Great Themes for Fabulous Tween Parties

kids sitting on a fence
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Planning parties for young children is easy, right? Give them a cake and a few presents, and they're thrilled. Birthdays get more complicated when kids get older and enter the "tween years" between the ages of 8 through 12. You might find that your tweens have a hard time settling on a theme and agenda. Consider these party ideas if you're stuck.

Makeover Spa Day

Create a spa atmosphere at your home. As guests arrive, take "before" photos, then have everyone don pajamas or bathrobes and take turns at stations you've set up for manicures, pedicures, massages, facials, and makeup. Have the kids primp each other or hire a few teenagers to do the work. Keep a small stack of style and celebrity magazines on hand at each station, as well as pitchers of cucumber-infused water and trays of cut fruit.

Once everyone has been pampered, take "after" pictures. While everyone is eating, opening presents, and singing "Happy Birthday," print the pictures from your computer, frame them, then give the framed photos to each child as the favor at the end of the party. Instead of, or in addition to, you could give small gift bags with nail polish, a nail file, and lip gloss inside.

Go Green

If the birthday boy or girl is a budding environmentalist, build the theme around going green. Activities could include playing old-fashioned games such as kick the can, or making a craft such as wind chimes out of items from nature, old silverware, and trinkets found at secondhand shops. You might also consider taking the kids on a service outing, such as picking up litter from a natural area or planting trees.

The food should be natural and healthy, such as cut fruits and vegetables, smoothies, and homemade family favorites. Even the cake can have an eco theme. For favors, send each child home with something for the yard or a pot and a packet of seeds.

Adventure Game Show

Consider throwing a gross birthday party. Just make sure you warn parents on the invitations that the kids should wear clothing that can get dirty. Set up several stations, such as places where kids are blindfolded and told to stick their hands into bowls of worms (cold, oily, cooked spaghetti) and eyeballs (peeled grapes). The kids earn points for correctly identifying what they're touching. Another station could be for tasting concoctions such as "People Puppy Chow" served in dog bowls and baked eyeballs. Set up several contests, such as filling a tub of water with rubber rats and seeing which child can remove the most rats using only their teeth in 30 seconds.

Favors should be barf bags filled with practical jokes such as gummy worms, gumball eyes, and whoopee cushions. You could also make T-shirts for each child that say "I survived [insert name here]'s totally gross birthday party!" Keep in mind; some kids might truly be grossed out by the activities. Never pressure a child to participate in a challenge that makes him or her uncomfortable.

Mall and a Movie

You could throw your child's entire party at a mall. Give the kids 30 minutes to shop, then reconvene in the food court for snacks and cake. After opening gifts, present everyone with the party favors: tickets to see a movie. The party ends in the theater, and you go home to a clean house.

Get Crafty

Throw a make-and-take party, set up three or so stations with craft activities for tweens. Choose crafts that don't take long, are clever, and appeal to this age group such as:

  • Picture frames
  • Body glitter or henna art
  • DIY purses

To drive home the handmade theme, make party decorations with your child ahead of time, including bowls for serving pretzels or other dry foods and cupcake toppers made using rubber stamps, paper, and toothpicks.​​

Party for a Cause

By this age, children are well aware that the world isn't a perfect place. If there's a particular cause that's close to your child's heart, he or she might want the party to serve as a benefit for it. The invitations, decorations, favors, and cakes can tie to the charity themes as well.

Animal lovers, for instance, could throw a cat- or dog-themed party and ask guests to bring kitty litter or dog food instead of presents. These items would then be donated to a local animal shelter. Likewise, a winter-themed party could be an opportunity to collect coats, hats, and mittens for children in need. During the summer, throw a pool- or beach-themed party and ask guests to donate new swimsuits that will later be distributed to children through your local parks and recreation program. Is your child a bookworm? Ask his or her friends to bring new or gently used books for a community reading program.

An Outing

At this age, kids might be less interested in traditional birthday parties and keener on inviting two or three close friends to do something special with them. Give a young athlete tickets to see a baseball game or other sporting event, then end the day with dinner at a sports-themed restaurant. A budding actor might enjoy seeing a play or musical, while a music fan would be thrilled to attend a rock concert. Go camping, take a cooking class, art class, visit a beach, or go snow skiing—the possibilities are endless.

Between the ages of 8 and 12, your child will be undergoing enormous changes. Some days he or she will feel like a kid, other days he or she will seem on the verge of adulthood. They might long to have a traditional party with balloons and ice cream, but feel peer pressure to do something more "grown-up." Be sensitive to those changes as you plan their birthday parties with them year to year.