Mermaid Party

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Offer six- to eight-year-olds anything to do with fantasy, and they'll dive right in. Add a hidden treasure and some games and races--as this Mermaid Party does--and they may never want to come out. For "seafood," give them this mermaid cake. This age group can handle more involved activities but still gets wound up easily, so keep your festivities to two hours and your guests to eight, tops.

INVITATIONS

Beckon party-goers with an underwater message. Write the details on a 5-by-6-inch piece of green paper with a wavy top edge. Slip it into a zip-top sandwich bag. Sprinkle sand, glitter and confetti (available at party stores) inside. Fold in half and mail in a blue envelope.

DECORATIONS

For this age group, the more decorations, the merrier. This party has plenty--you essentially turn one room into an ocean--but they're basic and inexpensive. First, drape a sheet over a chair to make a mermaid rock. Then hang a long green streamer, clothesline style, across part of the ceiling, attaching the ends securely with tape and thumbtacks. Cut six fish and starfish shapes out of poster board and tape each to one end of a 4-foot length of blue crepe paper. Hang these, plus some plain streamers, from the clothesline-style streamer. Litter the floor underneath with blue balloons.

WELCOMING ACTIVITY

This quiet icebreaker gives arriving guests a chance to settle in. Ahead of time, cut 5-inch-wide poster board crowns. On a table, set out saucers of glitter, confetti or stickers, along with glue sticks and water-based markers or crayons. Ask party-goers to decorate their crowns. Size each by wrapping it around the child's head and stapling the ends together. Then, set the creations aside to dry for the Mer-race (below).

GAMES

TRAIL OF TREASURE: Nothing piques grade-schoolers' curiosity like a treasure hunt. This one relies on pictures instead of words, so the game moves quickly. To make the treasure chest, cover the outside and inside of a small Styrofoam cooler with aluminum foil. Glue two strips of black construction paper to simulate straps. Fill with a mixture of uncooked pasta shells (large or jumbo work best), cooked spinach linguini "seaweed" (the gross-out factor is priceless), costume jewelry, ocean creatures and chocolate coins.

To set up the hunt, collect eight beach items--a swim mask, a shell, a flip-flop and so on. On small pieces of paper, draw a picture of each item and of the treasure chest. Hide the chest in a spot where all the kids will be able to gather easily. Place the picture of the chest inside the shell, for example, and hide that. Place the picture of the shell inside the flip-flop, and so on, until you've hidden all but one clue. Give the remaining picture to the kids and instruct them to follow the clues in order. When the chest is found, each child gets a turn reaching into it and fishing for one or two treasures.

SKIN THE EEL: Kids have to work together to complete this flexibility challenge. First, line up everyone single file. Each child bends forward and places his right hand back through his legs. With his left hand, he grasps the right hand of the player in front of him. The player at the back of the line lies down on his back while everyone else walks backward over him. The next player lies down, then the next, until everyone is supine. The last player to lie down gets up and walks forward, pulling the rest of the line with him, until all are standing and still holding hands.

MER-RACE: This game made a big splash with our kid-testers, who stayed all wrapped up for the rest of the party. First, outfit each child with a mermaid tail by having him or her step into a heavy-duty, drawstring garbage bag. Tie the bag loosely around the child's waist, then secure it in place with a belt of duct tape. Wrap a second strip of duct tape around the knees to create a fin effect, then lay the children down on their bellies, across the room from your mermaid rock. Scatter the crowns around on the rock. At the "Ready, set, dive" signal, kids squirm and flap their way to the rock, don their crowns and race back. Afterward, photograph each child, then serve lunch. (Cut a few small airholes in the bags so the kids don't end up with slimy fish feet.)

SEA FOOD

Anything ocean-related, and preferably punny, makes a great catch of the day for this party: peanut butter and jellyfish, potato boats, or shell pasta sprinkled with "sand" (grated Parmesan). Serve with blue Gatorade and Goldfish crackers. For dessert? A bowl of blue Jell-O and gummy fish, and a mermaid cake.

FAVORS & GOODIE BAG

After a day at the beach, send kids home with a plastic or tin pail full of treasure--squirty fish, ocean stickers, fish pencils, real shells and chocolate coins. Top it off with a sprinkling of sand or glitter.

THANK-YOU NOTE

Kids always love seeing pictures of themselves in costume. To make this card, fold a piece of construction paper in half and cut four angled slits on the front. Slip in a photo of each child as a mermaid, along with a silly message like "Nice to sea you" or "Come back off-fin!"

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