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How to Throw an Awesome Tween Birthday Party

Posted on April 14, 2015 at 6:00 am

By Gwendolyn Haley

How to Throw an Awesome Tween Birthday Party by Gwendolyn Haley | Spokane County Library District

Birthday season is right around the corner for our household. When our daughters were really little, it was easier to plan a fabulous party. All we had to do was invite a handful of their friends, serve some cake and ice cream, plan a simple craft or game, and the party was over in two hours.

As the girls got older, birthdays got more complicated. For her twelfth birthday, our oldest daughter wanted to have a quest. She’s a big fantasy reader, so we planned a heroic quest for her and her friends to undertake. It involved a series of challenges, including a string maze, jousting (a bike, a pool noodle “lance”, and a target), a battle of wits (chess game), and slaying a dragon (the cake)—as well as several costume changes for the parents. We came up with the quest by simply stringing together a series of common party games with a narrative. It also helped that dad played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons back in the day and is pretty good at putting together an adventure. We used very few decorations so the prep only took about an hour, and all the costumes were improvised from our dress-up bin. The kids had a great time, but the neighbors probably thought that we were a little weird.

With three kids ranging in age from high school to pre-kindergarten, I’ve definitely learned a few things about birthday parties over the years. And based on my experience, the tween years (grades 4-6) can be particularly challenging. Here are a few words of advice and some suggestions to help you throw an awesome birthday party for your tween:

Pinterest is both your friend and your enemy

In other words, be realistic. There are tons of great ideas on Pinterest, but beware of the competitive crafters. You know, the people who plan over-the-top themed birthday parties with professionally printed invitations, custom banners, special food, and beautifully designed tablescapes. And of course, everything is color coordinated, including the artful placards. Ain’t nobody got time for that—this is a tween birthday party, not a fundraiser!

You don’t need to have a theme

I repeat—you don’t need to have a theme. If your tween is a major fan of something and begging for a magical Harry Potter party, then by all means feel free to go crazy. But really, a kid’s birthday party only needs a few key elements: food and activities. (My tween was reading over my shoulder here and suggested that the activities might be optional if the food was really good.)

Plan a combination of structured and unstructured activities

It’s a balancing act for this age group. Too much adult direction and it can feel forced. Too little, well, you all read Lord of the Flies, right? So plan an ice breaker and then a longer game or activity. For a three hour party, I plan about two hours of activities and then leave plenty of time for eating.

Keep the food simple, to save your sanity, but make sure there is a lot of it

I love to do finger foods and snacks, or have the kids help with making whatever we are eating. Taco, potato, or pizza bars are all great options because you can set out a variety of ingredients for the kids. It’s also a good way to sneak healthier options in the mix for the kids to select. Just remember to plan for hearty appetites.

At the library, we do a lot of activities with tweens, and we always have an eye for keeping costs low. These are some of my favorites from over the last few years:

Candy Sushi—What’s not to love? It’s a candy and a craft all rolled into one! Have the party-goers try their hand at making their own masterpieces with this great tutorial from Instructables.

Duct Tape—It really can be used for everything. In fact, you probably have a few rolls in your garage or shop right now. Duct Tape comes in every imaginable color and pattern, and the library has craft books galore to fuel your imagination. The great part about Duct Tape is that the kids can really take this idea and run with it.

Project Runway—The great thing about this activity is that it involves collaborative effort plus makeovers—a win-win! And again, the best materials are items you probably have around the house. If you watched the show, you know they usually have an unconventional materials challenge. Go ahead and clean out your pantry. Trash bags, coffee filters, tin foil—they’re all fair game. It’s useful to have a selection of fashion reference books on hand to give some inspiration. Finish with a photo shoot and fashion show.

Angry Birds—No one ever outgrows the desire to knock things down, do they? SheKnows published a great post that describes how to make a life-sized Angry Birds game you can play in your living room or backyard. All you need are boxes, a few balls and balloons, and a slingshot. Have the kids help decorate the boxes before playing to add another element of fun!

I love activities at parties that give the kids an opportunity to be creative, work together, and make some memories. Take a moment to share your favorite tween party activities in the comments.

Gwendolyn Haley

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