20 Terrific
Party Ideas

by Gilda McHenry

Your child’s next birthday party can be as simple or elaborate as your imagination and budget allow. You can devise attention-grabbing games and create festive décor or draw on the expertise of the many Delaware Valley party planners and entertainers. To get the party started, here are 20 ideas.

1. Arts & Crafts
PreK-School Age. Cost: Budget.
Set up various stations staffed by adults where kids create their own party favors. Define the stations with a simple element such as colorful paper tablecloths ($1.49 at Party City) spread out on the floor.

Ideas for the stations: Colorful sand art ($2.99 for a 2-lb. bag of sand at A.C. Moore; bottles start at $.99). Peg boards with colored fuse beads. Kids fill the boards, then an adult irons them to set the beads in place. (At Oriental Trading, peg boards are $7.95 per dozen; fuse beads are $4.99 for 6,750 pieces.) Play-Doh for kids who are in between projects. Hasbro Mountain of Colors contains 14 assorted colors along with an array of accessories ($9.99 at Toys‘R’Us).

2. Ceramics
All. Cost: Moderate.
Either at your home or a ceramics studio, children select a ready-to-paint ceramic piece such as a figurine or keepsake box. Then they choose a paint color. Some studios will glaze and fire the painted piece in a kiln, then deliver them to the party host in a week or so.

Ceramic Barn in Mount Laurel, NJ (www.ceramicbarn.us) and the traveling studio Paint-A-Treasure Ceramics (www.paintatreasure.com), use fast-drying acrylic paint, so pieces are available the day of the party. Kids can paint paper bags in which to carry home their creations.
Tip: If you go to a studio, ask if food, drinks, paper goods or cake are supplied.

3. Museum/Aquarium
All. Cost: Moderate-Premium.
Many of the Delaware Valley’s kid-friendly museums host parties. For example, at the American Helicopter Museum (www.helicoptermuseum.org) in West Chester, PA, children can learn the different parts of a helicopter, discover how air makes objects move or learn what is involved with flying and controlling a helicopter.

At the Garden State Discovery Museum in Cherry Hill, NJ (www.discoverymuseum.com), children learn math, science and many other concepts in a hands-on environment. The Adventure Aquarium on the Camden, NJ waterfront (www.adventureaquarium.com), offers general admission and a private room with a catered lunch. At other museums, you must provide food, cake and paper products.
Tip: As much as two months advance notice may be required, so plan early.

4. Science
All. Cost: Moderate.
Websites such as National Geographic (www.nationalgeographic.com/kids/activities) and PBS Kids
(http://pbskids.org/zoom/activities/sci) list experiments that use simple ingredients you probably have at home. Experiments might involve floating eggs, bouncing raisins or plastic milk.

Providers such as Mad Science (www.madscience.com) will conduct fun experiments in your home. “The experiments look a lot like magic tricks, but we teach kids the science behind what they’re seeing,” says Carrie Stabossz, Mad Science’s education coordinator.

To set the mood, give each child a set of colored safety goggles ($18.99 for 6 at Beckers School Supplies) and science aprons ($14.95 for 6 at Oriental Trading). You might decorate the table with a black paper tablecloth and Petri dishes ($9.95 for 12 at Oriental Trading) filled with pop rocks.

5. Themed Dress-Up
: PreK-Tweens. Cost: Moderate-Premium.
Give themed parties an extra boost of excitement with costumes. Venues such as Enchanted Dreams (www.enchanteddreams.biz) and Oogles & Googles (www.ooglesandgoogles.com) provide facilities and costumes where your child and guests can dress like princesses, pirates, superheroes or many other themes.

Other venues, such as Parties-2-Please, (www.parties2please.net) will bring the costumes to your home.

6. Sports
School Age-Tweens. Cost: Moderate.
Many sports facilities offer party packages. Themes range from traditional sports to miniature golf and gymnastics. Does your child take karate lessons? Schools like Dragon Gym (www.dragongym.com) offer packages with various games including dodgeball, relay races and obstacle courses along with a lesson.

Rock climbing is another option. At the Philadelphia Rock Gym
(www.philarockgym.com), guests can climb for 2 hours under the supervision of one trained staff member for every four kids. Some packages, like the ones at Palace Bowling (www.palacebowling.com), include pizza along with unlimited juice and soda. Others may only provide a dedicated party room for guests.

