I’ve just about returned the house to normality after a successful birthday party for my 7yo daughter and 17 of her friends last weekend. They had a great time, by all accounts, and haven’t stopped talking about it all week, according to their parents. My daughter has been to around eight parties so far this school year, and yet the most we get after these is one or two “I didn’t win a prize, but everyone else did” -type comments. This mismatch happens every year.
This is not because we have the most prizes, the best food, the most expensive bought-in conjurer, or take them to the best activity centre. In fact, it’s because we do the exact opposite.
Uniquely, we hold the parties in our house. We devise the games and entertainment ourselves (no outside performers), and we have hardly any prizes or sweets. But the key to the success of the parties are the fact that we spend a few hours a couple of weeks before planning a theme, a set of original (or new twists on old) games, and think carefully about keeping every kid occupied at all times with something.
This year, my daughter being 7 and liking spies, it was a 007 theme – there were four groups of spies up against each other, and the winners (individual or group) of the games won points for their team. We had pass the parcel to start, but with spy-themed forfeits in each wrapper rather than sweets; in musical statues, we secreted one of the statues away each time and the slueths had to work out which one it was; we had them in complete silence for 5 minutes (remarkable to watch) as we showed a clip from Goldfinger and at the end asked the teams to answer observation questions on it; team challenges, where they had to pick a specialist in smells, sight, geography, etc.
Basically, at an unconscious level, we thought about engagement – kids need to have something to do, and to feel that they are playing a part and getting attention. It didn’t take much preparation to maximise their participation and input throughout, and as a result we didn’t have any problems, tears, boredom, or much chaos. But most importantly, they all had a great time and lots of memories to replay.
Astute readers will have spotted the analogy, I hope. For 7 year olds, think students. For parties, think courses. Although pink wafers and party rings wouldn’t go amiss at both.