Silly Sack Race
Kids want to move! This sack race will burn pent-up party energy and get lots of laughs along the way. Decorate plain potato sacks (found at online party supply stores) to suit the party theme. Big felt cutouts give these sacks party personality. Cut out felt in desired shapes; use fabric glue or fusible web and an iron to adhere the shapes to the sacks. Give each child a potato sack. Line the kids up in a grassy area. At the starting signal, have kids hop down a marked path (include a few curves to add a little challenge) to the finish line. Keep the path clear to prevent injuries.
Editor's Birthday Tip: Decorated sacks make a fun favor to take home at the end of the party. Let kids decorate their sacks using fabric paint. Offer stamps or stencils to paint on designs, or let their imaginations take over the design work. Allow time for the paint to dry.
Nature Scavenger Hunt
Bugs and bark, pinecones and pebbles, dandelions and dried leaves. Kids adore the wonders found in the great outdoors. Set your child's birthday party in a park, nature area, or even a large backyard. Next, give their natural explorations a little structure by organizing a scavenger hunt. Arm each child or team with a list and a treasure box or bag. If you'd like, offer a few tools, such as binoculars, magnifying glasses, disposable cameras, and plant field guides, to inspire closer observation. Set a time limit and let them explore. Display the kids' finds for the remainder of the party. Offer prizes for completing the list and finding unique or difficult items, or let the children select other award categories.
Editor's Birthday Tip: Create a scavenger hunt list suited to your location; do a little research to make the list both challenging and achievable. Share safety and location rules with the partygoers. For a suggested list of natural treasures and tips for organizing a nature-theme scavenger hunt, get our free Nature Walk Guide, available below.
Wild Wheels Obstacle Course
On-the-go kids will love wheeling and squealing on this obstacle course. Ask each child to bring his or her favorite set of wheels. It's also a good idea to have a few extra vehicles available. To create the course, arrange orange cones or other soft items in your yard or a nearby park. Include curves, turns, and small hills, depending on the age and abilities of your racers. Fuel the kids' excitement by timing each racer as he or she pedals to the finish line. To make the course more challenging, set up stations along the way where children must stop to perform a task, such as twirling a Hula-Hoop for 10 seconds or blowing bubbles. This race is sure to make every kid feel like a champion.
Editor's Birthday Tip: Even when the obstacle course is set up on a soft grassy area, it¿s a good idea for kids to wear helmets to keep them safe from accidents.
Chalkboard Party Games
Impromptu games can be more fun than planned ones. Set up this chalkboard game station. Kids will rush to play games, such as tic-tac-toe or hangman, using colorful chalk. They can even use the chalkboard to draw the birthday boy or girl a sweet picture. Add sidewalk chalk to the mix for oversize fun on the driveway.
Editor's Birthday Tip: Make your own chalkboard game station. Tape off a large rectangle on the top of an old wooden TV tray and brush or spray on a couple coats of chalkboard paint. Paint the frame in your child's favorite colors. Make more than one to inspire a colony of artists and game players.
Make Plant Party Favors
Party activities can have long-lasting benefits. Make a pretty flower basket with a ready-to-plant flower as a take-home party favor. The baskets are easy for kids to make: Gather colorful pages from magazines, garden catalogs, or newspapers. (You may need to trim pages to get clean edges and uniform size.) Stack two or three sheets and roll them into a cone; seal the outside edges with clear tape or colorful stickers. Attach a strappy plant leaf as a handle by stapling its ends to opposite sides of the cone. Cut apart a cell pack of bedding plants, and drop a cell -- plant and all -- into the paper cone.
Editor's Birthday Tip: Plain paper cones can be the foundation for young artists' imaginations. Start with plain heavy paper, such as construction paper or scrapbook paper. Let kids decorate the paper using crayons, stamps, stencils, stickers, glitter pens, or other embellishments. Roll the decorated papers into cones.
Pool Prize Search
On a hot summer day, the coolest party games involve water. This wet-and-wild game gives kids a great excuse to get soaked. Fill an inflatable pool with water. Hide a weighted ring or other treasures on the bottom of the pool. Fill the pool with inflatable balls and toys to make it difficult to see the bottom. Have a few kids at a time wade around the pool looking for the hidden treasure. Provide them with goggles, or make it more challenging by allowing them to only use their feet.
Editor's Birthday Tip: Add a twist by blindfolding the contestants. Have kids wade through the pool using only their feet to discover the underwater treasures. Encourage the onlookers to shout out advice. Make sure to supervise so everyone stays safe.
Bug Treasure Hunt
Bring out the bug catchers for this game that will have even insect-shy kids wanting more. Hide little treasures, such as candy, coins, and small toys, around your yard. Send kids out with their butterfly nets searching for "bugs." Use the nets to gather the finds. Give each child a small magnifying glass, so kids can examine their discovered treasures more closely.
Editor's Birthday Tip: Match the theme by giving the hidden treasures a "buggy" appeal. Print out images of butterflies, ladybugs, ants, spiders, or other creepy-crawlies, and attach them to the small prizes. Or, use plastic bugs as part of your treasure hunt.
