Are You Not Entertained?

Kids play a bobbing for donuts party game in a story about kids birthday party games, crafts, and ac...

Birthday Party Games, Crafts, & Activities That Will Actually Keep Kids Entertained

Because you do not want to be caught unprepared with 30 1st graders.

Originally Published: 
How To Throw An Epic Kids Birthday Party
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You’ve sent out the invites, you’ve ordered the cake, and now... you have to figure out what to do with 30 pint-sized guests. OK, maybe it’s not that many (or maybe you’re dealing with a dozen tweens who would prefer you just leave them alone to play Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board), but any kids’ party pro knows it’s crucial to have a game or activity lined up. It’ll keep everyone — including you — in good spirits.

Your plan can be as simple as putting out a giant bin of blocks or LEGOs or keeping an open box of costumes in the middle of the party room. Sidewalk chalk and bubbles are perfect for an outdoor party, and we have yet to meet a little kid who does not love a table full of Play-Doh. Cornhole or a soccer ball and two cones have kept many a rambunctious guest occupied.

But if the thought of a craft table or refereeing a party game stresses you out, may we suggest outsourcing? Consider hiring a children’s musician or DJ to entertain, or one of those party princesses or magicians. Reach out to your local mom group on Facebook to get recommendations and leave the children’s entertainment to the children’s entertainers. Above all, a birthday party for your kids should be joyful and fun for everyone, including you.

Crafty birthday party activities

You don’t have to be the queen of Pinterest to set up a craft for your child’s birthday party. Focus on the things they really enjoy doing and go from there. You can easily find craft ideas based on your child’s party theme: a Taylor Swift-themed party can include a friendship bracelet-making station or a Barbie party can feature a table full of Barbie dresses to color and bedazzle. Andi Teggart of the lifestyle blog Lucky Andi tells Romper that for a safari party for her 4-year-old and 2-year-old daughters, she had a “create a face” sticker art project ready and waiting. The best part about any of these crafts is you can set everything up beforehand.

  • Slime station: I know, but don’t panic: This doesn’t have to be a nightmare and kids love it. Grab a few buckets of the pre-made Elmer’s slime (they come with things to mix in) and split them up into plastic bowls. Use muffin tins to hold all of the “mix-ins” like glitter, sequins, clay, etc. Let kids have at it making their own slime creation, and then pop them in freezer bags when they’re done and label them with a Sharpie. Slime will keep kids occupied forever, and you could even do this up extra fun for a science-themed party.
  • Paint station: This is another one that sounds messy, but can be pulled off without disaster. It can also be done on a budget and gives you a built-in party favor. (Bonus points: it looks really great all set out for the arriving guests.) Group individual pots of paint and brushes with a canvas or paper so that each child has their own little paint kit and area.
  • Make a fairy house: Buy inexpensive wooden bird houses or cardboard boxes at the craft store and festoon them with pom-poms, fake flowers, gems, and more.
  • Adopt-an-animal station: Lots of animal-themed parties have a fun adopt-an-animal station where kids can bring home a stuffy as a favor and even do some crafting for their new furry friend. “For our joint ‘Puppy Party,’ kids got to make dog collars using pipe cleaner and beads, plus decorate their puppy adoption certificates with markers and stickers,” says Teggart.
  • Friendship bracelet station: A friendship bracelet station is great for older kids. Kits galore are your best option here. Set out all the beads, the cords and thread, and plenty of snacks. It’s the perfect activity that keeps them all together and hanging out, enjoying each other’s company. Plus they make each other party favors.
  • Decorate a cookie tin: Tiffany Lewis, CEO of Cookies With Tiffany, has great ideas for a cookie decorating party activity (more on that below), and suggests having kids make their own cookie tin to transport their treats home. “Give kids the option to bejewel cookie tins you provide for a fun keepsake. Large plastic containers with tight-fitting lids work great as well — and keep the cookies fresh,” she says.
  • Make your own cupcake topper: For her 9-year-old, Romper Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Angell ordered a package of shrinky dink paper off Amazon and her daughter and her friends used paint pens to create elaborate flower designs. They cut them out and then shrunk them down in the oven. When they were done, they were popped onto each guest’s cupcake. An adult had to man the oven, but otherwise this craft kept everyone engrossed for an hour.

