Abracadabra spells magic. Invite guests with a welcome letter to Hogwarts or break out the top hats and card tricks.
Bowling, with or without bumpers, means casual fun that keeps everyone moving. On site food allows parents to relax – just bring the cake to celebrate your next big day.
Clowning around. Face paint, juggling and dressing up. Kids can create their own acts and entertain one another.
Donation to a cause. In lieu of gifts, request that guests contribute funds to an organization the birthday child is passionate about. Develop a theme around the cause, such as a pet theme for an animal shelter donation.
Extraterrestrial explorations. Is there life on Mars? Plan a space-themed party for your future astronaut.
Fairy Tale Theater. Raid the dress-up bin for costumes, clear a space for a stage and let the kids enact their favorite stories. Simple, familiar tales mean everyone knows the story and can embellish at will without a script.
Golf, in miniature. Get outside and laugh as your group makes its way around the mini-golf green.
Hawaiian Luau. Eat pineapple and serve fruit punch in tall glasses with tiny umbrellas. Find leis at your local party store.
Ice Cream Truck. Did you know you can arrange to have them come directly to your home? Call them up, set a date and time and let the birthday child have first pick for a treat.
Jammies. If you’ve been putting off that much-requested sleepover, now is the time to say yes to pizza, popcorn and late-night giggling.
Kitchen creations. Seek out local cooking classes for children. Most locations that teach classes also offer party packages.
Local park fun. For a low-budget, relaxed party, bring cake and a picnic to your neighborhood playground.
Music for all. Create shakers or rain sticks from beans, paper tubes and masking tape. Dance to favorite tunes, sing and march around the block with your creations and other rhythm instruments.
Nature Hike. Have a slice of cake at the trailhead and then explore the landscape. Party favors can include bug boxes and small magnifying glasses.
Obstacle course. Get creative in your back yard with hula hoops, old cardboard boxes, benches and anything else you have lying around. Kids can climb, jump and crawl over, under and around. Time their circuit as part of a friendly competition. Older kids will have as much fun running the course as they will creating and improving it.
Puppets. Make sock puppets with button eyes or design simple stick puppets. Read a short story or fable for inspiration and kids can work together to create their own puppet show.
Quidditch anyone? All you need is a wild imagination, hula hoops for goals, a soccer ball for the quaffle, smaller soft balls for bludgers and a speedy runner for the snitch.
Rock climbing or bouldering. Head to a local rock gym to learn new skills together and get moving.
Science Experiments. Instead of the usual party crafts, take chances, get messy and explore the laws of physics or the states of matter. Find books of experiments at your local library.
Tea Party. Fancy cups and fancy food are just the beginning. Dress up, wear hats and invite guests to bring their favorite doll or teddy bear to tea.
Uniquely you. What does your child’s dream party look like? How can the theme reflect something special about what is important to your child or your family. Make it happen.
Volunteer for a cause. One child volunteering at the food bank or animal shelter with her family may not feel like she is accomplishing much. Invite a group of her friends to join her for a work party and her gift will grow exponentially.
Water Fun. Rent the party room at your local pool for a splashing good time.
X-men and friends. A superheroes theme can include capes, masks and feats of daring do, well-supervised, of course.
Yard games. Time to teach your kids and their friends all the old favorites. Croquet, badminton, bocce and horseshoes will keep a crowd entertained and active all afternoon.
Zip line. You know your kids have been asking for this. If you have the space, install one in your back yard and let the flying begin.
--Heather Lee Leap
Heather Lee Leap is a freelance writer and mom. Her favorite parties involve active kids, ingenuity and ice cream.