Schoolagers and Tweens

So by this age, your child can make demands on your time, making sure you invite exactly the right people for this exact day. Maybe they even make specific requests: that they want the party in the park; they want a truck for their birthday; or they want chocolate. This chapter is specifically geared to parents who need a plan for their “children” who by now are old enough to speak and make selfish decisions: School-agers and tweens.

Believe it or not, planning birthday parties for school-agers and tweens doesn’t have to be as involved as it may at first appear. Sure, children are more vocal around this age and more likely to complain than your average one-year-old, but there are still some great ways to make the most of the birthday party while saving money and not giving yourself a headache in the process! What follows are some games and activities that you can use to enhance fun and meaningful moments at the birthday party. Obviously, if your child has his or her own ideas about how they want to celebrate, you may want to tell your child that you have X amount of dollars (in this case, $12.00) to spend on the party and that once the dollars are spent, there is not one penny more that can be spent! On anything! Full stop!

This will help your child learn some good financial responsibility while also teaching him how to plan appropriately and to eventually be a good host. In fact, I encourage you to make a BIG DEAL about this because it is an excellent teaching moment—helping your child to understand how to entertain guests and understanding the full scope of what being a host entails is very important! You could even stick in a bonus introductory lesson on polite manners and etiquette. Teach your child how to greet the guests and how to say “thanks for coming,” and to wish them well as they leave. This will pay dividends in those later years when you need to have your teenage daughter or son play host/hostess to the guests at your party.

The point is, you don’t have to bend over backwards to execute a successful party that both you and your child enjoy. You can have your cake and eat it too! Think about incorporating some of the activities found below while also keeping in mind that many of the listed games can change in different ways, depending on the circumstances. Having a contingency plan may also be useful, although try not to lose sight of your end-goal: fun.

Generally speaking, action games should last about 20 minutes, so switch up the play to sustain energy at the party, making sure to give the kids a fresh taste of a new game at least three times during the event.  Also make sure to use positive language when addressing the guests’ ability to participate; you want to make sure you include everybody within the activity, within an overall positive atmosphere.

I find that games with active play are almost always popular with kids in the mid-range of ages and that usually any group game requiring a big space with room enough to run will work very well.

Hula Hooping

If you have a really active child, this is a really fun activity that you can initiate to channel that energy. All you need is some PVC pipe and colored duct tape. Depending on who attends the party, you can have all of the child-guests work together to create hula hoops of different colors and sizes. But why stop there? Once everyone has built their very own hula hoop, you can initiate a competition to see who can keep their hula hoop suspended around their waist for the longest period of time. You can have the guests switch hulas or simply use the one that they built. This is a fun way to teach productivity, industriousness, and healthy competition, and may help children channel their creativity in an organized way. If you have a camera, make sure to take fun photos as well, showing the children assembling the hula hoops and then actually twirling them.

If you’re not exactly sure how durable the supplies will be, you may want to test one of them out before you initiate the activity, and ideally before you make a purchase. After all, you don’t want your birthday child and guests to compete with wilted hulas!

Tell Me Something Good!

Here is one of my favorite games to play! This can be played in multiple rounds. Put all the guests’ names into a bowl and tell them that they are going to play a game called “telephone.” The person whose name is drawn initiates by quietly whispering a message to whoever is next to them in the circle. They must say something they LOVE about the birthday person, but here’s the real clincher: the person they give this message to will pass the message to the person on their other side, so that the message will travel around the circle until it gets to the actual Birthday Person.

The last person to receive the message–ideally the birthday person, of course–shouts “tell me something good” and the whole room screams out the nice statement. What’s fun about this game is to see how much altered the message gets by the time it reaches the birthday girl or boy. After all, in the game of telephone, the final message usually ends up changing even a little bit. The person who started the message can then jump up and say “I said something good” and if that was right or wrong.

If their message gets relayed perfectly, they get to pick the next person who has not already had a turn.

At the end of the game the birthday-person bows to the guests and says “I have something nice to say about ALL OF YOU” and says their special words to the group, like thanking them for coming or how much fun it was to have this day to play.

Location-Based Activities

There are a variety of activities that you can play that depend on the location of your party and the climate. The following are just a few representative examples that you can use or incorporate into the party, but please understand that any of these games can be modified or changed depending on what’s around. Remember that you are only limited by your imagination and creativity, and many of these games could very well be modified to suit the needs of your guests. These aren’t meant to be applied like a formula or recipe, but rather to be loosely incorporated and modified to suit the needs of your partygoers.

