Classic Childrens Party Games
Ages 4 and under:
Music Parade – Stage a music parade through a few rooms. Play some fun music and hand out musical instruments to the children. Then send them on a parade through several rooms as they make music. Let each child have a turn being the leader of the band.
Pin the Tail on the Donkey – Hang up a picture of a donkey without a tail. Line the kids up a few feet away and give each one a tail (write their names on the tails or make each one a different color). Blindfold the first child and slowly spin him around three times. Point him in the direction of the poster to tape on his tail. After each child has had a turn, see which tail is the closest to where it should be.
Variations: Pin the Nose on Elmo (for a Sesame Street Party); Pin the Black Belt on the Ninja (Kung Fu Panda or Karate Party); Pin the Crown on the Princess; Pin the Cape on Batman; Pin the Dalmatian on the Fire Truck;
Musical Chairs – Set up a row of chairs back to back. You should have one less chair than the number of kids playing. Turn on some lively music and tell the children to walk in a circle around the chairs. When the music stops everyone must take sit in a chair, and only one child per chair is allowed. One child will be left standing and they are out of the game. Give them a sticker and let them help you start the music. Remove another chair and start the music again. Keep doing this until only one child is left.
Variations: Instead of chairs, cut out lily pads from green construction paper and the kids hop like frogs while the music plays; cut out airplane shapes and the kids pretend they are flying while the music plays;
Simon Says – Choose one child to be the leader and have her stand in front of the rest of the group. The leader shouts out commands like, “Simon says, ‘wave your right hand’ or ‘bend your left knee’”. The group must mimic her moves but only if she says, “Simon says” first. If they follow the command when the leader didn’t say “Simon says” first, they are out of the game. Keep playing until only one child is standing.
Variations: Play “Conductor Says” for a train party; “Big Bird Says” for a Sesame Street party; “Old MacDonald Says” for a Farm party; “Cinderella Says” for a princess party; “Spiderman Says” for a Superhero party;
Hot Potato – Use a real potato or any other small object like a ball. The children sit in a circle and pass the potato while music plays. They should pretend the potato is really hot. Turn off the music and whoever is holding the potato is out of the game. Give this child a sticker and start the music again. Keep playing until only one child is left.
Variations: Pass the tiger for a Jungle party; pass the dinosaur egg (plastic easter egg) for a Dinosaur party; pass the poison apple for a Princess party;
Duck, Duck, Goose – The children sit in a circle. The birthday child is the goose first and starts the game by walking around the outside of the circle and touching the top of each child’s head, saying “Duck” with each touch. Whenever he wants, the birthday child touches a child and calls out “Goose!” and starts running around the circle. The goose must jump up and run around the circle trying to tag the birthday child. If the birthday child makes it to the open spot and sits down without being tagged, the other child is now the goose and the game begins again. If the birthday child does get tagged, they play another round as the goose.
Variations: Monkey, Monkey, Tiger for a Jungle party; Fish, Fish, Shark for an Ocean party; Bus, Bus, Plane for an Airplane party;
Treasure Hunt – This game can take many forms, but basically you hide lots of small items in another room or the yard. Then you send the children out to find them. Hide small wrapped candy, chocolate foil coins, tiny plastic figures, or something else that fits with your party theme. The items can then become party favors as well.
Variations: Gold foil chocolate coins for a Pirate party; real dog bone treats for a Puppy party; bead necklaces for a Princess party; tiny cowboy and indian figures for a Wild West party; plastic animals for a Safari party;
Balloon Toss – Inflate a balloon with air, not helium. At the party, toss the balloon in the air and call out one child’s name. That child should try to catch the balloon before it touches the ground. Then that child gets to toss the balloon and call out the next name.
Ages 5 and up can handle any of the games above plus these:
Piñata – For children four and younger, choose a pull-string piñata. This is safer than having toddlers swinging a bat! Kids five and older will want to break open the piñata themselves. You can make a piñata yourself with papier-mâché and some craft paint, but the selection at online party stores is terrific and very affordable. It is possible to find a piñata that matches your party theme. Fill it with small wrapped candy and tiny toys. The children take turns swinging at the piñata with a thick stick or bat. Limit each child to three swings, so everyone gets at least one chance to hit the piñata. When the piñata breaks open, all the candy falls on the ground and the children pick up as much as they can. Provide small bags for the kids to hold their goodies.
Bean Bag Toss – Set a bucket (or laundry basket or hula-hoop) on the ground. Have the children stand a few feet away and let them take turns tossing three beanbags into bucket. Make your own bean bags by filling colored baby socks with dry beans and closing with a rubber band. Push the starting point back a few feet if the first round seemed too easy.
Variations: Feed the puppy by tossing real dog treats at a Dog party; call it Oscar’s Trash Toss at a Sesame Street party and use balls of rolled up newspaper instead of bean bags; feed the lion at a Jungle party; feed the T-Rex at a Dinosaur party;
Guess How Many – Fill a jar with colorful candy or toys like jelly beans, plastic animals or bouncy balls. Count them as you fill the jar. Then have each child write down how many they think are in the jar. The child with the guess closest to the actual number is the winner and gets to take the jar home.
