Birthday Party Activity Stations for Toddlers & Preschoolers

by Amy on May 25, 2011

pumpkin painting - party activity station

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.

Preschoolers

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!

6. Balloons! Hit them with fly-swatters or bat them back and forth with a friend (non-helium-filled, of course).

7. Homemade Bowling Game – A bowling game can be set-up outside or inside (hallways work great) and the kids can be in charge of setting up the pins for each other.

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!

{ 23 comments }

Fatima May 25, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Love it! I usually shy away from party games because I don’t like trying to wrangle wiggly tots into playing the games. Our little boy turns six this June and wants a cowboy cookout. Think I’ll be setting up fun rodeo stations. ;)

Amy May 25, 2011 at 5:35 pm

A cowboy cookout sounds so fun! Last year, my daughter almost decided on a cowgirl campout. Will you serve s’mores? :)

JoannaTopazT May 26, 2011 at 9:17 am

Thanks for the ideas! I’m in the middle of planning my daughter’s fifth birthday party for June. She wants a “games” party. I think the obstacle course may be incorporated. I’m also thinking we can do balloon “volleyball” with her portable soccer goal net if it rains. Will probably also have bingo and the Richard Scarry Busytown game she got for Christmas (you’re not competing against each other; you’re competing against some pigs eating their picnic on an island, so it cuts down on the preschool angst). I’m trying to plan for more activities than we’ll really need. Just in case.

Amy May 30, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Sounds like a very fun party! I always like to plan extra…busy kids are good! :)

jen May 28, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Just found your site! I’m a kindergarten teacher too, and a mother of a six year old girl….I’ll be definitely checking back.

Amy May 30, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Hi Jen – Glad you found me! Come back soon… :)

Melissa May 29, 2011 at 6:04 am

Love these ideas! I’m going to use a few for my soon to be 3-year-old’s bday party.

Amy May 30, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Thanks, Melissa! Happy party-planning! :)

heather June 5, 2011 at 7:20 pm

great ideas! we’ll be all set for our 4th of july bbq coming up!

Amy June 7, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Perfect! Might need a water balloon station for the hot summer day! :)

Elaine June 7, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Thank you so much for this post – I am planning to do this very thing at our 3&5 year olds party on Saturday so reassurance that it does work is very welcome :-)

Amy June 7, 2011 at 9:33 pm

You’re welcome! Have a wonderful party!

Kirsty June 14, 2011 at 5:06 am

Nice to see this blog! I’m planning 4 yr old party for July, since its so hot it has to be indoors. I’m planning on setting up different Car stations (sloped racetrack with hotwheels, racetrack for remote controlled cars) I hope Cars 2 has made it out by then where we live. Any other ideas for “Cars” games?! thx!

Amy June 14, 2011 at 2:55 pm

How about big paper car shapes for the kids to decorate? Or smaller car shapes that they can decorate and use as place mats?

Print pictures of the Cars characters and hang them all around the house – give each child a checklist and send them hunting!

Big pile of duplos or legos with wheels for building cars.

We have fun taping markers to toy cars for some driving and drawing – here’s the post: http://lets-explore.net/blog/2009/12/carsmarkersfun/

Have a great party!

puppet shows June 17, 2011 at 2:28 am

found your blog via simplekids.net loved your article. Keep on sharing the love! :)

Stephanie August 21, 2011 at 11:37 am

So I LOVE to have parties especially for my girls who are 14, 10, 8 and 6. But I have to admit, the older I get the more I like the older kid’s parties. Until I stumbled upon your AMAZING activity station ideas! Wow! What a great and calm and fun party I had for my daughter. All I could think of was a group of kindergarten graduates acting crazy. But they moved from station to station as they were finished. One boy even decided to just play with playdoh.
Thanks for your amazing ideas!

Sweet 16 Party Ideas January 23, 2012 at 7:12 am

It’s hard to find good info on this, keep up the good work.

jodi March 4, 2012 at 7:07 pm

these are great ideas!! i am planning my 2 year old’s party and she loves music … any ideas on how to incorporate that into a theme? the kids attending will be a range of 1 – 4 years old. so glad i stumbled upon this site!

keyonna July 11, 2012 at 11:47 am

I’m planning a birthday party for my soon to be 4 yr old…I love these ideas…so thankful for this site…

Amy July 24, 2012 at 7:51 am

Hope you and your little one have a great birthday party!

Jessica August 27, 2012 at 11:08 pm

I am planning my two year olds birthday party for this Saturday and still don’t know what to do. Thanks for te ideas, I may be a couple!!

Barb February 2, 2013 at 3:08 pm

My son will b two we r having a small party bc our house is small. He likes sports so that’s the theme. There will b a few other kids ranging in age from 2-9. Can u recommend an activity they would all like? There will b 5 children. Thanks

Alisha @ Your Kid's Table October 25, 2013 at 11:07 am

Love this! Pinning it to use next week for a 4th b-day and in the future! Thank you:)

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