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

Posts tagged ‘Parties’

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 Birthday Party away from Home : Checklist

So you are having a birthday party at a venue. There was just not enough space at home or the thought of having a bunch of marauding kids and accompanying parents in your home was just too much to bear. Fair enough.

So you’ve booked a venue and have loaded up the car ready to drive off for your party.

 

STOP!

 

Before you put that key in the ignition and drive away make sure you have the following things:

 

  • Matches or lighter ( I can’t count how many times I’ve witnessed blind panic as parents realise they’ve nothing to light the birthday cake with. Not many people smoke these days, so do come prepared)
  • The venue’s caretaker’s contact number ( in case of problems accessing the venue)
  • Your door keys ( Easy to forget in the fuss to pack stuff for the party. It’s all good until you can’t get back in the house… )
  • A list of guests and contact phone numbers of the parents in case of emergencies
  • Your phone ( fully charged)
  • Batteries for any camera/phone/ camcorder
  • Entertainer‘s mobile phone number ( if using entertainment services)
  • Checkbook or cash to pay the entertainer ( if using entertainment services)
  • Tablewear ( plenty of cups /plates/ paper napkins/ tablecloths)
  • Decorations (banners/bunting/balloons) and sticky tape or blue tack
  • Party bags or going away gifts
  • Food and drink for the guests
  • Drink for the parents ( if you are serving wine, don’t forget the corkscrew!)
  • Music player
  • If organising your own games, sweets for prizes.
  • The Birthday Cake with candles
  • Black rubbish bags for clearing up
  • A small first aid kit just in case ( try packing some arnica cream for bumps, plasters, cotton wool and antiseptic, maybe some sting relief for outdoor parties)
  • A toilet roll ( just in case!)
  • Pass the parcel ( if you are playing it)

So, it’s all packed,  now off you go! Have fun like these children did !

 

Happy children at a birthday party

Diane's Puppets meets Waybaloo

Don’t Hate, Celebrate!( or how to avoid the revenge party bag syndrome)

 

I came across this blog post via Twitter  : Five reasons to hate kids parties . It is a very funny, perfectly frank response to today’s party competitive syndrome where parents feel pressured into putting on the biggest and best party, costing plenty of money in the process. While I really appreciate how parents must feel about the stress of party hosting, I did find it a little disappointing that many parents opt to not host a party at all and some jokingly referred to preparing ‘revenge’ party bags full of  noise makers and sweets to stress out the parents of the party guests when they got home.

What a shame.

Okay, I’m not without humour ( I have a masters degree in being silly after all) and I do appreciate that most of these comments were posted in jest but I did feel that underneath the jokes and quips lies a backbone of bitterness and resentment. This is what I find sad. Parties should be joyful occasions, remembering after all that they are for our children. I ask yourself to think with your inner child’s brain and remember yourself as a child and how important and significant your annual birthday event was. As adults we’d rather forget our ageing and skim over our birthdays but when you are four turning five, oh my! This is an event. All children without exception want to be big. Let’s forget the grown-ups and their expectations and concentrate on our children. What is fun for them? What is important for them? Their parents attention in short. Throwing good money after bad is just a panic tactic that really doesn’t equal a good party experience as I have covered in my previous blog post here. What all children really want is an opportunity to show that they are of worth. They are natural pleasers. Nothing gives a child more pleasure than making mummy and daddy happy. So forget the plastic and sweets, here’s my suggestion for a cheap party that your child will love. Do stuff with your kids. Get on the floor if they’re little and play ring a rosies with them. Play musical statues/bumps with them, prepare to enter their world and be silly.Play the games that you used to play at your own birthday parties with them, your children will love that if you do. That is the key. If you enjoy it, if you invest good energy into it, they will follow.

As for party bags, well forget the spiteful revenge bag and just be creative. Why not make it into a game of fish, ( just have one small gift per child) or lucky dip? I’ve seen children going away from parties with a strawberry plant, pleased as punch. The party bag idea is a token gift. It doesn’t have to be huge or even a bag. Just something … come on parents, I know you can do it.

