Party game ideas for 3 year olds?

by DaniGirl on January 29, 2007 · 38 comments

in Mothering without a licence

I’ve just spent a very unsatisfying lunch hour scouring the interwebs for party-game ideas for three year olds. When will I ever learn that all I need to know about life I can find out by asking my bloggy friends?

There will be six kids, ages 10 weeks, 2 years (two of them), 3 years, 5 years and 6 years. Okay, safe to say that baby Brooke will be happy to simply look on while the other kids play.

Any ideas for simple games that can be played in a relatively small and crowded (with onlooking adults) space would be greatly appreciated!


{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sharon January 29, 2007 at 7:10 pm

OH tough one. It’s hard to keep an attention of any 3 year old for any lenght of time. But keep it simple. Play the classic’s. Simon says. Follow the leader. Duck Duck Goose…Hard to do inside but it is fun. Or just turn on some music and show them how to dance. THEY LOVE THAT!!!
Good luck your one brave lady!

2 Sharon January 29, 2007 at 7:10 pm

OH tough one. It’s hard to keep an attention of any 3 year old for any lenght of time. But keep it simple. Play the classic’s. Simon says. Follow the leader. Duck Duck Goose…Hard to do inside but it is fun. Or just turn on some music and show them how to dance. THEY LOVE THAT!!!
Good luck your one brave lady!

3 Patrice January 29, 2007 at 7:12 pm

Hello! I’ve been reading your blog since I came across it looking for Santa parade listings…anyhow, some ideas for you current dilemma. One that worked at my son’s party was using some of the gazillion stuffed animals that seem to multiply exponentially in my home, jungle themed and put them in various places around the house, take digital photos of the animals print them on a sheet table style with big squares beside them, give the kids bingo dabbers and have them look for the animals. We also made binoculars out of toilet paper rolls and yarn (taped together, punch holes & attach yarn)and marked the kids names on them and had them decorate them with stickers before starting the search. We sang old macdonald with the jungle animals and the kids loved it. We also tried to play elefun but the game didn’t work as well as we had hoped…Another option is buying inexpensive bugs at the dollar store, and do the same hide & seek kind of thing, we were going to use those giant bug puppets from Price Club and then have little containers of the dollar store bugs near them for the kids to collect 1 each and put it their dollar store bugbox (and party favor!). Good luck!

4 Patrice January 29, 2007 at 7:12 pm

Hello! I’ve been reading your blog since I came across it looking for Santa parade listings…anyhow, some ideas for you current dilemma. One that worked at my son’s party was using some of the gazillion stuffed animals that seem to multiply exponentially in my home, jungle themed and put them in various places around the house, take digital photos of the animals print them on a sheet table style with big squares beside them, give the kids bingo dabbers and have them look for the animals. We also made binoculars out of toilet paper rolls and yarn (taped together, punch holes & attach yarn)and marked the kids names on them and had them decorate them with stickers before starting the search. We sang old macdonald with the jungle animals and the kids loved it. We also tried to play elefun but the game didn’t work as well as we had hoped…Another option is buying inexpensive bugs at the dollar store, and do the same hide & seek kind of thing, we were going to use those giant bug puppets from Price Club and then have little containers of the dollar store bugs near them for the kids to collect 1 each and put it their dollar store bugbox (and party favor!). Good luck!

5 Myra January 29, 2007 at 7:45 pm

I’ve long thought that even attempting party games for the under-4 set is sheer and utter madness… or a short trip thereto! You’re my kind of crazy lady!
Anyway – when my eldest turned 5 we played “stick” the tail on the donkey (aside: there are many iterations of this at the local party stores to suit any theme!)… and our nearly 3-year-old LOVED it.
One more option is the reverse musical chairs/shrinking island thing… using either chairs or mats on the floor, children must find somewhere to sit when the music stops. No one is ever out – the object is to keep trying to squeeze everyone on to the ever-shrinking island.
But mostly I just let the kids free play and between the eating, the cake and the gift opening that pretty much kills 2 hours and it’s all over but the crying.
Party on!

