The classic birthday party games kids love keep being used because they really work! They’re very easy to set up, easy to play, and don’t require a lot of resources. You can also adapt these classic party games to your particular party theme.
Some tips for planning birthday party games
When it comes to birthday party games, try not to get too serious. The whole point of a party is for kids to have fun, so keep the birthday games simple and don’t get bogged down in too many rules.
Don’t panic about scheduling the party too tightly, because chances are the schedule will fall over somewhere in the first ten minutes!
As much as you can, try to choose games that involve everyone at the same time, especially if it’s a party for littlies. Younger children easily get upset and bored if they ‘get out’ during a party game, so if that has to be the case, keep them included by giving them an important job to do, or give them each a lolly to suck when they ‘get out’.
Keep in mind how much space you have to work with, and be prepared to bring any outdoor games inside if the weather turns bad. Successful parties are flexible parties, so have a plan B in the back of your mind if a particular game turns to custard.
When you’re planning the party, give the birthday child some game ideas and let them choose the ones they like best.
As your child gets older, it’s sometimes hard to gauge what’s still cool, so having them help out is a sure-fire way to get it right.
Remember you can dress up otherwise ‘babyish’ games by changing the props to match the theme of the party. You’ll be surprised by what big kids will play when you change the name of a game.
Take a look at how you can put a clever twist on some of these traditional party games, or check out our Party Theme section for some theme-specific games.
7 Classic birthday party games kids love
1. Treasure Hunt
A treasure hunt is quite literally that – a hunt for treasure. Just where and how that hunt takes place is up to you, and of course, the treasure can be anything you want it to be.
A Fairy Tale themed hunt could be as simple as following Hansel and Gretel’s trail of bread crumbs, a Pirate party could offer a treasure map to follow, and a Secret Agent party could have all sorts of codes and puzzles to solve.
A treasure hunt at a Dinosaur party could take the form of an archeological dig in the sandpit, and little fairies will love searching for packets of fairy dust amongst a secret garden.
2. Pin the Tail on the Donkey
Pin the tail on the donkey can easily be turned into pin the tail on anything. Or for that matter, it doesn’t even have to be a tail!
Simply pick a character or object from your theme, and get the children to pin on a missing part while they’re blindfolded. With younger children you can pick something that can be pinned almost anywhere, so that everyone wins.
Some ideas to get you started are: pin the wand on the Disney fairy, pin the slipper on Cinderella, pin the carrot on Frozen’s Olaf, pin the sticking plaster on Doc McStuffin’s Stuffy, pin the pot of gold on the rainbow, etc.
3. Pass the Parcel
Everyone loves ‘Pass the Parcel’ and you can easily adapt it to your theme by changing the paper, prizes and music to fit. It’s a good idea to put a small something (like a lolly) in between each layer of paper so that everyone gets a prize, and make the central prize something everyone at the party can share.
Another idea is to put a note in between each layer of paper asking the child to do something silly like sing Happy Birthday, do a handstand, or pull a funny face. You can make these tasks relate to your theme if you wish.
4. Musical Chairs
Musical chairs can be a tricky one for younger children, as it’s hard to play it without taking people out of the game. Have some special jobs lined up for those who miss out on the chairs, or check our Games for Pre-schoolers article for a great version which keeps everyone involved. You may also like to use cushions as a safer alternative to chairs for the little ones.
You can adapt musical chairs to fit your theme by changing the music and the ‘chairs’. The chairs at a fairy tale party could be magic carpets, at a space party they could be moon rocks (or moon hoppers!), and at a pirate party they could be blow up life rings.
Piñatas are always fun, and of course you can buy ready-made ones in all sorts of themes. You can also make your own paper mache version, or for the creatively challenged, you can decorate up an old box.
Make sure you stamp and crush the box first so that the cardboard is weakened and easier to break, and cut a small hole in the top just in case you need quick access.
If a piñata sounds too hard, try putting a handful of lollies into a balloon before blowing it up. Hang up one balloon for every child and give them each a ‘popping’ tool to use. (A drawing pin stuck to the end of a rolled up newspaper works well.)
To make it extra fun you could fill the balloons with glitter or confetti before hanging them up.
6. Bucket toss, coin toss, ring toss
This classic carnival game is a cinch to set up and run in a birthday party environment. The real trick to running this successfully at a party is to have lots of little prizes on hand.
Set up a range of buckets, bowls or plastic containers for kids to toss a small ball, coin or similar into. Make them different lengths and heights from the starting line, and have prizes sitting next to each bucket for kids to ‘win’. Once a few prizes have been won, kids will keep coming back for more!
Remember children will have all different levels of skill here. So feel free to help out the littlies by bringing a few buckets in close. You could also try tossing a wheat pack or similar, so that it doesn’t bounce out of the containers. If it’s too hard they’ll just give up!
7. Classroom Games
Classroom games are also great games to play at a party; after all, if they work with 30 children, they’ll work with 10.
Ask your child which are their favourite games at school, and get them to tell you how it’s played. Games like Charades, Simon Says, Duck Duck Goose, Chinese Whispers and Hot Potato can easily be adapted to fit your theme, and you can spice them up with a few party treats.
The important thing to remember is that games are supposed to be fun, so if it’s turning into a chore for everyone involved, then it’s time to stop.
Children are pretty good at amusing themselves, and there’s nothing wrong with giving them some free time to just hang out and play with the birthday child. It may even give you time to put your feet up and have a drink!
Now that you know more about classic birthday party games for kids, you might like to read Great party games for 8 to 12 year olds. Or check out our School age: Birthdays section for more expert party planning advice.