Classic birthday party games

You don’t have to get fussy with birthday party games. There are plenty of classics that are crowd-pleasers, easy to facilitate, and an absolute blast for kids.

  • Freeze dance: The rules are simple: play some music so kids can dance, and when the music stops, they have to freeze in the exact position they’re in and hold it until the music starts again. If they fail to freeze, they’re out, and if they fall over or lose their position before the music starts again, they’re also out. But if you have kids who would be devastated at the prospect of being “out,” have them do something silly instead (think: everyone who doesn’t freeze when the music stops has to do the chicken dance).
  • Pass the parcel: Fans of Bluey will recognize this game, whether you play by Lucky’s dad’s rules or not. In Pass the Parcel, music plays and kids pass around a gift — something small like art supplies, a pack of Play-Doh, a set of jacks, whatever — that you’ve wrapped with several layers of paper. When the music stops, whoever is holding the gift gets to peel off a layer of wrapping paper. The game continues with the music starting and the kids passing it around until the last layer is ripped off and the present is discovered. Whoever opens it gets the gift. But if you want to make it a little extra fun and add a gift to each layer of paper so everyone who opens it gets one, that’s fine, too. Just don’t tell Lucky’s dad.
  • Twister: For slightly older kids, this classic party game holds up extremely well. If you have several kids, consider doing several Twister games and making it a little tournament of sorts. Spread them out and ask parents to help judge.
  • Scavenger hunt: Whether you’re having a mystery-themed birthday party or not, a scavenger hunt is a crowd pleaser. You can go with whatever your party theme is — sea animals, unicorns, Warped Tour ‘03 — and make a scavenger hunt that corresponds by hiding items outside or in your house and giving kids a key to follow of what they need to find. You can set up clues as well and get as elaborate or as simple as you’d like.

Food-based birthday party activities

  • Cookie decorating: Want to combine an activity with both a favor and a snack? Say no more. Lewis breaks down the genius of the decorate-your-own-cookie station: Grab all kinds of toppings (everything from sprinkles and candy to cereal), put some frosting in a piping bag (Lewis recommends using sandwich bags and cutting the corners off), and set out a bunch of pre-made (store bought or by you) sugar cookies. “Place a large dinner-size paper plate at each decorating station. The rim will catch any rogue candies and will help kids transport their completed cookies easily. Scatter a few rolls of paper towels, plus a few wet paper towels, around the table to help keep fingers, faces, and tools clean,” she says. She also recommends having lots of age-appropriate tools available, like spoons and offset spatulas, so kids can really get creative and the adults don’t have to be too involved.
  • Cookie competition: If you have an older crowd of kids who like a little competition, level up the cookie decorating activity. You can give them a theme — like everyone make a cookie with a face on it — or just let them go to town and hand out awards after. Lewis recommends things like “Most Colorful” or “Most Creative,” and you could come up with enough so that each child wins some kind of award for their cookie.
  • Make your own trail mix: So here’s a nice little hack — make one of the party activities into people just feeding themselves! If you’re having a camping or outdoorsy party, a trail mix station works very well. (But literally everyone loves trail mix, so it works even if you’re having a princess party.) You can get some really fun, cheap containers, and let kids make their own trail mix from a table full of things like M&Ms, peanuts, cereal, raisins, chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, etc.

Outdoor birthday party activities

  • Rent a bounce house: “You can’t go wrong with a bounce house — that’s always a huge hit with the kids,” Teggart says. Check local vendors for great deals. Sometimes they let you keep it for three days, so they’ll drop off Friday and pick up Sunday.
  • Put out water toys: Have a summer birthday? Kids just need a little bit of water and some freedom to run around and they are good as gold, so stock up on inflatable pools, sprinklers, water blasters, and water balloons. Even the littlest toddlers can enjoy a water table or a mini splash pad.
  • Host a seasonal party: For spring birthdays, host an egg hunt. For fall birthdays, put out a bunch of small pumpkins and make your own pumpkin patch in the backyard for kids to pick a pumpkin to paint or carve. And for holiday birthdays, you could even get a bunch of small trees and make your own Christmas tree farm. Kids can go pick their tree and then bring it inside to decorate.

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