1. Pace the prizes
If you want the children to eat the food you have prepared, avoid giving sweets as prizes before the meal. Instead, give a sheet of colourful stickers to the winner and single stickers to the other players to keep everyone happy. If you can, use stickers that tie in with the theme of your party.
2. Have a cunning game plan
Keep party games simple and avoid long instructions. A simple treasure hunt searching for chocolate coins or small plastic animals will be a hit. Don’t be too ingenious with your hiding places, though, or it might all end in tears.
3. Go with tradition
The old games we played as children are still the best: Musical Bumps, Pass The Parcel, Pin The Tail On The Donkey, Musical Statues and – every parent’s favourite for the promise of five minute’s peace – Sleeping Lions.
4. Toddler tactics
Children under two aren’t always cooperative when it comes to sitting down for tea, so have a few simple activities close at hand, such as trolleys of building blocks, dolls’ pushchairs or a sandpit to play in. Although the under-twos are too young for traditional party games, you could hide a few small toys in the sandpit and help them dig for buried treasure.
5. Keep spare props on hand
Some children may forget to bring along their own teddy bear and will end up feeling left out if everyone else has one. To avoid squabbles over another child’s favourite bear, it’s a good idea to put out as many soft toys as you can. This way, you can ensure that everyone has something to play with. It’s a good idea to follow this principle of providing spare props whatever theme you decide on for your party.
6. Make some music
A selection of simple musical instruments, such as tambourines, drums and shakers, is all you need in the way of entertainment for young children. Bring them out at a suitable moment, such as just before tea, and let the children make as much noise as they like.
For babies and toddlers, remember to set up a changing station with a mat, wipes and nappies – some parents may forget to bring them. Don’t forget to provide a bin, too. A potty for toddlers who are toilet training is also a good idea.
8. Playtime for preschoolers For a party with a group of preschoolers, it’s a good idea to create a small play area (inside or out) that is stocked with a selection of your child’s toys
9. Sing a song
Circle songs are the closest that preschoolers can get to playing an organised game. If your guests attend nursery or go to toddler groups, this will be a familiar activity, and everyone will want to join in. Make musical shakers for the children using old drinks bottles filled with dried lentils, rice, pasta or sand.
10. Take a dip
If the weather is good, set up a paddling pool with a few centimetres of water in it, or a sandpit – both will provide a huge amount of fun. You also won’t need much else other than some towels to dry the children off at the end.
11. A cool ice party trick
If you’re having a party in the summer, make giant ice cubes with plastic toys embedded in them. Save yoghurt pots or margarine tubs and place a small toy in each one, then fill the tubs with water, and place them in the freezer until they are frozen solid. On the day of the party, take out the blocks and set them out on a tray. Small children will be intrigued by these slippery cubes and will enjoy trying to extract the toys as the ice melts.
12. Hunt for hidden treasures
A treasure hunt is another fun activity that any group of children will enjoy. Bear in mind that the clues need to be very simple, and it will probably work best if a parent helps by leading the children through the clues to find the buried treasure.
13. Add some abracadabra
Slightly older children will enjoy an organised activity in keeping with the party theme, such as wand-making or decorating fairy crowns. It’s best to prepare the crown shapes and the sticks and stars for the wands in advance, then help the children to assemble and decorate them with lots of glittery and sparkly bits
14. Be adventurous
Organise a fun assault course. For the pirate theme, establish two ‘islands’, one at each end of the garden, and arrange a chain of chairs, cushions and so on across the garden. Tell the children that the grass is a shark-infested ocean and they must get across without falling in – the winner is the one who makes it across first.
15. Get physical
For an outdoor party, a ball is all you need. Provide an adult- and child-friendly picnic and everyone will have a good time. If you live near a park, try a bikes and trikes party. Arrange for everyone to gather at an easily identifiable spot and plan a route from there to the picnic spot (keep it short – they can always do it twice). Once everyone has arrived, the children can set off en masse, with parents directing operations and keeping tabs on any stragglers.