Put your guests in a festive spirit with these easy-to-make invitations.
Fly Me In
Cut paper into the shape of an airplane and decorate. Then tape a white ribbon or piece of white paper behind the plane like a streamer, and write the party information on it.
To spruce up an invitation, create a homemade frame using pinking shears or craft shears with funny edges (scallops, half circles, triangles). Or cut large shapes, such as fish or apples, and paste your invitation to the center of each shape.
Send baseball-card style invitations with the birthday child's picture in the frame and the party information in the section for "stats." To make, use a color copy machine or computer.
Doll It Up
Trace a paper doll's body and then place a color copy of the birthday girl's head on top. Write the party details on the body and enclose a cutout of a dress for kids to color and decorate. Invite guests to bring their creations to the party.
Tape an invitation to a seed packet such as sunflowers, corn, or marigolds. Have dirt and starter pots at the party along with extra packets of seeds.
Tape a tiny spring (available at hardware or craft stores) inside a homemade or store-bought invitation. Make pictures or use stickers and attach to the top of the spring for a jack-in-the-box effect when the envelope is opened.
Draw up a proclamation: "Hear ye, hear ye! Come to Julie's Castle to celebrate her birthday" and include the party details. Photocopy on parchment-like paper, roll up into a scroll and tie with a royal blue ribbon.
These fun crafts and group-minded games are sure to delight your crowd.
Paper Bag Pinatas
Then fill the bags with inexpensive toys or candy. Blow air into the bags and create "pinatas." Tie them along a string stretched between two posts or trees and give each child a turn to whack one and win the goodies without a mad dash.
My Little Doghouse
Have children make mini doghouses from white cardboard boxes sold at stationery stores. Make "roofs" from cardboard folded in half, using coffee stir sticks to support it. Then let the kids decorate their doghouses. At the end of the party, give dog-themed goodie bags: a tiny toy dog that will fit in the house, dog- or dogbone-shaped sugar cookies, dog stickers, a rubber ball.
All About Me
For children ages 4 and under, let each make an "all about me" book with handprints, drawings, and a Polaroid photo from the party.
Make puppets from socks or Styrofoam balls. Decorate with pipe cleaners, yarn, googly eyes, and other craft objects. (Make sure younger children are supervised: small beads and googly eyes are choking hazards.) Puppets can later be filled with goodies to double as a goody bag.
Hair Clips and More
Buy buttons, beads and plain hair clips or inexpensive headbands. Have girls glue items onto their clips or headbands (be sure to use a glue that's safe for kids). Let them dry and set during cake time and then give the children time to adorn their hair with their new accessories.
Set up fun science experiments and serve ice cream sodas that fizz by mixing green sherbet ice cream with ginger ale.
Create a photo booth in your home. Let the kids dress up, apply funny makeup and concoct hairdos. Take Polaroid photos in groups of three in a narrow area closed off by a drape or shower curtain. Part of the silliness is squeezing three people into a tight space.
Toss the ball in the basket, pick the duck with the winning number on its bottom, or hit the golf ball in the bucket with a kid's club. Give each child a handful of pennies and have them pay for the games for a carnival atmosphere.
Write the names or draw pictures of a variety of animals on paper. Have a child act out the animal and let the other kids guess what it is.
Purchase ready-made pizza crusts and let the kids decorate them with grated cheese, tomatoes, veggie slices, and pepperoni.
Tabletops and Decorations
Don't limit yourself to just balloons. Here are unique ways to fill your home with birthday cheer.
Larger than Life
Glue color copies of your child's photo onto the tablecloth. Add colored paper triangles at the corners to look like photo corners.
Create a tent around a table or floor space by using an old sheet or two. The sheets can be suspended from the tops of the walls by nailing in two small nails and running fishing wire between them, then looping the fabric over it. Put a vinyl cloth or new shower curtain on the floor so kids can eat inside the tent.
Decorate a blue tablecloth with little plastic fish and construction paper fish. Each cup can have a straw that doubles as a fishing pole, with fishing wire and a lure on it.
