Looking after one energetic toddler or preschooler can be challenging enough at times, so if you are brave enough to entertain a large group of excited children, it is worth planning in advance. The key is to use activities that are simple to follow, keep their attention and get everyone involved -- then you are less likely to have a mini-riot on your hands.
Circle games work well with large groups of young children because once you have them all in one place, you are more likely to get their attention. Duck, Duck Goose is a traditional game that some of them may already know. One person walks around the outside of the circle, touching everyone's head and saying "duck." At some point, that person says "goose" instead of "duck" and the child he touched has to chase him all around the circle and back to the empty space; if the chosen child doesn't catch him in time, she becomes the picker for the next round. If you have a really large number of children, it is worth making two circles. Change Pass the Parcel to Pass the Teddy, and when the music stops, the child holding the teddy bear has to run around the circle or perform another agreed-upon forfeit.
Get them working in teams with a competitive game to burn off some energy. Relay games work well because they are fast moving and children do not have to wait too long for their turn. Split your children into two groups and then split each group into two with half at one end of the backyard or room and half at the other. Give each corresponding pair of children a different means of moving -- balancing a ball on a spoon, bunny hopping, sliding on their tummies, jumping or balancing bean bags on their heads. Each child takes turns traveling to the other side of the room before the next person on that team sets off.
If you have a large group of children that needs calming down a bit, get them involved in an art project that has them working in pairs; you don't need a big table, just sit them on the floor or patio. Give everyone a piece of paper and a few crayons and get each child to draw her partner's head and shoulders while the partner draws her. Write the name of the subject and artist on the back of each one. Hold all the pictures up at the end and see if everyone can guess who they are. A tip is to make sure everyone has the right colors for face, hair and eyes -- yellow, brown, pink, blue and red. You can then walk around offering other colors for clothes.
Singing and Actions
Encourage everyone to join in with some singing and actions. Pick some nursery rhymes you think most children will know and get them to copy your actions as you all sing. Rhymes that work well for this activity include Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes and If You're Happy and You Know It; these are extremely repetitive so children should find it easy to join in. You could encourage the children to call out requests for songs as well.