6 Myra January 29, 2007 at 7:45 pm

I’ve long thought that even attempting party games for the under-4 set is sheer and utter madness… or a short trip thereto! You’re my kind of crazy lady!
Anyway – when my eldest turned 5 we played “stick” the tail on the donkey (aside: there are many iterations of this at the local party stores to suit any theme!)… and our nearly 3-year-old LOVED it.
One more option is the reverse musical chairs/shrinking island thing… using either chairs or mats on the floor, children must find somewhere to sit when the music stops. No one is ever out – the object is to keep trying to squeeze everyone on to the ever-shrinking island.
But mostly I just let the kids free play and between the eating, the cake and the gift opening that pretty much kills 2 hours and it’s all over but the crying.
Party on!

7 Sally January 29, 2007 at 8:17 pm

Perfect timing! I actually have an idea for this one. My Tommy’s 3rd birthday is today and his party was last night. He only had one friend his age at the party, but I’m pretty sure the game could be adjusted for more kids.
We did a treasure hunt with Tommy and his friend. I took pictures of lots of things in our house and then taped those pictures around the house for them to navigate. So, for example, they started with a picture of the kitchen chairs. When they went to the chairs, they found a picture of the fridge. When they got to the fridge, they found a picture of the couch, etc. Eventually they got to a pile of stuffed animals marked with an X-marks-the-spot. They dug through the animals until they found two treasure chests filled with Mardi Gras beads and fake gold coins.
You could probably have the kids follow the course in small groups if you have too many kids to do it all at once. I’m pretty sure you could do it all in one room if you used small pictures on small items (or people) throughout the room. It doesn’t matter if they can see where the final X is. Following the path seemed to be the fun part.

8 Sally January 29, 2007 at 8:17 pm

Perfect timing! I actually have an idea for this one. My Tommy’s 3rd birthday is today and his party was last night. He only had one friend his age at the party, but I’m pretty sure the game could be adjusted for more kids.
We did a treasure hunt with Tommy and his friend. I took pictures of lots of things in our house and then taped those pictures around the house for them to navigate. So, for example, they started with a picture of the kitchen chairs. When they went to the chairs, they found a picture of the fridge. When they got to the fridge, they found a picture of the couch, etc. Eventually they got to a pile of stuffed animals marked with an X-marks-the-spot. They dug through the animals until they found two treasure chests filled with Mardi Gras beads and fake gold coins.
You could probably have the kids follow the course in small groups if you have too many kids to do it all at once. I’m pretty sure you could do it all in one room if you used small pictures on small items (or people) throughout the room. It doesn’t matter if they can see where the final X is. Following the path seemed to be the fun part.

9 nancy January 29, 2007 at 9:33 pm

I was gonna suggest the picture scavenger hunt idea too. But you know, really, with that age group…al they want are balloons, cake and a lot of freeplay. Let him open the gifts early so they can all enjoy the new toys??

10 nancy January 29, 2007 at 9:33 pm

I was gonna suggest the picture scavenger hunt idea too. But you know, really, with that age group…al they want are balloons, cake and a lot of freeplay. Let him open the gifts early so they can all enjoy the new toys??

11 Lee January 29, 2007 at 9:41 pm

Not my idea, I found this idea on the T.O.Mama message board.

It is called “Fishing Pool”. You just hang a sheet or a tablecloth at waist height (we draped ours on two kitchen chairs in a corner). One parent is behind the cloth and another is with the
children on the other side of the tablecloth. You also need a “fishing pole” (we used a light bamboo dowel and attached a ribbon with a clothes pin tied to the end). Ask the children to take turns fishing and hand them the rod. When they hang the “rod” over the cloth, the adult behind the cloth attaches a small gift that they can reel in. The kids really seemed to
like the game and it helped take the edge off the gift unwrapping part of the party because each guest received a little gift. Easiest is to have gifts that girls and boys would
like–stickers, crayons, small books and a few extra.

12 Lee January 29, 2007 at 9:41 pm

Not my idea, I found this idea on the T.O.Mama message board.

