Taking the stress out of your child's annual celebrations!

Archive for the ‘Party games’ Category

Don’t Panic Mr Mainwaring!

If you can hear those words in your head uttered by the lovely Clive Dunn from the 70’s sit com Dad’s Army, then you’re probably of my generation or maybe you watch TV programs from yesteryear.

Either way, they encapsulate something I’d like to say to you lovely parents when hosting a party for lots of little strangers and their parents.

Don’t panic! It will all be fine.

Sometimes when faced with a big space like a church hall, children will feel the urge to run about. Some will even do that lovely slidey knee thing. ( I wish I could do that and get away with it, but I fear I may never get up again if I tried!)

If they do start to run about, it’s not the end of the world.

Don’t panic!

Your energy will translate to the children , they can smell the anxiety , just like dogs and they will sense it as fear. That makes it hard for you to take charge and remedy the situation ( if you don’t like the running about, some do!)


So what do you do if you feel that your party is starting to tip into chaos?

  • First take a deep breath. Remember your energy is paramount. Calm your breathing down.
  • Ask the grown-ups ( or get another adult to help with this) to quieten down. (You’ll be amazed at how much adult noise affects behaviour of children in a party situation)
  • If you have an entertainer and they are able to help, ask them to start an activity. The children will listen to a stranger.
  • Gain the attention of the children by making a sound that they won’t expect : blow a whistle, bang a tambourine or get a bloke to shout ATTENTION!
  • Once the attention is gained, harness the enthusiasm and energy of the children and announce a  game  in a good confident , projected voice.
  • Don’t ask who wants to play … just say WE ARE GOING TO PLAY…Give the children a choice and many will choose to keep on with their own invented/slightly dangerous(?) game.

Play games that involve non competition and action. Try the Hokey Cokey ( Get the grown-ups going too, they’ll enjoy this one especially if they’ve had a glass or two…) Go on a Bear Hunt , Be the Grand Old Duke of York ( or get a suitable bloke to be Sergeant Major and play a version of “Simon Says.” Kids love following instructions! Play Ring a Ring a Rosies with smaller children.


I can’t stress enough how your energy and that of the other grown-ups will affect the behaviour of the children.

Just because they’re running around doesn’t mean they’re being naughty. They’re using their imaginations to fill in the gaps. They’d much rather the adults join in with them and have fun all together.

So Grown-ups , are you ready for the challenge?


YOU Put your Right Foot IN

Your right foot OUT


So next time, don’t panic!

Get Involved!



A Mermaid Game for Birthday Parties

I was never  content with just making  bucket sandcastles  when I went to the beach as a child. Even as a 6-year-old, my inner artist was begging to surface.  My favourite thing to do was to make a sand mermaid. I would sculpt her face and tail from sand and then decorate her with seaweed and shells that I retrieved from the nearby rock pools.


Rock pools : for me, this was a magical world that was so visually rich and full of potential. What strange and wonderful clawed creature was hiding underneath those fronds of seaweed? What scary creature lived in that pretty shell? Sea anemones, well they were just strange, marvellous,  wiggly beauty , living  animal flowers of the sea and starfish still fascinate me to this day. As a child, all I needed was a beach, a bucket and net and rock pools and I was happy for the day.

Strike that, as an adult I’d be just as happy. I must get myself down to the sea sometime soon.


Given the challenge of coming up with Mermaid themed games recently, I turned to my fascination for rock pools. Surely they were mermaid’s gardens?

I had a basic idea of musical islands with a twist:Musical Rock pools.

Music played , children dance and when the music stops  I shout out a rock pool creature or thing.


Then the children need to find a rock pool with a seahorse in it to stand on.

I found a seahorse!










So I made some rock pools from some off-cuts of vinyl flooring. I painted them blue and added rock pool creatures , painted in some seaweed and then varnished them to make them nice and durable. After all, I hope that lots of little feet will be stomping all over them for many years to come at future children’s birthday parties.

Dark, mysterious, magical rock pools


Mind your toes!










I spy a jellyfish

I like playing musical rock pools!











I can’t wait to play this game at Mermaid parties.



