos for clues, or have kids follow a color-coded trail to their prize.

l">2. Team competitions – water-balloon toss, simple relay races, ring toss

l">3. New twists on classic games – hot potato, Simon Says, pin the tail on the donkey (these could be created around the party theme)

l">4. Dramatic play – dress-up, picture charades

l">5. Arts and crafts – paint T-shirts, clay sculpture, beads, printmaking, collage

l">6. Food activities – Decorate cupcakes, string Froot Loop™ necklaces or make pizza.

l">7. Bubbles – Use string, hula hoops, eyeglass frames … anything to create crazy bubbles.

8. Collaborative games – large puzzles to work on in a group, mural painting, parachute games

9. Musical games – Hokey Pokey, frozen statues (when the music stops, freeze!), make instruments

10. Active games – Limbo, obstacle courses, variations on duck, duck, goose or T-ball

OK, now it’s time for a “real” birthday party. By age 4, children begin to have ideas about what a birthday party is and how they would like to celebrate.

“Listen to your child,” says Annie Gilbar, co-author of The Penny Whistle Birthday Party Book. “If your 4-year-old wants a Barbie™ party but you can’t stand Barbie™ – try your best to accommodate her.”

“You don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” says Gilbar. “Try pin the crown on the princess or play pass the Barbie™ – instead of hot potato. Introducing an unexpected prop adds new excitement and can satisfy the birthday child.”

Karen DeBord, Ph.D., a child-development specialist at North Carolina State University who has written and lectured on strategies for more parent involvement in kids’ lives, suggests setting up party activity centers:

“Have a dress-up area, or a low table with art supplies, as well as more physical activities,” she says. “You can relate the centers to your theme and children can choose their own interests and comfort level. Be sure to offer options that are quiet as well as those that provide a chance to be energetic, and have ample supplies so that children don’t have to share shovels in the sandbox or wait to use the glue stick.”

Check in with other parents, too. They often have great ideas from past experience.

Thea Frost says her daughter Colette wants a parade birthday this year. “I have no idea what to do,” Frost says. “Maybe everyone can bring their trikes and decorate them. I’m sure we’ll think of something that will fit the bill.”

When 5-year-old Peter wanted a 101 Dalmatians party, his father, John Baynard, dressed up in white long underwear and fashioned floppy ears from tube socks for a rousing game of “Stick the Spots on the Dalmatian.”

“The kids were delighted to chase the huge ‘dog’ around the yard,” says Peter’s mother, Suzanne. “It helps if you have another adult who is willing to act totally silly.”

Even if you and your spouse are both manning the piñata, parents of young children may want to stay and keep an eye on the party action. While you may feel more performance pressure with other parents around, additional hands are usually a good thing.

“We had a tie-dye party for 15 kids when our daughter Hannah turned 6,” says dad David Bartlett. “Parents stayed because they were able to judge the potential chaos and I was glad they did. We had probably underestimated how hard it was to tie the rubber bands on the T-shirts, and extra parents were able to pitch in and keep things moving.”

It’s a good idea to test out the difficulty of a game or craft before the party. Have your child try it the week before. If they think it’s fun, chances are your party guests will, too.