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

Archive for the ‘Party themes’ Category

Parties for the Very Young

Celebrating those first few milestones

My darling granddaughter on her first birthday.

Birthday parties for children are important and especially important to the very young. Those first few milestones are significant. It’s all about becoming a ‘big boy’ or a ‘big girl’ until you actually are a big boy or girl, then only certain birthday milestones become important like 16, 21 , ( then I daren’t mention the rest , but you get my drift)

At 47, I really couldn’t be bothered if I never saw another birthday again, and I know there are quite a few of you reading this out there who can empathise with that last statement, but don’t let your adult disinterest in birthdays mask  the massive significance our children place on these days.

So when should we start celebrating birthdays? When is the right time to host a birthday party?

This really is down to the individual.

As a children’s entertainer, I have been booked on many occasion to entertain at a one year old birthday party. I’m one of the few entertainers who will take on board the challenge of a baby party.

I know that there are many of you out there who will consider this a waste of time and money. How can anyone possibly expect to entertain a one year old? They are babies , right?

Yes indeed, they are babies, but if you see the reaction those same babies have to puppets , especially if their parents or carers are actively involved in the singing and actions with the puppets, you’d understand why I keep being called back to entertain for  one year old parties.

Those first birthday parties are largely family affairs, and often consist of a mixed age audience. Very seldom do I attend a first year old baby party and it is solely babies. This mixed age family atmosphere makes first birthday parties really special. Tapping into that warm , supportive energy that close family members bring is a wonderful ingredient to a successful first birthday party. I often see older siblings , cousins ( sometimes even grandparents!) joining in with the actions and hopping  with the bunny or helping the birthday child row the boat. It is a special intimate moment to witness. One such party was for lovely Natasha Kaplinksy who booked me to help celebrate her daughter’s first birthday party last year.

So what themes are suitable for first birthdays?

I’ll be honest, I’m not the worlds biggest fan of themes when it comes to birthday parties for very young children. They work great for older children when you can do activity based stuff, like games and competitions , then the capacity to run with a theme is endless. When working with very young children you really have to work with what they are familiar with . So an obvious theme could be animals ( plenty of songs about animals ) or nursery rhymes .

Do be careful that you don’t get carried away with the theme and then throw out opportunity of including all your baby’s favourite songs and activities because they don’t fit within the theme. Most experienced entertainers will work out a way to adapt their routines to fit most popular themes but when working with very young children, flexibility is key. If you don’t go with the flow you may get swept away with the tide!

So to sum up, if you feel like throwing a party for your baby on their first birthday, go ahead! This day is as much about celebrating your first year of being a parent to this child as well as the child’s first milestone. Why not enjoy it together?

Sometimes even babies like their faces painted!



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.



Fairy Make Over

I love fairies.

I have a pathological hatred  and fear for plastic surgery . Duchess of Alba. Need I say more?

Today I combined my passion and my fear as I gave my darling Fifi a drastic make-over.


First a bit  of background about Fifi the Fairy.


I think my love for fairies stemmed from a very young age. I remember way back in my childhood, a very special book that was so large it was kept in the airing cupboard. I must’ve been around 2 or 3 years of age and I remember distinctly that this magical book was bigger than me. Opening these precious massive pages revealed a magical world of fairies that I could totally immerse myself in. I think it must have been about that age that I decided that I was going to be a fairy when I grew up.

Let’s just say I didn’t really have the right body type for the job. Fairies are distinctly delicate and I have farmers ankles.

Genetics , what can you do ?

Well, undeterred I did the next best thing. I made a fairy puppet called Fifi and lived out my fairy ambitions vicariously through her. That was about 15 years ago. She’s been through a few phases in all that time. She started out looking like this:


She’s never been the prettiest fairy, but she does manage to win over hearts with her special charm.

Like all ladies, time took it’s toll on the fairy and constant use wore her down. She went through another make over and ended up looking like this:Her face was starting to twist and although the children still adored her, it was starting to become very difficult to take a still photo of her without her looking decidedly past her best.

So  today I decided to take Fifi in  hand and to reconstruct. Yes dear readers, I did some fairy puppet plastic surgery.

Out came the eyes, the nose was reconstructed, a new skin was stretched over the face and the eyes were repositioned and new hair ( extra feathers and crochet ringlets ) were fastened in place. She was finished off with a new hair clip and butterfly and a few fresh flowers.

Now Fifi the Fairy feels good. She also looks younger.

Fifi in her new found freshness

Look at her pretty hair!

Pretty ringlets and wings

So Fifi is rejuvenated and ready to go. Her newest adventure will be pretending to be a mermaid.

But more about that soon.

Why not have a Fairy themed birthday party for your next daughter’s party? Fifi can come to your home or venue and enchant the children with her silly songs and giggly chat before beautiful fairy face- painting during tea time ( with fairy cakes?) ending off with a puppet show in a booth all about Fifi the Fairy’s first day at school.

Fairy nice!


Mermaids have more fun

Oh the things I do for love.


The love of my job that is.

My job as a London Children’s Entertainer and birthday puppet show provider keeps me on my toes, or my fishy tail.


I’ve had a request to do a mermaid themed party. Being a lady who likes a challenge, I’ve been exploring all things mermaid and am excited at the creative possibilities of the theme. I’ve unearthed my 20 year old carrier bag full of sea shells that I collected yes, twenty years ago with the idea of doing something creative with them. Who says that hoarding isn’t a useful habit? I’m about to put them to good use after 20 years. I’m still not quite sure what I’m going to do with them as yet, but something grotto-ish will be inevitable.

I’ve found a use for that long blonde wig that I’ve had hanging around for some reason I can’t even remember. I decided to paint my face as a mermaid and try out the mermaid long blonde look.

Oh dear.

Why do wigs make me look like a man in drag?

I thought I’d look like this

My mermaid puppet


But instead I got this:

I don't look quite how I expected to look. Sigh.

At least the face painting looks nice


I’m not sure that blonde is my colour. I can’t believe I bleached my hair for over 20 years. I’m so glad I’ve found my sense in my forties.

I’m not sure the pearlised white base is terribly flattering for late 40’s skin either…

So I took the wig off.

Ah that's better.


I think I shall stick to being a brunette mermaid with grey streaks.



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.

Be a pirate , Aarrgh go on, go on , go on!

Here’s a really easy  tutorial by Diane on how to paint your face and turn yourself into a fierce pirate, ready for the high seas. It’s really easy matey, give it a go.


Pirates aren’t just for boys you know!

Children's entertainer Diane makes all of her own puppets

My beautiful mermaid Marina is a feisty lass. She dons a fake beard and pirate clothes to outwit my pirates and steal back the treasure. She uses her brains to bamboozle the pirates and her considerable fighting skills to engage in hand to hook combat with the other pirates .

She can certainly hold her own with the boys.

She is a girl after my own heart.

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

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