Increasingly, we're spending more time planning our children's parties. Something often agonised over is the type of games to provide. Here are some suggestions to keep your little party animals happy!
Party games for ages 2-3
Small children want to 'do'. They want to jump and climb and discover. Complex game instructions and competitive games are not for this age group. Keep it very simple.
You might annoy your neighbours with loud nursery songs, but kids will love them! Jack in the box, Five Little Ducks and Old McDonald are among the time-honoured favourites that can be bought as a collection on CD. Have an older child or adult do the actions as the songs play, and the kids will have fun copying. Mini-discos with music from groups such as the Wiggles are popular with this age group too!
Small children adore running under a brightly coloured parachute. These can be hired; they are also a great investment to buy and to use as a special game at parties and gatherings. There are a variety of fun games that can be played:
Children can hold the parachute and bounce light plastic balls on top up into the air. The game is to get all the balls off the parachute. Adults can lift the parachute up and down while the children run underneath, When the music stops, the parachute is brought down. Children love being 'caught' underneath the parachute.
Jelly cup surprise
Sit the children down at the table and provide each one with a jelly cup. Set out small bowls of red and green lolly frogs, and shaker packs of sprinkles. The children can decorate their jelly cup with the lollies and sprinkles. And it gets a treat and a game out of the way in one go!
Buy (or make) bubble wands that produce a variety of different size and shape bubbles. Large bubbles keep children fascinated. Adults and older children can blow the bubbles, with the little children busting as many of the bubbles as they can.
This game makes for many fantastic photo and video opportunities too.
Often overlooked are toy libraries. These may be commercial, or run by your local council or neighbourhood centre. Check around for hire prices on large outdoor items. Many toy libraries have 'Party Packs'. These may consist of climbers, slides, ride ons, play houses, rockers, mini 'rollercoasters', see saws, child-size chairs and tables, tunnels, jumping castles and large gym balls.
Party games for ages 4-6
Preschoolers and children in the first year of school like a wide variety of games. Mostly, they just want free play - with some fun, organised activities in the mix.
Follow the leader
Everyone has to follow the leader. Down the slide, through the tunnel, over the climbing frame, under the table, around the chairs and jump into the ball pool! Setting up an 'obstacle course' can make this game more exciting.
Egg and spoon races, throw-the-ball-in-the-bucket, baseball (with a soft ball and child-size bat), relay races, parachute play - all of these are fun games that children of any skill level can play.
Hang a line of plain donuts from the clothesline or tree branch with some string, with the donuts being at the face level of the party children. Each child must keep his or her hands behind their backs while eating their donut and the first one to finish wins.
Water balloon blast
Fill water balloons with water. Separate the party guests into teams and give each person a balloon. Each team has to throw the balloons to each other across a distance, while keeping all their balloons in the air. As a team busts all their balloons, they step aside, and the last team is the winner. Subject to water restrictions in your area!
Time-tested party favourites are ''Pass the parcel' and 'Duck duck goose'. 'What's the time Mr Wolf' is particularly good for mixed ages. Mr Wolf stands with his/her face against the fence on one side of the yard, with children at the other side of the yard. The children ask 'What's the time Mr Wolf?' Mr Wolf turns around and answers with a time. The children take a corresponding number of steps forward (for example, if Mr Wolf says 3 O'clock, the children take three steps while counting aloud) When the children are close behind the wolf, the wolf answers with 'LUNCHTIME!' to the 'What's the time' question and he chases the children. Whoever he catches becomes the new Mr Wolf!
For parties that have a specific theme, try games that suit the theme. Hunt for gold chocolate coins for a pirate party (on a hot day, freeze them before hiding them!) For a fairy party you could organise dances around a fairy ring, and have hunts for fairy treasure (small plastic sparkly jewellery or wrapped lollies)
For this age group, you could hire giant snake and ladders playmats, climbing frames, jumping castles, golf and baseball sets and various motor-skills sets. Toy libraries can be commercial, or non-profit and run from neighbourhood centres/ councils.
Parties will often have a mix of ages; cousins and children of friends might have children younger or older than the birthday child. Be sure to keep all the ages in mind when deciding on entertainment and games (If there are going to be lots of energetic older children at a first birthday party, it can be helpful to have or hire things to keep them amused, such as a jumping castle. Clowns are also practised at keeping children of all ages entertained.)
Share your party tips, or ask a question in the Essential Baby parties forums.