What makes for a great kids' party? It's not about the money you spend but the fun and creativity you put into the planning! Whether you're hosting a birthday party or just a Saturday afternoon play date in the backyard, these four themes will bring out the kid in your kids -- not to mention accompanying adults.
Diggin' in the Dirt Garden Party
Gather the gang for a fun day of gardening kid-style, where everyone has a green thumb and gets to take away a little pot of summer paradise. How? Dig this:
- Send cheery flower or bug invites. Include a packet of seeds and tell parents to dress their partygoers for a day in the dirt.
- At a table, create enough workstations to accommodate all attending junior gardeners -- ideally outside, but the kitchen will do, so long as you don't mind cleaning up. Stock each station with a small shovel and a plastic pot for planting. In the center of the table offer loads of stickers for decorating the pots. After pots are glamorized, place buckets of potting soil and flats of small flowers in the center of the table and help kids plant their own mini gardens within their pots. Water the finished party favors and set them aside until kids depart; send them home with the bottom of the pot wrapped in a plastic bag.
- If you have room in the yard, also create a "friends garden" to commemorate your child's event. Start by having the guest of honor plant a flower or small grouping of flowers in the center of a garden bed. Then invite guests to plant their own flower or plant around it. Include a decorative stake with each participant's name next to his or her planting.
- Hold a garden lunch: Start with an Astroturf tablecloth, small bouquets of paper flowers and corn dogs sticking upright in garden pots filled with floral foam and covered with a circle of Astroturf (with holes to accommodate the corn dog sticks). Include a chopped garden salad sprinkled with edible flower petals and serve punch in a bowl that includes floating well-washed carnations or hibiscus blooms.
- Finish a fun day with cookie decorating: Bake sugar cookies in flower and leaf shapes in advance, set up a table with icing and sprinkles, and let everyone's creativity blossom!
In Living Color Art Party
Your child and his or her friends needn't be mini Monets to have a blast at an art party. Gather some pals and get the creative juices -- the fun -- flowing by setting up one or all of these art stations in your living room or yard.
- Offer face painting: Designate an area where kids can get their faces, arms, feet -- whatever -- painted by an adult or, if kids are older, by the "artist" in the bunch.
- Create a mural: Cover a large table with butcher paper and, in big block letters, write "Happy Birthday" or any other message the guest of honor wishes, and invite each guest to color in letters and add drawings around the message.
- Frame the moment: Take a Polaroid of each guest for him or her to keep. Or take group photos. Then give each guest a small frame to decorate. Supply stickers, pens, glue, shells and beads and let kids create fabulous frames for their photos.
- Make custom shirts: Buy a few packages of children's white T-shirts and an array of fabric markers and pens. Give kids a keepsake shirt and let them decorate it. But be sure to set up in an area where permanent marker won't make its way to your favorite furnishings.
- Design a kid-friendly buffet: Serve fun finger-food snacks like baby carrots, chicken nuggets, PB and J finger sandwiches, tortilla chips with dip, string cheese and fruit leather. If cake is in order, make it a colorful one!
Budding Chefs Cooking Party
Get kids to roll up their sleeves for fun party activities with tasty results!
- Send invites: Get partygoers in the mood by penning the details on recipe cards and including the party menu.
- Upon arrival, give each child a paper chef's hat to decorate with markers and crayons.
- Make individual pizzas: Prepare or buy pizza dough in advance. Give each guest a ball of dough and, on a clean, flour-dusted table, help each to flatten the ball into a pizza-pie shape. Prick each pie with a fork in several places so it won't bubble when baking. Then offer an array of toppings. Include classics like tomato sauce, grated mozzarella and pepperoni, but also include wacky kid favorites like french fries and chicken-nugget slivers. Grill or bake the pizzas and serve.
- Help the group make a batch of brownies and blondies while the pizza is cooking. Bake them after you've served the pizza, and wrap them to send home as favors.
- Present the young chefs with the opportunity to decorate -- and then devour -- cupcakes that you've made in advance.
Let the rebellion begin! With this theme, kids get to break all the rules -- or at least reverse them -- in every which way they can. From the minute they get the invitation, they know they're in for an afternoon of big N-U-F!
- Let kids and parents know the theme by writing the party specifics backward on the invitation and instructing guests to hold it up to a mirror to read it. Remind them that clothes should be worn backward.
- Decorate with the theme in mind: balloons hanging upside down from colorful ribbons taped to the ceiling, tablecloths and place settings under the table, and banners hung upside down -- with sayings written backward.
- As people start arriving, have the host greet them with a hearty "goodbye!" and tell them to carefully walk backward into the house.
- After everyone is accounted for, distribute goodie bags and open presents.
- Next, go straight to cake time: Sing "Happy Birthday" (or "You to Birthday Happy"), have the birthday boy or girl blow out the candles -- definitely not a ritual that you want to jumble! -- and cut and serve the cake on upside-down paper plates accompanied by spoons.
- Get into the game: Rethink classic childhood games and give them a backward bent. Think backward tag, hokey pokey, races and jump rope.
- Serve classic kid fare alfresco and inside out. Examples include the backward mini burger, in which two burger patties surround a mini bun, and hot dogs halved and sandwiching half of a bun.
- When it's time to go, don't forget to bid the guests "hello!"