You don't need an Olympic-size swimming pool to make kids happy this summer: With a few inflatable wading pools and a selection of floating toys, you've got the makings of a simple outdoor birthday bash or weekend get-together. Add in a couple of basic craft projects, a yummy picnic menu, and a few adult helpers, and guests will want to visit your backyard water world again and again. Come on -- everybody into the water!
Poolside Party Games
As you arrange and fill wading pools in a grassy area, think of each one as the setting for a game that will appeal to kids ages 4 and up. A few ideas: Buy or make a fishing set that includes magnetic plastic fish and poles with magnets attached to the strings. (At a birthday party, each fish can correspond to a small prize.) Place toy sailboats against the side of another pool and let kids race them by creating currents in the water with their hands. The object is to get the boats across the pool without touching them. In a third pool, set up a ring-toss game. Float plastic rings of various sizes, and let kids try to throw small balls into the center of the rings.
Other organized games can include playing follow-the-leader, using an inflatable beach ball for a game of volleyball or catch, blowing bubbles with wands both big and small -- and of course, piling into the pools to cool off! When planning and hosting the party, remember that safety is key. At any gathering involving water, the Red Cross recommends that one adult be present for every three children. Adults should stand next to the pools in case of falls.
Sun & Fun Crafts
Children shouldn't stay in the sun too long, so plan a mix of activities. An easy art project that can be done in a shady spot is a great option. Before the party, stock up on inexpensive rubber flip-flops and kid-size straw hats and cloth sun hats. Set up a crafts table with the flip-flops, hats, and plenty of trimmings. Guests can decorate their summer styles with puffy paint sticks and stick-on decals or use tacky glue to affix flowers, buttons, jewels, rubber animals, and other goodies. (A sun-safety benefit: Kids are more likely to agree to wear a sun hat that they designed themselves.)
It's amazing how quickly kids can work up an appetite when they're running around outside, and our party menu gives summer favorites a kid-friendly twist. Shell-shaped pasta with vegetables makes a satisfyingly delicious lunch accompanied by adorable deviled-egg boats. (Prepare plenty -- the adults will love them too!) Keep guests hydrated by offering seltzer with fruit-juice ice cubes made in trays shaped like fish and seashells. For a big finish, surprise the kids with an ocean-blue Jell-O "cake" with gummi fish and dolphins swimming inside. It's a perfect way to capture the carefree spirit of the season.