As guests arrive, help them find a place in the work area; as a warm-up activity, have markers and construction paper on hand in case they want to draw a picture for the birthday boy or girl. Next comes the big project: pairing up so that each guest can paint a portrait of another child. Sounds ambitious, but according to Rosenthal, "I've asked 4- and 5-year-olds to do portraits of each other and it's quite successful; kids are very interested in faces. The key is to give them guidelines -- tell them to draw a large face and then look at the color of their friend's hair and eyes. They enjoy it tremendously, and you'll be amazed at what they can do."
Hang the paintings on the clothesline to dry, then ask each child to dip a palm into fabric paint and make a handprint on a T-shirt as a keepsake for the birthday child. Have kids wash their hands thoroughly before going to the food prep area.
At this party, playing with food is not only acceptable, it's a requirement! Guests will delight in creating personal pizzas topped with an artistic array of vegetables and cheeses. For ease of handling, we used packaged eight-inch rounds of dough and encouraged the kids to add facial features or abstract designs with their favorite ingredients.
While the pizzas are baking, young artists can collaborate on a collage birthday cake. Set out a frosted sheet cake and bowls of sprinkles, jars of colored sugar, tubes of icing, and ready-made fondant (available at www.wilton.com) cut into shapes with small cookie cutters. Let children take turns adding decorative elements to the cake, and snap photos of both the process and the colorful result. Serve squares of cake with seasonal berries and sparkling lemonade made with mineral water.
As party favors, fill small buckets with brushes, paints, pads, and other inexpensive art supplies. If there's time, the guests can personalize their buckets with stickers as the party is winding down. And don't forget to send home their portraits -- a wonderful souvenir of this imagination-fueled party.