Child readers share their tried-and-tested ideas for children's birthday parties.

A Happy World

Little Ladybugs

My favorite birthday party for my daughter was her ladybug party.

We made edible ladybugs out of SnackWell's devil's food cake cookies. The children, mostly 2- to 3-year-olds, used craft sticks to cover the cookies in red icing and Junior Mints for the heads. I had a tube of black icing and placed dots wherever the kids showed me their bugs "needed" them.

I also gave out "bug boxes." Since the party was outdoors, one of the activities was to go looking for bugs, hoping to find ladybugs. We talked about what bugs eat and how the ladybugs like flowers. This discussion took place in front of a huge flower-shaped piñata, which helped me hold their attention.

The party favors were a book about bugs and the bug boxes. My daughter wore a cute dress with ladybugs on it. It was great!

Georgia Sanchez

Austin, TX

Happy World

Last fall, we thought everyone needed some cheer after the events of September 11. So for my daughter's 4th birthday on October 12, we invited her friends and their moms and dads for a home-cooked lunch.

The decorations for the party doubled as favors -- happy-face balloons and blow-up globes. Other favors were happy-face stickers and globe-shaped pencil sharpeners. They also had fun stringing beads for colorful bracelets and decorating party hats.

We baked yellow and chocolate mini-cupcakes and arranged them on a round tray to form a happy face. After the candles were blown out, the kids got to decorate the cupcakes with colored frosting, sprinkles, and mini-M&Ms. Everyone had a great time!

Nancy Singer Olaguera

Deal, NJ

A Day at the Fair

We started with foods from the carnival. We invited adults as well as children, so we had smoked sausages with green peppers and onions on hoagies, corn dogs, cotton candy, a lemonade stand, and french fries.

We had game stations -- pick-a-duck, throw a sponge at the clown (made of cardboard), toss a ping-pong ball into a goldfish bowl -- and a "prize booth" stocked with inexpensive prizes. We had face painting with water-based face paints, which can be bought at most party supply stores, for easy cleanup and no staining.

Tina Borek

Church Hill, TN

Fairy Tales And Dolls

A Real-Life Fairy Tale

Since children usually plan their next birthday party as soon as they finish opening the presents from the last one, my daughter had planned for nearly a year to have her party at a local arcade. When her 5th birthday finally rolled around, the arcade was closed for renovation. To counter the disappointment, I told her that instead she could have a party that she and I would plan and make everything for.

She came up with the theme of a fairy-tale birthday party. I found many ideas online and tweaked them for my own use. I also used the Internet to order party supplies like paper goods, decorations, and party favors. We printed invitations on scrolls of "parchment," which were hand-delivered and read like a royal proclamation. We decorated the party room to look like a castle, with banners and tapestries that we made ourselves, and addressed all the guests as Prince or Princess.

At the party my husband, the King, announced to his court that he needed brave knights and ladies to help him slay a dragon. The kids could prove their worth by participating in a royal tournament. Events were jousting, musical thrones, "Pin the Drawbridge on the Castle," and decorating royal scepters (cookies on sticks) and cloaks (handmade from inexpensive fabric). After the tournament, we "slayed" a dragon piñata and ate the castle-shaped cake my daughter and I had baked together.

Each child went home with a knight's helmet or princess tiara, a royal cloak, a royal scepter, and candy from the piñata. This party was a lot of work, but many kids -- and, most important, my daughter -- told me it was the best party they'd ever attended.

Jenny Tigay Meyerhoff

Deerfield, IL

Winter Picnic

My daughter's birthday is in January, and I wanted to do something with a summery theme. I rented a room at a community center (depending on the size of your house, this could also be done at home) and played old-fashioned party games like pin the tail on the donkey. For lunch, I spread red-checked tablecloths on the floor and handed out brown paper bags packed with PB&J sandwiches, chips, and s'mores. The kids loved having a picnic!

I also made "ice-cream cones" by slipping store-bought mini-muffins into the cones, frosting the top, and adding sprinkles. For goodie bags, I passed out plastic buckets with bubbles and sand toys that could also be used in the snow or the bathtub.

Ruth Spiro

Skokie, IL

Living Dolls

My daughter Hayley loves Barbie dolls, so for her birthday party, each guest was asked to come dressed as one of her favorite Barbie dolls and bring a Barbie-related gift. We had a Camper, Sleepover, Polynesian, Gymnast, and more living dolls. As the mother of the birthday girl, I even dressed up as "Rock" Barbie. Along with the Barbie cups, plates, napkins, favors, and cake, we played theme games such as "Pin the Hat on Barbie" and had a photo shoot.

Lynette Kittle

Jupiter, FL

Harry Potter And Baseball

Sorcerer's Surprise

My son's 8th birthday was in January, and most of his second-grade classmates had seen the Harry Potter movie over the holidays. I started with invitations in the form of acceptances into the Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft based on the letter Harry received. I created letterhead on the computer and printed it on gold parchment paper.

When the children arrived (at gate 9 3/4 -- marked by a sign outside our door), they were divided into different Houses by the Sorting Hat: I'd made a hat out of blue felt and stars and filled it with the crests of all the Houses in the form of temporary tattoos. During the party, each House received points if one of its members won a game, used good manners, picked up after himself, or showed an act of kindness. Teams lost points for rudeness, poor sportsmanship, etc. (although this never happened because the children policed themselves in competition).

We played various games with Harry Potter themes, such as "Find the Golden Snitch" (a gold ping-pong ball was hidden with other balls, each marked with a point value -- the gold ball being the highest), with points tallied on a sheet on the wall.

The decorations were store-bought, but the tablecloth was inexpensive blue plastic strewn with star confetti. I used plain gold paper plates and utensils.

