Try these easy, kid-tested ideas from party professionals.
David Tutera, New York City-based party planner and author of A Passion for Parties and America Entertains at Home
"Details make the party. For a summer birthday barbecue, I made invitations from old-fashioned flyswatters with ladybugs glued on top and sent them in mailing tubes. I covered child-size picnic tables with gingham fabric topped with a runner of white paper and little terra-cotta pots filled with crayons. While waiting for refreshments, the kids drew on the paper, which ended up looking so cute that the birthday child's mother framed part of it! In one corner of the yard, I set up the makings of a lemonade stand and let kids create a sign and take turns making and pouring lemonade."
Sharon Sacks, Los Angeles-based party planner
"The best kids' birthday parties I've done have been the simplest, such as a block party at which guests made murals on the sidewalk and driveway with colored chalk. Bugs and butterflies are another good theme. Little girls love decorating and wearing butterfly wings, and boys can make bug masks. The cake can be shaped like a butterfly or a watering can with flowers on top. For a girls-only party, tea sandwiches are always popular, served on tiny china saucers."
Randy Fuhrman, Los Angeles-based party planner;
"Kids love it when regular party foods have cool names that fit the theme: For a space-age party, the menu can include 'moonscape pizzas' and 'volcanic macaroni and cheese.' I also like to use food as a party activity: Guests can dip their own caramel apples, choose their favorite sandwich fixings, and so on. Kids also get excited about costumed characters. For movie-theme parties, I hire actors who dress up to play the parts, such as Princess Leia from Star Wars. But you don't need actors; parents can ask teen party helpers to dress up."
Marcy Blum, New York-based event planner
"I love to plan decorations that kids can either enjoy during the party or take home, such as a centerpiece made of bags of jelly beans, a tiered stand of decorated cupcakes, and a helium-filled balloon tied to the back of each chair. Parents should carefully think through the pace of the party, beginning and ending with a mellow craft activity. You can't go wrong with a table of art supplies -- sequins, feathers, beads, buttons, and glue -- and something to decorate, such as a felt hat, a baseball cap, a frame, or a box."
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