Brilliant Birthday Party Ideas

Nothing captures the magic of childhood better than a birthday. So give your child a celebration to remember. Everything you need is right on these pages -- fabulous invitations, crafts, activities, cakes, and goody bags -- all easy to make, fun to do, and designed with busy parents in mind.

Look Who's One Today!

Keep the first party simple and elegant. A special party hat, perhaps a few decorations, and a centerpiece cake are all you need. Plan the festivities for a time when your child is content and alert. Some parents find that a brunch works well. Prepare your child for the excitement by practicing "Happy Birthday" and blowing out an imaginary candle together.

Invite your closest friends and family members and their little ones.* You don't need to prepare activities or goody bags, because little guests can entertain themselves.

Cake time is the party highlight. We created a sweet and magical teddy-bear cake.* Sing "Happy Birthday" and help your toddler blow out that special candle. (Make sure you have the camera ready.) Then watch her enjoy a slice of her well-deserved birthday cake.

Little-Hand Invitation

Celebrate how far your child has come by showing her handprint on an infant onesie. This invitation will be a memento that your guests are sure to treasure. (Don't forget to make an extra in a larger size for your own child to wear.) For a cost-saving version, trace a onesie on card stock.*

Ages 2-4: Pretend Sleepover

What could be more fun than hosting your child and his friends for his first (mock) sleepover? Plan the party for after dinner (say, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.), and have your guests come in their favorite pajamas. Encourage the gang to bring their blankies, sleeping bags, or rest mats to lounge on, as well as their favorite stuffed animals. If you wish, cut out stars and a big moon for wall decorations or hang from the ceiling.

Little-Sleepers Invitation

Fleecy fabric gives this invitation a cozy touch. Trace the pajama template* onto fabric, cut out the pajama shapes, and glue them onto folded card stock. Add invitation details with a marker or alphabet stickers.


Stuffed-Animal Dress-Up: Direct guests to a basket of doll clothes, hats, socks, jewelry, and scarves, and let them get into the party spirit by dressing up their cuddly stuffed animals. Then give the children time to do what they love -- enjoy free play together with their floppy friends.

Pillow Art: Have the children decorate pillowcases with stamps and fabric markers. (Cut moon- and star-shaped stamps from sponges.)

Flashlight Highlights: Play flashlight limbo -- kids can pass under a light beam that you lower in increments. Let everyone win.

The Last Good Night: Pile up cushions and pillows for children to lie on while they listen to a bedtime story before heading home.

Star-Bright Moon Cake

Create a moon-shaped cake that features a wink and a smile. Then surround it with cookies that are sure to have your guests reaching for the stars.*

Sleep-Tight Goody Bag

Use moon and star stamps to decorate light-blue bags with acrylic paint. Once the paint has dried, fold over the top of the bags, punch holes, and add ribbon handles. Goodies can include bubbles, toothbrushes, bath sponges, nailbrushes, glow-in-the-dark stars, and teddy-bear stickers.

Ages 2-4: Huggable-Bugs Party

Bug Crazy Invitation

To make this colorful invitation, use red card stock. Then cut ovals from decorative paper, and glue onto card. Create head, legs, and antennae with a fine marker, and write in the party details.


Bug and Butterfly Magnets: These magnets are a charming, easy-to-make craft. Have children glue pom-poms or decorative papers (precut in the shape of butterfly wings) onto craft sticks. Add googly eyes. Then place stick-on magnet strips on the bottom of the sticks.

Little-Critter Cupcakes Cupcakes

Cupcakes are kid pleasers, and these brightly decorated ones feature such friendly-looking ladybugs, bees, and butterflies that children will wish they could come alive.*

Lucky-Bugs Goody Bag

Mini canvas totes, available at craft stores, make great goody bags. To decorate, use fabric paints. Pack the totes with magnifying glasses, bug and butterfly stickers, plastic bugs, and lollipops, which you can decorate in a buglike fashion by adding chenille stems and beads.

Ages 2-4: Cool-Tunes Party

CD-Me Invitation

Make color copies of your child's photo, or use your computer to create an invitation that stars your birthday boy or girl. Slip it into a CD jewel case, and add party details.


