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Home Birthday Parties: Activities and Goodies
By Carol Band

The Crafty Way to Go

A craft project is a great way to keep guests occupied until everyone arrives. Introduce a group art activity to help break the ice. Create a party mural or decorate a birthday tablecloth. Spray paint a discarded refrigerator box and let kids turn it into a space ship or a castle. A substantial take-home craft, such as a decorated flower pot, tennis shoes or wooden birdhouses, can double as a party favor and take the place of the usual goody bag filled with candy and plastic toys.

Are You Game?

This is where your party can really sparkle. Customize classic games like “Pin the Tail on the Donkey,”  “Beanbag Toss” and “Hot Potato” to your birthday theme. Try “Pin the Eye Patch on the Pirate” or “Pass the Dinosaur Bone” (a large dog biscuit instead of a potato).

Tailor a treasure hunt to your guests’ ages and attention span. A hunt can be as simple as finding specially painted rocks hidden in the yard, or as elaborate as following cryptic clues on a timed adventure around town. Keep games noncompetitive. Ask kids to each find three painted rocks instead of seeing who can find the most. Send scavengers out in teams instead of competing individually.

In nice weather, take the party outdoors. Relay races, a water balloon toss and variations on “Duck, Duck, Goose” or “Simon Says” are easy to organize and appeal to kids of all ages. A plastic wading pool filled with clean sand and a couple of handfuls of coins, small plastic dinosaurs or colored stones will keep preschoolers endlessly entertained. Give each child a spoon, a sifter and a bag for their treasures.

For parties where space is tight, “Charades,” “Drop the Clothespin in the Bottle” and “Bingo” are time-tested favorites that can be customized to a theme. Alternate active games with quiet ones. Budget about 15 minutes per game and always have an extra activity or two ready just in case. Likewise, if one activity is particularly popular, give it some extra time and don’t feel pressured to do everything that you planned.

Bagging the Best Goodies

Most parents frown at the idea of their child returning home stuffed with cake and toting a goody bag full of candy. One substantial favor, such as the poodle skirts from the 1950s party, can be a good alternative. Take digital or instant photos of each guest during the party, print them out, put them in individual frames and hand them out as guests leave. Party favors can also be tied to the theme. At a 5-year-old’s chef party, children received goody bags containing an apron, cookie cutters and a recipe book.



Older children often enjoy a “Yankee Swap.” Wrap small gifts of equal worth (baseball cards, a dollar bill, a stuffed animal) for each child and place them in a pile. Kids sit in a circle and the first child picks a present from the pile to open. The second child can pick a present from the pile or opt to take the open present from the first child. The game continues with trading and opening from the pile until everyone has a gift.

Always have a few extra goody bags or favors on hand. A little brother will tag along or a guest who never RSVP-ed will unexpectedly show. When it comes to birthday parties, your motto is: Be prepared.

More on Home Birthday Parties


  • How to Host a Memorable, Fun-Filled Birthday Party at Home

  • Activities and Goodies

  • Cake and Thank-yous; Resources


    Carol Band is the undisputed birthday party guru for United Parenting Publications. A veteran of birthdays, she is a freelance writer and mother of three.


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