The points for the Houses were fixed so that everyone was a winner, and each child received an official-looking personalized participation award printed on gold parchment and signed by the headmaster (my son). We placed them in black plastic cauldrons I was lucky enough to find (I guess they were left over from Halloween) along with Bertie Bott's every-flavor jellybeans (regular jellybeans in cello bags, labeled as such and tied with gold ribbon), some Harry Potter glasses (Oriental Trading Co.), and other inexpensive but cool gifts -- tattoos, necklaces, mini-skateboards, and the like.

It was very successful -- the children talked about it all week!

Karen Koenig Resto

Keansburg, NJ

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

For my son Mitchell's 4th birthday, I scheduled his party during an afternoon AAA baseball game. Parents were also invited. Mitchell opened his gifts and we ate cake before the game and gave out plastic bats and balls as take-home gifts. I also found baseball caps to be worn as party hats (which was also a good way to keep track of everyone in a large crowd!). Then we went to the game. If the kids got tired, their parents took them home. Mitchell had a great day and it was not very difficult to do. I could have had his name on the scoreboard during the middle of the 7th inning, but I didn't know if he could last that long!

Craig Elliott

Park City, UT

Down on the Farm

My friend Dina had a great first-birthday party for her son. She sent out homemade farmhouse-shaped invitations and made a farmhouse out of a cardboard box. She had a kiddie "duck" pool and plush farm animals that the kids took home. She served picnic-type foods, including cupcakes decorated to look like farm animals. Her son was dressed in overalls. She did a great job.

Cindy Wilkins

Streamwood, IL

Tea Party and Makeover

All Aboard!

We live about 10 minutes away from a trolley museum that's perfect for kids. My son is a trainaholic, so for his 3rd birthday party we invited eight boys (and his two sisters) to the museum, which was small and easy to peruse. Then we all went on a fabulous trolley ride during which the museum staff stopped and sang to the birthday boy.

I had gotten little painters' caps and used fabric paint to decorate and personalize them so each was unique. We had cupcakes and juice at a picnic table in back of the museum and sent the kids home with a cool goodie bag containing little train whistles and their invitations, which we had rubber-stamped.

Karen Adashek

Olney, MA

A Royal Tea

For my daughter Madeline's 5th birthday, the invitation I sent included this little rhyme: "It's a Princess Birthday Tea Party-/You may want to wear your princess dress./Will you be Snow White? Cinderella? We'll have to guess!/You can leave Mom and Dad at home, it's okay,/Because we're going to have a fun, fun day!/We'll make jewelry and paint our nails,/Eat cupcakes and tell fairy tales./We hope that you can save the date:/RSVP at 555-8, 1, 9, 8!"

To decorate, I made pretty tablecloths by taping flower wrapping paper to five little table-and-chair sets placed around the kitchen. I served cupcakes on tiered plate racks -- the kind used for tea sandwiches and cookies -- lined with doilies.

We had "activity stations" around the house. About three girls played at each station and rotated during the two-hour party. The stations included a manicure table with six colors of glittery nail polish to choose from; make-a-beaded-necklace (we used Powerpuff Girl beads, a dollhouse set out with about seven Barbies (good for independent play), and tables with crayon-cups princess coloring books. For the storytime wrap-up, we read Snow White while the parents arrived to pick up their children. This was the most fun and least expensive party I've thrown. My daughter speaks of it often even though six months have passed.

Stephanie Hager

Newcastle, WA

A Magical Makeover

This year we had a dress-up party for my daughter's birthday. I got out my old makeup, unopened Avon and Mary Kay samples, and the girls did each other's hair and makeup. I put all their names in a hat, and each girl was responsible for drawing a name and making over a friend. I was responsible for anyone who wanted her hair in curlers, but the girls did the styling after I took the rollers out. I was able to find inexpensive boas and gloves, as well as straw hats. The girls used paint and scrap ribbon to decorate their own hats. The part the girls enjoyed most was the before-and-after photo shoot. We'll use the pictures to send photo thank-you cards by e-mail!

Beth Murphy

Hudson Falls, NY

Trucks and Easter Eggs

Keep On Truckin'

My 3-year-old son adores trucks, so I put "caution" tape all around the yard and deck and on the door. The kids got plastic construction hats instead of party hats. My husband drew a large backhoe on poster board and we played "Pin the Shovel on the Backhoe," and I filled several small resealable bags with dirt so the kids could have a "dirt-bag toss" into a toy dump truck. We set up a roll of paper alongside the house in the carport and let the kids go to town with washable paints and brushes, sponges, and rollers. My son wanted cupcakes, so I served his in the back of a toy truck with three truck-shaped candles.

The highlight was when a real fire truck arrived. All the kids were allowed to climb on it and take turns sitting in the driver's seat. The firefighters stayed for at least half an hour and talked to the kids (and several very interested adults) about the truck and gave all the kids fire hats. They do this free of charge in our area (though we did make a voluntary donation).

Diana Laird

McLean, VA

Healthy Easter-Egg Hunt

My son's 3rd birthday fell on the day before Easter Sunday this year, so we had an Easter-egg hunt. The Thursday before the party we invited a few of his friends over to dye eggs. We used onion skins, beets, cooked berries, and a few drops of food coloring, along with wax crayons and stickers. We made a party out of the egg-dying chore by playing music and serving juice and pizza.

For the main party, first we designed baskets with glitter and stickers, then we embarked on the hunt for eggs, as well as stuffed rabbits and lambs, and bunny- and carrot-inspired toys (pencils, cars, etc.). We served grilled-cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, deviled eggs, carrot sticks, and celery. For dessert, the children feasted on sugarless banana nut cake (Mani's Bakery in Los Angeles specializes in baked goods made without flour, sugar, or eggs, and everything tastes great). We had a great time.

Lys Wilcox

Los Angeles, CA

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