And so we come to the MOST important bit of the party. The games.
It's all well and good to have a kick-ass invite, a pretty table, yum-yum food, amazing decos and awe-inspiring cake, but without good games, a kid is going to wonder when the party is going to start. Stylists beware - you've gotta have good games.
Never under-estimate the power of story telling. Whatever the theme of your party, there are so many wonderful games you can come up with that will enhance the story. Weave some words around all the activities and get the kids involved. At Capper's Mermaid Party, we went on a submarine ride to the bottom of the sea to see what we could see. We could see amazing things, apparently.
Just about every party I do has a treasure hunt with some kind of 'mystery prize' at the end. Treasure hunts are fab because they last and last and last. You get all the kids following you from one clue to another and they even line up sorta-kinda and behave themselves while it's on. They are great fun to put together too.
A quick word on prizes before we leap into alternative options. My sister MultipleMum recently hosted a Scooby-Dooby-Dooooo party (as one does when one has cable and a five year old) and she came up with the brilliant plan of having a mystery to solve throughout the whole party: who stole the presents? The winner of each game (Pin the Tail, Pass the Passel, Ice-mania (more on this later) and other good times) got to be the one to read the next clue to solve the mystery. Brilliant idea, the children were delighted.
Another favourite of mine is medals. You can buy cheap medals at toy shops or make your own as I did for Maxi Potter. There isn't a cheap gift in town that can top a genuine medal.
But, enough about prizes, let's get on with the show!
Quiet games for arrivals
Parties can get out of hand very quickly. Successful kid-wrangling requires careful planning and well-timed activities. The best thing to do is to start as you mean to go on, so my advice is to have a quiet activity ready to occupy early to late arrivals.
Make some scratchies with key words to kick off a mystery hunt... you could make all the clues scratchie.
Staying with the scratch theme, scratch art is really fun.
You can't beat a colouring competition. Pin the entries up on the wall for all to admire and choose a lucky winner at the end of the party.
A little twist on the colouring competition - a painting extravaganza. Boards are pretty cheap at the $2 shop.
Set up a fun photobooth. This one has an amazeballs backdrop, oh that we were that clever, but a paling fence with a few happy streamers would work for the kiddos.
Girls love a wand (never understood the appeal, personally - just one more thing to carry around) and you can theme them to suit any party. Get all the bits and pieces ready in advance and then help them put together their own creation. They are so proud when they get to take them home.
Boys are a bit tougher to settle until everyone arrives. Make a few of these dinosaur eggs a week or so before the party, hide them in a sand pit, add some wooden digging and scraping tools and get the boys involved in an archaeological dig. They could also dig for pirate treasure.
And, of course, there is always goop.
Warming up with the classics
I am not a fan of pass the parcel, but I went there for Capper's Rainbow Party and, as expected, it was about as exciting as watching paint dry. However, I have never seen children so patient, so focused and quiet, so I had to conclude that they actually enjoy the odd paint-drying session and so can only recommend this old favourite as a stand-by. I used old tissue paper with different colours to wrap the gifts, but newspaper works just as well and you can even buy in the whole thing if you are feeling wrapped-out and listless (and rich).
As the owner of 57 cushions, we skip the chairs and play musical cushions. Regardless, it's a fun game and if the ones who are 'out' early help you with the refereeing, no-one gets left behind.
Pin the tail on the donkey, the propeller on the airplane, the pot of gold on the rainbow, the wand on the fairy...
Other classic party games include What's the Time Mr Wolf?, Tug of War, Charades and Duck, Duck, Goose (whose rules I have never understood nor cared to learn).
The new classics
I have personally never done the donut on a string thing, but 300 million Americans cannot be wrong. When we were kids, we did that chocolate game, where you freeze a block and then each person has a turn to try and eat the chocolate blindfolded and with a knife and fork. Hi.larious.
The bean bag toss in all its forms is a good party stand-by. I like the standard cans and a bean bag, but I'm also a bit taken with the sock toss and any game involving socks when it comes down to it.
Themed games that are rather complicated, this one involving lego and industrial piping.
It's not really called 'Ice Mania' - it probably has a real and important name, but I call it Ice Mania. You freeze little toys in a block of ice, make two so you have a competition. Each child runs down with a cup of warm water and splashes it over the block of ice to 'rescue' the toy. This picture has lots of toys, but I think one toy is better.
Getting a bit clever
Depending on your theme, you can come up with all sorts of cool party games. Some might question the sanity of a woman who sets up an entire cowboy ranch in her backyard complete with horse and panning for gold, but I say, 'cool lady, can I come to your next party?'
Oh, don't mind me, I'm just that Cooper kid who's parents brought the carnival into our backyard for my fifth birthday.
Well, my dad made a vintage railway in my living room. All aboard!
Sky's the limit, people, sky's the limit.
What's your favourite party game?
Next time: Thank yous
[Main image from Grey Likes Baby]