Cheap piece of tat or something special? The prize debate.

Crochet cuteness handmade by Diane

Parties often aren’t complete without games and games are often not complete without prizes. The question is , what do we give for prizes?

Personally as a mum, I’m not too keen on sweets, although they are a good cheap option. Many children aren’t allowed sweets for various reasons. So what do you do then? There is the option of going to the party supply shop and buying a host of cheap plastic toys. Now what happens when those toys get home? If your home is anything like mine, there are baskets and boxes full of bits and bobs, mostly comprising of bits of plastic and cheap tat. Are these toys really good value for money? I’m not so sure as they are often destined for the rubbish bin after about half an hour of play.

At a Diane’s Puppets party, I like to make my birthday client feel special. I’m a crafty sort of lady, trained in Fine Art in my youth and the sort of person with constantly busy hands. I like to put my finger -fidgets to good use and have recently taken up crochet.  I love it! How wonderful to create lots of little pretty things. Now I’m able to master the ‘yarn over pull through two’ I’m churning out a myriad of cuteness which I turn into badges or fridgies or hairclips. The birthday boy or girl receives a hand made card with a crocheted applique attached. Boys can look forward to being the proud owner of a cute car or monkey or space rocket.

delicious crochet!

In these hard bitten economic times, I feel the personal touch is what it is about. Less plastic tat, more handcrafted cuteness say I?

Do you agree?

Yo ho ho and a whole lotta pirates!

Buried Treasure: illustration of William "...

Image via Wikipedia

Birthday party themes are fun. Having a theme can turn a simple party into an extravaganza. But do be careful not to let the theme take over and lose the fun in pursuit of the theme. Don’t let a theme prohibit you from playing your favourite game, for instance, just because it doesn’t really fit, play the game and have fun!

Your child’s  birthday is looming and your thoughts turn to planning their birthday party. The most popular theme for boys has to be pirates. Step into any party shop and you can’t fail to notice the absolute plethora of pirate paraphernalia. There are Jolly Rogers a go-go and eye patches galore.

It is indeed a fun theme, despite being built on a romantic notion of very dubious sea faring vagabonds; try explaining the morals underscoring the average pirate to your little one and I guarantee you’ll struggle! Probably the most edifying pirate story from a woman’s perspective is that of Anne Bonny  and Mary Reid who according to legend, were feared pirates active in the Caribbean who initially dressed as men. Surprising that in an exclusively male environment, early feminism reared it’s head in these two women. But back to parties…

So, you want to host a pirate party.

Pirate Decor

You’ve got jolly pirate bunting from the party shop, or you’ve made your own from triangles of spotty/stripey gift wrap/fabric stapled at intervals onto a long piece of twine.

You’ve bought the black balloons with their Jolly Roger emblem and hung them up on the walls,(do be aware that loose balloons on the floor are fun but can be a source of anxiety for those children who don’t like loud noise, balloons have a very bad habit of popping).

You’ve purchased a very jolly set of paper tableware festooned with pirate faces and pirate ships and have made /bought a cake that looks just like a pirate ship or treasure chest.( For ideas and how to, have a look at this site Coolest birthday cakes  )

Now what?

You’ll need something to do when they get there.

Pirate Games

As children arrive , it is a good idea to play a fun game of

Match the picture

Give each child half a picture of all things piratical, here are a few suggestions:

Snap My friendly crocodile

Sharkey cool dude my helpful shark

Pirate puppet show

Captain Punchdrunk and his parrot

Marina my mermaid

Then get the children to search for the other half of their picture. When they find it, they are rewarded with a chocolate gold coin!

Pass the pirate parcel

Pass the parcel is a good game and is easily adapted to a pirate theme. Instead of having prizes in between layers, maybe have pirate themed forfeits instead.Here are some suggestions:

  • Dance a pirate jig
  • Chop up a pirate ghost with your cutlass ( little boys will relish being able to actually use their cutlasses here! Just make sure the ‘ghost’ is pretend …
  • Walk the plank ( a piece of brown paper laid on the floor)
  • Say Pretty Polly like a parrot
  • Sing what shall we do with the drunken sailor ( with help from the group)
  • Shoot your pistol at a ghost crocodile

Once you get into the pirate mindset, the ideas should come flowing!

