A house full of tots seems harmless -- until you realize you need to entertain them or face chaos when the tots get creative on their own. Every birthday celebration needs a solid agenda of age-appropriate activities. If you can get past the mess that comes with arts and crafts, you'll see the young party guests wallow in creativity as they proudly display their masterpieces.
Your little party guests will get a kick out of craft projects they can wear later. If you're brave, let preschoolers tie-dye some old T-shirts. The best paints are tie-dye kits that have squeeze bottles. Head outside, if possible, to protect your kitchen, bathroom -- or any other room -- from the inevitable mess that tie-dying brings. The shirts usually need to be washed and dried a specific way to set the color. Send the dyed shirts home with the guests in plastic bags with directions. A less messy option is decorating T-shirts, hats or other apparel with fabric markers. You can make homemade necklaces or bracelets as another wearable craft option. Choose large foam beads that are at least 1 and 3/4 inches in diameter and easy for little hands to hold. Tie one bead onto the end of each string so that all of the other beads stay in place.
Themed parties offer a natural tie-in for the arts and crafts projects. General crafts, such as puppets, painted pictures, collages, sticker pictures and pretend play props, are easy to adapt to the specific theme. Set out construction paper and animal stickers for a simple zoo- or safari-themed party craft. Decorate paper crowns at a princess party. Make paper bag pirate puppets at your tot's pirate party. Themed stickers from a party supply store are an easy way to incorporate the party theme into the artwork.
Instead of buying decorating party hats and noise makers, let the wee guests make their own. Party stores have plain party hats in solid colors to make a party hat craft easier on you. Another option is to make your own by rolling construction paper or poster board into cone shapes. Secure them with glue or tape. The tots decorate their personal party hats with stickers, glitter glue and markers. If you use glitter glue, give the hats drying time before wearing them. For a simple noise maker, fill empty water bottles or yogurt containers with dry beans. Hot glue the lids on so the beans don't spill out. You can do this step before the guests arrive to move the process along. Let the kids decorate strips of construction paper that you tape on the outside of the container.
What's a party without food? You can't expect the young guests to handle all of the food prep for you, but you can turn part of the menu into an edible craft. Cookies and cupcakes work well for this activity. Supply the tots with frosting -- white works best to avoid stains on clothes -- and decorations, such as sprinkles and soft candies. Skip the small, hard candies that could cause a choking incident. For a healthier edible snack, cut whole-wheat tortillas into shapes with cookie cutters. Spread on low-fat cream cheese. Top the tortillas with pieces of soft fruit.