Age-specific celebrations for preschoolers, grade-schoolers and preteens
Three- to five- year-olds have been human only for a few short years and readily slip into other roles. They aren't just pretending to be a T. rex--they are one. For kids who are dogmatically canine, this party gives them license to bark, roll over and gnaw on bones. From start to finish, it's got a message that will thrill them: Hey, little hounds, this time we believe you.
Call in the dogs with this easy card. Cut out two matching squares of construction paper and tape them together along the top edge. From the top square, cut away the center part and round the ears. Decorate the bottom square with a face and collar, then clip on a detachable dog tag cut from the bottom of an aluminum pie plate (bend back the tag's sharp edges). Write the child's name backward on the tag's reverse side (so the type is embossed). Put the party information under the earflaps and ask guests to come with their licenses in paw. To keep the ruff-housing to a minimum, limit your pack to four or five pups.
For this imaginative group, you don't need many props. Decorate the front door with a discreet Kennel Club sign. Inside, set up a table as the groomer's salon. Hang a sign to that effect and place a mirror on the table. Fill the playroom with doghouses made from large cardboard boxes--one for each kid, with his name over a simple cutout door. (Wait until the kids arrive if you think they'll choose special puppy names.) Doghouse facades are even simpler to make. Cut them from the sides of a box and lean them against a wall. With the addition of clean dog bowls--gauche, but the kids will love it--the scene is set for playtime, games and snacks.
As kids come in the door, have grown-up "groomers" turn them into puppies. Use face paint and optional dog ears (pieces of fabric or fake fur fastened to the child's hair with silver hair clips). Lay out a tableful of beads, buttons, string and extra dog tags to make a dog collar. Let the pups string their own (help them center the tag). It'll be your job to make sure nobody's necklace gets turned into a choke collar. Have an instant camera handy for portraits.
You won't need any formal games for this crowd. Two hours of dressing up and remaining in character is enough to keep them howling about the party for days. Still, here are two activities in case you've got a roving pack on your hands.
THE SNOOP: Hide about 40 cardboard bones (or sugar-cookie dough cut and baked into bone shapes) at "dog height," and have the puppies hunt on hands and knees. Found bones get buried at the end of the game in a bag in exchange for treats.
DOG TRAINER SAYS: Based on Simon Says, this game has the kids doing dog tricks--but only when the leader prefaces the command with "Trainer says..." The trainer will need a cheat sheet to remember appropriate dog commands: Sit. Lie down. Roll over. Speak. Jump. Shake. Stay. Three-year-olds may have trouble keeping the rules straight. For them, forget the "Trainer says" part and just pretend to teach them tricks like Run around the yard, backward. Five-year-olds might like the game better if you speed it up and add silly commands like Growl, Wag your tail, and Bark your head off. All good puppies get treats for learning their tricks.
Familiar foods are best with this crowd. Try serving hot dogs or get yourself a bone-shaped cookie cutter and cut out plain cheese or bologna sandwiches made with soft white bread. Make kibbles from either trail mix or those cheese- or peanut-butter-filled pretzels that look like dog treats. Garnish with sticks (pretzel rods). Cut sugar cookie dough into bone shapes for special "dog treats." For extra fun, serve lunch in a clean dog bowl (or just a regular bowl). Click here for a puppy-dog cake recipe.
Send each pup home with--what else?--a doggie bag, either plain or decorated with spots. Stuff it with the child's photograph (puppy name and breed underneath, with some remark like "Loves Bones" or "Beautifully Groomed"). Throw in a dog figurine, some stickers, a ball and a bone cookie. And, of course, leave room for the collar.
Send a message from the birthday pup in dog language. For example, on the front you might put a picture of your child with a cartoon dialogue balloon: "Woof-woof, arf, Batcar, grrrrr, woof-WOOF! Rrrr, Ralph." Translation inside: "That means, 'Thank you for the great Batcar for my birthday! Love, Ralph.'"