Then when the forfeits have been completed, reward the effort with a sweet or chocolate coin.

Save the main prize for the end of the parcel and make it truly random, thereby upping the tension. Believe it or not, Pass the Parcel is meant to be a competitive game albeit random!

Oh and for extra pirate flavour, try and find some pirate music to play the game to.

Musical Islands

( For instructions for this game, please see my previous party game post)

What’s the time Mr Crocodile?

Snap My friendly crocodile

Instead of playing What’s the time Mr Wolf , tweak it a little into a pirate game of What’s the time Mr Crocodile. ( Instructions in my previous party game post)

Tip: To avoid panic fighting with swords /hooks etc, ask your pirates to store their weaponry in the ‘safety chest’ ( a cardboard box ) before the game.

Please remember that if you provide play weaponry as part of your child’s costume, they will want to use it. They will not understand it is just for decoration!

Treasure hunt

The obvious game for pirates, this is a fabulous way to end a party. It can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it.

For very little children, keep it very simple; provide each child with their booty bag and send them off around the house or garden to search for simply hidden gold chocolate coins.

For older children,  you can make the game more complicated by providing a treasure map with clues. It can be obvious clues or more cryptic clues to up the stakes. Get the grown-ups involved for a really fun time.


Pirate Pete and his treasure chest

A pinata ( pronounced pin ya ta ) provides a perfect opportunity for your pirate party goers to use their weaponry in a constructive and controlled manner. This does require adult supervision but it is very much worth the effort.

Basically a pinata is a soft cardboard construction that is filled with sweets and small toys. It is suspended from a hook and children take turns to hit the pinata until its contents spill out.

Tip: If you can’t find anywhere to hang your pinata, suspend it on a long rope and have two adults hold it tight  at each end ( like a skipping rope). Have the children queue up and stand far back from the child who is hitting the pinata, well away from any swipes of the baton. Have a limited number of strikes, have the children count down as they hit the pinata and then move down the queue.

Many ready made Pinatas are available from all party suppliers and online, but why not have a go at making your own? A simple treasure chest pinata is easy to make.

Take a  cube shaped cardboard box( make sure it isn’t too strong) and fill it with sweets, confetti and cheap party favours. Fringe a few packs of brown tissue paper and glue the fringes around the box making a frilly brown cube. Decorate with a yellow paper keyhole shape and yellow paper rivets. Use a picture of a treasure chest to inspire your decoration. Seal the top and tie a loop so you can suspend your pinata.  That’s it, you are ready to go!

Lucky dip treasure chest

Instead of giving out party bags at the end of the party, why not turn the going away gift into a game? Make a treasure chest out of a cardboard box, fill it with party favours and confetti/ shredded paper/packing foam chips and then invite each child to be blindfolded and root around in the treasure chest. You can specify how many ‘dips’ each child gets. If you are lucky enough to have an old barrel, this would serve just as well as a box as a treasure chest and would make things very exciting.

Go fish!

Don't catch this on your rod!

This is an exciting way to dispense your party bags at the end of the party. Each child has a turn at swinging a fishing line over a sheet and ‘reels in’ their bounty . Sometimes the ‘fish’ can be a prize, other times it can be a shark or crocodile /old boot etc picture and then the child gets to fish again until the prize is eventually won.

Make a simple fishing rod from a bamboo cane and a length of string. Attach a wire loop to the end of the string. ( This is for attaching the prizes/pictures ) Suspend a sheet across a doorway/ the end of stairs and have an adult sit behind the sheet with a box of pictures and party favours. Each child is helped to swing the rod end over the sheet and fish for a prize.

This is great fun and really worth the effort.

John Browns Body

This is a little bit scary but is great fun for the older child’s party. Dim the lights, and have someone tell a spooky pirate story ending where a pirate is buried . At the end of the story tell the children that you’ve somehow managed to get hold of the pirates body parts ( euggh!) and hand around the group each ‘body part’. Now this is where your imagination comes in: use cooked oiled cold spaghetti for veins, a peeled grape/lychee/hard boiled egg  for an eyeball , jelly in a container for some brains, sticks painted white for bones…

Icky scary pirate fun!

