When your child longs for an overnight experience but isn’t quite ready for it, celebrate with a faux slumber party instead.

By Laura Fenton
December 06, 2019
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A sleep-under is a faux sleepover party for kids who are still too young for an overnight. In this type of party, the kids are invited in the evening to do all the usual slumber party activities, but their parents come and pick them up before bedtime.

Lucy Schaeffer
| Credit: Lucy Schaeffer

Ace the timing.

Parents who’ve hosted sleep-unders recommend starting the event around 5 p.m. with a departure time of 8-ish (aka bedtime). You can skew it a little earlier for young kids. “It’s longer than your average birthday party because you usually screen a movie,” says Alyssa Hertzig, creator of the blog The Sparkly Life. Hosts also agree that 15 kids is a good maximum head count.

Make it authentic.

Invite the kids to come dressed in their favorite pajamas, and ask them to bring a sleeping bag for movie watching. Clear the floor so they can set up their “sleeping” spots. Bonus points if you wear your own ’jams too!

Craft a cool pillow.

For a hands-on activity while guests arrive, Courtney Byrne, the mom behind The Chirping Moms blog, suggests DIY pillowcases. The kids can each decorate a plain white pillowcase with fabric markers (Stained by Sharpie Fabric Markers). If you’re feeling especially crafty, order appliqués from Etsy that you can help the kids iron onto their cases.

A movie is a must.

Pick an age-appropriate film for the kids to watch for some low-key entertainment. Pop enough popcorn beforehand to fill a small paper popcorn box for each child. Hertzig says, “I’m usually running around crazy-stressed at my kids’ parties, but the kids sat there quietly at our sleep-under and I was able to catch up with some of my mom friends.”

Serve breakfast for dinner.

After the movie, tuck everyone into their sleeping bags, turn off the lights, then “wake” them up 30 seconds later for breakfast. Morning staples like pancakes, waffles, French toast, or baked goods are all great candidates for a buffet-style setup with toppings laid out for kids to help themselves. Make or bake the pancakes or waffles ahead of time, then set out sliced fruit, nut butters, syrup, whipped cream, jam, and sprinkles. It’s a nice break from the usual pizza!

Say a sweet goodbye.

In addition to the crafted pillowcase, send each child off with cookies, a mini milk box (the shelf-stable, juice-box type), and a note that says “Sweet Dreams,” says Hertzig.

This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's January 2020 issue as “Let's Have a Sleep-Under!”

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