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February 1, 2012

Obi Three Kenobi

I need more advice.

(I give and give and give and give and now I'm gonna TAKE!)

How do I throw a birthday party for a three-year-old? I do not know how to have a three-year-old and am therefore kind of lost.

(Motherhood Revelation #482: Taking care of a child is the easy part. It's the parenting that's tricky.)

We're throwing Wombat a belated birthday party on Saturday, and I have all the decorations color coordinated to the handmade invitations, I have lovingly embellished the store-bought party hats, and despite my continued insistence that I have nothing to do with the food part of our in-house celebrations, I have drawn up an entire menu of theme-specific treats and am spending this afternoon test-kitchening two ways to make the same damn thing, because this is proof that knowing you're crazy doesn't mean you can stop yourself from acting as such.

So! We're almost ready to go! The favors are packaged, I've gathered every theme-appropriate serving dish on the premises, and I took the fake cranberries out of our front door wreath so I can sew on some party-specific doodads I made out of felt and embroidery floss. (Simon's head just hit the desk. Some women go on shopping sprees and hide the receipts; I craft in secret.)

The problem: As for inserting actual guests into the above scenario, I'm floundering a bit.

This year we focused on inviting Wombat's friends (it was really hard to not invite friends of ours whom we love but Wombat doesn't know), and so this year, for the first time, we're going to have a house full of children. But what do we doooooo with all those children? We're not set up to have a bouncy house or a playroom free-for-all. Last year we just let them run wild through the balloons, but this year there will be no balloons (I couldn't find the right color at the store!) and because most of the kids are mostly sentient and coordinated, I'm thinking it's maybe appropriate to have something more sophisticated on tap, like maybe a game or a craft or something. Should we attempt musical chairs? Do I dare give each kid a glue stick?

For my own third birthday party (a Little House on the Prairie extravaganza, because that year was the height of my Laura Ingalls identity crisis) we played all kinds of games, but then that was in Mormon country, where healthy, modest games are what you do to keep your children away from drugs and sex and rock and roll from the ages of two to twenty or marriage, whichever comes first. In a community like that, we all knew the same games and we were all experts at playing them, so it was an easy option. Wombat's bunch, however, is a mix of friends from various parts of his life--kids from daycare, kids of coworkers, kids of bloggers, kids of bandmates--and not even a single one of them is Mormon.

So what should I do? Just get out the Duplos and train parts and let them have at it? Build a Pin the Something on the Something? Make a cupcake decorating station? Hand out sticks and rocks and take bets? Turn on Star Wars in the back room and forget about the littles entirely?

Help me, parents of three-year-olds! You're my only hope.


Most birthday parties around here have a craft and/or a coloring station. Easy to set up, easy to do, rounds 'em all up for a few minutes, and then VOILA! It's cupcake time and then everyone goes home.

So get some coloring stuff and/or a simple craft that is loosely connected to the theme/time of year. Despite not celebrating it myself, I did easter eggs at Sam's party because it was right before Easter. We got some pre-cut eggs at Michael's on the cheap, bought some glitter and glue to make glitter paint, and bought a bunch of fuzzy balls to stick on 'em. I then punched a hole in the top, stuck a pipe cleaner through to make a decoration and badow! Lazy mom's craft in the hizzouse.

So really, something like that. And make it cheap, because if it's going so awesomely that there isn't time to do it, you want to be able to re-use that shit later.

I had to scour Flickr to see what my sister did for my nephew's 3rd b-day. She's the birthday party queen - you two would be great friends. It looks like we just played soccer and drew with sidewalk chalk, then opened gifts and ate cake.

She always has a kids-only party first for a short structured time, like 1pm-3pm, where we usually play for a bit, make a craft or have a scavenger hunt, open gifts, and then eat cake. This part of the party is usually limited to less than 10 kids and amazingly, it works well. (She'd make a good drill sergeant.)

After that, when most of the kids are gone, she has a more casual friends and family gathering with takeout pizza and leftover cake. The kids get to play with the toys they just got an the adults get to chat and drink.

The most fun was had at the 4th b-day when she made simple paper crowns and let the kids color on them, then stapled them and let them wear them. After the crown-making, she made monster feet with craft foam and empty cereal boxes and made them do an egg relay (with fake eggs) while wearing the feet. Here's a link to a picture because I'm sure that didn't make any sense. http://www.flickr.com/photos/lgaumond/3457775468/in/set-72157617066977852

Do easy games and make sure every one wins ... A lot! Pass the parcel with a small gift or sweet in each layer of paper? A game of musical statue. Cup cake decorating a good IDE a. Make your own fruit kebab?

When my daughter turned three, she had a joint party with a friend (a boy), and they invited about 20 kids. It was games-oriented, so we played duck, duck goose, and red-light, green-light, and follow the leader, and thigns of that nature, and then everyone sat down for food and cake. It was very fun, but kind of wild.

We went to crafty parties too, that year, where everyone got there own little whatever to decorate, and musical parties, where there was someone leading everyone in musical activies and lots of various gymboree type parties. They were all fine. I liked ours the best, but that makes sense, since it's the one I planned.