Ring of Friendship
Make a giant friendship bracelet out of paper rings. Let kids decorate the rings with beads, glitter, feathers etc. Let them hang their creations over and around the table and they've taken care of the decorations.
Fun with Fringe
Lay two or three layers of coordinating paper tablecloths on top of each other and "fringe" the edges all the way around by cutting from the bottom edges up to the tabletop. Kids will love kicking the fringe.
Cover the table with brown paper to look like sand and top with some seashells. You can even create a sand castle centerpiece out of cardboard boxes and toilet paper rolls.
Whether your theme is detectives or dinosaurs, you can add a festive flavor by creating oversized footprints out of black construction paper. Place them around the perimeter of the room or even going up the walls.
For kids, nothing beats bringing home a goody-bag. Here's how you can send everyone off with something extra special and out-of-the-ordinary.
Catch It All
A pail with a twig fishing pole made from stick or string, gummy worms and a few chocolate fish can all be wrapped together in cellophane, tissue paper, or wax paper and tied with a ribbon.
A large brownie planted with several "flower" lollipops will look like a little take-home garden.
Fill little first-aid kits with bandages, toy stethoscopes, "prescription pads," and candy buttons.
All Aboard for Goodies
Let children use stickers and markers to decorate train cars out of small boxes, such as the white ones sold at stationery or craft stores. Later during the party, fill each with candy, stickers, and little toys. Then line the cars up in a row, add an engine and you'll have the perfect goody train.
Fill doll-size straw hats (available at craft stores) with raffia or moss and add a little feathered ornamental bird (also available for a dollar or two at craft stores). Perch a bird on each nest and then add egg-shaped wrapped chocolates, wrapped speckled egg candies or gummy worms.
For a change of pace, give each child a stamp or coin collector starter kit.
Give each child a single snow-globe that has a slot for a photo. Slip a Polaroid photo of the child taken during the party into the slot, and you're done.
Reader's Best Party Tips
Parents readers share their secrets for hosting the perfect birthday party.
For my daughter's first birthday, I wanted a special memento. So I took my favorite photo of Hannah, blew it up to 11x14, and attached it to the middle of a standard-size poster board. I put the board in a frame and removed the glass cover. As the guests came in, I had them write my daughter a birthday note on the poster board and sign it. Everyone loved doing this. --Krista
For my son Anthony's first birthday party, we had a barnyard bash. I had a craft table set up so when the kids arrived, their parents could help them choose a barnyard animal to be for the day. They got to make a hat using construction paper, feathers, pipe cleaners, fake fur etc. I also made simple "Barnyard Bingo" cards using animal stickers, and we played a couple rounds of that (the bingo caller made animal sounds so the kids could easily identify them). For goody bags, I made "Feed Bags" out of plain brown lunch bags. --Heidi
Let Them Eat Cake
A lot of bakeries give you a free 8-inch cake when you buy a first-year birthday cake. You can let the kids dig their hands into one cake, and the other cake can be for parents and older guests to actually eat. --Rachelle
For our daughter Callie's second birthday, my husband and I threw her a teddy bear picnic. For decorations we tied balloons to teddy bears, and we set up little stations for children to explore with their teddy bears, such as an obstacle course, picnic tables, and face painting. Everyone had a ball, even the parents. --Brian and Danielle
For my daughter's second birthday, we had a polar bear party. I cut out icicles and white trees for wall decorations, and I made a cake with white icing, rock candy for icebergs and little plastic polar bears. --Marie
Keep on Trucking
For my son's second birthday, I made a construction themed cake. I baked a yellow box-shaped cake and used mini peanut butter cups to imitate boulders and scattered them on top. Then I crushed Oreo cookies to make dirt. To finish it off, I added actual trucks and construction toys (that were thoroughly washed). My son played with the cake for hours after the family members each took a slice. --Lisa
The Enchanted Castle
For my daughter's second birthday, I created an enchanted castle using a refrigerator and stove box from our local home center. At home, I put the boxes together and cut out windows and a drawbridge. I used rope to tie the tops of the drawbridge to holes on the side of the box opening, allowing for loops so kids could raise and lower the drawbridge from the inside of the box. I spray painted the box silver and black to look like stone, and I used a marker to add details like turrets. I also stapled fabric remnants for curtains and made a "magic mirror" with foil and a marker. I have never seen kids have so much fun. The best part was the cost -- $2.00 for spray paint. --Joy
