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» All kinds of things to do at a party:

» Bring A Toy To Trade

Ages: all

Sometimes parents feel that their children already have plenty of toys and when birthday time comes around they find themselves rolling their eyes and thinking, "What will we do with any more?" An intriguing solution to this dilemma, and one that soft-peddles the "consumer" aspect of a birthday party, is to have each guest bring a toy to trade. This game emphasizes the good old-fashioned virtues of thrift, common sense and recycling. The birthday child adds his own toy to this collection, which can be distributed in any of several ways:
  1. Grab bag style - each toy is wrapped and numbered, and the kids pick a number.
  2. Arranged on the table unwrapped - kids choose the toy they would like. Sometimes this works better in theory than in practice, if there is a particularly desirable toy.
  3. Guests bring toys for specific exchanges - Johnny gives to Sia, Sam to Bill, Elena to Mary.
When sending out invitations, explain the toy trading to your guests' parents. If you like, decide on a category of toys such as games (all the pieces must be there), water toys, transportation vehicles, stuffed animals, books, etc. This way the youngsters feel they are all receiving something of similar value.

Toy trading, either as a substitute for giving presents or as a substitute for giving favors, makes sense in the face of ever-rising costs and overflowing toy chests. Although it may seem difficult at first to convince the children to go along with this double-pleasured party project, we think that if more parents insist it might become an expected and gratifying option for this generation.

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» Beanbag Toss

Ages: 4 and up

The last time we counted there were seventy-two thousands ways to play beanbag toss. You can put a basket or box down on the grass, step back and try to throw your beanbag into it. You can balance empty cans in pyramid formation, step back, and try to knock them down. We know a two year old who enjoys throwing them at her cat.

Help your child to "draw" her favorite television character onto a giant sheet of paper. You can do the drawing; your child can do the painting. Paste the finished product onto a large cardboard box.

Using the character's stomach as a target, the children can take turns tossing bean-bag-burgers into the tummy. Other targets: a computer, a rocket ship, a catcher's mitt, space vehicle, animal, etc.

Another way to use beanbags is to arrange several pieces of rope into circles or other closed patterns. Make some of them tiny and others nice and large. The idea is for each child to attempt to land a beanbag in every target. The younger kids can stand almost on top of these, but the hot shots with the golden arms can turn this into a game of skill by repeating the course from greater and greater distances. Then they need to try using the opposite hand.

Who can jump over a target, letting go of a beanbag before his feet touch the ground? Who can flip the bags from bent knees, or balance one her forehead and zap it into a target? Who can throw two bags at one time - from the same hand? From separate hands? Who can flip a beanbag off an extended foot?

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» Jelly Belly

Ages: 5 and up

This is a game designed to tempt the taste buds. Charles The Clown thinks it is the best tasting game at the party.

The children form a circle, and a bowl (clear plastic is great) of assorted candies is held for all to see. These goodies come in as many shapes, sizes and flavors as you can find… licorice, hard candies, gumdrops, marshmallows, miniature candy bars. If a dentist hates it, you've included it.

Each child gets a chance to close his eyes and open his mouth. The birthday child (with recently cleaned hands) plops a candy onto his friend's tongue and then the "work" begins. The young recipient is to perform a thorough job of tasting and to inform the group what flavor and kind of candy he's eating.

For a healthy version of Jelly Belly, use this procedure with an assortment of cut up fruits and vegetables.

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» Spoon Pictures

Ages: 6 and up

This is a little trick that the birthday person can play on the guests, who will enjoy it as well as try to unravel the mystery.

The kids are asked to sit in a circle. A spoon (the older the better - a large serving spoon, grandma's ancient teaspoon, or dad's old army mess-kit spoon) is shown and passed around.

Because this is a special day for the birthday girl, she is going to use "birthday powers" to show the guests a birthday mystery. As everyone knows, people take pictures at parties. But at this one, the pictures won't be taken with a digital camera or a cell phone … they'll be taken with a spoon! Sounds silly …but listen!

The birthday child is asked to leave the room. To eliminate any questions that the skeptics might have, one of the children hereby designated as the "enforcer," and accompanies the guest of honor, making sure that she doesn't peek at the goings-on.

As soon as the birthday person is out of the room, a parent passes the magical spoon around the circle. The children spend a few moments examining it, and then one child is selected as the official party photographer.

The photographer picks a child to be "photographed." He holds the spoon in front of his model's face. "Keep it there for a long, long time," suggests the parent. "You want to make sure the spoon gets a nice clear picture," the parent explains.

Of course, even after a minute, there is nothing on the spoon - no picture, just the normal, ever changing reflection. The birthday child and the enforcer are brought back to the circle and the spoon is handed to the birthday child.

"Look into it carefully," his mom says (she's a frustrated actress and does amazing things with these lines). "Whose picture did our photographer take?

Bingo! Right every time! This is an opportunity for the birthday person to star in her own production. She instantly tells her friends the name of the child who was photographed by the spoon!

Here is the secret. (You hereby are sworn in as a deputy magic clown and must promise never to reveal what you are about to read to anyone who isn't getting ready for a birthday party). There actually are two methods.

Method One: for seven hundred and fifty-two dollars, the CHARLES THE CLOWN Magic Company will be happy to send you a new Microsoft Instamatic spoon.

Method Two: Mom sits right down in that circle along with the guests. After the official "photographer" has held the spoon in front of the "model" (the kid whose picture is to be taken) the birthday person returns to the room and is handed the spoon.

She studies it carefully. But not too carefully -- it won't reveal very much. Instead, the birthday child peeks at her mom.

Mom, you see, not only is in training to become an actress, she's also practicing mimicry. She happens to be sitting in exactly the same body position as the child ("model") whose picture was taken by the spoon. Left hand on cheek, elbow on knee, legs crossed. Mom spent the afternoon wondering what she would do if she had to mimic someone who was busy picking his nose.

