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Birthday Party Theme Ideas for 2- to 4-Year-Olds

The toddler years are exciting times and birthdays are important milestones. Now, your little one is beginning to move out into the world and have his or her own little social life. Friends from the playground or nursery school may be on the guest list. Strong opinions as to the theme and party menu are likely to be expressed. A good obvious theme is important in this age range, to help focus little attention spans. Once you choose a theme, talk it up to your birthday guest of honor, so he or she can share the enthusiasm of the day.

 
Circus Birthday Party Theme
Circus Birthday Party Theme
The Dinosaur Party

Have a prehistoric party with the living lizards. Now is the time to indulge in your little one's fascination with the Jurassic cast of characters. Dino parties provide plenty of game and favor ideas.

Game: Sandbox Fossil Hunt. If you've got an outside sandbox, you're golden. Bury toy plastic dinosaurs in the sand and arm your guests with spoons, handheld sifters, and collection boxes. No outdoor space? Don't worry. You can create your own tabletop sandbox. Large water basins or even big foil turkey roasting pans will do in a pinch. (For inside fossil hunts, figure two children per sand container.) Check a local hardware or garden shop for sand. Be prepared to vacuum up after the party's over.

Party favor: Temporary dinosaur tattoos.

Planning timeline:

  • One month before party day: Make guest list, plan menu, send invitations.
  • Two weeks before party day: Shop for party favors, paper goods, and items you will need for the fossil hunt. Ask a friend or relative who has RSVP'd to act as your assistant on party day.
  • One week before party day: Shop for menu items.

Wild West

Ride 'em Cowboy! Wild West themes are great for a group of active little ones. There's plenty of opportunity for pretend play and fun costumes. And the party can be held inside or out. A hint: Stick to rodeo games and party favors, and avoid toys or games that would encourage a "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" atmosphere.

Game: Pony Ride or Stick Horse Race. If you've got good outdoor space, consider a pony ride as a party event. Make sure you call for reservations four to six weeks before your party to ensure availability. Ask friends and neighbors for recommendations. If you must pick from the Yellow Pages, ask the vendor for references. Also, set up a craft to keep kids entertained while they are waiting for their turn.

For those without a good lawn for partying, keep the western theme by arranging a stick horse race. Mini broomsticks in horse decor will stand in for the real ponies. It's nice to have one for each guest, but for the race, you really only need two -- one for each team.

Party favor: Sheriff's badge stickers. Stay away from the six-shooter/bows-and-arrows favors. Not all parents will approve.

Planning timeline:

  • Six weeks before party day: If you're considering a pony ride, now's the time to make calls and line up a vendor. A popular local pony may have a very busy schedule.
  • One month before party day: Make guest list, plan menu, send invitations.
  • Two weeks before party day: Shop for party favors, paper goods. Ask a friend or relative who has RSVP'd to act as your assistant on party day.
  • One week before party day: Shop for menu items.

Everybody Loves a Parade

For a creative spirit, this is a great party theme that can be a true crowd pleaser. Kids can participate in the entire event, from creating banners to marching en masse. For families that want to avoid a traditional or commercial theme, a parade party provides an ideal opportunity. Be sure to have plenty of craft supplies on hand -- and adult assistants to help out.

Cake: Get this party started with a homemade join-the-parade drum cake.

Game: Banner and sign making. Do some prep work before the party, such as preparing several canvases out of broomsticks and cut-up sheets. Also, big sheets of colored cardboard make great signboards. Hand out the paints, markers, and stickers, and create away. If your creations need time to dry, serve the meal first. Then marshal the guests for a parade -- around the block or around the house. Encourage adult guests to form the parade route and act as the audience.

Party favor: Kazoos. Hand them out so they can be used in the parade.

Planning timeline:

  • One month before party day: Make guest list, plan menu, send invitations.
  • Two weeks before party day: Shop for party favors, paper goods, and craft items for the banner making. Ask a friend or relative who has RSVP'd to act as your assistant on party day.
  • One week before party day: Shop for menu items.

Teddy Bear Picnic

Throw a picnic party, indoors or out. Encourage guests to bring their favorite teddy bear along for the big event. Use a picnic basket for a centerpiece, and put sandwiches, cookies, and lemonade on the menu.

Game: Bear Paw Relay Race. You will need two pair of heavy socks or mittens. For each player, you'll need one small cookie (Teddy Grahams are a good choice) wrapped in tissue paper or other easy-tear wrapping. Divide the guests into two teams. At the signal, each player must put on the socks or mittens, crawl across the floor to the cookie dish, take out one cookie, crawl back to the team, unwrap the cookie, and pop it in his or her mouth. (It's tricky with paw-hands!) Then give the mittens or socks to the next player. The first team to finish wins.

Party favor: Bear stickers.

Activity: Make fun bear-shaped balloons.

Planning timeline:

  • One month before party day: Make guest list, plan menu, send invitations.
  • Two weeks before party day: Shop for party favors, paper goods, and items needed for the relay race. Ask a friend or relative who has RSVP'd to act as your assistant on party day.
  • One week before party day: Shop for menu items.

Crayon Party

If there's one toy every toddler can agree on, it's the ever popular crayon. A crayon party, with plenty of color choices for everyone, is sure to get the creative juices flowing. Invest in some boxes of fun colors and sizes -- nice big fat crayons are an extra bonus.

Game: Color a Tablecloth. Take a page from your favorite kid-friendly restaurant. Tape sturdy white paper over the dining room table and turn the mini artists loose. Grown-ups can join in too (if they can muscle in a place at the table). Save your tablecloth as a memento for your birthday boy or girl.

Party favor: Bouquet of new crayons. Go for some unusual colors and shapes.

Planning timeline:

  • One month before party day: Make guest list, plan menu, send invitations.
  • Two weeks before party day: Shop for party favors, paper goods, and items needed for the tablecloth art project. Ask a friend or relative who has RSVP'd to act as your assistant on party day.
  • One week before party day: Shop for menu items.

Frog Party

Have a hopping good time with this fun theme. It's a little off the beaten path, but certainly won't require much explanation. Everyone loves a happy hoppy frog. It's good for indoor or outdoor parties, and most materials will be easy to find.

Game: Frog Pass Relay. You will need two large round green balloons. Divide your guests into two equal teams and ask each team to line up. Each player at the head of a line gets a balloon. At "Go!" players on each team pass the balloon frog over their heads to their teammates. The balloon passes head over head until it gets to the end of the line and that player take the balloon and runs around to the front of the line and begins passing it backward again. The race continues until every player has had a turn at the front of the line. First team to do this wins.

Party favor: Rubber frog toys.

Planning timeline:

  • One month before party day: Make guest list, plan menu, send invitations.
  • Two weeks before party day: Shop for party favors, paper goods, and items needed for the balloon pass game. Ask a friend or relative who has RSVP'd to act as your assistant on party day.
  • One week before party day: Shop for menu items.

Sources: The Best Birthday Parties Ever! A Kid's Do-It-Yourself Guide (The Millbrook Press) by Kathy Ross; Great Parties for Kids (Williamson Publishing Co.) by Nancy Fyke; Pin the Tail on the Donkey, and Other Party Games (Morrow Junior Books/New York) by Joanna Cole and Stephanie Calmenson; Rainy Days and Saturdays (Workman Publishing Co.) by Linda Hetzer

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.