It is called “Fishing Pool”. You just hang a sheet or a tablecloth at waist height (we draped ours on two kitchen chairs in a corner). One parent is behind the cloth and another is with the
children on the other side of the tablecloth. You also need a “fishing pole” (we used a light bamboo dowel and attached a ribbon with a clothes pin tied to the end). Ask the children to take turns fishing and hand them the rod. When they hang the “rod” over the cloth, the adult behind the cloth attaches a small gift that they can reel in. The kids really seemed to
like the game and it helped take the edge off the gift unwrapping part of the party because each guest received a little gift. Easiest is to have gifts that girls and boys would
like–stickers, crayons, small books and a few extra.

13 SheilaC January 29, 2007 at 10:09 pm

How about “pass the parcel”? Sit in a circle, pass around a parcel loosely wrapped in layers of paper. When the music stops, the kid holding the parcel takes off a layer of paper – the 2 year olds and 3 year olds probably need adult help so they don’t unwrap the whole thing. You could use gift bags and fabric bags and boxes for some of the layers. In the middle you should have treats or mini toys for all to share.
What about relay races? Depending on the party theme, you could drive a toy truck full of blocks from A to B, then jump-hop back to the next person in line. Or run to a bag and put on the dress-up clothes there, then run to point B and back, take off the clothes and leave them for the next person. Other tasks might be stacking blocks, 10 jumping jacks, run around the stairwell 3 times, roll like a log… Keep it simple for the littlest ones, harder for the bigger kids.
Free play is always good: more exciting for the guests than for the home crew, unless you include some new toys.
Have fun!

14 SheilaC January 29, 2007 at 10:09 pm

How about “pass the parcel”? Sit in a circle, pass around a parcel loosely wrapped in layers of paper. When the music stops, the kid holding the parcel takes off a layer of paper – the 2 year olds and 3 year olds probably need adult help so they don’t unwrap the whole thing. You could use gift bags and fabric bags and boxes for some of the layers. In the middle you should have treats or mini toys for all to share.
What about relay races? Depending on the party theme, you could drive a toy truck full of blocks from A to B, then jump-hop back to the next person in line. Or run to a bag and put on the dress-up clothes there, then run to point B and back, take off the clothes and leave them for the next person. Other tasks might be stacking blocks, 10 jumping jacks, run around the stairwell 3 times, roll like a log… Keep it simple for the littlest ones, harder for the bigger kids.
Free play is always good: more exciting for the guests than for the home crew, unless you include some new toys.
Have fun!

15 Madeleine January 29, 2007 at 10:28 pm

I was going to suggest Sheila’s parcel idea, with the additional twist I saw done once where the child who unwraps gets a task to do — you have a list of tasks and give the right one to each child. Things like, “sing ABC” or “twirl around” or “make a funny face.” You control the music to make sure each child gets one turn. Birthday child gets a second turn at the end and opens the box of treats and hands them out.

16 Madeleine January 29, 2007 at 10:28 pm

I was going to suggest Sheila’s parcel idea, with the additional twist I saw done once where the child who unwraps gets a task to do — you have a list of tasks and give the right one to each child. Things like, “sing ABC” or “twirl around” or “make a funny face.” You control the music to make sure each child gets one turn. Birthday child gets a second turn at the end and opens the box of treats and hands them out.

17 liz January 29, 2007 at 11:26 pm

Balloons. Lots and lots of them. Put away your breakables.

18 liz January 29, 2007 at 11:26 pm

Balloons. Lots and lots of them. Put away your breakables.

19 Mike January 30, 2007 at 8:46 am

My 3-year old always loves the Pinata. Catching (or popping) bubbles is fun, too.
Mike
http://somethingaboutparenting.typepad.com/

20 Mike January 30, 2007 at 8:46 am

My 3-year old always loves the Pinata. Catching (or popping) bubbles is fun, too.
Mike
http://somethingaboutparenting.typepad.com/

21 DaniGirl January 30, 2007 at 12:34 pm

I love you guys. I really, truly love you guys. What FANTASTIC ideas! I swear, I googled every variation of “party games for 3 year olds” I could think of, and went three pages deep on each search, and didn’t get anything near this quality of ideas.
(and welcome to Patrice and Lee – I don’t think I’ve seen you commenting before.)
Oh dear, now I’ve gone from no ideas to too many ideas!!

