Child readers share their tried-and-tested ideas for children's birthday parties.
We made edible ladybugs out of SnackWell's devil's food cake cookies. The children, mostly 2- to 3-year-olds, used craft sticks to cover the cookies in red icing and Junior Mints for the heads. I had a tube of black icing and placed dots wherever the kids showed me their bugs "needed" them.
I also gave out "bug boxes." Since the party was outdoors, one of the activities was to go looking for bugs, hoping to find ladybugs. We talked about what bugs eat and how the ladybugs like flowers. This discussion took place in front of a huge flower-shaped piñata, which helped me hold their attention.
The party favors were a book about bugs and the bug boxes. My daughter wore a cute dress with ladybugs on it. It was great!
Georgia Sanchez Austin, TX
The decorations for the party doubled as favors -- happy-face balloons and blow-up globes. Other favors were happy-face stickers and globe-shaped pencil sharpeners. They also had fun stringing beads for colorful bracelets and decorating party hats.
We baked yellow and chocolate mini-cupcakes and arranged them on a round tray to form a happy face. After the candles were blown out, the kids got to decorate the cupcakes with colored frosting, sprinkles, and mini-M&Ms. Everyone had a great time!
Nancy Singer Olaguera Deal, NJ
We had game stations -- pick-a-duck, throw a sponge at the clown (made of cardboard), toss a ping-pong ball into a goldfish bowl -- and a "prize booth" stocked with inexpensive prizes. We had face painting with water-based face paints, which can be bought at most party supply stores, for easy cleanup and no staining.
Tina Borek Church Hill, TN
She came up with the theme of a fairy-tale birthday party. I found many ideas online and tweaked them for my own use. I also used the Internet to order party supplies like paper goods, decorations, and party favors. We printed invitations on scrolls of "parchment," which were hand-delivered and read like a royal proclamation. We decorated the party room to look like a castle, with banners and tapestries that we made ourselves, and addressed all the guests as Prince or Princess.
At the party my husband, the King, announced to his court that he needed brave knights and ladies to help him slay a dragon. The kids could prove their worth by participating in a royal tournament. Events were jousting, musical thrones, "Pin the Drawbridge on the Castle," and decorating royal scepters (cookies on sticks) and cloaks (handmade from inexpensive fabric). After the tournament, we "slayed" a dragon piñata and ate the castle-shaped cake my daughter and I had baked together.
Each child went home with a knight's helmet or princess tiara, a royal cloak, a royal scepter, and candy from the piñata. This party was a lot of work, but many kids -- and, most important, my daughter -- told me it was the best party they'd ever attended.
Jenny Tigay Meyerhoff Deerfield, IL
I also made "ice-cream cones" by slipping store-bought mini-muffins into the cones, frosting the top, and adding sprinkles. For goodie bags, I passed out plastic buckets with bubbles and sand toys that could also be used in the snow or the bathtub.
Ruth Spiro Skokie, IL
Lynette Kittle Jupiter, FL
When the children arrived (at gate 9 3/4 -- marked by a sign outside our door), they were divided into different Houses by the Sorting Hat: I'd made a hat out of blue felt and stars and filled it with the crests of all the Houses in the form of temporary tattoos. During the party, each House received points if one of its members won a game, used good manners, picked up after himself, or showed an act of kindness. Teams lost points for rudeness, poor sportsmanship, etc. (although this never happened because the children policed themselves in competition).
We played various games with Harry Potter themes, such as "Find the Golden Snitch" (a gold ping-pong ball was hidden with other balls, each marked with a point value -- the gold ball being the highest), with points tallied on a sheet on the wall.
The decorations were store-bought, but the tablecloth was inexpensive blue plastic strewn with star confetti. I used plain gold paper plates and utensils.
The points for the Houses were fixed so that everyone was a winner, and each child received an official-looking personalized participation award printed on gold parchment and signed by the headmaster (my son). We placed them in black plastic cauldrons I was lucky enough to find (I guess they were left over from Halloween) along with Bertie Bott's every-flavor jellybeans (regular jellybeans in cello bags, labeled as such and tied with gold ribbon), some Harry Potter glasses (Oriental Trading Co.), and other inexpensive but cool gifts -- tattoos, necklaces, mini-skateboards, and the like.
It was very successful -- the children talked about it all week!
Karen Koenig Resto Keansburg, NJ
Craig Elliott Park City, UT
Cindy Wilkins Streamwood, IL
I had gotten little painters' caps and used fabric paint to decorate and personalize them so each was unique. We had cupcakes and juice at a picnic table in back of the museum and sent the kids home with a cool goodie bag containing little train whistles and their invitations, which we had rubber-stamped.
Karen Adashek Olney, MA
To decorate, I made pretty tablecloths by taping flower wrapping paper to five little table-and-chair sets placed around the kitchen. I served cupcakes on tiered plate racks -- the kind used for tea sandwiches and cookies -- lined with doilies.
We had "activity stations" around the house. About three girls played at each station and rotated during the two-hour party. The stations included a manicure table with six colors of glittery nail polish to choose from; make-a-beaded-necklace (we used Powerpuff Girl beads, a dollhouse set out with about seven Barbies (good for independent play), and tables with crayon-cups princess coloring books. For the storytime wrap-up, we read Snow White while the parents arrived to pick up their children. This was the most fun and least expensive party I've thrown. My daughter speaks of it often even though six months have passed.
Stephanie Hager Newcastle, WA
Beth Murphy Hudson Falls, NY
The highlight was when a real fire truck arrived. All the kids were allowed to climb on it and take turns sitting in the driver's seat. The firefighters stayed for at least half an hour and talked to the kids (and several very interested adults) about the truck and gave all the kids fire hats. They do this free of charge in our area (though we did make a voluntary donation).
Diana Laird McLean, VA
For the main party, first we designed baskets with glitter and stickers, then we embarked on the hunt for eggs, as well as stuffed rabbits and lambs, and bunny- and carrot-inspired toys (pencils, cars, etc.). We served grilled-cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, deviled eggs, carrot sticks, and celery. For dessert, the children feasted on sugarless banana nut cake (Mani's Bakery in Los Angeles specializes in baked goods made without flour, sugar, or eggs, and everything tastes great). We had a great time.
Lys Wilcox Los Angeles, CA