After glimpsing the way her mother is seated, the birthday girl looks around the circle until she finds someone sitting in an identical manner. That's the person who just had his picture taken with the spoon!

By the way, a most rewarding aspect of this mystery performance is that mother and daughter get to spend some time working out and sharing a nifty trick.

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» Tag, We're It

Ages: 6 and up

Most games of tag find one lonely youngster chasing after a lot of fleet-footed getaway artists. This version tries to even up the odds. Someone does have to start out as the only "it," but as soon as he tags another guest, the two of them join hands and go after the rest of the gang. Each time a child is tagged he becomes part of the "chain-of-it." Those at either end of this growing entity are responsible for doing the tagging and they can do so only while all members continue to hold hands. Sooner or later, everyone is "it."

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» Peanut Hunt

Ages: 6 and up

[Check for allergies]
Munching one's way through a peanut hunt can be a delectable adventure. Setting up this particular activity is easy: scatter plenty of unshelled peanuts (200 at least) about the yard. Pass out paper bags and tell the children they can go find peanuts. Note: kids six and older have more perseverance for this activity than preschoolers. (and they require less assistance shelling the nuts).

You can paint the peanuts, string them, or tape them in various locations. Just to spice things up, you can spray-paint batches of peanut shells several different colors and have the children count the number of each color. Once they have finished hunting, they go to "trade" their peanuts in for a favor. The number collected has no bearing on this transaction and the kids can feel free to nibble on their findings while searching for more. They must save something, perhaps just the shells, to show you which color they have the most of, because the favors are color-coded.

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» Can You Stand It?

Ages: 6 and up

The object is to play this game without falling over. A series of different colored construction paper circles, squares, or other shapes (about 12 in diameter or square) are laid on the ground. Children take turns being "it." "It" stands in front of those spots and a friend draws instruction cards from a nearby pack. You and your child can make up a dozen cards before the party. They say things such as: "put your left foot on the red circle." "Put your right hand on the blue circle." And as these are read aloud, it" obliges, following as long as possible without falling over or turning into a pretzel.

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» Pass the Apple/Bob for Apples

Ages: 8 and up

This good old-fashioned game still provide as much fun and hilarity as the first day it was tried. We suggest this game for older children because it requires a good deal of skill and coordination. You might want to try a practice run at home with the family before deciding to introduce these activities at their party. It is important that the children be of an age and ability level that will allow them the game fun instead of frustrating.

Pass The Apple is an uncomplicated game. The participants simply stand in a circle, one person holding an apple under this chin. This person attempts to "pass" it to the person on his right without using hands. The "receiving" person must take the apple under her chin, again, without using hands. Obviously, the rules can vary to suit the needs of the players. Some suggested variations:

1. Sit on small chairs for better balance
2. Allow the kids to use one hand or arm to help guide the fruit - but they must keep the other arm behind them.
3. If apples are awkward, try an orange or a tangerine. Charles says that when clowns gather for their own parties, they use a watermelon.

Any way you slice it, Pass the Apple is sure to bring on waves of giggles.

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» What's My Sign?

Ages: 8 to 10

This game has nothing to do with astrology. The idea is for the youngsters to have mystery signs placed on their backs, each with the name of an animal, profession, well-known television personality, character from a book or movie - written in bold lettering.

The children have to be able to read the signs. They can see the signs on the backs of other guests, but have no idea what their own sign says. The object is for each guest to conduct a little investigation, questioning kids until he can determine what his own sign says.

These are "Yes" or "No" questions. Here are a few examples:

"Am I an animal?"
"Am I a house pet?"
"Do I live in the jungle?"
"Do I climb trees?"

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» Play dough

All Ages: (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.

Recipe for No Cook Play Dough:
2 cups flour
1 cup table salt
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups boiling water
A few drops of food coloring
Combine dry ingredients. Combine liquids, then stir everything together while water is still boiling hot. Stir until the mixture leaves the sides of the bowl. Knead small pieces at a time, because the mixture will be too hot to knead all at once. Keep kneading with hands until well mixed, soft and smooth and cooler. When completely cool, store in a plastic bag or covered container. This play dough should keep at least a week in the refrigerator.

Put a generous handful into a baggie for each child to take home and twist tie so that it is air tight. We think it is best for two and three-year-olds to use just their hands with play dough, but older children like to work with lots of accessories. These can include Popsicle sticks, some colored toothpicks, a "rolling pin" (made with short pieces of wooden doweling) and plastic knives and forks. Tell parents that if the dough becomes sticky when using just sprinkle with a little more flour.

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» Mini Car Track

Ages: 3 - 5

On a piece of cardboard at least 10' 10"x14" in size, preferably larger, draw two parallel curved lines to make a "road." With your child, draw trees, buildings, stop signs, traffic lights, etc. Remember that preschool children rarely draw realistic looking objects so the adult can draw some things and the child can add spots of color to the drawings. Buy several packages of small plastic cars and trucks at the dollar store. Give each child two or three vehicles to use with the sketched road. The road might be in the city or in the country; it could be a race track, freeway, or shady lane. Each youngster will imagine what and where he wants his little cars to go as he moves them around the road. The kids can add more detail to their cardboard mini-maps when they get home.

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» Things to Magnify Kits

Ages: 4 and up

Buy a magnifying glass for each child, available in stationary, office, or school supply stores and often at the dollar store. Have your child help you collect six to ten items that are interesting and fun to examine with the glass. Package these in a baggie. Some things you might want to include: pennies or other coins, cotton balls, leaves, sugar cubes, feathers, buttons, samples of different grains, popcorn, etc. A piece of birthday cake is fun to look at also (but don't include this in the baggie.)

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