Rock-and-Roll Shakers: Single-serving potato-chip cans are just the right size for musical shakers. Roll canisters in construction paper. Cut the paper to fit, and tape down edges. Decorate with markers, stickers, paint, or paper cutouts. Fill with a few spoonfuls of rice. Guests can shake to the beat while they play a freeze-dance game to music.

Xylophone Cake

You'll strike the perfect note with this xylophone cake. Colorful bars, licorice trim, and two candy mallets add the perfect touch.*

Air Guitars and Savvy Saxes Goody Bag

Give each guest a child-size inflatable saxophone or guitar, available from party-supply stores such as Oriental Trading Company, at Kids will have a blast mimicking the cool moves of real-life musicians.

Ages 5+: Ancient-Egyptian Treasure Hunt

Time-travel back to the days of King Tut with this adventure party that packs in loads of mystery and fun.

Mystery-Scroll Invitation

Use parchment-style paper or age white paper with a wet tea bag. (Let paper dry completely.) You can singe the edges of the paper (adults only!) by lighting the edge and blowing out the flame immediately. Repeat as needed. Write invitation details and draw hieroglyphs for added effect. Roll paper into a scroll, then secure with twine weighted with two pebbles. Hand-deliver or mail in tubes.


Treasure Hunt: Tell the children that some of King Tut's treasure was never found. Then send teams of guests on the hunt. (To arrange clues, it's easiest to work backward: Place the treasure in its spot, and set up the final clue that leads to it. Continue until you get to the first clue.) For added fun, you can also create a treasure map that corresponds to the party setting. To make the treasure chest, cover the lid and bottom of a box with masking tape for a mummified effect and decorate Egyptian-style. Arrange gold tissue paper inside, and fill with goody bags.

Hieroglyphic Charms: Let guests make rock-shaped Egyptian charms using Sculpey Granitex clay. Have kids translate their initials into hieroglyphics, and use toothpicks to carve hieroglyphs into the clay.

Pyramid Kids: Kids ages 7 and up can create a human pyramid with three or four children on the bottom, two above, and the lightest child on the top. Snap a photo and make copies of it to send with the thank-you notes.

Desert-Oasis Cake

Transport your guests with this easy-to-assemble cake. Decorative palm trees and wafer-cookie sand add scene-setting details.*

Treasure-Loot Goody Bag

Fill minipyramids with chocolate coins, stretchy snakes, toy compasses, beads, stickers, and "rock" Granitex clay. To make the pyramid, enlarge and trace the template* onto gold card stock. Punch holes at the top, fill, and then tie edges together with gold-wired ribbon.

Ages 5+: Team-Time Bash

Pennant Power Invitation

This invitation will put your guests in the team spirit. Cut blue and orange card stock into pennant-shaped triangles, each slightly larger than the one before. Glue together and use a marker to write party details.


Cap It Off! Have your crew decorate caps with puff paints and felt patches featuring sports themes. While the paint dries, take the kids outside for a game of your child's favorite sport.

Ice-Cream Victory Cup Cake

Show your birthday child who's first in your eyes with this grand-prize ice-cream dessert.*

First-Place Souvenirs Goody Bag

Use travel-size soap cases to hold baseball cards, sporty key chains, whistles, and stickers. Decorate with first-place ribbons. Cut paper into one-inch strips, and notch the ends. Then attach with medal-style stickers. Wrap the cases with sports-theme sneaker laces, and tie in bows.

Ages 5+: Glitter Party

High Style Invitations

Use glitter markers to write party details on tags. Using silver thread, tie tags to bejeweled sunglasses. (To save money, decorate inexpensive cardboard sunglasses with glitter paint.) Have guests wear their shades to the party.


Glamour Relay Race: Have two teams race to dress up in selected sets of accessories. Once they're dressed, let the girls race down a "runway," pose for a Polaroid, and run back for the next girl's turn. The first team to finish wins. Girls can also decorate frames glitter-style to hold their Polaroids.

Very Violet Sparkle Cake

This pretty sparkle cake -- adorned with Necco Wafers dipped in a colorful sugar mix -- will be a sure hit with your groovy girls.*

Pampered-Princess Goody Bag

Attach sparkly hair clips or elastics, pretty costume jewelry, glittery lip glosses, and minibrushes to puffy pink bath sponges. If you'd like to indulge your guests, tie the sponges to bottles of bubble bath.

Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the May 2001 issue of Parents magazine.

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