6 Yr Old's B'Day HELP
April 19, 2008 3:05 AM   Subscribe

My kid is going to be six next month and he wants a party. We are very short on cash. Suggestions?

We're going to throw this thing at a local park (no bouncers allowed) for between 10 and 20 kids. I really wanted to make this a good party for him, but our financial situation is a bit of a hurdle here. We're going to hire a magician, if possible, but everything else is a complete bafflement to me. How do you keep a swarm of 6 year olds happy for 2 hours on a limited budget?

I'm pretty handy and unemployment has given me a certain amount of free time, for whatever that's worth. Help!
posted by maryh to Human Relations (42 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Cake is always good. Serve cake a bit into the party so you can always threaten them with removing the cake if it gets too rowdy.

Does the group have to be that big? My sister's 8 and she's never had parties of more than 8-10 people, even within controlled party-type settings.

These threads may help.

T-Shirt painting is cool. Crafts in general are cool. Organize a tag game, a dodgeball game, musical chairs, soccer game, anything. Kids that age are easily entertained, as long as you have a backup list of things to do if things get bored.
posted by Phire at 3:24 AM on April 19, 2008

Oriental Trading Company is your friend.
Lots of cheap arts and crafts that will keep kids amused for hours.
Who needs a magician? That's pretty fancy IMHO.
Just as an example, my 6th bday party had boiled egg on spoon races, Twister and a cake.
Plus I thought that w. bday parties the rule was number of guests is 2x the age. But maybe that was for slumber parties.
posted by k8t at 3:41 AM on April 19, 2008

Best answer: Party games.

I'm not a parent but I am a youth worker. If I have to amuse that number of children for a couple of hours in a park, I'd start with some fun games, to get everyone warmed up and mixing, preferably games that don't involve much winning or loosing, so that everyone's involved. Then maybe some free time (kids, in a park, let them play!) then something a bit more structured, maybe a ball game, the magician, a craft. Then cake (first rule of youth work, don't give them sweet, sugary stuff at the beginning, send them home on the sugar rush!)

I'd try to get a group of adults to help with crowd control (tell them the plan at the beginning, so that they know what's happening).

Thinking back to my mum, who with hindsight was obviously a bit of a wizz for organising parties that didn't cost much, would often organise scavenger hunts or treasure hunts. You could plan a route through the park that ends up at a picnic.
posted by Helga-woo at 3:49 AM on April 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, kids are easily entertained, as long as you keep them entertained. Inexpensive things to to:

Egg and spoon race (though probably better to use potatoes than eggs - less messy)

Three legged race

Kid's also like to win prizes - but the prizes don't have to be expensive. Pass the parcel can fill up ten minutes.

Get a box of packing beads and hide a toy for each of them as a lucky dip - before they can pick their prize they have to tell a joke, sing a song, something like that. That can easily fill 15 minutes and they don't get bored because of the promise of winning something - though you need to speed things up as you get to the last few in case the others get bored (just give them cake).

Musical Statues - where they have to freeze when the music stops and the last one to freeze is out.

A Scavanger hunt - where they are paired off and have a list of things they have to find and bring back - like a daisy, a flat stone, a feather. If there's a risk of them wandering off while doing this make them all sit down and modify it into a kind of I Spy game.

Also, Phire makes a good point. There's a big difference between trying to control and entertain 10 kids and 15.

Good Luck
posted by Elmore at 4:01 AM on April 19, 2008

In my family and in those of several others that we've known for years, the unwritten rule has always been to match the number of guests to the birthday child's age. This worked well for any number of parties we had for our kids and was controllable.

K8t's suggestion of Oriental Trading Company is a great one. No matter how many guests you have, you can buy tons of goodies for a fraction of what I'm guessing you'll pay that magician. In my experience kids love this stuff.
posted by imjustsaying at 4:11 AM on April 19, 2008

Scavenger hunt is a fantastic idea.

My parents used to make little pirate hats (out of old card), eye patches and telescopes for me and my friends and hid clues around our garden (but this could be done at a park, I'm sure if it wasn't a busy day the ranger may let you have some of it all to yourself?) which we had to find in a specific order to get clues for the location of the treasure. There must be places where you can bulk buy chocolate coins and candy at cheaper prices, splash out and do it. Just make sure there's enough for everyone.

