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Save the pennies: Be gender neutral

Teddy Bears' Picnic

Image by Cockburn Libraries via Flickr

It’s a tough old world for the party scene out there. Money is tight, we are all struggling to pay bills and now you are facing the expense of a children’s birthday party.

Have you ever considered the impact of gender stereotyping when it comes to expense?

What on earth do I mean?

Well I shall explain.

So many times as a children’s birthday party entertainer, I see the  host struggling to keep up with the party tea, handing out blue/car boxes to boys and pink/ fairy boxes to girls. Sometimes they are left with odd numbers or an unexpected child turns up and they only have the opposite gender box, posing a tricky situation. You try getting a boy to eat his sausages and sandwiches and crisps from out of a pink fairy box. It isn’t easy.

The same applies for party table ware and balloons. It is also very noticeable at going home time and the party bags come out. In that mad scrum of leaving and finding shoes and bags and coats, it is really an unnecessary  extra effort to have to provide the appropriate pink or blue gendered going away gift.

Children really don’t care much about this gendered thing, trust me. Adults are laying on the expectations for them. Why do we have to gender the decor or the party table ware? Unless your theme is pink and girly or Thomas the Tank engine, you are really making things hard for yourself. All this gender stereotyping stuff serves to do is alienate boys if things are all pink , causing them to act up  or vice versa. There are plenty of themes out there that are gender neutral, why not take advantage of their potential.

Think about animals. Every child loves animals whether it is a Jungle or Farm theme or Teddybear’s picnic, there is potential for joy without having to do something different for each gender.

Instead of pink or blue tableware, why not try bright primary colours? There is nothing more visually pleasing than a table decked out in vivid rainbow colours.

As for party bags or going away gifts, a book or a pack of bright crayons and a colouring book always goes down well. Finger puppets are a great going away gift, especially after a puppet party.

My fairyland finger puppet set

A knights tale complete with fire breathing dragon and a tower

A space adventure

Ikea do very cheap and good quality sets . If you are looking for very special finger puppets, I make my own one off story finger puppet sets  available online in my folksy shop. One simple gift nicely wrapped in gender neutral colours is just as appreciated as a gendered bag full of plastic tat and sweets. I’ve even seen children going home proudly clutching their very own daffodil in a pot, or a strawberry plant. Be creative. There is more to childhood than turning our kids into princesses and pirates at every opportunity. Sometimes it is good to just let them be kids and it is considerably cheaper and far less hassle.

And if you are wondering, as a lady entertainer I am personally partial to pink and tutus and all things sparkly. But I do like a bit of rainbow thrown in for variety. Let’s open our minds to the possibilities of gender neutral and save ourselves a few pounds in the process. Can’t be bad.

Boundaries: A Safe Space To Run Free

Boundaries, now there’s a word to make most people switch off. Before you do, please hear me out.

The concept of boundaries gets a raw deal in my opinion. People shy away from creating boundaries as if by so doing they will  be making themselves into the ‘bad guy’.  Although they take a little resolve and confidence to instill, once put into place, boundaries are the foundation of establishing calmness and instilling confidence in those who need a little encouragement and security.

We all need boundaries in our lives to be able to be free. An oxymoron perhaps? On first sight it appears that way. How can imposing limitations create freedom?

Let me give you an everyday example from my work as a London Children’s Entertainer.

When I first started out, many moons ago I didn’t think about boundaries. I didn’t want to be bossy, I wanted to be the fun lady that everybody loved  and I wanted to bring laughter not restriction to a child’s party. So I started doing puppet shows and wondered why the children were behaving so badly. They threw things into the puppet theatre,  they paid constant visits to the back of the theatre whilst I was performing, interrupting the show. They pulled the puppets, threw things at them, and kicked and pulled the puppet theatre. Aargh! Those terrible children, you might think.

This doesn’t happen any more and it’s not because I came over all ‘School Ma’am’ and thrashed them with a cane. ( metaphorically of course, that would be illegal and not very nice.)