7. Murder Mystery
Tweens-Teens. Cost: Budget-Moderate.
Guests try to figure out “whodunnit” using clues that you distribute when guests arrive. They will find other clues on their own during the course of the party. You can purchase mystery kits from websites such as www.merrimysteries.com or follow any one of the kid-friendly mystery scenarios listed on sites like www.mysteries-on-the-net.com
8. Showtime!
PreK-School Age. Cost: Moderate-Premium.
Not only can you hire magicians, clowns, jugglers and puppet shows, you can also find unusual acts such as Dr. Yo Yo (www. DrYoYo.com), who wows audiences with yo-yo tricks and games.

David C. Perry (www.DavidCPerry.com) performs an interactive show consisting of music (he plays the guitar), puppets and jumbo markers that he uses to draw caricatures. If your child is into cartoon characters, Aliesh Entertainment (www.aliesh.org) and other providers can furnish characters such as Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob and Bob the Builder who perform alone or with a clown.

9. Bounce House
PreK-Tweens. Cost: Premium.
Watch the face of any child entering a bounce house and you’ll see why it’s a great idea for a party. Companies such as Bette’s Bounces & Carnival Attractions (www.bettesbounces.com) and Funtastix in Delaware (www.funtastix.com) will assemble a bounce house in your yard. Others, like The Jumping Monkey in West Chester, PA (www.thejumpingmonkey.net), provide a facility where, for 2 hours kids can jump to their heart’s delight.

Food, cake and paper products are usually not provided, though tables and chairs are available along with a party host. Some bounce houses feature character themes.

10. Cooking
School Age-Teens. Cost: Budget-Premium.
Cooking parties are interactive and kids get to eat what they prepare. Meals can be as simple as a miniature pizza made with a ready-made crust such as Boboli. You provide a selection of toppings. Older children can help with something a little more complex, such as lasagna. In place of cake, guests can decorate cupcakes with icing, sprinkles, M&M’s or chocolate chips.

Venues such as Parties-2-Please (www.parties2please.net) and The Playful Chef (www.theplayfulchef.com) will come to your home and orchestrate cooking parties, providing all the ingredients.

11. Survivor Party
Tweens-Teens. Cost: Budget.
Unlike the television version of “Survivor,” no one gets voted off. Divide guests into two or more tribes. Designate a color for each with inexpensive items such as Hawaiian Leis ($1 at Dollar Tree) or bandannas ($1.77 at A.C. Moore). Create an island atmosphere with Polynesian torches, lei garlands, hibiscus flower table skirts and flower decorations, all available at www.orientaltrading.com or party supply stores. Challenges can consist of a race to fill an empty bucket with water from a basin, blindfolded taste tests or scavenger hunts.
12. Lights, Cameras, Action
School Age-Tweens. Cost: Moderate.
Divide guests into two or more groups, instructing each to devise a silly skit that they will perform in front of the camera. You might set a time limit to avoid lengthy performances. To help guests get into character, provide a few simple costumes including wigs ($2.79 at Party City), old clothing and shoes. After a light meal or snack, guests can watch their videos over a large bowl of popcorn.

Tip: If you’re considering hiring a professional videographer, ask for references as well as a demo video.

13. Animals
Age: All. Cost: Premium.
Children, particularly young ones, love learning about and interacting with animals. The Philadelphia Zoo offers its “Zoo on Wheels” package for up to 25 children between the ages of 4-12. In addition to experiencing a live animal show, guests can participate in games, create crafts and have their faces painted. Other area zoos have similar traveling exhibits.

For a more hands-on experience, venues such as Sleepy Hollow Ponies in Quakertown, PA (www.sleepyhollowponies.com) will bring an assortment of animals to your home for children to groom or feed, including miniature llamas, donkeys, sheep, goats, chickens and rabbits. For those with the yard space to accommodate it, pony rides can also be arranged.

14. Jungle
Age: PreK, School Age; Cost: Moderate
Create hanging vines using strips of green, brown and tan streamers twisted then taped to the ceiling ($1.96 per roll at Party City). Create palm trees using discarded cardboard rolls from the fabric store (or create your own with construction paper) and wrap with brown felt ($4.99 per yard at JoAnne Fabric). Use strips of green felt for the leaves.

