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At ages six to seven, boys and girls are inquisitive, active, social, and fun-loving. They are not overly analytical or interested in games with lots of complicated rules. They are competitive in the sense that they know if they have more than the next kid, but are just as happy to play a game where everyone wins.

If you are looking for a quiet birthday party, don't invite any guests. They, and you, can have a great time so long as you keep your cool when things get noisy, and have a trick or two up your sleeve to handle momentary upsets. (Hint: offering a drink of water handles many upsets.)

PREPARATION

Success in a party is all in the preparation. Remove anything breakable from the rooms the kids will be in, put plugs in the electrical outlets, spread a drop cloth on the floor if you care about your carpet, and make sure no pens, pencils, or crayons are near artistic hands. Keep the kids out of the kitchen if you can!

GAME ONE

As each kid arrives, take his coat and present, and give him a scrap of wrapping paper. Tell him to hang onto it, because it is a special piece of paper that will turn into a toy after everyone arrives. (Until everyone arrives, send the kids to a corner where you have piled a lot of blocks or paperback books or dominoes or something else flat, and tell them to see how tall a tower they can each make.) When everyone is there, bring out a paper bag with a toy for each kid wrapped in the various kinds of wrapping paper they got when they came in. Dump them all in the middle of the room, and tell them to find the present that matches their wrapping paper.

GAME TWO - Version One

The toys you gave in Game One, in this version, were bubble blowers and liquid. If you fear that soap will injure your wallpaper, this is not a good game, but soap doesn't injure very many things, so this is usually safe. Anyway, set them to blowing bubbles. If you have uncommonly well-mannered guests, you can have them take turns, or go two at a time, but more likely all will blow at once. Set targets: "Try to get a bubble to the ceiling!" or "See if you can blow a bubble that goes from one side of the room to the other." (Kids like targets and goals much better than activity without a purpose.)

GAME TWO - Version Two

If you don't like bubbles in the house, the presents can be squirt guns. Just kidding! Actually, an excellent alternative is the various pieces of a 12-piece puzzle. This will get them all working together to assemble the puzzle, giving you a few minutes breathing room, and a chance to prepare Game Three, if you haven't already.

GAME THREE

A perennial favorite, hiding pennies around a room (10-15 pennies per child) is the kind of game kids remember for a long time. Shiny pennies are best, but any pennies will do. Some should be easy to find, some more difficult. It is best if they are hidden in a different room (or rooms, if your place is big enough) from where the kids start the party, but that isn't absolutely necessary. This is not a contest to see who can find the most. It is important to keep your eyes open, so if one or two children aren't finding any and start to get upset, you can "suggest" places they can look, even planting pennies there if necessary to make sure everyone finds at least some.

One of the interesting things about this game, especially if you use it over and over, is that you will be finding pennies in odd places for years afterwards!

GAME FOUR

Kids do have a lot of energy, and staying indoors tends to produce explosive outbursts of that energy if it is not used. This game has several variations, and you can make up your own, but they are all based on repeated short bursts of energy. The only prop is a stopwatch, or a watch with a second hand.

Version One: Cross the Room.

All the kids line up on one side of the room, on hands and knees. When you say Go, they have to crawl across the room, touch the (broom, sofa, some tangible goal), and crawl back, pick up a piece of wrapped candy (or you might prefer a marble, or a pebble), do it again, crawl back, pick up another candy, until one minute has passed, and you say Stop. Let them rest a minute, then ask, "Who wants to do that again?" Keep doing this with as many who want to until there are only two or three left. Others might rejoin, but eventually there will be only two or three who want to continue. Of course, they all keep their candy.

Version Two: Run Around the Room.

Point to four or five chairs, tables, doorways, or whatever that they should touch in sequence, through two rooms if possible, with a pile of candy at one point where they grab one in passing. Same thing with the one-minute stints.

Other Versions:

Climb the Stairs. This works best with a small party, just three or four kids, because only one can do it at a time.

Roll across the Room. Also Duck Walk. These need big, or at least wide, rooms.

GAME FIVE

Just a quick settling-down game before the cake and ice cream. This is a sitting game, making up a silly story. The kids sit in a circle, and you tell a story. You end every sentence with a pause, point to the next child, and he fills in the last word. The next sentence is based on the word the last child provided. This is not hard, even if you have never done it. All you have to do is have some ending in mind so you can keep steering the story toward it.

Here's an example: you keep the idea that there is a bunny rabbit trying to get home. So you say, "Mr. Bunny was lost in the woods. When he looked around the tree, he saw...." Point. "A wolf!" "When he saw the wolf, he ran very fast, and hid under a...." Point. "A log!" "The wolf ran right over the log, and fell into a..." Point. "A hole!" "While the wolf was in the hole, the bunny ran and ran until he came to..." Point. "A witch!"

Eventually you get the bunny home, and announce that it is time for cake and ice cream.

And there is your basic birthday party. Have fun--the kids will.