Simple indoor/outdoor party games? Talk amongst yourselves.

Rachael needs party game help, stat!

I am a dedicated Parent Hacks reader (and occasional contributor). My son is turning 5 and in a fit of insanity, we invited 10 kids to the party. Well, for some reason, a number of the parents felt it was fine to also bring a sibling (usually within two years of my son’s age), so now we are looking at about 16 kids. We are just doing a low-key party at home, but I need to come up with some ideas for games so that these kids (mainly boys) are occupied! We are hoping to set up a big tent in the backyard and have most of the party outside, but of course the weather will decide.

I’m sure you have a ton of ideas of games that can be played inside or out (I’m thinking of things like Pin the Tail on the Donkey, only a little less 1970 and a little more 2008). We live in an urban area and have limited space inside (i.e. no big playroom where we could set something up). Any suggestions?

I'm thinking that if you set up "stations" around the space, you could distribute the kids around, and more easily accommodate different ages. No need for a big playroom — you could set stations up anywhere. Plus — you could use toys you likely already have. So, say you had a LEGO station, a playdough station, a block-stacking (or marble blocks, or the like) station, and an art station (decorate your own party hats can be fun). That way you wouldn't have to direct a huge group of kids in a single activity.

What are your thoughts, Parenthackers?


  1. Elizabeth says

    Bake off few batches of plain sugar cookies and have a decorating station. Between that and a bag decorating station you have activities and don’t have to make goody bags.

  2. Rabia Lieber says

    I am a big fan of stations! I like the ideas already mentioned. Obviously they boys would love to be outside if the weather is nice. Buy a roll of aluminum foil, give each child a 12in X 12in square and have them create something with it. Check out the Dollar Store for some cute, cheap craft projects they could do to take home.

  3. Nicole says

    My son’s preschool did stations for Halloween with 18 kids in about a 10×10 space… “candy corn” bowling, spider toss… any number of carnival games can be adapted to various themes. Good luck!

  4. Zed says

    If the weather cooperates, relay races and free play outside are great! They require very little setup, and kids love them until I don’t even know what age. Maybe forever.

    Speaking of age, my son’s 6th was the first birthday party we had for him. I was nervous that the kids wouldn’t want to do anything I had planned. That they’d think it was too “childish.” I couldn’t have been more wrong. Even this year at my son’s 7-year-old party, everyone was eager to do it all.

    This is what we did for my son’s 6-year-old birthday party last year. Keep in mind that guests arrive VERY staggered, so plan for some free play at the beginning.

    11:00 Guests arrive and play with stuff (playdoh with toothpicks for making towers, and foosball)
    11:30 Games outside (2 relay races)
    11:45 Pizza, carrots, grapes, milk
    12:00 2 more relay races
    12:25 Cake and ice cream (cupcakes that they decorated at the table)
    12:45 Piñata
    12:55 Open presents
    1:10 Free play outside(they ended up doing tag and other chasing games outside.)

    Party games:
    Simon says
    Dress up relay (put a hat on, plus a crazy shirt, then pass it to the next person)
    Pass the parcel
    Heads or tails
    Sponge game (run to a bucket, fill a sponge with water, run back, fill a glass)
    Spoon water game (same thing, with a spoon)
    Musical chairs
    Hot potato
    Scavenger Hunt
    Red Rover

    I did plan a few circle games inside in case the weather was bad, plus I had an episode of Spectacular Spiderman on the Tivo if all else failed.

    I have to tell you — I had a blast! (And I was SUPER nervous beforehand.) It’s fun to see your kid in this environment. Just a small amount of prep was needed, and it was a fun time for everyone. This year we made (and decorated) marshmallow launchers out of PVC pipe. That took up most of the play time, but we still had some relays.

    Good luck, and have fun with it! If adults are coming too, ignore them and enjoy the kids! I hate this new trend to bring the whole family and stay for the whole party. Ugh. That’s what made me the most nervous beforehand, actually. I stopped being nervous before the party when I gave myself permission to not “entertain” the adults.

  5. Ms Four says

    I love this question! We had the same problem last year and will be having a similar party later in November.

