With a little imagination -- and the right tools -- a memorable birthday is only a beat (or a car ride) away.

kids party


  • At Home: Outdoor Picnic Potluck
  • Ask families to bring a lawn blanket and tote their own lunch. (You promise to supply plenty of snacks and cake!) Create a giant patchwork area in the grass.
  • Serve juice and soft drinks in a picnic basket lined with plastic and filled with ice.
  • Set out travel games: Pieces won't scatter when kids walk (or sprint!) across blankets.
  • "Bury" candy prizes around the party. After lunch, lead kids on a treasure hunt.

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  • Group Outing: Pizza Parlor Feast
  • Arrange with staff in advance for kids to decorate their own mini pies with all the fixins. Order pies off the menu for parents.
  • Hand out crayons and paper chef caps.
  • Challenge kids to a dough-stretching contest! Give each child a palm-size piece and see who can stretch the largest circle without leaving any holes.
  • Serve dessert pizzas. Kids can decorate cookies with "sauce" (frosting), "cheese" (coconut) and "pepperoni" (gummy slices).

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  • At Home: Daytime Pajama Party
  • Simulate nighttime: Cover windows with black paper studded with silver star stickers.
  • Ask guests to bring their usual sleepover supplies: sleeping bags, pillows and stuffed toys. Then toss them all over the party room.
  • Host sack races: Kids place both legs into pillowcases and hop to the finish line.
  • Serve breakfast for dinner. Try morning faves like pancakes or waffles. Send guests home with mini boxes of cereal to snack on.
  • Set a few alarm clocks to ring when the party is over.

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  • Group Outing: Movie Theater Screening
  • Buy popcorn-themed bags or small paper bags and pour kids an individual serving of popcorn to snack on.
  • Make notes during the movie and give a playful pop quiz at the end. Award the child with the most correct answers a gift certificate for a free movie rental.
  • Host an after-party at the pickup location, where kids can pose as their favorite stars. Interview them about their roles in the film. (Use and inflatable microphone to set the scene.)

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AGES 8 TO 12

  • At Home: 1970s Disco Blowout
  • Clear out the basement or garage to make room for dancing. Hang a spinning disco ball and colored string lights from the ceiling.
  • Have guests come in costume and supply a few extra props like colorful wigs, star-shaped glasses and glitter.
  • Make a far-out playlist with famous disco songs like "Stayin' Alive" and "Funkytown."
  • Offer a grab bag of mood rings and glow-in-the-dark jewelry from the dollar store.
  • Group Outing: Ball Game Bash
  • Pick up poster board at the supermarket or a craft store. Before the game, have the children make individual signs or a group banner with paint and markers.
  • Collect the ticket stubs once everyone's taken his or her seat, then do a musical-chairs-style drawing between innings so kids can swap seats and sit next to different friends.
  • Buy a few giant bags of peanuts and Cracker Jacks: Fill (and refill) paper cups or cones while the young fans watch the game.

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Want to send in the clowns? Jennifer Sbranti, founder of entertaining blog Hostess with the Mostess, knows where to find helping hands for nearly nothing.

The Babysitter
 Pay your child's sitter (and some of her friends, depending on how many kids are coming) to paint faces, dress up in costumes or host outdoor games.

The Starving Artist
 Check with the YMCA to find up-and-coming artists who can teach the group a few easy craft projects.

The Not-Yet-Prima Ballerina
 Ask local dance studios about hiring an advanced student or a teacher to show the kids some moves or just chaperone while they create their own routines.

The Coach
 Recruit a high school sports coach to give a quick batting or base-running lesson. Ask nicely and he may even bring some of the equipment!

The Leader of the Band
 Music schools often have soloists, trios or even bands that will perform for free, just to rack up experience points. Sweeten the deal by promising to feed them well -- and often.

The Bookworm
 Use your free library card to check out a few of the newest children's storybooks. Then tap a librarian or other employee to read them aloud at the party.