Oh @%#*!!! Is That Today? Very Last-Minute Party Activity Ideas

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party idea main photo
Some last-minute party activities include a sidewalk art gallery, rune crafts, and Post-it 8-bit art. All images by Lisa Kay Tate.

It’s the morning of the party. The snacks and cake are made or bought. The themed decorations, if any, are up, and about 10 to 15 kids will be buzzing around the backyard in just a few hours’ time.

Unfortunately, you’ve forgotten to find a good way to control the masses for two hours. You need to find them something to do, before the pack of cute little minions turns into their evil counterparts and starts eating the furniture.

Never fear! Here are some quick party time-fillers and take-home crafts that could be used for several themes—and actually look like you planned well in advance:

making the art
Some sticky note 8-bit art in progress.

Theme: Minecraft/Video Game Party
Idea: Sticky Note “8-Bit Art”
What You Need: 1-by-1-inch or 2-by-2-inch Post-it or other sticky notes in assorted neon colors and construction paper or poster boards (black looks best).

This craft was inspired by a recent trend of Parisian office workers in high-rise buildings, who created 8-bit window art for other offices to see. Some of these images are pretty impressive, but the beauty of 8-bit art is that it can be as simple or elaborate as you want.

Depending on how much space you want to take up with the activity, this mosaic-style craft can be done on both large and small backgrounds. Use simple images from popular retro or 8-bit style games, such as Space Invaders or Minecraft, or try to design your own. Once the design is in place, you can use a little school glue on the edges to tack the notes down a little more permanently.

Theme: Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter/Fantasy Party
Idea: Rune Making
What You Need: Black, brown, grey-speckled or other “stone-colored” polymer clay; toothpicks (for carving); small squares of cloth or square party napkins; and yarn or curling wrapping paper ribbon.

This is a craft that yields really neat results with very little effort. All the kids need to do is roll small amounts of polymer clay into balls and lightly flatten them with their thumb. Next, use a toothpick to gently etch the rune marking.

Set finished runes on individual pieces of foil to keep track (left). Several smaller runes or one larger runestone can be easily made in a short amount of time (right).

The Lord of the Rings Wiki has some good Dwarf Rune examples to print out for reference or the kids can make up their own writing.  For the more ambitious rune-maker, a larger runestone can be made to resemble Kili’s Talisman. Here’s a tutorial for it from my family site.

To keep track of who made which runes, cut out squares of foil and write each person’s name on it. Most bakeable polymer needs baking for about 30 minutes at 275 degrees, so this is a good craft to get kids started on early. It also gives them something to do while the party guests are still arriving.

Towards the end of the party, let each guest place their baked and cooled runes in the center of the square cloth scrap or paper party napkin. Then, bind the corners together like a pouch using ribbon or twine. Little pre-made pull-string pouches can also be used, if you have time to hit the craft store.

Theme: Mary Poppins/Art/Cartoon Party
Idea: Sidewalk Art Show
What You Need: Sidewalk chalk (and a sidewalk).

This activity travels well, so it will work anywhere from a home to a public park. Draw a long series of square drawing spaces, so it resembles a film strip, if the drawing space allows. Each guest can get their own small chalk box (often found with party favors) or let them share a larger bucket you might already have on-hand. You can give them a theme or topic to draw or let them go crazy with their own imagination. Once the photos are completed, invite the older guests to peruse the “gallery” or let each artist give their own brief description of their street art.  Reward each guest (either verbally or with a small favor) for their own, unique “Bests” (Best Use of Purple Banana Shapes, Best Dancing Spider-Man). If the guests play along well, this “awards ceremony” can get pretty funny and be the highlight of the party.

Send them on a hunt to build their own goodie bags.

Theme: Pirate/Adventure/Mystery Party
Idea: Treasure Hunt-Goodie Bag Builder
What You Need: Homemade “treasure map” or “mission list” (print about four or five copies); small containers (sandwich bags, plastic cups, etc.); and assorted small trinkets (chocolate or coins, plastic jewels, individually wrapped small candies or fruit snacks, etc).

This is a great excuse to not have to make goodie bags, but have the guests do it themselves as part of the fun.

Hide the various bag items around the party area and divide the guests into teams (about three or four guests each). Give each team a “treasure map” or “mission list” with a series of easy clues to decipher. Then, each player gets a small bag, cup, or box in which to hold their findings. Start each group at a different number on the list, so they don’t all go the same place at once—and send them on their way to solve the mystery and gather items. It’s not a race, so encourage them not to try and run each other over in the process. Once complete, each guest should have a self-filled party bag to take home. The items don’t have to be anything very fancy, since the thrill of the hunt is what makes this cool.

See GeekMom Amy’s Birthday Party Scavenger Hunt for a fun gift-finding variation on this for the birthday girl or boy to enjoy.

Take home a jar of slime to share with family.

Theme: Ghostbusters/Monster/Sci-Fi Party
Idea: Jars of Slime
What You Need: Cornstarch; water; food coloring; and small jars, plastic water bottles, or sealable sandwich bags.

This a chance to take an elementary-level science experiment and turn it into a party activity by creating a Non-Newtonian fluid. Mix a good amount of water and cornstarch in a large mixing bowl, adding the cornstarch little by little until the fluid is thick and hard to stir.

What makes this fun is getting to experiment with the properties of the fluid, which changes its viscosity with stress. In other words, slap at it or hit it and it will thicken up. Gently set your hand in it, and the mixture will “liquefy” more, and the hand will slowly sink. Try to pull your hand out fast and it will get stuck. Slowly and gently move it, and will come out easily. The “messy and gross” element of this makes it especially fun for kids age 7 to 12.

This is also fun for a Halloween party and can look like The Blob or Ghostbusters‘ slime, with a very small amount of red food coloring.

Give each guest a plastic zipper-lock bag, a small plastic container, or a glass jar, so they can take a sample home to show their own families and friends how it works. Sending kids home to their parents having actually learned something new is an added bonus.

Hopefully, these ideas will help ease the stress of filling time and give guests something more valuable than any favor—great memories.

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