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» The First Birthday

Some babies are walking now and many are working exuberantly and relentlessly on perfecting this skill, with stiff knees, wide-leg stance, and well-padded bottoms that can take a seemingly endless number of plops. But crawling is still the baby’s “I mean business” approach to exploring the environment or getting someplace in a hurry.

Coincident with all this locomotion is a dependent phase which, for most one-year-olds, includes a fear of strange people and strange situations. And how much birthday party experience has a kid had in his/her first twelve months? Some babies will socialize with new people in their own homes and some will not. Most will react sharply to a separation, even momentary, from mother. But do not underestimate their sophistication. One-year-olds express many emotions and recognize them in others. Children of this age also distinguish themselves from others, show affection to people, pets and objects such as toys, play certain games with understanding and even have a sense of humor.

Still, it is indeed the exceptional one-year-old who can comprehend the nature of a birthday celebration. What are all these people doing in the living room? Cake tastes good. Look at the new toys. Yes, the general tone of the day, the happy smiles and the embraces will let your baby know that something special is going on, but that’s about it, folks. Your little one simply does not understand the concept of a birthday party. Actually, in this case, the celebration is for the parents as much as for the child. Surviving the first year of parenthood deserves a party!

At this stage, and for the next several years, you might consider having two mini-parties, dividing friends and family into smaller and more manageable gatherings. It isn’t easy to run a party while keeping tabs on your youngster. The party needs to be short – better a joyous hour than a slowly fizzling marathon.

Activities:
Here are some activities that one-year olds will enjoy. They may not seem like party activities, but, the truth is, formal party activities don’t go over very well at this stage of development. (Obviously, for the older children attending the party, there are lots of additional things to do. Check out the rest of this site for games and activities appropriate to various children of various ages).

For the One-year-old:
1. Get down on the floor with them – look around, explore, examine toys.
2. “Play ball,” roll the ball – babies may or may not “throw”/roll back.
3. Make a game of sounds and gestures to imitate – for example, shake hands, arms up, close eyes, wave, clap, tickle tummy, la la la, tongue clicking, kissing sounds, etc.
4. Peek-a-boo. Universal and famous.
5. Hiding games – put a ball or other small toy under a scarf and let the baby pull it away. Be sure to let the baby see you hide the object.

Appropriate Toys for the Party
Balls – all shapes and sizes (as long as they are too large to fit into little mouths). Plastic food-storage containers, lids, beanbags, dolls, small vehicles.

» The Second Birthday

The year between birthday one and birthday two has given your child a chance to develop a whole range of social graces. She acknowledges other children, using a mixture of words and gestures, and is able to communicate whatever it is she finds on her mind.

The second birthday party is a particularly challenging one because the children require continuous guidance. They are, in a sense, learning how to enjoy a party. In addition to merely running the event, you (along with other parents) are required to shepherd the guests, helping them to get a good time out of the day.

Generally it is safe to invite six to eight two-year-olds. But a party with half that number of guests can be just as much fun and a whole lot less work. And no matter how many children you invite, make sure they know they are required to bring along at least one parent.

Outdoor Activities:
1. Water painting – give each child a plastic sand pail and a two-inch-wide paint brush. Fill a bucket with a few inches of water and show the kids how they can “paint” the sidewalk, building, lawn furniture, fence, etc. Actually, one day when it rained unexpectedly, some toddlers we know “painted” inside with dry brushes!
2. This one is very messy and best for the backyard. Make sure kids come to the party dressed appropriately for the activity (bathing suits might be a good idea). Mix up some pudding and allow your guests to spread it about on large, heavyweight, plastic-coated paper plates or on sheets of shiny shelf paper, or on plastic-coated paper that has been taped to the table.
3. Packing boxes are great to climb into and out of, or to hide under. You can cut “windows” and a small door in larger boxes. Inspect and remove any staples or other sharp objects when preparing the boxes for the kids. You can decorate the boxes for the party; some toddlers may want to add a touch of color with your supervision using a watercolor marking pen.