Playing with Snow 

If you live in a rural or suburban area with a relatively cold climate and a decent amount of snowfall, you may be able to take advantage of your surroundings by organizing birthday sledding! Scope out your area for some steep-but-safe hills within walking distance.  While purchasing sleds may be costly, you may be able to make them out of recycled material or even rent or borrow them from a close friend. Simply playing in the snow may also be an easy alternative if your child or children have their own imagination and don’t mind playing on their own. Other alternatives include building snow-people, snow igloos, and having snowball fights, although regarding this last suggestion make sure that the snow is soft enough to be safe to throw!

Apple-Picking

If you live in a rural area and/or suburb, and the weather permits, you can arrange to go to the local apple orchard, pick apples, make cider, and use whatever remaining apples to make birthday foods, including apple sauce, apple pie, or apple fritters. Generally, it costs only $5.00 USD or less (as of 2014) to pick apples, so you definitely won’t be burning the wallet from this particular activity. Just make sure that whatever you decide to cook with the apples is easy to obtain and relatively inexpensive.

Tag

One of the easiest and most inexpensive games to initiate at a party is “tag,” that timeless game where one child is chosen to be “It,” as the other children run around in an open court or field trying to flee from getting tapped and turning into “It.” This game could potentially last for well over 45 minutes given the right location. The good news is that this game can be held regardless of most prevailing weather patterns. Just be careful that the ground isn’t too slippery and that the area where the game takes place is safe from any pedestrian traffic. This game can be a great way of energizing kids, and getting them into the spirit of carefree fun!

Watch a Movie

This is probably one of the most cost-effective and least stressful activities to initiate at a birthday party.

Something as easy as the kids getting to play video games or watch a movie on a BIG TV I find is really “cool” enough for most kids. Gather up some pillows, microwave some popcorn, and snuggle up with your favorite adventure flick. Although most cinemas tend to be on the expensive side these days, this doesn’t preclude you from watching movies over the internet and/or renting a movie from Netflix that you have been wanting to see for a while.

If you’re the type of person who gets anxious about putting on parties and playing host to guests, especially if they’re children, keeping a movie handy can be one of the easiest ways of ensuring a relatively calm and peaceful party experience, despite whatever high-energy the school-agers and tweens bring with them. Having a movie that’s appealing to this age group will easily take the pressure off of you having to initiate any activities that may or may not “fly” with the group. And did I mention that it’s an activity that would cost you less than $12.00? These days, with streaming high-quality videos, you should have absolutely no issues with finding a video and ordering it in real time for your birthday child and the party guests. You might even be able to vote before deciding on which movie to watch. Or have the birthday child decide. Whichever movie you decide, just make sure it’s age-appropriate and something that the adult guests will approve.

Peanut Hunt

This game can probably be played with children over the age of two, but I think it’s important to include it in this section to emphasize that even with slight modifications, this can be an excellent activity. Simply take an object, whether it’s an egg, a small toy, a peanut or any other small object, and hide it somewhere around the house or whatever space you’ll be using during the birthday party. This may be challenging in an open park, but you might still be able to do it if you have people close their eyes and give you the time you need to hide the object. If the park has grass, this shouldn’t be so difficult.

Once the object is hidden, let the child wander around (with close supervision, of course) and ask her or him where the item is. For older children, you can just let them go ahead and start searching, but for younger ones, guide them and help them find the object. Obviously, there are many alternatives to this game, some of which can include many people or just a few in close collaboration. This game will probably require a little bit of forethought in guessing how people will react to the game, but it’s still up to you to decide how you’d like the search to unfold. You can even play for prizes if you’re inclined and hide multiple items that are worth different prizes! You can also play this game with puzzle pieces, where you hide different parts that make up a whole and encourage the children to find the pieces and put them together! You can use just about any toy that the child is comfortable with sharing. Or make a list and scavenger hunt for natural items like acorns, heart-shaped leaves, brown rock, seed pods, and the like. The sky’s the limit.

Music

Music can really enhance a party, whether in starting a game or just helping to build the overall rapport with guests. As noted earlier, there are plenty of great birthday songs on the web for you to download and utilize at your party (see the glossary). But if you’re interested in using music to play some games, look no further, for you’ve come to the right section. Below is a list of music-related games for you to initiate at your child’s birthday party.