It dawned on me pretty quickly that I had forgotten an important thing. I had forgotten to speak to the children and let them know my boundaries. Communication, how could I have forgotten about this ? In order for us to be able to have fun together we needed to simply negotiate with each other.

I had come into a party looking like a silly lady, colourfully dressed with ribbons in my hair. I didn’t look like an authority figure ( thank goodness) but I was still expected to keep the party under control but without anyone realising I was controlling. Of course the children were going to test my limits, see how far the silly ‘clown’ lady would go. So they did those ‘naughty’ things and watched my reaction.

Cesar Millan on Small Dogs vs. Big Dogs

Image by watchmojo via Flickr

All I needed to do was to use my calm/assertive energy and quietly explain to the children why they shouldn’t pull the puppet theatre or puppets, or go around the back of the puppet theatre. Once I explained why I didn’t want the children to do those things ( it wasn’t safe, they could pull the puppet theatre over etc) I could see the children visibly relax. I didn’t need to tell them not to poke or pull me once I had used this ‘leader’ energy. It simply didn’t happen. I took my theory from the wonderful  and awesome Dog Whisperer, Cesar Milan. It seems his theory works very well with people (especially the mini-people) as well as dogs!

Now children can have fun in peace, knowing that I don’t have to shout at them . Parties seem to end up as a  bit of a ‘Love-In’ with children offering countless cuddles and high fives to this silly lady after the show.

So, next time you are considering setting boundaries but are frightened of consequences, don’t be. They may be just what the doctor ordered!

Balloons, the pros and cons.

A pile of inflatable balloons.

Image via Wikipedia

As a London children’s entertainer of over 17 years experience, I’ve been to a fair few parties. How many I couldn’t possibly accurately calculate, but I’d hazard a guess that I’m probably past my thousandth party.  With all this experience I’ve become acutely aware of what can make or break a children’s party, especially from the entertainer’s perspective. Ideally when hiring an entertainer, the intention is to have a fun party with as little stress as possible. This doesn’t come without some planning and the best parties come from good team work between the client and the entertainer. Communication is vital, make sure you spend some time chatting to your entertainer to make sure they know what they are doing. Personally I feel an entertainer who is willing to compromise and bend to all requests may suggest an entertainer with little or no experience. An experienced entertainer is a source of many hints and tips for making your party successful, so don’t be afraid of picking their brains. A wise client is one who listens to suggestions from the entertainer and works in conjunction with them.  Good teamwork is essential for a smooth and calm party. I don’t know about you, but I like to avoid chaos at all costs.

Let’s start with BALLOONS.

Balloons. What party is complete without them? They provide instant festive decoration and are a party must. Right?

Right. But there are also times when balloons can be the cause of party chaos.

As an entertainer who wants to make sure my client’s party experience is a calm and controlled affair, I walk a tightrope of sergeant major/party-pooper. It’s a fine balance of keeping control but also not destroying the fun atmosphere. After all , fun is what a party is about. But out of control fun can soon descend into very unpleasant chaos. This is easily avoided though by taking some precautionary measures.

When booking a party with Diane’s Puppets, I suggest to my clients that if they are having balloons, to make sure they are kept off of the floor.

Party-pooper alert? Hmm, maybe, but balloons are great fun to play with on the floor as long as there is no other planned activity going on. If you are having a free play /soft play session for your party, by all means cover the floor with balloons. They are a  simple and cheap way of keeping small children busy. Combine balloons with a few bubbles and that is a party in itself. But and this is a big BUT if you have booked entertainment for the party, keep the focus on the booked entertainment. Children find it hard to focus on one thing if there are lots of other things going on at the same time and that inability to focus often leads to all-consuming chaos.

Keep balloons tied up and out of reach if you don’t want loose balloons to become bouncy weapons and missiles, perfect objects to hurl into puppet booths or bash puppets/entertainers/each other with.

Don’t underestimate the noise balloons can create when in a child’s grasp, the squeaking and bursting and general distraction they can cause can’t be over-emphasized.