Indoor Activities:
1. Circle Games and Songs – don’t expect the kids to sing much, stay together in a circle or hold hands for more than a few seconds. But they do hear you sing and enjoy that.
2. Looking at Books - Spread some picture books that have thick “indestructible” pages on a blanket on the floor. Invite the children to look at the books. Read to small groups of children. All of the guests may not come to look at books at the same time.

» The Third Birthday

By the third birthday, children have begun to catch on to the “party” concept. More sure of themselves and less volatile than a year ago, threes are a delight. Threes have improved physical dexterity, and expanded language/ communication skills compared to last year. As a result of all this growing, perhaps they are more willing to observe life’s social graces.

Although the three-year-old is more interested in playing with other children now than he was last year, exploration of the environment is still mainly in relationship to self, with not much concern for being a member of the group.

This year, your child’s party can handle eight to ten youngsters. After determining your own preferences, give your child the opportunity to select a few of the guests. But ask for names only when you are willing to pay serious consideration to these suggestions.

These kids like to watch things change, e.g., seeing what happens when several colors of paint are mixed together. This can be part of more complicated painting activities (printing, glitter, etc). Three-year-olds enjoy numerous messy activities: finger painting, play dough* and clay are all exuberantly attended to. This age group is more concerned with the process than the finished product. Attention spans are still short, but concentration is intense.Check out our play dough recipe below for a batch that feels soft and flexible. Consider using play dough for birthdays #3 – 8!

*Play dough:
Everybody loves this soft, pliable material. Once in your hands it is hard to put it down.!

With your child, make up one big batch of this wonderful stuff or several batches, each a different color. Because this recipe calls for boiling water, wait until the mixture has cooled before kneading. Your child can participate by mixing the flour, salt and alum and then putting the food coloring into the oil before the adult adds the boiling water.

» The Fourth Birthday

Your birthday child is agile and sophisticated enough to enjoy all kinds of party activities. Twelve guests are a maximum for this affair, and the number should be reduced if the location (or your own sense of sanity) dictates. Keep in mind that this year’s invitees are larger, hungrier, and even (is it possible?) more active than last year’s.

Often, at around 3½ to 4½ years children are more turbulent, willful, and rebellious. At this stage you may see vacillation between very shy and very assertive behaviors and you may hear a few tales. The children are trying hard to understand the complexity in the world around them and want to be bigger and more independent than they actually are.

Many four-year-olds are reasonably independent and often willing (and able) to attend a party without mom or dad tagging along. They are aware of and interested in their peers. They show a great deal of interaction and role exchange in dramatic play, want to know what it feels like to “be” a firefighter or a mommy or daddy. Their attention spans range from five to twenty minutes at 3 ½ to thirty minutes at 4 ½.


» The Fifth Birthday

By five, individual and specific capacities, talents and styles of temperament are well-defined. Fives are often easy going, good-natured, and learning to give as well as receive.

By the time a child is five, she’s been to a number of parties. At some parties, the kids have simply run wild, taking a moment out to eat cake and another to rip off the wrapping paper. Other celebrations were sit-down affairs where the guests were expected to act like “little ladies and gentlemen,” to line up for organized activities, and to refrain from getting any dirt on the rug. Some parties had clowns or magicians, while others merely provided a television set. A five-year-old either knows her options or, at the very least, knows that there are options. And she is more than willing to share this knowledge with you! This year, twelve to fourteen guests are okay.

These kids enjoy playing house, dividing the roles of baby, mom, dad, sister … and even might enjoy playing the part of a family pet. They like cooking activities, drawing and painting, gluing, cutting, pasting, block-building, using dolls as babies, incorporating cars, trucks, trains, planes, and rockets into their play, distinguishing between boys and girls, and asking hundreds of questions.

» See our, More fun at the Party section for party activity ideas.


» The Sixth, Seventh & Eighth Birthdays

Up to now, you’ve been adding a few guests to each new party, but this annual increase should start to taper off. Six-year-olds can handle fifteen guests. Seven-and eight-year olds can stick to the same maximum. Actually, the size of the guest list will begin to shrink as the kids begin taking their parties on the road, spending the afternoon at a puppet show or a miniature golf range or touring a farm. About the age of six, your child will begin to take a strong stand on restricting the party to all BOYS or all GIRLS!