Puppet Show

Captain Punchdrunk and his parrot

Most reputable children’s entertainers will have a pirate puppet show in their repertoire. I know I do! A puppet show can really focus the children and set a great atmosphere. A full pirate puppet show in an old fashioned puppet booth costs as little as £140 for an hour’s entertainment here at Diane’s Puppets.

Face painting

Pirate face painting isn’t difficult.  Here’s my video showing you step by step how to paint a very convincing pirate.

But if you don’t want the back breaking task of painting a whole crew of pirate wannabees, hire a professional. Save some money and ask around to see if there are entertainers that have face painting as part of their party package. That way you can have a puppet show and face painting at your party without too much expense. Here at Diane’s Puppets ,I offer an hours swashbuckling pirate puppet show plus face painting for as little as £170 for up to 20 children.

I think the pirate theme is very suitable for both boys and girls, for those little girls not wanting to wear pirate garb , suggest they come dressed as mermaids , but if they turn up as a princess, who’s going to complain?

I wish you all a wonderful pirate party !

Marina waves goodbye

Easy party games to keep children entertained on a shoestring.

Sorry folks, it’s been a while since I’ve  posted. I feel like I’ve neglected you all and for that I apologise.  I’ve  been a  busy bunny, entertaining at children’s birthday parties in my capacity as a children’s party entertainer in the London area.  Now I’ve had a moment to breathe I thought I’d jot down a few of my favourite  party games for the over 3’s. I hope you find them useful. I’ve included games that are easily played in a confined space, just in case you are holding the party at home.

Bubble Blowing

Never underestimate the fun potential of simple bubbles. Blow bubbles and ask the children to pop as many as they can. Special catchable bubbles are easily obtained from party stores that are fun to catch and build up into towers. Add some jolly background music for a bubbly fun time.

Musical bumps

An old favourite, Musical Bumps has endured because of it’s simplicity and because it is a whole lot of fun. The way I prefer to play it is that I can never find the person who is last to sit down ( I’m such a silly grown up!) thereby circumventing that horrid feeling of choosing someone to be out. Play good fast and funky music and encourage the children to jump about and wave their hands in the air. Then switch it off and watch them all suddenly drop to the ground.

Musical Statues/ Animals

A variation on Musical Bumps, instead of bumping to the ground when the music stops, the children have to freeze into statues . Wobbly statues are out if you are feeling brave enough to choose… Ring the changes by choosing an animal to impersonate when the music stops.


A really funny game, each child has a picture of an animal stuck on their backs. They have to guess what animal they are by asking other children  to help act out their animal.

Hunt the picture

A great game for that awkward time when people are arriving.Give each guest half of a picture ( magazine picture/comic book/ drawing) and tell them that the other half of the picture is hidden somewhere in the house/room/garden. If they can find the other half of the picture they get to win a small prize.


A great game especially good for a pirate themed party.

For every child at the party, provide a piece of newspaper, less one. Lay them down on the floor so they don’t touch.

While the music plays, the children dance around the ‘islands’ but when the music stops, everyone has to find an island to stand on to avoid being eaten by the sharks/crocodile/octopus. Keep going until there is only one piece of paper left, the child on the paper island is the winner. If you want to really up the ante on this game, you can start with one large sheet of newspaper only, and all the children have to try and cram on to it to avoid being out, and every time the music stops, a piece of the newspaper is torn away eventually leaving a piece only big enough for the winner.

What’s the time Mr Wolf?

One child is the wolf. They stand at the end of the room facing away from the other guests while the children try and creep up on him , all the time chanting ‘What’s the Time Mr Wolf? ‘If the wolf says one o clock they are allowed to take one step , two o clock , two steps and so forth. When Mr Wolf turns around they must freeze, if he sees them moving they have to go back to the start. If he shouts DINNER TIME! all the children run as he tries to catch one to replace  him as the wolf. If anyone manages to creep up before the wolf shouts dinner time, then they automatically become wolf.