Don’t give up on fun. Our children rely on us.

 

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?

Birthday parties and the great British outdoors

Candles spell out the traditional English birt...

Image via Wikipedia

Summer time is coming, hooray! We all look forward to those long hot days and balmy evenings…

Okay, wake up now, this is England after all. I don’t know about you, but I’m not so trusting about the weather. Our lovely island has a special feature in that if it is sunny outside and you plan an outdoor activity, best pack the wellies. You’ll probably need them. This is fantastic for gardens and the countryside and the lush vegetation of our countryside and our parks, but not so lovely if you are planning to hold a party outdoors.

Every year, around this time, I get numerous requests to entertain at birthday parties held in the great British ( London) outdoors. When the weather is fine, there is nothing nicer than to gather a group of children underneath a big oak tree in the park hung with pretty bunting , sit them down amongst the daisies and buttercups dotted in the grass and tell them stories and play fun games and chat with puppets. This is a childhood idyll at its best. It is also a very cheap ( free) venue, saving wear and tear on your freshly decorated home.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you are planning to host a party in the great British outdoors, have a plan B. Make arrangements for a nearby suitable venue ( gazebo/ shed/ any form of shelter possible better than a leaky tree) that you can easily decamp to if necessary. It’s not being negative, it’s clever. You won’t appreciate how much you’ll thank me if next time the heavens open at your party in the park.

Remember, picnics outdoors can attract all sorts of bugs, so remember to pack  a basic first aid kit including an insect sting spray . So many times a party has been ruined by a rogue wasp or bee. It’s hard to pacify a stung panicked child without some sort of pain relief.

If you are hiring an entertainer, especially one who has kit to set up, please check with them first before you book them that their set up is suitable for outdoors. There may be safety issues with gusting winds/ uneven ground etc. You may have to come to some sort of compromise as to what they offer in terms of entertainment, and have a less structured session for the outdoor setting. Bear in mind also that it is fairly hard to focus children’s full attention in a venue without boundaries ( walls). Try seating the parents and children in a semi circle  to form a  natural boundary in which the entertainer can operate.

So have fun partying in the park.

Let’s all cross our fingers for good weather this Summer, I have a fair few outdoor parties to entertain at!

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.

Animals

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.

Islands

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.

Encore!

I just got back from entertaining  in my capacity as Diane’s Puppets at a clients birthday party. It was a joy. I love my work ( how many people out there can hand on heart honestly say that?) as it brings me such joy to see children having such a good time.

Adults make the most polite audiences: if they like you, they clap and shout Encore! If they don’t like you, they still clap ( probably not as enthusiastically, but they still clap). It is sometimes hard to gauge your performance with an audience of adults.

Not so with children.

Children are different, they do not have that applied veneer of manners and social niceties.

They are simple in their needs: if they don’t like you, they just walk away.

If they don’t like you, and there are toys around, guess who gets the vote? The toys.

If they don’t like you and there is space to run around, they run around, usually screaming.

If they don’t like you and there is food, they eat, or if they really don’t like you, the food gets thrown … at you.

The list of distractions is endless but suffice it to say, an audience largely made up of children can be, to some, an intimidating prospect.

Not me.

You see, even knowing all this, knowing that I could walk into a party and literally fall flat on my face in front of an audience ( and then get covered in popcorn etc) I’m still excited to go to work.

Because when it goes right there is no pay off like it. When children get you , they GET you. They feed off your every word, spellbound and entranced.

When they like you they give you untold attention, follow you around the room wanting more. They join you in the shared magic that is the imagination world of puppetry, believing in the shared knowledge that the monkey may puppet not be real , but for that moment the experience of that monkey is real.

A birthday gift is always good to receive, but for me, every time I go to a birthday party I am showered with untold gifts of laughter from  my precious unsophisticated ( aka genuine) child audiences.

As I was leaving the party , climbing into my taxi , tired and satisfied, little Ry-ry came running up to me.

‘Will you come back to my 5 birthday?” he eagerly asked and continued: ” Will you come tomorrow, will you come the next day? ”

That’s all the encore I need.

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