Party Tips for Entertaining Children

For starters, keep things simple. Food can be limited to old-fashioned birthday cake and ice cream, pretzels and pizza. Planned just a few basic games, including Pin the Tail on whatever the theme is or a donkey and a pinata. You can also let them decorate birthday cake cones, depending on their age.

Knowing how quickly preschoolers can tire out, keep it short.

Here are some tips for planning a memorable home birthday party:

Pick a theme

It will help ease some of the planning, and the possibilities are endless.

The most popular themes -- Tigger and Schrek are among today's favorites -- are available in discount, party or toy stores and include all the trappings: decorations, favors, games. But don't be afraid to come up with you own ideas.

Not that creative? Check out parenting magazines or one of the many parenting Web sites for ideas and instructions on how to carry out age-appropriate and fun activities for kids' birthday parties.

Make it manageable

For toddlers and pre-schoolers, professional party planners suggest limiting the number of guests to the age-plus-one rule (that is, five kids for a 4-year-old's party.)

By the time they reach elementary school, though, chances are your child -- like mine -- will want to invite her entire class. Unless you're able to hold the party outdoors or can enlist the help of several parents or friends, however, anything more than 12 can be overwhelming.

If you invite just a few, cut down on hurt feelings by mailing the invitations to the child's home instead of sending them to school. For older children (age 6 and up) experts say groups of 10 work best.

Keep them busy

Unless you want a bunch of children running around the house, plan games and activities.

When choosing games, consider the number of children and their ages, and make sure each game not only is easy to explain but also involves every child.

And plan more activities than you'll need, or you could find yourself with time to fill. Also, remember: If there are winners, there should be prizes.

Serve great food

After all that fun, kids are going to need some refreshment.

Ice cream and birthday cake, of course, is the main event. But it's a good idea to offer older children some healthful munchies, as well.

Give favors

Kids love to take loot home from a party.

"Goodie bags" filled with small toys, novelty items or inexpensive school supplies (erasers, pencils, stickers) are always a hit.

Or, kill two birds with one stone and have kids create their own goodie in a party activity, such a painting a T-shirt.

If your budget won't allow for party favors, consider making a papier-mache pinata and filling it with inexpensive candy such as bubble gum and lollipops. Give each child a brown paper bag decorated with markers or stickers in which to gather the goodies.

Ask for help

No matter what the age of the guests, an extra pair of hands will help make the party go more smoothly.

Enlist a friend or family member to organize games while you get the food ready or take pictures.

One important job: making a list of each guest's present.

Remember your manners

Birthday parties are social events, so it's important to be polite.

For guests, that means letting the host know in advance if your child is coming, and dropping her or him off (and picking him or her up) at the designated time.

Hosts, too, should practice etiquette. The birthday child should greet guests at the door and be coached beforehand to say something nice about each gift, even if it's a duplicate or is something she doesn't like.

And no matter the age of the child, don't forget to send short "Thank you" notes after the big day. (If a child is still a toddler or hasn't yet learned how to print, parents can write the note for them.)

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