Tips for Choosing Competitive Games for Children's Parties

Summer, with warm weather, sunshine and green grass providing an ideal backdrop for physical activities, is a great time for outdoor celebrations. You can stage an outdoor birthday party for your child that combines the excitement of carnival midway games with the thrill of friendly competition - and also helps guests burn off all that cake.

But games - in addition to being just plain fun - do more than burn off excess energy and keep kids entertained at parties. According to experts in childhood development, the value of games lies in the way they develop important cognitive, motor, social and language skills. In addition, competition can help kids to build confidence, while being part of a team inspires cooperation and camaraderie.

If you are awarding prizes for game winners at your child's party, try to make sure that every guest receives some sort of recognition. Consider offering a special prize or certificate for "Best Sportsmanship" — given to a child who encouraged another, gave up a turn, or lost with grace. Creating fun categories such as "Most Creative Approach to Putt-Putt Golfing" and "Funniest Face While Shooting Hoops" can ensure that no child goes home disappointed.

With so many party games available, it may be difficult to decide which ones to get. The following games, which can all be played either in one-on-one competition or with teams or partners, are reliable crowd-pleasers.

Balloon Blaster Games: A Soaking Good Time

These uproarious games can trigger mad races against time - and each other - as children frantically work pumps in order to fill and burst awater balloon before their rival can beat them to it. In some variations, players are located directly under their opponents' balloons, so those who are slower on the pump get drenched - a result that many children find hilarious. A more sedate - and drier - version of the game features balloons that burst at a distance. While children are having fun, they are also getting a great aerobic workout that strengthens and conditions core muscles and arms.

Yet another variation, Pitch Burst, requires good aim and a steady arm - when a child hits the target with a ball, a balloon bursts over the head of a volunteer "victim."

Balloon blaster games are great fun, and a wonderful way for children to cool off on a hot, sticky or muggy day. If you're going to offer them, however, add a note to the invitation saying that children should bring a change of clothes.

Limbo: A Poolside Classic

The game of limbo requires flexibility and balance, rather than strength or speed; here is a chance for a small but agile child to triumph. Inflatable limbo games feature decorative posts shaped like cacti or palm trees, along with handy pegs that allow the limbo stick to be lowered at precise intervals - with no need for volunteers to hold the stick, everyone can participate.

Of course, you will want to have a CD of Chubby Checker's irresistibly catchy "Limbo Rock" on hand to create the atmosphere.

Who knew that shy kid in the corner would emerge as the reigning limbo champion?

Inflatable Basketball Game: Shooting Hoops

Made of sturdy, colorful PVC and standing up to nine feet tall, an inflatable basketball game will draw plenty of eager competitors aged four and up. With high, rounded backboards and rollback ramps that help return the ball, these games allow children to spend less time scrambling after the ball and more time actually making baskets. Some versions feature double hoops for side-by-side shooting contests or collaborations - or to allow a helpful older child or adult to demonstrate proper form. Other models feature buzzers, so children can compete directly trying to make the most shots in the least amount of time.

Although older b-ballers might find this game a bit juvenile, it is perfect for smaller children who want to sink baskets like their older brothers and sisters.

Putt-Putt Golf—Hitting the Greens

A portable nine-hole miniature golf course brings the fun of this popular attraction to your backyard. Obstacles, curves, angles and roll-around tubes make each hole a challenge, and call for good hand-eye coordination. Children can play the course singly, or you can also divide the guests into opposing teams. Consider offering a prize to any child who makes the coveted "hole-in-one."

Ring Toss and Bean Bag Games

These classic carnival games are more difficult than they look - which makes it all the more rewarding when a child successfully tosses a ring around a milk bottle. Newer versions of ring toss games have been custom-designed with entertaining enhancements; in "Kracken," competitors must toss a ring around one of the ocean creature's tentacles as they spin in a circle.

With bean bag games, children throw soft, non-toxic bags to knock down monster heads or other amusing graphics. In another variation of ring toss, children must use their cowboy skills to throw a lasso around the neck or horns of a cartoon bull, complete with ring through the nose and angry gaze.

With all of these entertaining games and competitions on hand at your child's party, don't be surprised if a parent or two tries to sneak a turn. But that's OK. With all party guests happily engaged in shooting baskets, making putts, or bursting balloons, the situation is definitely "win-win." Have fun!

Claudia Rivas, the owner of Fiesta4kids and one of Toronto's premier party planners, has been delighting children for over two decades with high-quality, family-friendly entertainment. An alumnus of the prestigious Toronto Film School, Claudiahas performed her popular "Claudia's Show" at such high-profile venues as "Canada's Wonderland" and "The Hispanic Fiesta" in Toronto.

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