Helium balloon ‘forests’ can be a beautiful decorative feature, but make sure that the dangling string is just out of children’s reach otherwise expect a few children to take on the role of chief balloon collector and claim them all. If there is to be a puppet show, make sure helium balloons are away from the front of the stage as the constant bobbing of the balloons can completely obscure the view for the majority of the audience and also risk popping on the hot lights. On that note, do bear  in mind that some children are balloon phobic especially if they happen to be autistic and sensitive to noise. Balloons can then be a very terrifying thing, unpredictable and very loud when popped. We want to minimize tears and disruption and maximize fun by thinking in advance.

So to summarize:

  • Keep ‘air’ balloons off of the floor if you are having entertainment and use them for decoration and going away gifts at the end of the party.
  • Make sure the string of helium balloons is just above the reach of the tallest child at the party to minimize squabbles and disruption if you want to make a forest of helium balloons .
  • Tie helium balloons firmly to the child’s wrist on departure- they have a nasty habit of flying to the moon if you don’t. ( The balloons that is, not the children!)
  • Consider tying helium balloon to each of the chairs at the tea table. This is a great way of adding instant party pizzazz but keeps the balloons in a secure place.
  • Be mindful of any left over latex from burst balloons, small children can easily choke. In my time as an entertainer, adults have been known to use the stretchy stuff to make makeshift caterpaults to fire at the entertainer… Hmm. Not great. Silly grown-up’s hey?

The power of puppets for change

Diane at work with her puppet Fifi

As you know, I’m a London birthday party puppet entertainer. Most of what I do is for fun. I take the spreading of joy and silliness very seriously. Birthday parties are a special time that create precious memories to be stored for the future.

However, there is a serious side to what I do as well.

I work as a workshop leader for Scary Little Girls Theatre Company with my puppet Fifi the Fairy and I deliver healthy relationship workshops ( anti bullying) where we explore how we treat each other and what feelings arise from our interactions.Fifi now has legions of young fans all over Southwark Primary Schools. This work is an absolute joy. It gladdens my heart to see such willingness from these very young children to explore difficult feelings as such a tender age and to begin to take responsibility towards how we treat each other.

The youth of today?

Let me tell you, they are magnificent.

All they need is inspiration.

And that, fellow grown-ups , is our responsibility.

Toddler parties : celebrating those terrible two’s.

So your baby is growing up and you face a birthday party with a child who is learning to tantrum and you have visions of all the guests ( being two years old or roundabout ) having tantrums all at once! AARGH! The vision has you filled with dread.

It’s probably too early to play traditional party games at your party.They take a certain degree of reason to be considered successful.Pass the parcel will probably result in a few tears as ‘sharing’ is probably not one of a two year old’s best skills. They understand that in pass the parcel you get a prize if you have the parcel, so hold on to it and refuse to let it go, music or no music. It’s all pretty understandable. If  you are going to play musical bumps/statues, understand that this age group will not understand the concept of being ‘OUT’ so be prepared to act like the silly grown up and not be able to see who is out. Basically it’s just an excuse to dance to some music. You will  have to lead the statues quite visually, giving the children ideas of what an elephant, etc will look like when the music stops so expect to make some funny faces all in the name of fun.

Soft play toys and/or a bouncy castle and/or ball pool is probably a better idea than party games at this age.  If your budget doesn’t stretch to hiring out this equipment, don’t despair. A really nice alternative is to play some simple circle games where everyone is a winner and no one is out or gets a prize. ( Sometimes ‘winning’ a prize can be counterproductive and end in tears or with tantrums of ‘don’t want that , I want what Johnny has’. )

CIRCLE GAMES: Fun where everyone is a winner.

Ring a Ring a Rosies is a lovely simple traditional game and is also a VERY useful way of getting the children into a circle for a picnic tea round a cloth or at any time when you require them to sit in a circle. Have you ever tried herding reluctant two year old’s into a circle before? It sounds simple enough but can take a lot of time. Just say we’re going to play Ring a Ring a Rosies and hold out your hands to invite children and mummies /daddies to play. Once everyone is holding hands, the parents can encourage the children to hold hands with each other once the confidence has grown, and then you can start to play.