Hope this helps!
posted by jhighmore at 4:20 AM on April 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

actually, in a park, some food and a couple of simple activities (I like the craft ones suggested) are going to keep a smallish group of 6 year olds happy for a couple of hours easy ...
posted by singingfish at 4:44 AM on April 19, 2008

Cardboard boxes. Crayons. Music. Cake! Make them run around until they puke/sleep, and everyone wins.
posted by saturnine at 4:45 AM on April 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Water balloons!
Mask-making with colorful paper scraps and glue!
More races!
posted by Dizzy at 4:56 AM on April 19, 2008

Minimize the number of kids invited. Better to have just his 10 favorites than to invite those 10 kids and another 10 extras just to say he had a big party. With half the kids, you can spend twice as much money and time per kid, there's less chance that someone will get hurt or lost, and maybe you'll go a little less crazy managing them.
posted by pracowity at 4:58 AM on April 19, 2008

Best answer: For my daughter's fifth, we went to a park, had a cake, hired an artistic teenager to paint faces (cheap) and I went to the dollar store and bought a bunch of $1 hula hoops. The kids LOVED them, had a blast and everyone took home a hoop as their "favor". It was a great party and really reasonable on the budget!
posted by pearlybob at 5:09 AM on April 19, 2008 [3 favorites]

posted by Mblue at 5:10 AM on April 19, 2008

We tie-dyed a bunch of shirts at a party for one of our kids and everyone involved had a blast. Everyone was asked to bring a t-shirt, socks or pillowcase. We supplied the Rit dye in a variety of colors and had extra shirts on hand. We still have a bunch of them kicking around. The dyed shirts, I mean. The kids are also still kicking around.
posted by jquinby at 5:11 AM on April 19, 2008

Seconding scavenger hunts. You could have the kids do some crafts, like making eye patches and pirate hats out of newspaper, and then give them a map to follow that leads to the "treasure" (lunch and cake). If you have adult helpers you could give them a map to the first clue and then have adults there holding each clue to give to the kids rather than hiding the clues so they don't get lost or stolen. If you really want to be fancy you could divide the kids into two or three groups and let them each have their own map and set of directions so each kid in the group can be more involved. The clues would have to be pretty easy for six year olds, but scavenger hunts are always fun.

I agree that the magician sounds fancy. I wouldn't bother.
posted by christinetheslp at 5:15 AM on April 19, 2008

I agree, there's no real need for a magician. Personally, as a kid, children's entertainers made me nervous, because I never knew what they were going to do to us. Although I'm no parent, I've noticed that the younger the kids are, the more they're likely to be shy or nervous around something they know they're supposed to enjoy.

I had a huge time at a tie-dying party (heck, I was fifteen). I think you should make crafts the theme of the day. Kids can make their own favors -- I still like parties where this happens.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:53 AM on April 19, 2008

Lots of great ideas above. I'll add bubble blowing. The equipment is cheap, the fuel is dirt cheap, and I'm always amazed by how long kids are willing to do it before it gets boring. Added bonus, the running and heavy breathing add to the wear 'em out factor.
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:03 AM on April 19, 2008

I would say keep it small and have a long list of activities in mind, not that you'll do them all but, if one seems to be really entertaining them stick with it for a while. Have run around things but also quiet time things. I once did a game where they divide up into teams and use a coffee scoop size dipper to carry water to fill a 32 oz yoghurt container. They loved it. Have fun.
posted by starfish at 6:25 AM on April 19, 2008

As a (now non-performing) magician, even I would say it's ok to skip the magician. Unless you have already promised it, of course. Good magicians are relatively expensive, and cheap magicians are nearly always bad. A typical birthday magician generally doesn't do over 30 minutes. Nor would the kids endure it for any longer than that. For the cost of the magician, you can buy lots of party favors and props for games.

If it's in the budget, a good magician who really connects with kids can be fantastic to have. But I wouldn't blow the whole budget on it, and have to scrimp on the other stuff.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 6:42 AM on April 19, 2008

Also, if weather permits - a cookout because it's the easiest food. Hot dogs and potato chips, cupcakes (that maybe you let them decorate themselves?). Good luck!
posted by heartquake at 6:45 AM on April 19, 2008

We had a low-key birthday party for my son last year, for his sixth.

