Today we hosted a princess party for our three year old princess, Elliana. I'm finding that birthday parties are getting easier and new ideas start to evolve. For Elli's party we kept it relatively simple, but I wanted to share a new idea that I had. We often do scavenger hunts at parties. Nate's birthday parties, being in June, have seen their share of peanut scavenger hunts. This equals a big bag of peanuts in shells hurled throughout a defined area and preschoolers with lunch bags hurriedly scampering around to collect as many as possible. (Yes, we check beforehand to make sure none of our guests have peanut allergies.) However with Elli's birthday this was not quite possible. Preschoolers trudging through waist-deep snow desperately searching for peanuts does not create a picture of mirth and delight, unless you are a local squirrel.
So back to Elli's Scavenger Hunt. The kids really wanted candy, and I wanted balance. The solution: I created this checklist:
Each child was given a bag and this list. During the directions, parents and older siblings were encouraged to help the younger party goers find the specified number of each item. This list helped each child get an equal amount of the loot while assuring that none of the parents were terribly upset about the excessive amounts of sugar entering their homes. We also asked that the kids not eat the candy while at the party since we would soon be having cake and ice cream. I wondered as I was explaining it if it was too abstract for our group of three year olds, but most seemed to get it and parents were great helpers. The free for all on the foam glitter stickers (Tubs of these can be found at most craft stores) enhanced the experience without upping sugar consumption. Another by-product was that the kids were doing early math. They had a graph and had to match up and count their treasures. After all the littles were content, the three older siblings were sent in to glean all they could find ... aka clean up the room :-)! Everyone was happy when they came back in for cake and ice cream.
Here are a few additional things which lead to its success...
The guest list - Elli chose from one primary group of friends. She wanted her playgroup friends. This was an easy group and nobody was left out. We had four friends and some of their siblings. Most of the parents knew each other and visited easily.
Defined play areas - While our space is not huge we had an area set aside for the doll-house, kitchen play-set, finger puppet theater, an art table with paper and stamps, and a Lego area for the older siblings. We encouraged free play.
Cool music - Pandora.com set on the Recess Monkey station rarely steers us wrong. A lively band made up of teachers with a great sound that parents enjoy too.
Healthy snacks before cake - When guests arrived they were greeted with a tray of apples, cheese, crackers, pretzels and baby carrots. I shared with parents the drink options and encouraged them to help themselves whenever their child was thirsty.
Bedrooms were off - limits - While we often allow friends to play in the kids rooms, we decided against it for the party. This isolated the mess and made clean-up much easier.
Shopping clearance - I often keep my eyes open for good bargains. Napkins, decorations, and favors were bought at a fraction of their original cost. Plates and cups were purchased at the Dollar Store.
Prepping of the Birthday Girl - We want to assume that we've taught our children well and they'll automatically be a gracious hostess, however this is a learned skill. The day before the party Elli and I had a conversation about welcoming our guests, looking for cards first when opening gifts, and being sure to say thank you to our guests. I reminded Elli of these points a few moments before guests started arriving. She did beautifully.
Gifts or cake first? We opted for cake. Elli got the first piece and was able to start eating. Then when she had eaten her fill she was able to clean up and open presents while her friends finished their cake and ice cream. I saved her leftover cake for later.
Keep decorations simple. Too much can be overwhelming to preschoolers and become a stress to you.
Clean as much as you can in advance - This was especially good since I ended up spraining my ankle late morning after a morning of cleaning.