Ring a Ring a Rosies

Ring a ring of rosies( circle around to the left or right)

A pocket full of poseys

Attishoo ( mime a sneezing action)


We all fall down! ( Fall down and sit on the ground)

( Alternative extra verses)

Picking up the daisies

Picking up the daisies



We all jump up!

The cows are in the meadows

Eating buttercups



We all jump up!

Fishes in the water

Fishes in the sea

We all jump up with a 1 2    3 !

( fun alternative for a pirate themed party is this:)

Ring a ring of pirate ships

A pocket full of cutlasses ( wave your imaginary cutlass)

Hoist up the mainsail ( pull up imaginary rigging)

We all jump over board. ( Hold nose and jump )

Crocodiles in the water

Sharks are in the sea

Jump out the water with a 123!

The Farmer’s in the Dell ( one child stands in the middle of the circle as the farmer the others circle round singing)

The farmer’s in the dell , the farmer’s in the dell

Ee aye , Ee aye, the farmer’s in the dell.

The farmer wants a wife , the farmer wants a wife ( the person in the middle chooses a child from the circle to join them in the middle)

Ee aye , Ee aye , the farmer wants a wife.

The wife wants a child ( the ‘wife’ chooses another child ..)


The child wants a nurse ( and so on)


The nurse wants a dog ( child chosen mimes being a doggy, on hands and knees)


The dog wants a bone ( doggy chooses another child or preferably is encouraged to choose  an adult in the circle , you’ll see why in a minute)


We all pat the bone, We all pat the bone( everyone from the circle comes into the middle to gently pat the ‘bone’ on the head.)

Ee aye , Ee aye , we all pat the bone.

If you have the energy /space /inclination it is always great to have  game of Hokey Cokey. There’s nothing like it for getting the party spirit going and it’s such a nice game for the children to have fun with grownups on their own level.

Just be careful of the surge forward , monitor how hard people pull, and if there are older siblings involved, press upon them to be gentle with their siblings as it is very tempting to pull people over…

Hokey Cokey ( everyone join hands in a circle )

You put your left leg in ( leg towards the inside of the circle)

Your left leg out ,

In out , in out ,

You shake it all about

You do the hokey cokey and you turn around ( hold hands together in prayer motion and rock them back and forth, then turn your whole body around . )

That’s what it’s all about!

Ohhhhhhhh, (GENTLY rush into the centre of the circle , everyone together)

Hokey Cokey Cokey ( Back out again)

Ohhhhhhh ( Rush in again)

Hokey Cokey Cokey ( out again)

Ohhhhhhh ( In again)

Hokey Cokey Cokey (out again)

Knees bend arms stretch

Ra Ra Ra ( Clap three times)

( more verses, follow the instructions in the song and repeat as above)

You put your right leg in etc…

You put your left arm in.. etc

You put your right arm in ..

You put your bottom in ( this always raises many a smile and giggle, especially when we get to the shake it all about bit! )

You put your whole self in , ( Jump in )

By the time you have completed this, I can guarantee you will most probably collapse in a red faced satisfied heap on the floor. Who needs a gym subscription when you have children?

Puppets are great for two year olds parties. Toddlers are able to focus on a more formal puppet show by this stage. An hour’s session should suffice, but do remember that sometimes young children require a little bit of ‘get to know you ‘time before they get into their groove. If you would like support with your party, maybe a full two hour party with an entertainer wouldn’t be a bad investment for peace of mind.

Again, the secret is KEEP IT SIMPLE.

For minimum tantrums, keep the present opening till the end of the party when the other guests have left. Too many times I’ve seen very upset party people crying because their friend played with their new toy. Remember sharing isn’t easy. This is a social skill that takes practice and time. I like to impress on boys and girls that sharing is what ‘big boys and girls’ do. We all know how little children strive to become big boys and girls, a little impetus to learn to share never harmed anyone!

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