We didn't have as many kids as you're inviting (we did pretty much what imjustsaying does, "age of kid + 1 = number of kids invited") but we had those little jars you fill with colored sand, Pin the Tail on the Donkey, tie balloons to the kids' ankles and try to stomp them (hint: don't use black balloons), What Will Happen If I Drop This Mentos into This Bottle of Diet Soda, and good old fashioned running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Mr. Lucinda made a cake, a great time was had by all.
posted by Lucinda at 6:51 AM on April 19, 2008

(Why not use black balloons?)
posted by amanda at 7:13 AM on April 19, 2008

In anticipation of this summer, you could go with an Olympics theme, and have all sorts of crazy events, like potato sack races, bat spinning races, crab walk races, carrying an egg on a spoon, etc., etc. Make some big goofy medals (maybe with a picture of the birthday boy on it, or his own drawing of Mt. Olympus or something) on ribbons and make sure everyone gets one at some point.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:20 AM on April 19, 2008

Oh, I meant to also say: recruit LOTS of help. Ever hear of the phrase "herding cats"? Herding 6yo boys is like herding cats to the millionth power.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:28 AM on April 19, 2008

My son had a last-day-of-preschool party last year at the park. THE hit of the party was a bug search. Their teachers had bought a packets of plastic bugs, two of a kind, about 2-3 inches long. Each kid got one of the pair (centipede, beetle, etc . . .) and then had to find it's twin, which was on the ground (in a designated area). My younger son played a similar game a few months ago, but they also made their own bug bags out of clear bags, glitter, stickers, and a pipe cleaner handle.

Also, my situation wasn't the same as yours, but I received some good responses from my birthday question a few months ago.
posted by bibliowench at 7:38 AM on April 19, 2008

You could probably set the party apart from others (if you're thinking it's a low budget party and still hiring a magician) by playing traditional games. Hot potato, musical chairs, pin the tail on the donkey, Simon Says, I Spy, scavenger hunt, etc. You might also serve a food that the kids get to assemble -- make your own submarine sandich, taco, etc. Then you turn the food prep into an activity.
posted by acoutu at 7:44 AM on April 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

There are lots of good ideas in this thread, and I'm really just going to echo what others have said. When I was growing up, we never had much money at all, and so my mom would always allow my brothers and I to have a few friends over, and you know what? We never realized we were poor. We'd do things like play at the park (there's not need to provide sit-down entertainment, like a magician, for six-year olds, I think. The best fun is running wild!). I totally agree with others in the thread that inexpensvie toys like hula hoops, bubbles, and traditional party games & songs that the others mentioned make for a great time. Also, if it is really nice out, a water balloon toss is always a hit. If you want to have a formal activity for the kids, buy some cheap craft supplies or something. Make some plain cupcakes or sugar cookies ahead of time, and bring different colored icing & sprinkles for the kids to decorate their own desserts.

People go way overboard and get stressed out about parties, and little kids just want to run around, eat sugary food, and have fun.
posted by nuclear_soup at 8:19 AM on April 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

It depends on your social circle. If you can invite whole families, rather than just their 6-year-olds, then you can reasonably ask at least some of the other parents to stay and give a hand with herding. You can also ask for contributions of food -- "enough of one item to feed 6 people" has always supplied more than enough for our parties.

A mixed-age group party does constrain the games a bit -- but for 6-year-olds they probably need to be fairly free-form anyway. If they have winners, dole out several small prizes, including some for random special feats.
posted by Idcoytco at 8:37 AM on April 19, 2008

Best answer: We had a bubble-themed party that was a huge hit; got a bunch of bubble wrap for placemats, window valances, and to put on the floor and stomp, then went outside and blew bubbles; had clear balloons for decorations. Pretty cheap and the kids had a lot of fun. There are a lot of suggestions on the internet for bubble wrap parties for all ages. Also agree with limiting the number of kids to closer to 10 if possible, although I am always amazed at the family members who pout if they and their teenagers aren't invited to a toddler birthday party, so I understand it can be hard to limit the guest list.
posted by TedW at 9:11 AM on April 19, 2008 [3 favorites]