22 DaniGirl January 30, 2007 at 12:34 pm

I love you guys. I really, truly love you guys. What FANTASTIC ideas! I swear, I googled every variation of “party games for 3 year olds” I could think of, and went three pages deep on each search, and didn’t get anything near this quality of ideas.
(and welcome to Patrice and Lee – I don’t think I’ve seen you commenting before.)
Oh dear, now I’ve gone from no ideas to too many ideas!!

23 Mrs. Schmitty January 30, 2007 at 12:39 pm

My kids always play sticker tag. Just get those little round stickers in different colors. One color for each child. Give them a sheet and when you say go, they have to put a sticker on someone else. Rules: If you “tag” someone you have to move on to someone else…can’t “tag” twice in a row. And now pulling off your stickers! My kids LOVE it, they laugh hysterically.

24 Mrs. Schmitty January 30, 2007 at 12:39 pm

My kids always play sticker tag. Just get those little round stickers in different colors. One color for each child. Give them a sheet and when you say go, they have to put a sticker on someone else. Rules: If you “tag” someone you have to move on to someone else…can’t “tag” twice in a row. And now pulling off your stickers! My kids LOVE it, they laugh hysterically.

25 andrea from the fishbowl January 30, 2007 at 1:28 pm

I hate to be the voice of doom but you have to prepare yourself that the kids (as little as they are) won’t want to play any game. It’s happened to us more than a few times. If the games are too complicated they will just zone out and find something else to do.
One year I planned a whole bunch of games and found myself getting frustrated because no one was playing. The kids were just too excited to focus on anything. Doh.
I humbly suggest the following:
1) Starting with an easy craft while waiting for everyone to arrive. It calms everyone down and gets things started in a quiet way. My fave for that age: get yellow construction paper and precut it in shapes of crowns with the kids names on them. Ask the kids to decorate with stickers and markers. Staple to kids head. Voila.
Games:
1) Hot potato – but with a balloon instead of a potato
2) Duck duck goose
3) Freeze-dance (music shuts off and you freeze)
But you know what? At this age it’s just a really big playdate. All kids really want to do is play with the other kids toys anyway. (But I did like the idea of the animal zoo and the homemade binoculars above.)
Now tell us, what’s your position on loot bags? ๐Ÿ˜‰

26 andrea from the fishbowl January 30, 2007 at 1:28 pm

I hate to be the voice of doom but you have to prepare yourself that the kids (as little as they are) won’t want to play any game. It’s happened to us more than a few times. If the games are too complicated they will just zone out and find something else to do.
One year I planned a whole bunch of games and found myself getting frustrated because no one was playing. The kids were just too excited to focus on anything. Doh.
I humbly suggest the following:
1) Starting with an easy craft while waiting for everyone to arrive. It calms everyone down and gets things started in a quiet way. My fave for that age: get yellow construction paper and precut it in shapes of crowns with the kids names on them. Ask the kids to decorate with stickers and markers. Staple to kids head. Voila.
Games:
1) Hot potato – but with a balloon instead of a potato
2) Duck duck goose
3) Freeze-dance (music shuts off and you freeze)
But you know what? At this age it’s just a really big playdate. All kids really want to do is play with the other kids toys anyway. (But I did like the idea of the animal zoo and the homemade binoculars above.)
Now tell us, what’s your position on loot bags? ๐Ÿ˜‰

27 DaniGirl January 30, 2007 at 2:13 pm

Andrea, I can’t get past stapling the crowns to the kids’ heads. Ouch! *wink*
Seriously, though, you are quite right about the attention-span of your average toddler/preschooler. I think we’ll have a couple of games planned, but go with whatever the kids want to do.
And loot bags? I’m not entirely sure. I like the idea of all the kids getting a simple ‘gift’ of a couple of candies and maybe a small toy – but nothing extravagant. I’m cheap, you know.

28 DaniGirl January 30, 2007 at 2:13 pm

Andrea, I can’t get past stapling the crowns to the kids’ heads. Ouch! *wink*
Seriously, though, you are quite right about the attention-span of your average toddler/preschooler. I think we’ll have a couple of games planned, but go with whatever the kids want to do.
And loot bags? I’m not entirely sure. I like the idea of all the kids getting a simple ‘gift’ of a couple of candies and maybe a small toy – but nothing extravagant. I’m cheap, you know.