We didn't have any specific crafts for Jacob's party this fall, but we had just put in a sand box, and he got sand box toys, so that kept them occupied. I've never been to a winter party, so I'm not sure how that works if everyone has to be inside. Otherwise, letting them play outside with the toys you already have always works for us!

Okay, craft/game/activity it is! You guys are awesome. (We're gonna need a bigger house...)

My father played a weird version of Simon Says at our parties and, although I cringe a bit now thinking WTH was he thinking, all my friends swear it was great. It was called "Hens fly, ducks fly." Kids sit in a circle, cross legged, with hands on knees. He sat with us with a rolled up newspaper and called out, you guessed it, "Hens fly" or "Ducks fly," and all of us were to raise our hands/arms quickly as if we were flying. He did it quickly and would insert "Donkeys fly" or whatever. If you flew when you weren't supposed to or didn't fly when you were supposed to, he swatted you with the newspaper. Gales of laughter ensued.It was the 70s; it was in Canada. No one thought it was abuse.

Simple arts & crafts have gone over really well at the last few 3-year old parties we have been to. At one party, they had these giant poster-sized post-its that you could stick on the wall, and then color on. When one was used up, you just stuck up another one on top. Other friends covered their table & the floor under it with plastic tablecloths and set up painting/sticker/glitter glue/markers/crayons to paint a mask or a picture to color that fit the theme - easy to find & print from the interwebs. Get the washable paints & markers - we've had excellent luck with Crayola brands actually coming off of everything. Also, balloon animals were a surprising (to me) hit, if you want to hire someone or know someone who can make them. And cupcake decorating - give each kid a cupcake and an assortment of sprinkles, candy, marshmallows, whatever, and let them go to town.

A good rule of thumb I read somewhere is invite as many friends (not counting family members) as your child is old. Any more than that gets overwhelming. We just had Violet's party and, yes, presents, cake, candles - all of that - was a little much for her by the end of it all so I was glad I only invited who I did.

I'm about to throw out all that good advice and say do what you like. I think three is about the last time you can just have a fun party and invite people you like as well as people the kid likes, and not feel the need for lots of organized stuff.

We had about 20 kids (including siblings) and 20 adults at Mabel's party last November, and we just put out food, let the kids loose with the toys, did our best to intercept presents and keep them intact till later on, broke out the beer/wine and had a good time. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

I would say not to plan organized activities or crafts for 3-year-olds; they're just not into that. Maybe a dance party, if you've room for a dedicated space. Mostly, they're just excited to be at a party, with cupcakes or whatever, and other people's toys to play with.

We always do a craft at kids' parties. Last spring we went to a fun 3 year old birthday party that featured activities that appeal to both you and Simon I think. The mom is a great photographer and earlish in the party she took a group picture of all the kids sitting on the stairs in her house. Then while the kids decorated inexpensive plain wooden picture frames (I'm sure you could get them at any craft store,) her husband ran out to the store to pick up a copy of the picture for each kid. Later we had a fun dance party with the kids.

A craft table isn't a bad idea. For my son's third birthday, I set up a scavenger hunt, where one clue led to another and finally to the gift bags (it was pirate themed, so they had to "dig" their bags out of this box we made...similar to this one: http://blog.celebratethebigandsmall.com/2011/09/29/all-about-the-packaging-candy-button-punch-box-tutorial/). The clues were all visual, like a picture of a red circle and then they had to hunt to find the red circle, which had a number on it, etc.) The kids loved it! We also did traditional pin the tail and such.

A coloring station is the easiest of all crafts, and one of the least messy. Hot Potato is an easy game for three year olds. Red Light Green Light is fun, and you can always give prizes (if you're doing that sort of thing) for the "best stopper" or "best technique" for kids that have no chance of winning in a foot race. I'm all for teaching kids that they can't win everything, but it's nice to avoid crying children at your own child's birthday party.

in addition to crafts and games, you can completely cover you kitchen table with colored butcher paper (from the teacher's store- they use it to cover bulletin boards). Have a ton of fresh crayons out and the kids will think its fun that for the day the can draw all of the table.

For my son's toy story 3rd birthday, (also inside,with limited space) I had the kids pin a star on th sheriff, had dress up stuff to dress up like their favorite characters, and
A mr. Potato head race( gave them each a potato head and a pile of
Parts, first one finished won!) I kept it moving and the whole party was over in under 2 hours! Good luck, just do your child's
Favorite things and it will be perfect!

Sounds like a Star Wars related thing. Maybe you can get a pin/tape the arm on C3PO kind of thing.

Then maybe a sticker station.

I like the cup cake decorating thing but it would ahve to be quick and easy and you know the kids are gonna chow down on whatever that is so it might make cake time a little crazy with them hopped up on cup cake decorating things.

I'm sure whatever you do will be amazing!

Best of luck!

Oh my GOD, now I feel like I failed my son at his third birthday party! We just had ours at a park! They played! And ate pizza and cupcakes! And then ... went home! I didn't even THINK of games, crafts, etc., etc. Frack.

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