If you're having it outdoors, kids always seem to enjoy the donute game: tie one donut per child on a ribbon and hang it from a low tree branch or some other support item. Have each child stand by a donut, and instruct them to keep their hands behind their backs. When you give the signal, they have to start eating the suspended donut (without using hands). First one to finish wins.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:52 AM on April 19, 2008

Get a bunch of good big cardboard boxes like appliance boxes that don't have staples but instead are glued. Cut off two sides so you have what amounts to a loop of cardboard. Crease the sides of the boxes so there are eight or ten creased sides. Add six-year-olds inside (one per box) and get them to crawl around. Boys usually decide these are tanks and they generally race them or have demolition derbies. It's pretty safe as long as they don't have obstacles to fall over, because the cardboard absorbs a lot of shock. Uniform includes long pants because the kids will unwittingly rub the skin off their knees doing this.
posted by jet_silver at 10:01 AM on April 19, 2008

Echoing the crowd here-- just give them some party games, some free time playing, some cake and ice cream and you're good to go.
I remember being a kid and that's what almost all of my friends birthday parties were and they were the most fun.
I definitely would not have enjoyed a magician or any kind of party entertainment as a kid. You'll have to wrangle the kids up and make them sit still, which they probably won't enjoy if they're in play mode.
I would say instead of paying for a magician, buy a piñata. Kids love them and you won't even have to get party favors. You can get them with candy and/or little toys inside, like kazoos or something. When I turned 6 we had a party in our small backyard with a piñata and it went over like gangbusters.
posted by fructose at 10:06 AM on April 19, 2008

If you have already committed to the magician, make it a magic themed party. Start off with black constuction paper, craft supplies and wooden dowels, some black and white paint and have everyone make their own wand and top hat

After the magian leaves, have someone teach all the kids a very basic magic trick, get cheap magic tricks to use as favors from dollar store or oriental trading.

end with showing them all how to make some cake disappear.....
posted by Mr_Chips at 11:13 AM on April 19, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, these suggestions are great. This party has been weighing so heavily on my mind for weeks that I guess I forgot the obvious thing, that kids like the games and running around more than anything else. I love the bubble wrap idea, TedW!
As for the magician- that's a promise I made almost a year ago, so I can't really wiggle out of it (although the 'magician' may end up being a neighbor in a funny hat.)
posted by maryh at 11:29 AM on April 19, 2008

Best answer: Spent a few years as activities planner for kids summer camp. On average a childs attention span is equal his age, so 6 years = 6 minutes. Here are some activties my kids asked for again & again.

Bubbles, make your own in gallon milk jugs, make several jugs, it will get spilled. For bubble wands: pipe cleaners bent in interesting shapes, cookie cutters, yogurt container lids with the middle cut out, those plastic thingies that hold a six-pack together, a wide variety of kitchen utensils, like a plastic slotted spatula or a whisk. Baking pans make good dipping pans, they don't spill easy and more than one kid can use it at a time, have one dipping pan for every 2-3 kids.

2/3 C. Joy dish soap
1 gallon water
few drops of food coloring (optional)
many recipes call for glycerin, I have not found it neccessary

Shaving cream finger painting on wax paper, tint it food coloring.

Fabric Crayon t-shirt iron-on transfers, the crayons are availavle at craft & sewing stores. Copy the directions for ironing on pc paper, have kids draw on other side, send it home with 'em. Most kids will make more than one. Warning: lettering will be reversed when transfered, so letters must be done backwards. One method is to turn the paper over write with black marker and flip the paper to trace it.

Non-competitive games:

Turtle Races: 2-3 kids (of similiar size/ability) get on hands & knees & become a turtle when covered with a turtleshell (light weight sheet), 2 turtles race while the others cheer & wait thier turn.

Sticky Popcorn: designate a circle (popcorn pan) while playing music have kids show you what popcorn does, after they are into it, tell 'em to become sticky popcorn. What do you get when sticky pop corn is popping and it bumps another sticky popcorn? You get get a huge giggling popcorn ball.

SeaWitch, fill a sprayer bottle to mist and chase 'em around saying stuff like "Oh NO the SeaWitch is going to get you", misting them as you go, have a second spray bottle with drinking water to give them a drink by squirting water directly into thier mouths. This idea was born of desperation but never fails to amuse.