    Last year, we did an easy, homemade Pin the Mask on the Superhero, which the kids loved (actually featured here at Parent Hack!):

    The kids *loved* musical pillows, which is musical chairs when you don’t have enough little chairs. You could even do this with pieces of paper you somehow stick to the ground. Or maybe pieces of cardboard.

    We also did hallway bowling with a small ball and blocks.

  6. Tiffany @ Snapshots of Life says

    We had VBS at church this summer and they did some great games for one of the “stations.” Some have already been mentioned. One they did that would be easy was to set up pitchers- the plastic kind- and other plastic containers and set them around for a “bean bag toss” style game. You could make it a trivia game also, where they have to answer a question to get to toss the ball or bag. You can divide them into teams or individually. The kids enjoyed it.

  7. Bekki says

    I was just reading an issue of Cookie magazine at the doctor’s, and they had a big list of some fun sounding games.

    One that I remember is to put a big pile of socks in a pile, and have the kids sit in a circle around it. On “Go,” the goal is to put on as many socks as possible.

    Another is to wrap a small gift in many layers of tissue paper/wrapping paper. The kids pass the gift around “Musical Chairs” style while you play music. When it stops, whoever is holding the gift gets to unwrap one layer. Continue until the last kid unwraps the last layer and they get the prize.

    There were tons of other suggestions, but those are the two I rememeber! If you can find the magazine (it’s probably the last issue or two), you can see the others.

  8. Amy says

    We had a party at home when my son turned 4. I had a bunch of games planned, and to be honest, the kids really only wanted to play with my son’s toys and with each other. They were barely interested in my games. So while you might want to have stations – and that is a great idea – keep in mind that some younger kids might want to just play with a pile of unfamiliar (to them) toys.

    For my son’s party, I had planned freeze dance, red-light/green-light (outside), and pin the wheel on the Hot Wheels car (I made a poster of a car myself – couldn’t find one anywhere). I also bought a big set of pre-owned Hot Wheels on eBay for free play, which were popular at that age.

  9. Stephanie says

    We had an spiderman themed birthday party and played a version of “cake walk” We used white spray paint and painted a giant spiderweb on the grass and then numbered each spoke. I suggest as many numbers as you have children. Then they march around the circle to music, then they stop, you draw a number and they win a prize. Repeat as many times as you can. :) I suggest stickers or something easy for the prize.

    And in the end, boys running around the backyard in some supervised freeplay can be great too.

  10. Rebecca says

    I love the idea of stations, you could have them be like at a fair. Bean bag toss game, magnetic fishing pole, etc.

    Also, google “Cheeto Head” for a hilarious party game

  11. Regifter says

    It may be too late, but in case it could help someone else, what we did for my daughter’s 6th birthday was to tactfully state in the invitation that parents were welcome to attend, but not siblings. We simply didn’t have the room (especially not with 11 little girls already coming!), and I wanted it to feel special for my daughter–that it was just kids her age (except her own little sister whom she wanted there). I planned the party during my toddler son’s nap time so he slept through the whole thing!

  12. Christine says

    Actually Freeze Dance works so well with all kids. Just play some fun music with a beat and when you press pause they all have to freeze like statues. If you move you are out. The kids love this game, and begged me to play it over and over at our last party.

  13. STL Mom says

    Remember Red Rover, Red Rover? How about freeze tag? Hey, even the old clothespin drop would probably seem new and exciting to today’s kids.
    Actually, my experience is that 16 kids in that age group will entertain themselves pretty well. But have some activities, just in case.

  14. sara says

    1 Year for my sons birthday i taped bristle board paper to the wal at kid level, and let the kids draw thier own big picture on it, it was a blast for the kids!!!

  15. Monera Mason says

    We had a Jackson Pollock Party we bought a ton of 4×4 canvas and butcher paper, washable paint and rejected paint brushes from dick blick and they had a blast. And best of all the “goody bag” was the canvas, that they painted. I hate goody bags, but this I felt more comfortable doing.

  16. Jill in Atlanta says

    Don’t forget science experiments! vocanoes, slime, Mentos/Diet Coke, cornstarch, food coloring in clear soda, in corn syrup…. (Have old shirts they can put on.)

