1. Choose familiar and fun favourites
A party based on simple, familiar motifs such as jungle or farm animals, combined with easy activities, games and singing, is ideal for the under-threes. Decorate your space with some colourful, oversized decorations to turn it into a memorable celebration.
2. Dress the part
Fancy dress is a little too complicated for toddlers, but popping some cute animal ears, tiaras or pirate’s hats on your partygoers’ heads is just right, especially as young children love trying on hats.
3. Go West, young man!
Evoking the spirit of the Wild West, even in an urban back garden, is surprisingly easy and can involve very little in the way of decorations – just a bale or two of hay (available from pet stores or local stables), a length of gingham and some cacti cut from flattened-out cardboard boxes. Add a log cabin, made from cardboard painted to look like wood, and a fake campfire made from real twigs set ‘ablaze’ with flames made of tissue paper.
4. Add some pow
The costumes for a Wild West party are easy to put together. For boys and girls alike, a pair of jeans, a checked or denim shirt and a cowboy hat are all you need. Sew on some gingham or suede patches to give an added Western spin. Invest in some joke shop accessories too, such as plastic arrows or pop-guns with little flags that say ‘Bang!’
5. Create a sea world
A mysterious, watery wonderland is lots of fun to create. Take the colours of the sea as your starting point and look for fabric, tissue paper and other props in greens for seaweed, turquoise and blues for the sea, and yellows and pinks for the sand and coral. Scatter some shells on a turquoise or yellow plastic tablecloth and use bath toys as sea creatures. Look out for plastic fish, which can be ‘caught’ by the children in a large net (you can buy nets from most good party shops – they’re usually used for balloon drops).
6. Mermaid magic
To make mermaid wigs, cut lining paper into strips and sew them together along a central parting on a sewing machine (or use sticky tape). Finish with a rough application of yellow paint and a sprinkling of gold stars.
7. Swim with the fish
Create a shoal of silvery fish by cutting fish shapes out of sheets of iridescent card or thin plastic and suspending them on fine thread. To create something more dramatic, make a table-top beach by painting a sheet of cardboard or MDF yellow, then coating it with a mixture of sand and PVA glue. Add some miniature sandcastles by painting individual segments from an egg box in the same mixture. Just add a little flag bearing each guest’s name to turn them into place cards.
8. Set the stage
A climbing frame makes an excellent starting point for a pirate galleon sailing the high seas. You can make a sail using an old curtain or a dust sheet. Paint it with poster paint mixed with a little PVA glue (this works out cheaper than buying fabric paints, which are expensive and only come in small quantities). Buy flags and balloons from a party shop and make bunting by cutting black and white fabric into triangles, then simply sew on some string and decorate them with a home-made skull-and-crossbones stencil.
9. Fly the flag
Nothing says ‘pirates!’ as powerfully as a Jolly Roger flag, but if making decorations is not your thing, your local party shop should be able to provide plenty of pirate flags and black balloons. Pirate costumes are really easy to concoct, and even the most self-conscious child can usually be persuaded to don a pair of cut-off jeans and a stripy T-shirt.
10. Ham it up
Silly accessories go down a storm. Put together a box of accessories – for example plastic hooks, headscarves and eye patches, for arriving pirates – so that guests can embellish their costumes. Charity shops are a great source of clothes that can be customised to create outfits. For pirates, old jeans cut in bold zigzags just below the knee look great – just add a white shirt with some patches sewn on, a waistcoat and headscarf, and there you have a perfect salty sea dog!
More party tips from Junior:
Fifteen fantastic party planning tips and activities
Five great ideas for children's party bags
Five ideas for perfect party food