photography by VINCE CHAFIN

We’ve probably all witnessed a child playing more with the plain box their present came in than with the much coveted, expensive gift. That’s why I love to throw parties for children. You don’t need much (or to spend much) to have fun if you can tap into your imagination!

For the party you see on these pages, I’d just completed my own “playhouse” gypsy wagon and thought what fun it’d be to throw an old-fashioned tea party for little girls in it. I went to the thrift store and bought a bunch of very inexpensive “dress-up” clothes and shoes, broke out the good china, and served a raspberry lemonade “tea” and lots of goodies. Trying on all the clothes and hats and walking around in high heels was all the entertainment the girls needed. Adding the gypsy wagon just insured that they were transported into their imaginations.

But there are plenty of great ways to throw a kids’ party … especially if you let your child(ren) in on the decision making process. You might be surprised by what they come up with. In the meantime, here are some more ideas for an afternoon of enchantment!

Have a fun “nature treasure hunt.”
Give the kids a list of items to find in nature. The list of items could include a star shape (or any other shape), something orange, or purple, something hollow, something fuzzy, something that makes noise, and so on. Set some guidelines, like that all items have to be found in nature without doing any harm or damage, for example. At the end of the hunt the kids can create a beautiful art piece with all their goodies. Use a shadow box, an old piece of wood plank or metal, or just a simple piece of card stock that they can glue their items onto. Provide a few colored markers and craft items like glitter in case they want to gild the lily.

Create a gardening day.
Buy simple terracotta pots and child-safe paint. Have a selection of seeds with brightly colored pictures on the packets, enough so that each child can choose. Use wooden popsicle sticks as markers with the seed packet on the stick and a plant marker.

Have each child paint a picture on the pot and dedicate it to the plant, flower, vegetable that they will be planting. Explain that they’ll be creating a home for a living creature and will be responsible for its care. Ask them questions and see how they relate what they’re doing to their own life— how they tend to themselves and family members and friends. This activity is lovely to help teach not only about how plants grow and but also as an allegory about life and how we are all connected.

Make masks.
Shop at local thrift stores and rummage sales and gather a pile of fun goodies like fabric, trims, old costumes, beads, paints, glue, glitter … whatever strikes your fancy. Provide for the kids a blank, basic white mask that you can find online very affordably. Create a fun theme for the kids like faeries, fantastical creatures, plants, or animals–almost any theme will work. Let them find a creature or idea that resonates with them and create a mask that represents it. Ask them what quality their being has … any super-powers, sounds, physical characteristics? Have them each in turn put on their mask and act out a story about their creature. For older kids or teenagers you can create a more complex theme like a mask that represents a monster or shadow part of themselves and/or a mask representing the beautiful part of themselves.

Treasure hunts.
Create a fun pirate treasure hunt by getting the kids into teams and providing them with a treasure map and compasses, spades, pirate hats, eye patches, and other fun pirate wear. Give them very basic coordinates that take them to different spots where they receive further maps with instructions, eventually having each team arrive at a buried treasure. Something like “walk ten paces due north, at hangman’s tree go north five paces, now dig…” Have fun creating the maps. Start with basic white typing paper, tea stain it with strong tea or coffee, and then mark it with dashed lines to show pathways, with different symbols for different locations. Have your map end with a large red “x” to mark the spot of either a new map or a buried treasure. This theme could easily be transformed to a Harry Potter Triwizard-style tournament where the kids are given a task to complete as a team, with each task building on the last. The possibilities really are endless.

Have a brainstorming night with your family and talk through several ideas. The more creative you get, the more great ideas start flowing. You can create your own themed parties based on your child’s hobbies or the things they love. The bottom line for me is to create an environment or activity that taps into your child’s imagination and allows the creative juices to flow. And, of course.. don’t forget to have fun!

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