Here’s an easy way to amuse kids from dusk ’til dawn without spending a ton of money: Check out the ideas (below) that we assembled for you. Figure out what best suits your child, her guests, the theme, your space, and your budget. And quick as a wink you’ll have a planned-out, perfect party.
WHAT TO DO
1. Set up a DIY Photo Booth
What you need: Free or low-cost photo booth app for your smartphone; backdrop of your choice; props, including recycled costumes and prom dresses, scarves, bags, gloves, sunglasses, and junk jewels.
What to do: Snap pix of kids in a variety of getups, print out pictures, and hand out DIY picture frames.
2. Host a Glitter Gala
What you need: Sparkle and bling, such as sequins, beads, glitter, metallic confetti, tinsel, and more; hats, sunglasses, and white T-shirts; glue, paper cups and plates, and Popsicle sticks.
What to do: Decorate, dress up, and let imagination run wild!
3. Camp Out Indoors
What you need: A few indoor tents, or sturdy chairs and king-sized sheets for draping; a faux fireplace (if you have one); dimmed lights, a flashlight, and sleeping bag for each “camper”; burgers, dogs, and s’mores.
What to do: Hang out, dine, tell spooky stories, and sleep in a tent or under the sheet.
4. Create a Graffiti Wall
What you need: Plastic or paper cutouts, sponges, or stencils; paint, rollers, brushes and painter’s tape; wall-size canvas, white butcher paper, or individual core board for guests to keep.
What to do: Splatter, brush, or smear paint any way they like.
5. Host a Dance-off
What you need: Karaoke machine, a dance video, or just a good playlist and speakers.
What to do: Give kids time to scan the web for hot new dance moves—or to perfect the moves they know. Hit the tunes and start the competition, with or without judges. Film the event for laughs.
WHAT TO PLAY
6. Truth or Dare
What you need: Paper, pencil, a dozen or two fun, age-appropriate truth-or-dare questions, and a dozen or two balloons to stuff them into.
What to do: Pop a balloon and answer. Try these questions for starters: If you were invisible for a day, what would you do? For the rest of the game, fake sneeze anytime anyone says the word “like.”
7. Would You Rather
What you need: Twenty to twenty-five kooky/crazy “would you rather” questions—for example: Would you rather have your grandmother’s name or her hairstyle? Need ideas? Find more online.
What to do: Take turns answering the Q’s!
8. Minute to Win It
What you need: Simple household items, such as small coins, chopsticks, cereal loops, chenille sticks, and marshmallows.
What to do: See who can stack the most pennies, toss the most marshmallows into a basin, or make a beaded bracelet with one hand.
9. Spin the Bottle: Nail Polish Edition
What you need: One lipstick tube (that’s the spinner) and one nail-polish bottle per player (mix wild and subtle colors).
What to do: Spin the lipstick; the player it points to paints one of the spinner’s toes or fingers, in this crowdsourced, multihued, manic makeover.
WHAT TO MAKE
10. Awesome Pillowcases
What you need: Pillowcases, fabric pens, fabric paint, or tie-dye kit.
What to do: Decorate, let dry, and admire. Then settle in for a few hours of sleep before breakfast.
11. DIY Flip-Flops
What you need: Solid-colored flip-flops; tulle, ribbon, yarn, trinkets, glitter, pompons, bells, spangles, glue, and scissors.
What to do: Project Runway, home edition
12. Dream Catchers
What you need: Embroidery hoops, colorful tape, yarn, buttons, beads, and feathers.
What to do: Wrap each hoop with tape or yarn; string yarn across opening to make a web; add colorful beads as you weave.
13. Indoor Obstacle Course
What you need: Yarn, twine, or rope; furniture with accessible legs.
What to do: Loop (or crisscross) yarn or twine across a room or hallway and back, securing it around multiple sets of furniture legs. Set twine roughly four inches off the ground. Cross the room without shattering the web.
WHAT TO EAT
14. Iron Chef Italy
What you need: Pre-made pizza crusts; inspired toppings, including pasta, bacon, broccoli, cheddar, peas, ham, and apple.
What to do: Hold a cook-off. Declare winners for most colorful, best taste, and worst combination.
15. Warrior Peeps
What you need: Marshmallow Peeps, toothpicks, microwave oven.
What to do: Set two different-colored Peeps a few inches apart on a paper plate; arm each with a toothpick; put in microwave for 10 seconds and watch them expand until one defeats the other with its stick. Let cool. Feast on the winners and losers!
16. Breakfast for Dinner
What you need: Eggs, bacon, pancake mix, milk, cereal, granola, juice, fruit, English muffins, pizza sauce, cheese, and yogurt.
What to do: Call it “opposite day.” In the evening, serve eggs, bacon, pancakes, or a cereal bar with toppings like berries, granola, nuts, and mini chocolate chips. In the morning, serve English-muffin pizzas along with yogurt sundaes or fruit-filled “milkshakes.”