SILENCE:This one is from my own childhood but kids still love it. The goal is to get a moment of quiet for the adults, but it also calms an unruly group. Everyone wins but the one who is silent the longest gets biggest prize. In our house the prize was ice cream and the winner got a bigger serving.

Hope you find something here that will help.
posted by misspat at 11:36 AM on April 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've thought that this robot birthday party looked fantastic ever since I saw the pictures.

You could do a somewhat similar thing along a magician theme. Have them come up with their own magician names, give them paper with a top hat on it and have them draw what they're pulling out of a hat. I also love the making their own magic wand idea from Mr_Chips.
posted by shesbookish at 11:39 AM on April 19, 2008

Best answer: As for the magician- that's a promise I made almost a year ago, so I can't really wiggle out of it (although the 'magician' may end up being a neighbor in a funny hat.)

Oh no... don't do this. The kids won't like it, and your neighbor will hate you. The only thing worse than a bad magician is someone pretending to be a bad magician. Entertaining 6 year boys is one of the most difficult things to do, as you are seeing for yourself.

Hire someone who is good with kids. Not all are. Note that every magician thinks he is good for any audience. They can be the worst judge of their own abilities (how many other entertainers bill themselves as "The Great"?), so it's better to get some recommendations. See if you can find a contact point for local Society of American Magicians, or International Brotherhood of Magicians, and talk to the president about what you are looking for. If budget is an issue, let them know that as well. It varies by locale, but the range for a birthday party can be anywhere from under a hundred dollars, to several hundred and more, depending on the act.

If you find it hard to get someone qualified for your budget, here's a tip that can work: No magician wants to come down on his fee, so don't even ask. But, you can offer a compromise. For example, instead of 30 minutes, using bigger props, ask if they can do a shorter show, using less complicated props. It's essentially the same amount of work for the magician, but it allows him to lower his fee without devaluing the show. I used to offer what I called a "drop-in show" to those who couldn't afford my regular fee. The drop-in show was done with props out of a briefcase, without needing to set up a table and a backdrop, and done in casual clothing. I could charge less because there was less preparation involved, and everyone was happy.

All this to say, if you call around you can get someone to work with you, and who can do a good, fun show for the kids.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 12:04 PM on April 19, 2008

food coloring

Please mention on the invitations that they should wear their grungy non-"party" clothes that are ok to get dirty and stained.

The Moms of your party guests
posted by SuperSquirrel at 1:30 PM on April 19, 2008

Best answer: Oh yeah, following on from misspat's post... I don't know if game this has crossed the pond, but here it has saved many a person's sanity when faced with a room full of six year olds.

Sleeping Lions.

All the kids lie on the floor, as still and quiet as they can be. They're sleeping lions. Lions like their sleep and they sleep very still and quiet. For 6 year olds, I get them to shut their eyes. The adults then patrol the sleeping lions, and if any of the lions are caught moving, they're out.

A variation, if you have slightly older kids, is to have the adults, and later the kids that are out, go round trying to make the lions laugh, by pulling faces, telling jokes, just purely by looking into their eyes for as long as it takes... you get the idea.

This game has been played for generations. By the time the kids work out the con, they've got kids of their own to look after.

Adults get an extra glass of wine when it's all over if any of the kids actually fall asleep.

Seriously though, if all the hyperactivity is starting to get to them, this is a great way to get 6 year olds to wind down a bit.
posted by Helga-woo at 3:11 PM on April 19, 2008

Where do you live? If you live in a May-is-warm state, why not throw it at a neighborhood pool? Its free, easy and the kids keep themselves entertained. Buy a cake and you're done!
posted by thebrokenmuse at 4:32 PM on April 19, 2008

Two words for you : WATER BALLOONS.
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:01 PM on April 19, 2008

(Why not use black balloons?)
posted by amanda at 7:13 AM on April 19 [+] [!]

If it's sunny, they pop almost immediately.
posted by Lucinda at 9:42 PM on April 19, 2008

Water Balloons indeed.

For one of my birthdays growing up, we filled up a ton of water balloons, put them in coolers or garbage bags, and went to the park with a bunch of friends. It was epic. You can also pick up a water balloon launcher or two for fairly cheap. Have a cake and some watermelon/chips/capri suns and you are set. Water balloon launchers + boys = endless fun. I need to buy one right now.
posted by clearly at 10:30 PM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

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