Setup is a breeze with this activity. Have two people hold the ends of a broomstick, bamboo stick, or other pole. Starting at a fairly easy height, encourage partygoers to try their skill getting under the pole doing a backbend. If the contestant falls or sneaks under frontward, he or she is eliminated. Keep lowering the pole until only one limbo champ is left. Move the limbo outside to give kids room to dance and laugh together.
Editor's Birthday Tip: Play Caribbean- or Hawaiian-style music during the game. The peppy rhythms will keep the activity moving along.
Outdoor Checkerboard Game
You may not have a built-in checkerboard in your backyard, but it's easy to set one up for a birthday party. Cut large squares from sturdy poster board and tack them to the ground in a checkerboard pattern. Use plant stakes or other stakes with rounded tops for safety. Or chalk up your driveway to create the board. Make big beanbags or use two colors of Frisbee disks for the checkers. Have kids take turns moving their pieces across the board. Set up teams to involve everyone in the fun. At the end, the winning team gets a fun prize, and the other team sets up the board to avenge the loss.
Editor's Birthday Tip: You also can use large square flooring tiles to make the board. Inexpensive tiles are available at home improvement stores.
Oversize Pickup Sticks
An old-fashioned favorite, pickup sticks gets a gigantic twist when the sticks are as big as the kids. Craft your own pickup sticks game. Start with 30 wooden dowels; 1/2-inch-diameter dowels in a standard length, such as 48 inches, work well. Paint the ends with bright colors: red, blue, green, yellow, orange, and purple, for example. To start the game, drop the sticks on the ground in a big messy pile, and let the kids take turns picking up a stick. If a stick other than the one the child is removing wiggles, the child must return the stick and forgo his or her turn. At the end, the player with the most sticks wins.
Editor's Birthday Tip: Add a challenge to the game by assigning each player a color. The first player to successfully remove all the sticks of the assigned color wins the game.
Water Gun Game
Make a splash at your child's party with a fun water game. For each team, string a plastic bucket on a length of clothesline; make the lines the same length to be fair. With the buckets at one end of the clothesline, arm each team with a hose or large squirt guns. Using only water, the teams must race to move the bucket to the other end of the line. Or try this variation: String a bucket on a single clothesline and mark goal lines near each end an equal distance from the center. Arrange teams at opposite ends, tug-of-war style. Place the bucket in the center. Using only water, the teams must push the bucket across the other team's line to win.
Editor's Birthday Tip: Make this game even wilder. Arm a team with water balloons to use as obstacles and distractions while the other team tries to push its bucket across the finish line.
Flower Tic-Tac-Toe Game
Nature is calling for a game of tic-tac-toe. Set up simple tic-tac-toe boards on your lawn with small twigs or wooden dowels. Provide flower heads from your garden, or let children explore your yard for flower heads, stones, leaves, or other bits of nature to use as game pieces. Set any ground rules about collecting flowers and other natural materials.
Editor's Birthday Tip: Alert parents about your plans for an outdoor party and ask about their children's allergies. Make sure to have silk flowers on hand, just in case.
Stand clear during this jazzed-up version of a water-balloon toss. Buy a water-balloon shooter from a toy store or build your own by threading surgical or latex tubing (available at home improvement stores) through a plastic pail. Drill four vertically aligned holes -- two on each side -- and one hole in the bottom of the pail. Fold about 104 inches of tubing in half and push folded end through the bottom hole to the outside. Tie a knot to hold a 10-inch handle loop in place. Thread the loose ends through the holes on the sides. To launch balloons, brace the ends or have two people hold the ends while a third child pulls the sling back. Fill water balloons to the size of a grapefruit. Help kids launch the balloons as far as they can and award prizes to those with the longest flights.
Editor's Birthday Tip: Set up a shooting range with plastic bottles, old stuffed animals, buckets, poster-board cutouts, or other targets. Encourage kids to test their skill in hitting the targets or guiding their balloons into the cutouts or buckets.
This silly circus game brings out the clown in everyone. Make a clown face on the back of a sturdy paper plate using colored markers, scrapbook paper, and other embellishments. Poke a small hole in the center where the nose belongs. Inflate and knot a long balloon; push the knot through the hole. Tape the balloon knot to the underside of the plate. Fill a small resealable plastic bag with sand. Sandwich the sand-filled bag between a second paper plate and the clown plate back to give the game stability; staple the two plates together. Using brightly colored heavy paper plates, cut out the centers to form rings. Line up the kids a short distance away and have them try to ring the nose by throwing the colored rings toward the clown face.
Time to hula! For a tropical-theme birthday, it only makes sense to hula, indoors or out. The traditional dance of Hawaii lets dancers tell stories with their hands. You don't have to know any formal steps, just play Hawaiian-style music and let kids make up the stories they want to tell.
Editor's Birthday Tip: Help kids get in a tropical mood with leis, grass skirts, straw hats, Hawaiian shirts, and other tropical-theme costumes. Provide an assortment, or ask kids to dress in tropical gear for the party.