My son loves trucks, so for his second birthday we had a firetruck party. We had fire hats (that I found at the dollar store), fire chief badges, and name tags with firetrucks on them. We had an emergency vehicles cake with toy rescue vehicles on top. In their goodie bags, we put ambulances, firetrucks, and emergency helicopters. We also had a firetruck pi?ata. But the kids' favorite part of the party was when the fire department brought the firetruck to the house and let everybody ride on it. I'm not sure who had more fun the kids or the parents! --Beth
At my son's 4th birthday party, we covered the kitchen table with white mailing paper. While we were cutting the cake, the kids dug into crayons and drew all kinds of birthday wishes for my son. The kids loved it. --Barbara
The Baby In Us All
For her 5th birthday, my daughter wanted a baby party. I had the girls each bring a doll, and I brought out all of the old baby equipment for them to play with. I also gave each of the girls newborn diapers for their dolls and a mini diaper bag, which they used to collect little toys during a treasure hunt. --Meg
Artist at Heart
This year for my son's fifth birthday, we used one of his drawings for the invitation. We reduced the picture, copied it on a color copier to fit the front of basic card stock and spray mounted it. We've never received so many compliments on a birthday invitation before! --Taryn
Under The Sea
Turn your living room into an ocean and invite your guests to dress as sea creatures. Decorations are simple: Attach green netting with intertwined seashore objects (pails, sea horses, shells, and plastic shellfish) to the ceiling. The kids can decorate sea creature cut-outs with glitter and paint, and food is a snap with spinach spaghetti posing as seaweed and blue Jell-O as the ocean! --Jill
Since little kids enjoy getting their hands dirty anyway, a garden party works great. Every child can make a flower crown from construction paper and pipe cleaners, and then plant their own individual garden as an activity and party favor. You can buy a dozen plastic flowering pots, some soil and different seeds, and smocks for the kids to wear over their clothes (or tell the parents to dress them in gardening gear). Cupcakes with flower designs are perfect treats, too. --Robin
My best party was unexpected. I had planned an outdoor extravaganza at our home. As luck would have it, the forecast called for rain all weekend. So instead I had each child make his own pizza, which we ate picnic style on a blanket in the living room. The kids had a great time. At the end of the party to settle them down, I cut open a huge box I had in our basement, got out crayons and markers, and let the kids make a mural. Parents were shocked to find all the kids working quietly together. --Valerie
Piccasso for A Day
The main theme of this party is to have fun with art. Ask guests to come with an oversized T-shirt, or a smock, if they have one. You can give them berets so they look "artsy." Provide finger paints, watercolors, paintbrushes, and large pads for drawing and painting. You can also set up a sculpture table by leaving out random objects (craft sticks, used toys, empty cans) that can be glued together. Or have a collage table with magazines, scissors, glue, and paper. If you know someone with artistic abilities, have them come over and make portraits of the guests that they can take home as souvenirs. --Jill
For my daughter's ninth birthday, I made a cake that had a square for each guest. I then wrote each girl's names in its own square, with my daughter's in the center. They all loved having their customized slice. --Dina
Par for the Party
My nephew chose a golf theme for his 10th birthday, but instead of taking the kids to a miniature golf course, my brother helped him create a homemade course using plastic drinking glasses for the holes. They designated tee-off areas for each hole and then designed the course to go down stairs, under tables, etc. They even made trophies and ribbons for the winners. The kids loved it. --Kate
Every year at my daughter's birthday party, I make simple frames from poster board and let the children decorate them with stickers and markers. I then take each child's photo at the party. When I get the film developed, I put the picture in the frame that the child made and send it with the thank you note. The child remembers the party, and they have a cute party favor and picture from the event. --Dawn
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