Planning parties for young children is easy. Give 'em cake and a few presents, and they're thrilled.
But birthdays get more complicated when kids enter the 'tween years. You might find that your 8-12 year olds have a hard time settling on a theme and agenda.
Consider these tween party ideas if you're stuck:
Make Me Over
Create a spa atmosphere at your home.
As guests arrive, take "before" photos on a digital camera. Then, have everyone don pajamas or bathrobes and take turns at stations you've set up for manicures, pedicures, massages, facials and makeup. Have the girls primp each other or hire a few teenagers to do the work.
Keep a small stack of style and celebrity magazines on hand at each station, as well as pitchers of cucumber-infused water and trays of cut fruit.
Once everyone has been pampered, take "after" pictures. While the girls are eating, opening presents, and singing Happy Birthday, print the pictures from your computer, frame them, then give the framed photos to each child as the favor at the end of the party.
Or, give small gift bags with nail polish, a nail file and lip gloss inside.
If the birthday boy or girl is a budding environmentalist, build the theme around going green.
Activities could include playing old-fashioned games, such as kick the can, or making a craft, like wind chimes, out of items from nature, old silverware and trinkets found at secondhand shops. You might also consider taking the kids on a service outing, such as picking up litter from a natural area or planting trees.
The food should be natural and healthy, like cut fruits and vegetables, smoothies and homemade family favorites. Even the the cake can have an eco theme.
For favors, send each child home with a sapling for their yard or a pot and a packet of seeds.
Adventure Game Show
Take inspiration from television shows like Fear Factor for a totally gross birthday party. Just make sure you warn parents on the invitations that the kids should wear clothing that can get dirty.
Set up several stations, such as places where kids are blindfolded and told to stick their hands into bowls of worms (cold, oily, cooked spaghetti) and eyeballs (peeled grapes). The kids earn points for correctly identifying what they're touching.
Set up several contests, like filling a tub of water with rubber rats and seeing which child can remove the most rats using only their teeth in 30 seconds.
Favors should be barf bags filled with practical jokes, like gummy worms, gumball eyes and whoopee cushions. Or, make T-shirts for each child that say "I survived Johnny's Fear Factor birthday party," using your child's name.
Keep in mind, some kids might truly be grossed out by the activities. Never pressure a child to participate in a challenge that makes them uncomfortable.
Mall and a Movie
You could throw your child's entire party at a mall.
Give the kids 30 minutes to shop, then reconvene in the food court for snacks and cake.
After opening gifts, present everyone with the party favors: tickets to see a movie. The party ends in the theater, and you go home to a clean house.
Throw a make-and-take party, setting up three or so stations with craft activities for tweens. Choose crafts that don't take long, are clever and appeal to this age group such as:
To drive home the handmade theme, make party decorations with your child ahead of time, including bowls for serving pretzels or other dry foods and cupcake toppers made using rubber stamps, paper and toothpicks.
Party for a Cause
By this age, children are well aware that the world isn't a perfect place. If there's a particular cause that's close to your child's heart, he might want his party to serve as a benefit for it.
Animal lovers, for instance, could throw a cat- or dog-themed party and ask guests to bring kitty litter or dog food instead of presents. The items would then be donated to a local animal shelter.
Likewise, a winter-themed party could be an opportunity to collect coats, hats and mittens for children in need. During the summer, throw a pool- or beach-themed party and ask guests to donate new swimsuits that will later be distributed to children through your local parks and recreation program.
Is your kid a book worm? Ask her friends to bring new or gently used books for a community reading program.
At this age, kids might be less interested in traditional birthday parties and more keen on inviting two or three close friends to do something special with them.
Give a young athlete tickets to see a baseball game or other sporting event, then end the day with dinner at a sports-themed restaurant.
A budding actor might enjoy seeing a play or musical, while a music fan would be thrilled to attend a rock concert.
Go camping. Take a cooking or art class. Visit a beach or go snow skiing. The possibilities are endless.
Between the ages of 8 and 12, your child will be undergoing enormous changes. Some days they'll feel like kids; other days they'll seem on the verge of adulthood. They might long to have a traditional party with balloons and ice cream, but feel peer pressure to do something more "grownup." Be sensitive to those changes as you plan their birthday parties with them year to year.
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