Birthday Party Games That Keep Kids Busy and Engaged

Hosting your child’s birthday party should be pretty simple. You set a date, allot two hours for the celebration and mail out invites. You make the food, plan a fun party game and start greeting guests.


But somewhere in the midst of the festivities, things go terribly wrong. The kids tear through your game like wrapping paper and you’re left with an hour and 55 minutes to kill. Cake and ice cream only last so long. What do you do now?


For solutions, we approached some experts in keeping kids occupied and engaged – the top brass at area kids’ camps. Here are their ideas for games that provide at least 20 minutes each of high-energy, enthusiastic fun. And by fun, we’re talking about running around, getting messy, beating world records and bopping each other with foam sticks. Trust us – you and your party guests will have a blast!


Sports Fans

Handball-Hockey Combo

Have the kids stand in a circle with their legs spread apart and their feet touching the feet of the person on each side. Using only their hands, and without ever losing foot contact with their neighbor, each child needs to try to hit a soccer ball (or large rubber ball) through someone’s legs. Hands can be used for blocking, but if someone lets in a goal, he has to run a lap around the circle before rejoining the game. An adult should stand in the middle to keep the ball moving and make needed commentary – “No one’s taking any shots at Logan” – to keep everyone involved. No shots can go above the knee. The first offense earns a lap; the second, a one-minute break. As a general rule for any game, adding balls never hurts. “The more balls means the less anyone cares about winning and losing,” says Steve Kramer, director of Camp West Woods, a day camp in Stoughton.


Basketball Keep Away

Divide your guests into two teams near an outdoor basketball hoop. Have the “offense” team try to make 30 clear passes between teammates. If the “defense” team touches the ball, it takes over on offense. No dribbling allowed. When a team reaches 30, it has to execute a bounce pass and layup in order to win. If it doesn’t, the game continues until it happens. This game keeps everyone running and constantly involved, says Sarah Behn, president of the Sarah Behn Basketball Camp and women’s basketball coach at UMass Lowell.


Wiffle Ball

Use a fat Wiffle® ball bat to maximize fence-clearing potential. Have an adult toss a maximum of three easy-to-hit pitches to each batter. After a ball is hit, the entire defensive team has to line up behind the initial fielder and pass the ball backwards in an over-the-head, between-the-legs alternating fashion. The batter continues to run around the bases as this happens. The last kid in line has to deliver the ball to the mound, and once it’s there, the runner stops and his team gets one run for every base that he has touched. Then the rest of the team bats in the inning, Kramer says.


Hot Shot Contest

Set up five spots with point values on the basketball court, – baskets made from the top of the key, 5 points; each end of the foul line, 3 points; shot from the corner, 2; layup, 1. Each child gets 45 seconds, must rebound and dribble alone, and is allowed only two lay-ups. Trying from every spot earns a 5-point bonus, so regardless of ability, any child can earn at least that much, Behn says. The game will move fast, but have the kids who are waiting count the points to stay involved.


Homemade Obstacle Course

Use whatever objects you have on hand or in your yard to create a course. Have kids run around a tree. Space out two pieces of rope parallel to each other and instruct children to jump over the “river.” Hurdle or vault a bench. Jump in and out of a Hula Hoop. Bounce a ball five times. Crawl through a nylon tunnel. As you’re setting it up, ask a volunteer to test out the course. Then tell the kids that the neighborhood record is, say, three minutes, and see who wants to beat it. Follow it with “the world record,” and, because of the summer games, “the Olympic record,” throwing in the name of an Olympic sprinter and his “time.” “It’s all about setting it up,” Kramer says. Have one child begin the course, and start another child every 10 seconds.


Art Lovers

Bubble Art

Fill Styrofoam bowls with bubble solution and food coloring. Give each child a straw that has a pinhole in it, about one quarter from the top. Have the kids dip their straw, with the pinhole end near their mouths, into the solution and blow to make bubbles in the solution in the bowl. Afterward, remove the straws and lay a piece of regular copier paper over the liquid mountain of bubbles they’ve amassed in the bowl to create some instant art. This activity is particularly good for younger kids, says Jen Hawes, co-director of 3River Arts, a day camp in Groton.


Tissue Paper Stained Glass

Mix enough water into glue to create a thinner solution. Have kids rip or cut up multiple colored tissue paper. With a paint brush, apply a layer of the glue on 8x11-inch heavy stock paper and let kids stick on the tissue wherever and however they want – their creativity will come out, Hawes says. One thin coat of glue can be applied to finish off the project.


Quieter Pursuits

Soda Bottle Hunt

Fill clear 1-liter soda bottles with bird seed; add an additional eight to 12 items – a dime, thumb tack, marble, safety pin, bolt, whatever fits – followed by more seed, leaving two inches at the top. (Rice can also be used.) Glue or tape the cap back on securely and shake. Give each child a bottle marked with a number or letter and two to three minutes to shake the bottle, trying to shift the seeds to uncover and identify as many individual items as possible. (Have each child keep a running list of what he finds in each marked bottle). When time is up, have kids trade bottles and continue to search. At the end, whoever finds the most wins. “It’s a very condensed treasure hunt,” says Doug MacDougall, director of the Weston Recreation Department, who notes this is a good game for a rainy day.


Ice Block Search

Fill a five-gallon bucket with water and lay a paint stick over the top with various objects suspended on pieces of string – bottle cap, pencil, eraser, paper clip. Freeze the water (for 24 hours), remove the ice block from the bucket, and have kids race to figure out what’s frozen inside, melting the ice in whatever manner they can –  rubbing, sitting, breathing – and becoming wet and cool as they play. No bats or hammers are allowed, MacDougall says. They may be able to see suspended items close to the sides of the ice block, but those nearer the center won’t be as visible. On a smaller level, give kids individual ice cubes and see who can melt each one the fastest.


All in Good Fun

Tag with Non-Wounding Swords

Cut three or four foam noodles in half. Gather party guests in a large circle. Select seven or eight kids and place four or five of the noodles on the ground inside the circle. Call the start and whoever grabs a noodle has tagging power. With so many noodles in play, the kids who didn’t get a noodle have to decide when to move and where to stand to avoid contact. When a child is tagged, she’s out of the game and rejoins the circle. No whacking or tagging above the waist is allowed, and, if play stalls, tell everyone to act within 10 seconds or lose their noodle. The game can continue until two people are left for a samurai duel – complete with respectful starting bow. Or, you could simply keep adding more kids from the circle. (You can also end one game and select a new set of kids for another game). A parent should be playing as well to keep it fun and give the kids the joy of bopping an adult. Ultimately, the game taps into a primal need. “Children love to hit other children,” Kramer quips. “But it’s done in a safe way.”


Pie in the Pants

If you’re up for some messy fun and it’s warm enough to wash off with a hose or sprinkler afterward, have each party guest wear an older sibling’s or parent’s shorts or pants. Cover a 9-inch paper plate with whipped cream. An adult stands on a ladder and drops one pie at a time down toward three kids wearing goggles. The kids compete against each other to try to catch the pie in their pulled-out waistbands. They’ll be fighting for position and wearing the pies as the game progresses. Switch off to another three kids after the first group is done. “Kids like becoming a total mess,” MacDougall says. They’ll also enjoy when you hose them off after.


Steve Calechman is a freelance writer and father in Salem.

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21 Jun 2012

By Steve Calechman