So your 4-year-old kid is another year older. Congrats! Give yourself a pat on the back for doing all the things for another whole year. Toast to you and your partner if you must! And then, when you’ve thoroughly congratulated yourself, get planning on that birthday party you promised.
The best 4-year-old birthday is a little different than the three that have come before it, because it’s probably the first year that your kid can remember going to other parties. Sure at 1 they cooed enthusiastically, at 2 they asked for more cake, and at 3 they became obsessed with Elmo or trucks or some other concept from which you fashioned a party theme. But at 4, odds are they remember the piñata they helped smash or the ice cream cake they devoured at the other parties. Help make all of their dreams come true with these creative, easy to do right at home party themes.
Under the Sea
For decor, stick to blue, white, and clear balloons, (or splurge for this mermaid tale balloon sculpture) and “seaweed” made of green streamers. You can decorate a table with seashells, or have guests decorate them for a take-home craft. They can also paint their own treasure chests, and fill it with treats like candy and stickers. For dessert, spruce up your average blue Jell-O with gummy sharks and Swedish fish, or serve this easy mermaid ice cream.
Host a series of Olympic Games, like a relay race involving a paper towel tube “torch,” a hula-hoop contest, or an egg on a spoon race. For snacks, make edible medals out of fruit roll-ups and Golden Oreos, or torches from ice cream cones filled with popcorn or cheese balls. Decorate with this international flag banner, and let hula hoops serve as the iconic Olympic rings (that won’t go to waste later.)
Rock and Roll
Have kids play with these inflatable instruments, or brace your ears for some karaoke. A red carpet ($19.99) will receive guests in style, and a station with accessories like wigs, temporary tattoos, feather boas, or body glitter will keep guests busy. For only $16.99, this decor set includes pom-poms, streamers, paper fans, foil swirls, and photo booth decorations. Cupcakes baked in ice cream cones with silver sprinkles come to resemble microphones (recipe here). You could also go for a retro ’50s diner feel and serve burgers, fries, and ice cream.
You may want to provide fairy wings or flower crowns or have each guest decorate a fairy house.. To make cupcakes that resemble those red mushrooms you find in fairy tales, top them with red icing and inverted white chocolate chips (recipe here). Edible fairy wands can be made from sticking lollipop sticks into star-shaped cookies. This banner will pull the whole thing together.
Magnifying glasses and jars are all you need for a bug scavenger hunt. More squeamish guests can go digging for gummy worms in a plate of whipped cream — no hands allowed! Plastic critters can decorate a table or fill goodie bags. These friendly bug balloons can be filled up with helium at your local party store. For dessert, top chocolate pudding (or a cake) with “dirt” (cookie crumbs) and gummy worms. If your kid is a fan of Jell-O, pour the liquid through upright straws for almost scary realistic edible worms.
Celebrate that your kid can find wonder in the most mundane of things. Set up relay races with construction cones ($11.99), play limbo with caution tape ($6.89), and set off an area for everyone to play with all of those trucks your kid has accumulated (bonus points if there’s colored sand or individually wrapped candies for the trucks to transport). Serve “dirt,” or chocolate pudding topped with cookie crumbs, and store snacks in upside down construction hats.
Activities for a sports party are fairly straightforward, just adjust the rules of your kid’s favorite sports for their age group. They might play volleyball with a beachball and a strip of crepe paper for a low net, or soccer with a small field and cones set up as goals. You can also fall back on old birthday party classics, like hot potato, musical chairs and freeze dance, or set up carnival-style games like tossing sports balls into strategically placed buckets or through the rungs of a latter for a set number of points. These sports themed beach balls are perfect for a game of “don’t let it touch the ground.” Yellow and red napkins double as “penalty flags,” and eye black will help everyone get in the game.
Disney Princess Party
Invite everyone to come in their favorite dress-up, and have them decorate royal accessories like tiaras, swords, or wands. Activities could include target practice with this suction cup bow and arrow or building “snowmen” out of marshmallows, pretzel sticks, chocolate chips, and googly eyes. Inspired by Cinderella, “if the shoe fits” challenges players to put their shoes in a pile and then compete in a relay race to see which team can get all of their shoes back on first. Lastly, send your guests on a scavenger hunt for princess-themed items like Ariel’s fork, a tiara, a high-heel shoe, a candle à la Beauty and the Beast, and a mirror. Serve Cinderella’s pumpkins (clementines), Olaf’s nose (carrots) or arms (pretzels), Snow White’s not-so-poisoned apples, and Arielle’s fish friends (goldfish or Swedish fish).
Decorate with those plastic dinosaurs you have laying around (for once your kid can leave them out!) and a green or purple color scheme (this party set is cute and inexpensive). These dino footprints are a great way to direct guests around to the backyard or party room. Rebrand an Easter egg hunt as a Dino egg hunt. Challenge the kids to do as the paleontologists do and dig for fossils in a sandbox or container full or uncooked rice. And don’t forget to pin the tail on the dinosaur ($3.98)!
What’s cuter than a bunch of 4-year-olds in grass skirts? Let the kids play dress up with lei necklaces, headbands, and wristbands ($12.99), and teach them a traditional hula dance with this kid-friendly tutorial. Any area can be transformed into a photo booth with these props, and luau-themed temporary tattoos ($5.99) provide an easy activity. For party favors, look no further than beach balls or kids’ sunglasses.
From planets to UFOs, an outer space party encompasses the perfect balance of the real and the mystical. For a good old fashioned solar system craft, kids can paint styrofoam spheres, (wood ones are more expensive but better for the environment). Other easy on-theme activities include solar system bingo and pin the mask on the astronaut ($9.87). Glow-in-the-dark space ship temporary tattoos ($9.99) and galaxy slime ($16.64) both serve as perfect activities or favors. As for food, star and moon cookie-cutters ($6.99) can transform almost any food to fit the theme, from fruit and veggies to cheese slices or finger sandwiches. And for dessert, serve Milky Ways, “Saturn rings,” and “meteorites,” or let guests try freeze-dried ice cream, aka astronaut food.
Trains, Planes, and Automobiles
Does your child get a kick out of pointing out planes in the sky or watching the cars pass? Have guests make paper airplanes (or decorate one of these) and play with that train set you’re always nagging to be put away. Almost any baked good can be made into a traffic light with red, yellow, and green M&Ms. Serve pinwheel pasta salad, “spare tire” chocolate donuts, and white balloons arranged in clusters resemble clouds
This palette and paintbrush set ($19.99) paired with mini canvases ($8.96) will make your guests feel extra professional. Don’t forget plenty of washable paint, and maybe some fun sponges. If there’s an artistically inclined adult available, you can even offer face painting. For functional decor, fill these decorative mini paint cans with candy.
To keep your guests entertained, besides the obvious activity of playing Legos, you can have them search for Legos in the backyard (like an on-theme Easter egg hunt offer) or offer this Lego piñata. For free, simple decor, build a jumbo “4” out of all those legos your kid has hanging around, or spell their name. Or use spare ones for a game of “guess how many Legos are in the jar.” Lego-shaped candies are the easiest way to transform cupcakes or cookies to fit the theme.