Spoon Race – The children line up holding a hardboiled egg in a spoon. When you say “Go” they race to the finish line while balancing the egg on the spoon. If the egg falls, they are out of the race. This game can also be played with ping pong balls or golf balls.
Memory Game – Place about 10 to 15 small items such as a crayon, small doll, toy car, comb, pencil, etc. on a tray and cover it with a cloth. Have the children sit in a circle with the tray in the middle. Remove the cloth for 60 seconds while the children try to remember as many of the objects as possible. When the time is up, take the tray away and cover it. Going around the circle, each child should try to name an object on the tray. The first person who can’t name an item, repeats an item or names something not on the tray is out. For older children, have them write down as many items as they can remember. Whoever has the most wins that round.
For a second round of this game, take the tray out of sight and remove one or two items and replace them with something new. Then bring the tray back into the circle and play again.
Variation: Fill the tray with toys that fit your party theme, like small binoculars, a compass, and plastic animals for a Jungle party; little toy dinosaurs for a Dinosaur party; sea shells, starfish, and other ocean creatures for an Ocean party;
Freeze Dance – Turn on some fast moving music and let the children begin to dance. Then turn the music off and everyone must “freeze” in place and immediately stop moving. Anyone who is caught still moving is out of the game. Then turn the music back and continue to play until only one child is left.
Variation: Hop like frogs for a Bug party; Fly like airplanes for an Airplane party; fly like fairies for a Tinkerbelle party;
Red Light, Green Light – In this game, one person plays the “stop light” and the rest try to touch him/her first. Start with all the children standing shoulder to shoulder about 20 feet from whoever is the stop light. The stop light faces away from the line of children and calls out “green light”. All the other children move quickly towards the stop light. At any point, the stop light can call out “red light!” and turn around. If any of the kids are caught moving when the stop light turns around, they are out of the game. The stop light keeps calling “red light” and “green light” until one of the players touches her/him or all the players are out. The first player to touch the stop light wins the game and earns the right to be the “stop light” in the next round of the game.
Bomb Squad – You’ll need a kitchen timer and a flashlight. Set the kitchen timer for 2 minutes and hide it in a darkened room. The kids are the bomb squad and must follow the ticking sound to find the timer before it rings. Set the timer for less time as the children become better at finding the “bomb”.
Dress-up Relay Race – Collect two sets of adult sized clothes, and the funnier the better. Include items like funny hats, rubber gloves, and rain boots. Place the sets of clothes at one end of the room and divide the children into two teams on the other side of the room. When you say “go”, the teams send one person at a time running to put on the clothes. When all are completely on, the kids take them off and run back to tag the next person on their team. Continue until the members of both teams have had a turn putting on the clothes, and whichever team finishes first is the winner.
Trivia Questions – This game can be played using pictures for younger children. Collect a group of pictures related to your party theme that the children are likely to recognize. Use a barn, tractor, and lots of animals for a Farm theme party; find different train characters for a Thomas the Tank Engine party; use planets, an astronaut and space vehicles for a Space party;
For older children about six and up, think up a list of questions related to the party theme. At the party, divide the children into teams and go back and forth asking each team a question. Whichever team has the most correct answers is the winner.
Tip: If the party ties in with a movie like Kung Fu Panda or Disney Princesses, make up questions that describe each character or quote lines from the movie and have the kids identify who said it.
Limbo – Two adults hold a broomstick waist high and the children must pass under it without touching the pole. Play some lively music during the game. After all the children have passed under the pole once, the adults lower the pole a few inches for the next round. Anyone who touches the pole or loses their balance and falls is out of the game. The children will need to bend backwards as the pole is moved lower. Keep playing and lowering the pole until only one child is left as the winner.
Soda Bottle Bowling – Before the party, collect three empty 2-litre soda bottles. Wash them out and then add just enough water to help them stand up in a wind, but not so much that they won’t fall over when hit with the ball. At the party, put the bottles in a triangle shape and let the children roll a ball (like a basketball) towards the bottles and try to knock them down. Let each child roll the ball three times per turn.
Balloon Relay Race – Fill a large plastic trash bag with balloons that you have inflated with air (not helium). At the party, divide the children into two teams and line up about 20 feet away from the bag of balloons. When you say “go” the first person on each team must run to the bag, pull out one balloon and pop it. They can step on it, sit on it or use their hands to squish the balloon. As soon as it’s popped, they should run back and tag the next person on the team. The first team to finish popping a balloon is the winner.
Water Balloon Toss – Fill up the water balloons before the party and keep them in a plastic crate or bucket. At the party, divide the guests into partners and have them stand facing each other about six feet apart. The teams should each begin tossing the water balloon to each other gently. After each toss, everyone must take one step backwards. This means each toss has to cover a greater distance. If the water balloon pops, that team is out of the game. If it falls but doesn’t break, they can pick it up and continue playing. The last team with an unbroken water balloon are the winners.