Entertain guests with a jungle animal foam craft available for $12.99 per kit at www.shindigz.com. The kit contains foam pieces and eyes for making zebras and lions. Send partygoers on an animal safari by hiding several animal figurines in a room or backyard. The one who finds the most animals wins a toy. Visit http://party.kaboose.com for more game suggestions.

15. Nature/Environmental
Age: PreK, School Age. Cost: Moderate.
Talk to your local nature center about a nature awareness party. Trees, frogs, aquatic animals, and snakes are possible themes. Games, tours and activities can focus on your theme.

At the Rancocas Nature Center in Mount Holly, NJ  (www.njaudubon.com/centers/rancocas), guests can catch butterflies and other winged insects in the spring or investigate stream banks in the summer. Many facilities provide a picnic area but require you to bring your own food, cake, paper goods and utensils. Click here for a list of nature centers. (http://www.metrokids.com/attractions/nature.html)

16. Disco
Age: Tweens, Teens. Cost: Moderate-Premium.
Decorate the room with a metallic disco ball ($4.99 at Party City) and Christmas lights. For around $13, you can purchase the Step by Step Disco Party Dance DVD (Party City), then test guests on their newly acquired skills.

Enlist a family member or friend to play music or hire a professional DJ for the event (starting price around $350). With the average song lasting about three minutes, a four-hour party could equate to approximately 60 songs. Edward Nott of H&N Entertainment in Ashton, PA (www.hotnottentertainment.com) suggests that when hiring a DJ, you discuss factors such as the size of the room and whether additional equipment is required.

17. Bicycle Riding
Age: School Age-Teens. Cost: Budget.
A park with a riding trail can be the perfect party place for active kids. Arrive at the park early, particularly in warmer weather, to secure tables in the picnic area or simply spread a couple of blankets in the grass. Decorations can be as simple as a bouquet of balloons secured by weights  on the birthday child’s table or blanket.

Provide balloons and streamers to decorate each bicycle. Afterwards play a game of “follow the leader” with the birthday child in front. Older kids might enjoy an obstacle course (orange safety cones available at Home Depot for $8.96). Enlist another adult or two to keep younger children from wandering off. Distributing same-color t-shirts (Youth sizes $3.77 at A.C. Moore) is one way to keep track of guests.

18. Scavenger Hunt
Age: Tweens-Teens. Cost: Budget.
A trip to your local grocery store or even the mall (depending on the children’s age) can provide loads of fun and promote camaraderie. Have guests split into two or more groups. Create separate lists with items needed for the party (snacks, drinks, etc.) and wait by the register until they locate all of the items.

At the mall arm older children with a disposable camera, paper and pens. Items on their list might include: 1) Take a picture of each person in a pair of blue shoes or write the names and birthdays of 10 people who work at the mall. Each member of the first group to return to you with all of the items wins a prize such as a gift certificate to a local eatery or video store. Treat guests to a meal at the mall or bring them back to your house  for snacks and cake.

19. Bonfire Party
Age: Teens. Cost: Budget.
The beach or your own backyard is the perfect place for this simple party idea. Check your local municipality for restrictions and permit requirements. Hotdogs for roasting and marshmallows for toasting are a must, along with the other fixings to make s’mores (a roasted marshmallow and slab of chocolate between graham crackers). If space permits, try a game of volleyball or Frisbee (starting at $2.99 at Dicks Sporting Goods). Music from a portable CD player will enhance the atmosphere. A hard patio, if available, will make the perfect dance floor.

20. Sleepover
Age: Tweens. Cost: Budget.
For girls, plan a spa night complete with manicures and facials. Create facial and manicure stations using card tables covered with decorative tablecloths. Stock the manicure station with cotton balls, nail polish, bowls of water for soaking hands and emery boards. Your local Dollar store is an inexpensive source for most of these supplies.

The facial station should have ponytail-holders (to keep hair from getting messy), wash cloths, clay masks and lotion (Ives Apricot Scrub Clay Mask and Dove Deep Moisture facial lotion are inexpensive and available at most pharmacies and grocers).  Another option (for boys or girls) is to plan a night of games including long-time favorites like Monopoly and Scrabble.