    Having stations is the best advice I see here- keep the numbers down so they don’t feed on each other’s energy.

  17. geomom says

    I have had great success with:
    *variations of pin the tail on the donkey (pin the number on Thomas the Tank Engine, pin the crown on the princess, etc)
    *relay races–these are great if you add an activity! Like a Princess Relay–the kids have to transfer a crown, wand, and elastic tutu–the possibilties are endless!
    *and I agree with the Freeze Dance–that works especially well for mixed ages

  18. Ivanna at says

    You already have had many great game ideas. I would also advise on having an activity that the kids can do on their own as guests arrive. An art activity works good here, just make sure its easy enough that they will not need much assistance from you as you will be busy welcoming guests. If the weather is nice, doing relay games would be great to release some energy from all those energetic boys. Do lots of running games right before you need to sit down to open presents or eat cake. I hope you have a wonderful party!

  19. none says

    I recently went to a party with LOTS of little kids (2-4 year old range) and they did a cool scavenger hunt. These kids were little, so the host just spread a bunch of fake gold coins all over and the kids picked them up and then got a little prize. But for slightly older kids, you could hide objects of varying colors (one color for 5 year old, one color for 6 year olds, etc). Make the older kids work a little harder to find theirs. You could hide: gold coins, little plastic animals or dinosaurs, plastic spiders or bugs, bouncy balls, or anything you can buy in bulk. Check out for stuff to buy in bulk (including craft projects) for kids’ parties.

  20. Tracy says

    At my son’s pirate-themed 5th birthday party, we did a treasure hunt with a series of maps rolled up and hidden – each map led to the next map until one led to a treasure chest (I found one for $7 and filled it with booty – paper money, plastic “silver” coins, eyepatches, hooks, pirate hats, stickers etc and these went into their goody bags). The kids all worked together to figure out the maps. We don’t have a huge yard but there were enough places to hide things without everyone criss-crossing over. I dyed the maps with a wet teabag and burned the edges off to make them more “authentic”. :)

    At a 6th birthday I took my son to, they did a scavenger hunt where each child had a piece of paper with a series of questions (eg. what vegetables are growing in the garden, what colour are the flowers beside the garage). Kids got a small prize when they brought back their completed paper. Each child needed an adult to help them read the questions and write the answers, though. This could be set up as a station where an adult hands out questions and prizes.

    Whenever I know I’ll have large groups of kids over, I spread out a long sheet of newsprint paper. I can buy the remnant rolls from the newspaper printers in the city for $70 and there’s probably still about 70-100 feet of paper on a roll. Then I just lay out crayons, pens, stamps and ink, paints and stickers for the children to decorate it.

  21. Greg says

    Cranium’s Hullabaloo.

    Just a general strategy, have lots of activities, if something does not work, move to another. If they are having fun, let them stay longer. Stop while they are still having fun.

    My son (August birthday) wanted a water party. A couple of pools and sprinklers and we were st!

  22. Altissima says

    Heaps of great ideas for activities above. You must totally rope in the parents who self invitetd their other siblings to help out with running and supervising the activities.

  23. Jennifer says

    We have always started birthday parties the same way–kids get a plain paper bag to decorate. While they’re busy, I hide 3 presents for each kid (I am not a candy mom!). Each kid chooses a color of tissue paper, and their gifts are wrapped in that. When the gift bags are done, they get to go hunt their ‘treasures’, generally small toys they can play with right then.
    Next up, a couple of games based on that year’s theme and then it’s time to eat.
    We usually have cupcakes and, in a variation on the cookie-decorating station above, I often pretend ‘I’ve completely forgotten to decorate them!’ Kids get into the act, and love decorating their own cupcakes.
    So, they make and assemble their own goodie bags, play with the stuff to go into them, and decorate the cake. Now if I could just get them to clean up!

  24. Jennifer says

    We’re having a hard time coming up with games/activities this year too. My son is 6 and very much wants a ‘fire and ice/exploding things’ party. He’s been very into volcanoes and geysers lately. Trouble is, loud noises hurt his ears. Balloon-popping relay races, for example, would terrify him. Can anyone suggest some good group activities or games that involve explosions without hte noise? Thanks!