Pillowcase game

Place some objects in an empty pillow case such as a small teddy, an orange, a spoon, etc. Make sure the objects have no sharp edges, safety first! Then get each child to feel inside the pillow case and guess the object. Each correct guess wins a small prize ( or if you carefully select the objects they can win what they correctly identify).

Squeak Piggy Squeak

Everyone sits in a circle on the floor with their legs crossed. One child is blindfolded and is spun around the inside of the circle. They are given a cushion and led to put the cushion on someone’s lap and sit on it. They then ask ” Squeak piggy squeak” and the sat upon child squeaks like a pig and the blindfolded child attempts to guess who it is. If the child is correctly identified, they get to be the blindfolded cushion person asking the question. This game is potentially hilarious and can end up with all the children in absolute fits of giggles.

Noise game

Prepare a simple story beforehand with lots of potential for noises, an animal or car theme is good.  Sit the children down and give them all a noise. At the appropriate time in the story , Diane says Quack! George goes Nee naw!etc. When you say a certain identified phrase such as Good Morning! everyone makes their noise at the same time. Plan the story carefully to make sure each child gets at least two chances to make their contribution.

The cardboard box game

This game is good for grown ups too!( Probably the supple ones)

Start with a  large cardboard box . The idea of the game is that each person takes turns picking up the box with their teeth only. No hands allowed at all, and no knees to touch the ground. After each successful attempt, a strip of cardboard is torn off of the box around the rim, making it lower to the ground. The winner is the last person who can reach the box with their teeth. A simple game but sometimes the simple ones are the best.

The changing face of Pass the Parcel

Everyone sits in a circle, the music starts, it’s time for Pass the Parcel.

A huge paper parcel is ‘passed’ around the children in the circle; well, let’s be honest, it’s more like the parcel has to be wrestled from the determined grip of one child and forcibly passed on to the next and so on.

When the music stops, the paper layer is ripped off to reveal a sweet or small toy and the struggle to keep the parcel in one’s grasp continues. While it seems fun at the beginning, anyone who has experienced as many games of Pass the Parcel as I have over the years knows that at a certain point the game loses any tension and the children often wander off from the circle looking for something else to do. The promise of the ‘big’ prize at the end isn’t really enough to keep most young children focused on the game.

The basic principle of the game in its present form seems to be about winning  prizes. Everyone gets a prize, fair enough, no one wants to lose but if everyone automatically wins every time something is lost : tension. And it is this lack of tension that is the reason many children cannot sit still once they’ve ‘won’ their sweet. For them the game really is over. Who can blame them for wanting to get up and walk off?

This old party classic, Pass the Parcel is often considered  an absolute must for children’s birthday parties. Without wanting to sound like a party pooper, I’m not so keen on the game in its present incarnation.

When I was a young girl, in the dim distant sixties, Pass the Parcel was a very different game indeed.

A parcel was prepared with a random number of layers. It didn’t matter if the number of layers didn’t match the number of participants as this game was principally a game of chance. The only prize was the one in the middle and it was this tension of never knowing when that central special prize was going to be discovered that kept boys and girls sitting on their bottoms, fixated on the moving parcel, wishing it was going to land on them next and make them the lucky winner.

This may seem a little unfair in our current world of everyone gets a prize, but it really worked.

To ring the changes and make the game even more interesting, forfeits were written and hidden between the layers, making the game really exciting and interactive. Children were asked to hop on one leg three times and got a prize if they completed it, or say the alphabet, or sing a nursery rhyme or pull a funny face or tell a joke. The possibilities were endless and it all made for a really fun and exciting game.

Have we thrown away the essence of Pass the Parcel in our quest to be fair to every child ? Consider how much more valued a prize of a sweetie is if it is ‘won’ by doing something other than just tearing off a piece of paper. Of course, mummies and daddies sometimes have to help complete the forfeit for their child but there is nothing more enjoyable for a small child than the warm and loving attention of a parent engaged in child’s play.

And this parental attention is the best prize of all for a child, more valuable than any piece of tat that can be found in a parcel. The real prize is in the playing of the game and guess what?

Even though not everyone may win a sweet or a toy , everyone becomes a  winner after all.

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