- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 21, 2001

1. Choose a theme. Organize the party around your child's specific interests and make all the party decorations and activities related to that subject or subjects. Consider your child's favorite toy or doll, a special movie, a sports figure or the sport itself, a storybook character, a favorite outing or an occupation or hobby.

2. Plan the party with your child. Keep him or her busy during the days or weeks before the special event. That way your child will be actively involved in the creation of the party, which is almost as much fun as the party itself.

3. Time the party (and keep it short). A well-planned party begins and ends at specific times. Two hours in the morning or afternoon is best, depending on your child's energy level, so think about whether your child does better in the morning or afternoon.

4. Write the guest list. Have your child plan the guest list with you. Limit invitations to just good friends so you can manage the party size. If you prefer a large group, ask a few of the parents to help out during the party.

5. Make the decorations suit the theme. Decide where you'll be hosting the party indoors or out. Let the weather be your guide, making sure you can adapt your activities to indoor or outdoor play at the last minute. Decorate the party room or yard, creating a backdrop that sets the mood by using poster board, construction and crepe paper, special lighting and music.

6. Figure out the games and activities. A perfect party offers quiet activities as well as vigorous games. This allows the guests to warm up slowly, release pent-up energy, then cool down at the end of the party. If they don't know each other well, start out with a gentle introductory game. Play a few active games preferably outside after they have relaxed and become comfortable. Then settle down with a quiet game or activity in preparation for the cake and ice cream and the opening of the gifts.

7. Gather the goodies. Cake and ice cream usually are the highlight of the party, but you may want to limit sweets and provide some healthy snacks or meals so the guests won't overload on junk food. Have some handy treats around for the hungry snackers, but make them low in sugar and high in nutrition, such as cheese and crackers, pieces of fruit or cut-up veggies.

8. Give prizes to both winners and losers. Don't overemphasize winning, especially with younger children. Losing often leads to disappointment, frustration and tears. If your older party guests appreciate competition, offer a few games that allow them to challenge one another, with group winners instead of individual winners.

9. Be ready for surprises. If the party games or activities don't go according to plan, just go with the flow. Sometimes the spontaneous happenings are the most fun. If the children don't enjoy a game or won't participate in the fun, be creative and make some suitable changes that please everyone.

Source: Penny Warner in "Birthday Parties for Kids"

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