Six-Year-Olds
This is a transitional stage. These kids are extremely active. They’re antagonistic and cooperative, demanding and affectionate, explosive and indecisive. Sometimes they tire easily; sometimes they push themselves past exhaustion. Occasionally, making choices is frustrating for six-year-olds because they have awareness that many possibilities are available, yet are not mature enough to always choose wisely. They are high-spirited and sometimes bossy, occasionally driving you crazy with their “always right” attitudes. Six-year-olds love being able to identify with the “group,” and they also form little subgroups, with membership requirements changing from week to week.

Seven-Year-Olds
At seven, children are thinking reflectively about life and the world, testing out theories of cause and effect. Many children are enjoying reading and take in information with lightening speed. They are calmer and are good observers and listeners. Sometimes seven-year-olds are shy, sulky, or self-absorbed, but they can also be quite sensitive to the needs and moods of others.

Games still need to be loosely organized. Seven-year-olds hate to lose and aren’t yet able to follow all the rules. If they are tagged “out,” they’re apt to quit and begin mumbling that the game is dumb or unfair.

At seven, kids know the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior and want to show that they can be responsible. They strive to achieve what society expects. They are less excitable and have a longer attention span than last year. They create great thingamajigs with empty containers, wire, scissors, and marking pens.

Out of doors, seven-year-olds persist in their efforts to master hopscotch, jump rope, and swimming, and have lots of fun doing so. They enjoy mental riddles, and jokes, and they like to collect things. It’s quite possible you’ll hear them chanting the same rhymes you used when you were seven. Most are ready for roller skating parties, and if you aren’t careful, your seven-year-old will begin asking you for an allowance.

Eight-Year-Olds:
These children are easy to get along with. They have blossomed and everyone knows they’re more grown-up than seven-year-olds. They are self-assured, actively curious and robust, enjoy and can handle more boisterous games, can do things quickly, and are better coordinated and more organized than they were at seven. Group activities are self-sustaining, although adult guidance may be required. Eight-year-olds are developing their sense of right and wrong: they haggle out the rules of a game and come to conclusions. Cliques and clubs are popular.

Most eight-year-olds show a strong desire to learn more and more about the world at large. One way to capitalize on this mental thirst is to continue to offer them information. Party themes about interesting ideas (for example, children in other cultures – how they are alike, how they are different) spark an eight-year-old’s curiosity. Embellishments such as costumes and authentic foods probably would go over well.

Games such as What’s My Sign (see our “More fun at the Party” section), work well. Skating, jump rope, and swimming skills have been refined. These kids enjoy acting as television, book, or movie characters. They also like imagining what they’ll be like as grown-ups and speculating about their future homes.

The youngsters are well-behaved away from home. If you keep the number down, a slumber party can be successful for this age (see “Specialty Parties”). Eight-year-olds also like to put on plays and musical “shows”, concoct potions, use walkie-talkies, and collect everything from gum wrappers to sea shells.

Nine-Year-Olds:
These children show definite signs of self-motivation and self-discipline. They can visualize a “finished product” and stick with a project to the end. They’re well-organized and like lists, classifications, and scavenger hunts.

Nine-year-olds can put personal interests aside for the needs of the group. They enjoy team games (relay races, for example). Physiological development varies widely at this age, and girls and boys tease each other. Your child may want to have “only girls” or “only boys” at the party. This also is a time for “best friends,” “secret codes,” and elaborate rituals. A special small celebration with one or two favorite friends is an alternative your son or daughter might appreciate.

Ten-Year-Olds:
Ten-year-olds are relaxed, content, and accepting of individual differences. They are self-assured, are interested in society, and like to “think out” ideas about social justice, right and wrong. Many ten-year-olds are aware of global issues such as poverty, endangered species and the importance of recycling and not polluting the environment. There are many differences in what girls and boys find to think about. Ten-year-olds may also be busy with sports, music lessons and hobbies. Capitalize on these interests by connecting party themes and activities to the rich and diverse world your ten-year-old has built for him/herself as well as other issues that have become important to your child.

One year, after a great deal of media coverage about famine in another part of the world, some ten-year-olds we know brought canned food to a birthday party. The food was later taken to a pick-up point for travel to the needed destination. The kids called the birthday party a “share party.”