For a birthday party, let your child and her guests dress up as their favorite role models.

By Laurie Goldrich-Wolf
October 05, 2005

Children's Heroes

A great children's birthday party sparks young guests' excitement, inspires their imagination, and keeps them active and happy. A hero party, in which kids express their individuality and creativity by putting together their own costumes, is an ideal theme for 5- to 10-year-olds.

"The lovely thing about this party is that it gets children thinking about people they admire," says Child food editor Laurie Goldrich-Wolf. "A 4-year-old's hero might be her nursery school teacher, and a 10-year-old might choose to be his favorite athlete. All types of role models can be part of the celebration."

To get guests in the mood, send an invitation that introduces the theme. We pinned a "hero" button to a card, explaining that kids would dress up in costumes at the party. (Some children may want to wear their own outfits.) There's fun in the planning stages as you work with your birthday child to assemble the makings of great costumes. Fill a trunk and hat stand with an assortment of old hats, scarves, coats, belts, and jackets. Ask Grandma and Grandpa to contribute any garments and accessories they've had tucked away in the closet for years. They'll love to know their used clothing can be enjoyed at the party and beyond.

Once the children have arrived, it's nice to have an icebreaker game such as Musical Hats, a fun twist on Musical Chairs. Place a variety of headgear (baseball caps, a rainhat, a sombrero, an explorer's helmet) in the center of a circle, with one hat fewer than the number of players. When the music starts, kids pass the hats around the circle. When it stops, players pop a hat on their head, and the one who ends up empty-handed is out. Remove a hat from the circle and continue playing until one child remains.


Fun Dressing Up

Next comes the main event: dressing up! Kids will love rummaging through the trunks. (Adults can help with hairdos and accessories.) Costumed kids can then enjoy a parade or freeze-dance game set to songs like "Hero" from the Spiderman soundtrack, "Holding Out for a Hero" from Footloose, and "Zero to Hero" from Disney's Hercules.

Also, don't miss out on this party's ample photo opportunities. In addition to taking lots of pictures for your family's scrapbook, snap instant photos of each child in costume and pop them into mini photo stands for a cute party favor.

Everyone hungry yet? Hero sandwiches are the order of the day. "Set out a platter of ingredients kids love -- thin slices of turkey breast, low-sodium ham, Muenster and swiss cheeses, sliced cucumber, shredded carrots, bread-and-butter pickles, roasted peppers, lettuce, and tomatoes, plus tuna salad and pre-sliced rolls, and let them create their own sandwiches," says Laurie. Our birthday cake, made by baker Sandee Martensen, is a two-tiered square vanilla cake adorned with hero medals made from frosting. (For an easier decorative touch on a homemade cake, add blue ribbons and remove before cutting.)

After refreshments, allow a few minutes for guests to shed their hero garb and collect their photos. The best part of the celebration is that everyone ends up feeling special -- especially the birthday child!


Choosing the Right Costume

Tips for Younger Children

When planning your choice of costumes, keep in mind that younger children may choose to become a generic hero, such as a firefighter, police officer, or teacher. Kids ages 8 and up, however, may be interested in assuming the identity of specific role models like Amelia Earhart and Albert Einstein. A great icebreaking guessing game for older kids: As each guest arrives, pin a piece of paper on his back with the name of a recognizable hero such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Betsy Ross, Rosa Parks, John F. Kennedy, Helen Keller, or Michael Jordan. Kids try to identify themselves by asking other guests questions that can be answered yes or no. School-age guests are also old enough to enjoy a memory game. Place 10 to 12 hats of varied shapes and colors in a circle. Let guests study them for a minute, then turn their heads. Remove one hat and see if they can figure out which one is missing.

Costum Box Basics

Before you discard a worn-out white shirt, remember your child's dress-up box! Everyday items can form the basis of lots of imaginative outfits. Stock your box with dress shirts, sweatpants, leotards, jackets, Army-Navy gear (khakis, military medals), jerseys and sports uniforms, boas, fake fur pieces, scarves and bandannas, men's ties, leather and fabric belts, all types of hats and caps, high heels, boots, ballet slippers, discarded purses, jewelry, an old briefcase, eyeglasses without lenses, and sunglasses, plus more unusual props like jump ropes, toy instruments, and even a garden hose!

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Copyright @ 2003. Reprinted with permission from the April 2003 issue of Child Magazine.