A party can provide a range of educational benefits for toddlers and pre schoolers from social interaction to communication, movement, problem-solving, and imaginative thinking. It can also be great fun if is carefully planned and packed with entertaining things to do.
Where possible, include the child in the planning and preparation. They can help decide what the theme will be, who they want to invite, and what games they would like to play. They can also make the invitations and decorations, set out the party table, and help with the cooking. Involving the child in the planning and preparation builds self-esteem and confidence and shows them that their opinions are valued.
A party offers endless creative opportunities from craft to games, food, decorations, costumes, and accessories. It also provides a wonderful opportunity to reinforce good manners, from the moment the invitations are written to ‘Thank you’ notes after the party.
When deciding where to have the party, consider the child’s age, temperament, and interests. Assertive children may prefer an outdoor party where they have space to channel excess energy. Shy children may prefer the party to be held at home or in a familiar setting. However, excitable guests may want to explore, so restrict access to rooms that are off limits and place breakables out of reach.
If the party is to be held in an outside venue, book the hall or soft play park several months in advance. If an entertainer is to be hired, check how long the entertainment will last and if they will be in costume. A costumed character can be both frightening and confusing to young children and may result in tears.
Limit the length of the party. A party that lasts 2 hours is more likely to be successful than one that lasts 3 hours. Allow plenty of time to set up and clear away at the end. Plan a time that best suits the child. If the child has a mid-afternoon nap, a morning or lunchtime party will help maintain good stress levels.
When considering the number of guests, invite one child for every year plus two. For example, if the toddler is turning two, four guests is a manageable number. If more guests are invited, ensure that there are plenty of supervising adults, who can also help with the activities, supervision, food, and toileting.
A structured party gives children a sense of organisation, stability, comfort, and personal control. A good structure includes the following:
1. Free-flow play, which may include a small bouncy castle, obstacle course, outdoor play or toys.
2. Structured activities.
3. Party food.
4. End activities, which may include balloons, bouncy balls, bubbles, or a treasure hunt.
When the guests arrive, building bricks, puzzles, push and ride-on toys and cars will help them settle in if they are feeling anxious. Some children may get upset if guests play with their toys. This is normal behaviour. As they grow older, they will be more willing to cooperate and share.
An obstacle course will create excitement and keep children moving and active. They can crawl through cardboard boxes and tunnels, clamber over cushions or pillows, walk across planks, and scrabble over soft play blocks. A first aid kit should be readily available for minor scuffs and scrapes.
A bouncy castle can be hired for indoor use. To prevent injuries, ensure that mats or rubber underlay are placed around the castle or any piece of equipment that is above ground height. Supervision will be essential to keep children safe.
After free-play, structured activities will keep children entertained. Young children have short attention spans, so each activity should last no longer than 3 minutes. The rules should be simple and easy to follow. Avoid games that have winners and losers or activities where children must wait their turn.
The following activities are fun for children:
1. Action songs - ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ and ‘Old MacDonald had a Farm’ are good starter songs.
2. Simon Says - children can put their hands on their heads, clap their hands, pat their knees, and stamp their feet.
3. Musical statues - children can dance to the music and ‘freeze’ when it stops. Everyone stays ‘in’, so there are no winners or losers.
4. Ball games - balls are one of the best ways to get children moving and they will enjoy playing with them as much as any organised activity.
5. Puppet show - characters can range from soft toys to animal puppets.