Musical Chairs

All you need is some sort of device that plays music and some chairs. Any old radio, laptop, or CD player will do, although you could even do without these and just free-form some of your own music with some supplies around the house: pots for percussion and rubber bands for string sounds, for example. Maybe even sing a cappella one song that people are familiar with and can sing along to!

The object of the game is to stay in the game by finding a seat after the music stops. The person without a seat after the music stops is out of the game. When starting out, you’ll want to have just the number of chairs to accommodate all of the players minus one, and with each passing round, remove one chair until eventually there is only one chair remaining, with two players competing for the one chair. By the end of the game, there should be only one player for one seat. Thus, the sole “survivor” will be declared the winner.

Please note that this game can get aggressive, particularly during those high-adrenaline moments when players are scrambling for chairs, and you shouldn’t initiate it unless you’re absolutely sure that none of the players will get hurt during the game.

Limbo

This is a really fun game that requires even less extensive prep than musical chairs! All you need is literally any long object that can be held horizontally by two people, about 12 ft. in length: a wooden pole, broom, even a jump rope will be fine. You’ll also need some music, but as with musical chairs, you can improvise your own by finding “instruments” to use or singing a cappella. Typically, parents will play or sing the song “Limbo,” which can be accessed on various internet websites (See the links page for further details).

As with musical chairs, the purpose of this game is to stay in it. However, unlike musical chairs, there is a lot more flexibility in determining who gets to stay in the game and who doesn’t; in other words, because it is usually less clear cut when a person is out of the game, it is sometimes possible to have no losers in the game at all. Use your discretion and decide how you would like the game to proceed.

In the game of Limbo, two people hold up a wooden pole, for example, as music plays in the background. The players form a line and, one by one, attempt to pass underneath the pole without touching it. The catch? They have to lean backwards in order to go under it and any other way is not counted as a legitimate pass. Once all of the players have gone under the pole in the first round, the people holding the pole should lower it a degree to make the next round more difficult. Thus, the game gets progressively more difficult as more players find themselves having to arch backwards even further in order to pass the pole. Some players will not be able to do it and either touch the pole or fall backwards before they can even make one step across. Thus, you should make sure you have some kind of padding for the floor to prevent any of the players from hurting themselves if they fall backwards. If you perform this game on a beach, where the game is often played, you shouldn’t have too many safety issues. However, make sure you have the type of players who can handle a fall.

Dancing

There’s a lot more you can do with music! One game for all ages is simple old dancing. Never underestimate the power of a good “danceable,” song or more to create an atmosphere of carefree fun! Whether you’re performing your own music or playing it from some device, choose some enjoyable music with a decent beat as well as something age appropriate. You’ll find references in the glossary to give you some ideas, but using just a simple Google search for “Party songs,” should set you in the right direction. If you’d like to turn this more into a “game,” you can start and stop the music at intervals, having players freeze during the moments of silence. This can create fun and silly moments for all involved in the game and really contribute to the party atmosphere. Another variation of this game is to have players pass around an object and then to stop the music at intervals. The player holding the ball when the music has stopped is out of the game. The sole survivor is the winner!

With music, you can create an infinite variety of start-stop games, and almost any object can be incorporated into a game to enhance its fun. When the music stops, have someone answer trivial-pursuit-type questions; or use an object in a unique way; or say something nice about one of the other players. When it comes to musical games, you are only limited by your imagination!

Sing your own special song

Do you have a bunch of kids that love to sing and dance? Then encourage them and record it! Kids love saying silly stuff, making up skits, and singing songs, and they love to have pictures and videos taken of them while they’re doing it! Many cameras will be snapping photos if you can get them to sing a random song, either from a famous show that they like, a famous pop star that they have listened to, or even the most generic of songs. You might even consider setting up a song writing contest and seeing who can come up with the funniest tunes or make the quirkiest prose!

If you are able to stream lyric-less music, you could even set up birthday karaoke, and hold a contest to see who can follow the songs best. Songs open up a wealth of opportunity, so take advantage!

Having Fun with Your Camera

If you have access to a camera or even a cellular phone with snapshot capability, you can probably take photos of the party in unique and creative ways. One way to do this is to collect random objects around the apartment, house, or wherever the party is being held: some shirts, interesting hats, a funny mask, or some scarves.

