Birthday Parties For Children


The key factor to successful birthday parties for children is the selection of age-appropriate games. If you pick games that are too challenging, the children become frustrated and unhappy. If you pick games that are too easy, the children become bored.

If you don't have much time to spend on party preparations, skip the crepe paper and concentrate on selecting several games that are right for the children coming to the party. If the children are between the ages of four and six, select noncompetitive games or devise noncompetitive ways to play standard competitive games, such as Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Drop the Clothespins in the Bottle. For this age group, play games so that everybody wins. Either skip prizes altogether, or give one to everyone.

For children seven to ten, competitive games are fun, but keep in mind that seven-year-olds are just beginning to gain the maturity needed to suffer defeat. Go easy on them. Remember that birthday parties are supposed to be enjoyable for everyone. Eight-year-olds, nine-year-olds, and ten-year-olds understand contests, will follow rules, have team spirit, and give their all to win. Save your competitive games for them. Children in this age group also love noncompetitive games like Sardines and Draw a Circle on the Old Man's Back, in which there is much hiding and chasing.

If you're planning an outdoor party, have a list of inside games you can play when the drops begin to fall. (See Rainy Day Party)

Guide to Choosing Games

As you select games, remember that many of the inside games can be played outside and some of the outside games can be played inside, and that there are ways to turn a competitive game into a noncompetitive one. Many such noncompetitive games are listed.

Go over the games with your child. Agree ahead of time on the ones you both think would be fun. If you are not sure they will work, ask your child's teacher. I have found that teachers give good advice about age-appropriate games, and I'm grateful for the kindergarten teacher who once told me when I asked her about games for five-year-olds, "Don't play competitive ones." At first I thought she was being "too nice," but I took her advice anyway, and the resulting party was probably one of the best ones we ever had.

Old favorites, such as Musical Chairs, are part of the tradition of birthday parties. Often you can give them a new name to fit the theme of the party (Dinosaur Chairs, Mad Scientists' Chairs). As you help children play games, keep in mind that not all children want to play. They may prefer to play with toys or just to watch. Don't make them play. At a large party as many as half of the children may prefer "free time" over organized games. As long as they're supervised, this is fine.

The age levels recommended for these games are only that - recommendations. You know your child best, so use your own judgment. In general, it's better to play games that are too easy than games that are too hard.

Games and Activities for Toddlers

Keep games short and simple for very young children. (1) Try singing games, such as Mulberry Bush, Ring Around the Rosie, and I'm a Little Teapot. If your children are in a playgroup, find out what games they play there and learn how to play them. Learn the songs or have the children at the party teach them to you.
(2) Sit in a circle and do finger-play games, such as Itsy Bitsy Spider, This Little Piggy, and Pat-a-Cake, Pat-a-Cake. (3) Have the children sit in a circle with their legs spread out and toes touching and roll a beach ball back and forth. Call out the name of each child who touches it. (4) Have a parade in your house. Give each child spoons to bang together or coffee-can drums to pat. March all around the house. (5) Turn the parade into Follow the Leader. Let different children be the leader, starting with the birthday child. (6) Have everyone lie down on the floor and get comfortable. See who can be quiet the longest.

Guide to Choosing Games

Games for Children 4-6

The hardest lesson I have learned is not to have competitive games for children four to six years old. They can't take losing. Even seven-year-olds find it rough, but at least they can swallow their disappointment and cope. Younger children can't. Their outlook on the world is basically egocentric. When you say "contest," each one of them thinks he or she will win and is crushed by defeat. It's unfair to expect more of children this age. Their egocentricity is a phase they will outgrow. There is no need to toughen them up before their time; there is especially no need to test children's toughness at birthday parties.

The trick with four-to-six-year-olds is to take favorite games, such as Pin the Tail on the Donkey, and play them in a noncompetitive way. Look at the game from a five-year-old's point of view. It's fun to be blindfolded, turned about, and told to tape your tail to a donkey on the refrigerator. It's fun when your turn is over to have someone comment on the special place you have put the tail: "Johnny put his tail on the donkey's ear!" It's fun to watch where the other tails land. Okay, so someone tapes the tail in the right place. An adult can then say, "Look where Kenny put his tail! Exactly where real donkey tails go!" Everyone will be pleased. There is no need to ruin the mood by giving Kenny, and Kenny only, a prize. Give everyone a prize or no one. Or just avoid games that beg for a winner. Children at this age will be happier with this arrangement.

Children in the four-to-six age group like to play games like tag, where everyone gets a chance to be It and there is no one overall winner. Other good, noncompetitive games for this age group are Duck, Duck, Goose, Drop the Handkerchief, a Candy Hunt (in which every child keeps the candy he or she finds and you have a pocketful ready to drop near the child who can't find any), and Giant Steps (good for this age group because you can rig the game so everyone wins once).

Play Musical Chairs, but when someone is left without a chair, just say, "This time Marie is left standing!" Do not remove a chair. Marie goes back in the game. Next time someone else will be left standing. The fun, in other words, is seeing who's left standing each time, not in eliminating players to find a winner.

Games for Children 7-10

Children seven and older can play organized games well. They can win and lose (tens can do this better than sevens, though). They like to play real games with teams, like baseball and soccer, where you referee. Children this age love to run relays and go on Treasure Hunts and Scavenger Hunts. I have found that the easiest way to plan a party for them is to ask the birthday child to plan the games ahead of time, choosing from the games he or she already knows from school. This is fun for the child, nice for me and you. No headaches.

It's also helpful to ask your child's classroom or gym teacher for game suggestions. Once you've got a list of good games, you can relax about the party. Chances are, it will go well.

To end a party successfully, try to organize games so that the children are psychologically ready to leave. The last game might be Find the Jackets, which you have hidden, or a Treasure Hunt for the treat bags. Treat bags are often given out as children are leaving, so that they have something of their own to take with them.


Text © Jean Marzollo, Illustrations © Irene Trivas

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