We surveyed dozens of kids to find out what they really want for their next birthday. Here are their five wishes and how to make them a reality.
Kids Birthday Party Eating Cake With Hands Outside
Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

1. Ice Cream Takes the Cake

Kids obviously love cake, but many told us they specifically want ice-cream cake. Make this incredibly cool one—or just go ahead and order Fudgie the Whale from Carvel!

Cake: Line a 9-in. spring-form pan with two pieces of parchment paper—a circle for the bottom and a long strip for the sides. Prepare an 18.2-oz.-box brownie mix and bake in the prepared pan, then let cool completely. Soften 2 pints ice cream (any flavor) at room temperature for 10 to 20 minutes, and spread evenly over the brownie. Crush 10 chocolate sandwich cookies into coarse crumbs; press them into the ice cream. Freeze for 2 hours. Soften 2 more pints of ice cream and spread over the cookie layer, then return the cake to the freezer.

Frosting: Whip 1½ cups heavy whipping cream until soft peaks form. Add 3 Tbs. each sour cream and confectioners’ sugar, and ¼ tsp. vanilla extract. Continue to beat until firm peaks form. Spread over the cake and freeze for 6 hours.

Decorations: Release the cake from the pan and let sit at room temperature for 5 minutes. Decorate with candy, sprinkles, and cookies. Serve immediately.

2. The Venue Is Vital

If your kid likes...

Chuck E. Cheese

Kid-friendly food and more games than they’ve ever seen in one place? You know they love it. 

Try: At Dave & Buster’s your child can play hundreds of games including the world’s largest Pac-Man. Party packages include food, soft drinks, and game cards, with additional customizable options. You can bring in your own store-bought cake, decorations, and favors. Ages 2+. From $20 per person with a ten-kid minimum. 114 locations in 37 states.

Craft Store Parties

Creative kids who’ve done glitter-and-glue parties at places like Michaels or JoAnn stores will also love these artsy spots.

Try: At Color Me Mine, kids decorate their own ceramic piece (such as a mug or a unicorn statue) with nontoxic and food-safe paints. Most studios feature private party rooms for six to 14 kids, and you can bring in your food and decorations. Ages 3+. About $24 per child, depending on projects, time, and location. 120 locations in 26 states.

At Painting with a Twist, your child and her friends can try their hand at painting like a real artist with canvas, easels, and aprons. An instructor leads the session. Ages 7+. From $25 per child. 360+ studio locations in 39 states.

Movie Parties

The latest trend for big kids is an event where they can play and build video games alongside their friends.

Try: At the two-hour party sessions at Code Ninjas, up to about 20 kids (aka ninjas) have fun moving between STEM stations including video-game building, robotics, drone training, and Minecraft with guidance from instructors called Code Senseis. Parents can bring in their own food. Ages 7 to 14. Around $200 for ten kids. 250 locations in 31 states.

Bounce Houses

High-energy kids who have fun at BounceU or Pump It Up will get a thrill out of a trampoline park.

Try: CircusTrix trampoline parks offer spots to jump, climb, and run around supervised by staffers. Party packages typically include a one-hour jump pass and party room. Families can bring in their own food, drinks, and decorations. Ages 4 to 12. From $225 to $525, depending on location and number of guests, typically ten to 30 kids. 39 locations in 21 states, most known by local franchise names like DojoBoom, Spider Monkey, and DefyGravity. 

Bowling Bashes

The friendly competition of racing go-karts will bring out an adrenaline rush.

Try: RPM Raceway offers parties that include pizza, soft drinks, and arcade cards with race packages. Parents can bring in cake. Ages 8+. From $400 for ten kids. Six locations in three states.

At K1 Speed, up to 24 kids can celebrate with a package that includes at least two races, rewards for winners, and a medal for the birthday child. Families may opt for location-provided pizza and bring in a store-bought cake. Ages 6+ (kids must be at least 48” tall). Around $350. 31 locations in 14 states.

3. Piñatas Delight All Ages

Other than cake, they were the most-mentioned party element in our survey. Here’s how to rig one up for your crew.

The right spot. Wide-open spaces like backyards or big decks are best. If you’re hosting at a venue, ask for a spacious spot with a sturdy beam.

Great heights. Hang it just above the average kid’s head, says Kitiya Palaskas, author of Piñata Party. If it’s too low, it won’t be as satisfying to whack!

Sweet stuff. Don’t fill your piñata more than halfway or it will be too heavy to hang. Avoid using any candy with sharp edges, like lollipops.

A better bat. A plastic bat is what you want, says Palaskas. Brooms are too long and baseball bats are too heavy (and dangerous). Got preschoolers? A large wooden spoon will do!

Quick cleanup. After sweeping, wrap your hand in tape with the sticky side exposed to grab pesky bits of piñata confetti off the floor.

4. Simple Games Score Big Fun

Surprise: Kids’ favorites are the same ones you played as a kid! This is what you need to know to make them work for your guests.

Musical Chairs

Best ages: 4 and up

How many kids: At least six

You'll need: Your phone to play tunes, plus chairs. For a variation, blindfold older kids or pair kids to sit on each other’s lap when the music stops.

Beanbag Toss
Best ages: 3 and up
How many kids: Two or more
You'll need: A decorated board or box with a hole in it and eight beanbags. If it’s hot outside, toss water balloons into a bucket.

Pin the Tail on the Donkey
Best ages: 4 and up
How many kids: Four or more
You'll need: A poster, cutouts, masking tape, and a handkerchief. You can find or make all kinds of riffs, too, like pin the horn on the unicorn!

Duck, Duck, Goose
Best ages: 4 and up
How many kids: Five or more
You'll need: Lots of room to run. Just about any combo works here, so tweak it for your child’s theme (“princess, princess, frog” or “tractor, tractor, truck”).

Heads Up, Seven Up
Best ages: 6 and up
How many kids: At least eight
You'll need: A desk-type surface and chairs for everyone. You can also have kids sit on the ground with their head in their knees. If you’re playing outside, have the kids lie on their back with feet up instead of thumbs.

Don’t Let the Balloon Touch the Ground
Best ages: 2 and up
How many kids: Two or more
You'll need: At least one balloon. For bigger groups, use several balloons in two colors—each team can only touch their own color.

Freeze Dance
Best ages: 2 and up
How many kids: Three or more
You'll need: Just music and a dance floor. Amp up the fun by turning out the lights and giving everyone glow sticks.

5. You Gotta Serve Pizza!

No other party food even got a mention from our kids! Ask the pizza man to “double cut” or “party cut.” Instead of eight slices, you’ll get 16 narrow, kid and grazing grown-up friendly slivers (and yes, the grown-ups will eat pizza). Still hoping the kids might eat something healthy? Cut-up fruit is your best bet, says Parents senior food editor Jenna Helwig, but offer it before the pizza and cake.

Parents Magazine