Maybe it’s the kindergarten teacher in me, but I love setting up activity centers or stations when we have kid parties. The kids can spend most of their time playing, and there are plenty of activities available to keep them busy.
I usually plan four to six open-ended activities so the kids can play and explore at their own pace. I go for a nice mix of active and mellow activities, usually including at least one craft, one game, and a snack table.
If you have a lot of extra adults or older kids, you can put a helper at each station. I try not to assign myself to a station so I can walk around taking pictures!
Here are some of our favorite party stations just right for toddlers and preschoolers – remember, these ideas can easily be adapted to fit any party theme, too.
Toddlers + up
1. Playdough – A low table with homemade colored playdough, plastic cookie cutters, and mini rolling pins is always a hit with the little ones. A few plastic animals or toy cars are fun to toss on the table, too.
2. Matching Game – Set-out a store-bought memory game (I’m partial to the beautiful eeBoo matching games), or make your own using clip art that relates to your party theme. Using photos of the party guests would make a fun matching game, too!
3. Collaborative Coloring – Cover a whole table or the lower half of a wall with paper. Set-out buckets of crayons and stickers. Instead of coloring on paper, place a large cardboard box in an open-area.
4. Beanbag Toss – This can be as simple or fancy as you want. Buckets, dish tubs, hula hoops, and laundry baskets make excellent targets. Hanging hula hoops are really fun to toss things through!
5. Sensory Table – Fill a large plastic container with colored rice, a variety of beans, or water (with supervision, please). Add scoops, spoons, funnels, play dishes, and other fun tools for exploring. No Time for Flashcards and Counting Coconuts have some great sensory tub posts for inspiration.
6. Beach Balls – Lightweight and colorful, beach balls are great for throwing, rolling, and carrying around. Send them home with your little guests as party favors.
1. Face Painting – We’ve done this at a couple parties and it’s been such a hit! My sister is usually the designated face painter, since anything I painted would probably look like a blob. Temporary tattoos would be a fun alternative or addition.
2. Food Prep – I like setting up a make-your-own snack mix or fruit salad station. For sweets, you could have a cookie or cupcake decorating table. Have an adult at this station to remind kids to wash hands and help as needed.
3. Pretend Play – Bring your dollhouse out to the patio, set-up a temporary play kitchen (inspiration at Frugal Family Fun Blog), or put out a basket of dress-up clothes. This is an easy one to tie-in to most party themes, and the kids love it!
4. Obstacle Course - Here’s a great one for a group of active kids that need to burn off some energy. An obstacle course is less-organized than a game, but still fun for some friendly competition. If you have a stopwatch or two, the kids might enjoy timing each other. For a “menu” of obstacle course ideas, check out my backyard obstacle course post at Simple Kids.
5. A Simple Craft – Some of these ideas are messier than others – go with something in your comfort level!
- bracelets with pipe cleaners and pony beads
- spin art using a salad spinner (inspiration at The Artful Parent)
- paper bag puppets
- decorate a paper crown or newspaper hat (inspiration at Skip to My Lou)
- air-dry clay bowls or sculptures (inspiration at laugh, paint, create!)
- shape collage
6. Balloons! Hit them with fly-swatters or bat them back and forth with a friend (non-helium-filled, of course).
- Toy Bowling (Make & Takes)
- Plastic bottles with colored water (Parents)
- Painted plastic bottles (Ucreate with Kids)
By the way, these activities are obviously not just for parties. Summer play dates, maybe?
Do you set-up activity stations at your kid parties? I’d love to hear your family’s favorite party activities!