Try to collect things that could be used in “photogenic,” ways, whether humorously or otherwise. Also make sure that you have enough objects to accommodate the number of attendees. The more variety, the better the game. Once you have collected your items, put them in a box or “treasure chest.” During the course of the party, you can pass the camera around and have the attendees take “selfies” with the various objects in the treasure chest. If you’re a little reticent about passing the camera around, take the pictures yourself.

This can be a really fun way of creating a humorous and memorable experience out of the party. Once the party is over, you can upload the photos onto a social media site and share them with the attendees.

SPA party

If you’re up for an all-nighter, you can have the kids create their own spa night, replete with hair braiding, manicures and pedicures, or fabulous makeovers! Nothing is more exciting than playing with someone else’s toys or staying over at a friend’s house. Sure, this will take a little more planning, but a little more planning goes a long way!

Summary

We’ve covered a lot of ground in just one chapter, but hopefully by now you’re starting to see some of the possibilities available for getting a really fun birthday party started. If all of this is starting to seem a bit overwhelming, don’t worry! Putting on a birthday party can often take a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to. Just remember to breathe, take a step back, and assess your situation in a calm and quiet place. Remember that parties, while often requiring some work, are supposed to be fun, and very often the initial hurdle is in the beginning when you’re trying to assess everything that you think you’ll need. In this respect, it helps to generate a list or a spreadsheet—really, any blank sheet of paper will do. This list will help you get clear on exactly what it is that you need to run the party smoothly. Think of it as your chance to clarify your objectives and goals for the birthday party. Don’t make it too regimented. Just jotting down some general ideas about “balloons” or “plates” will suffice. Write whatever keywords will help you remember what it is that you need to do for the party, and then keep this list in a safe spot. You’ll be referring back to this list frequently as you assess where you are in the planning stages of the party.  This is a real systematic way of getting your party off the ground, and I understand if this part of the project seems a little tedious or boring, but trust me that it will save you a lot of unwanted surprises in the long run!

Once you’ve figured out your itinerary, take it one step at a time and solve the easier obstacles first, keeping in mind that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Obviously, the longer the time you give yourself for this task, the better position you’ll be in to be as prepared as ever for your child’s birthday party. Again, this doesn’t have to be an extensive list covering every conceivable issue or problem that could arise during the celebration. Sure, you want to have a plan B in case the weather doesn’t turn out the way you had hoped, but at the end of the day, this list is for you and should totally be written in the language that you’re comfortable with.

Keeping a list can be a great way to keep yourself in check, both in terms of time and preparation. It can tell you where you are in your progress and where you should be. Ideally, if you can even include some dates, all the better you’ll be for it. As you’ll find over the years, if you haven’t discovered this by now–the older your child gets, the more significant a list becomes as the demands of the child increases! Lists are especially great for planning parties for tweens and school-agers.

In this chapter, we covered ways to celebrate birthdays for tweens and school-agers at that tender young age when your child has started to make some serious demands on your time, energy, and resources! We described mostly games and activities that could be initiated at the party to keep your child having lots of fun! There were location-based games, such as going to the park and playing tag and sledding, and games and activities based on music, such as musical chairs. This list was, by no means, exhaustive, but it should have at least gotten you to think a little bit outside of the box about the possibilities you have for making the party as fun and stress-free as possible! Remember that your child probably has an imagination of her of his own, and can probably initiate some of her own games. Provided that these games are safe, just let the game organically occur. It’s your child’s birthday party after all! Also, doing this will put less strain on you to think of ways to keep the guests entertained while also providing you with some down time.

Be sure to check for more resources on the links page

In this next and final chapter, we conclude with some barebones strategies that anyone can use to enhance their party without spending so much as a dime, i.e. totally free. I decided to include a chapter like this because I wanted to consider the parents who might have absolutely NO MONEY to spend on a birthday party at all and I think it’s important to emphasize that no matter what your financial situation, parties can be enjoyed for no cost. In fact, some of the best and most memorable parties are those where not a penny was spent, and the most successful are the ones where the guests and the host are able to just enjoy each other’s company and, when it comes right down to it, those precious few moments that we really do have to spend together in our daily lives. If you have family and friends who love and care for you, this is a cause for celebration in itself, and I maintain that it can be done for no cost! Check out the No Cost Strategies page.

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