29 Miche January 30, 2007 at 2:32 pm

Andrea Gordon had a great post a while back:
http://thestar.blogs.com/parenting/2006/05/prepare_to_get_.html
As did Allison:
http://dontletsstart.blogspot.com/2006/05/no-we-didnt-have-baby-but-we-did-have.html
Me? I’m all about the free-play.

30 Miche January 30, 2007 at 2:32 pm

Andrea Gordon had a great post a while back:
http://thestar.blogs.com/parenting/2006/05/prepare_to_get_.html
As did Allison:
http://dontletsstart.blogspot.com/2006/05/no-we-didnt-have-baby-but-we-did-have.html
Me? I’m all about the free-play.

31 Myra January 30, 2007 at 3:03 pm

Loot bags are a *must* for our tots…
I’m cheap ‘n’ cheerful too — usually hit the dollar store and bulk barn… Ring Pops and candy necklaces anyone? I’ve used prefab loot bags or a paper lunch bag the kids decorated at the party… I like to give arts/craft supplies.
We went to one party where large zip-top bags held the loot – the kids could see what’s inside and nothing fell out in the car on the way home. It was stuffed with stickers, paper, crayons, etc.
I’ve often thought books would be a great “loot” item to send home. Easy to find marked down or reasonably priced. Wrap them and stick a treat on the top – gifts for everyone!

32 Myra January 30, 2007 at 3:03 pm

Loot bags are a *must* for our tots…
I’m cheap ‘n’ cheerful too — usually hit the dollar store and bulk barn… Ring Pops and candy necklaces anyone? I’ve used prefab loot bags or a paper lunch bag the kids decorated at the party… I like to give arts/craft supplies.
We went to one party where large zip-top bags held the loot – the kids could see what’s inside and nothing fell out in the car on the way home. It was stuffed with stickers, paper, crayons, etc.
I’ve often thought books would be a great “loot” item to send home. Easy to find marked down or reasonably priced. Wrap them and stick a treat on the top – gifts for everyone!

33 BeachMama January 30, 2007 at 3:47 pm

We have yet to do games. Last August was J’s 3rd and we pretty much just let the kids play together with whatever toys are around (we did put some away). The kids did play a few games outside together that they made up, something like wrestle in the grass, and red light green light. Good luck!

34 BeachMama January 30, 2007 at 3:47 pm

We have yet to do games. Last August was J’s 3rd and we pretty much just let the kids play together with whatever toys are around (we did put some away). The kids did play a few games outside together that they made up, something like wrestle in the grass, and red light green light. Good luck!

35 Lini January 30, 2007 at 7:57 pm

Have all the kiddies sit on balloons and try to pop them. They all have so much fun.
And thanks so much,this post really helped me as well as Lexi’s 4th birthday party is in February and I was just thinking the same thing….what to do to entertain the kiddies. Mostly I will keep the games ready to go if needed as I find the kids all just want to free play. I will intruce all the balloons at one point during the party and let them have fun hitting them around then popping them. Also we usually have fun with the freeze dance game.
There were so many great ideas here.

36 Lini January 30, 2007 at 7:57 pm

Have all the kiddies sit on balloons and try to pop them. They all have so much fun.
And thanks so much,this post really helped me as well as Lexi’s 4th birthday party is in February and I was just thinking the same thing….what to do to entertain the kiddies. Mostly I will keep the games ready to go if needed as I find the kids all just want to free play. I will intruce all the balloons at one point during the party and let them have fun hitting them around then popping them. Also we usually have fun with the freeze dance game.
There were so many great ideas here.

37 michelle February 22, 2008 at 8:53 pm

HOW ABOUT MUSICAL CHAIRS, LIMBO, PIN THE TAIL ON ANYTHING,

38 Trish September 26, 2008 at 11:03 am

Hey there –

My daughter is about to turn three and her guests range in age from 1 to 6 boys & girls as well…Here’s what we’re planning –
When kids arrive they will decorate a paper bag with their name on it for their goodie bag. Then maybe a round of pin the tail on whatever or dancing (she loves that!). Then we’ll do the pinata or balloon drop – candies from inside will get divided up between the goodie bags – two for one! Then its snack, presents and cake – Voila! Here’s to hoping it works!

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