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The Best Traditional Birthday Party Games for a Party-at-Home Celebration

A wise old man (cough, my pandemic-stressed, aging husband) recently said, “let’s get back to basics.” Albeit, it was during a heated discussion about a household task that turned overly complicated, BUT having the party-planning brain I have, the phrase really struck me in a different way. It made me reflect on how complicated and elaborate parties (pre-Covid of course) had become for our kids. And if anything, 2020 has really shown us, it's that it’s time to concentrate on things that matter - the simple - or in my husband's words, basic things.  Oh and okay fine, I'll also return the robot vacuum and stick with the tried and true hand-held!

Now where was I?  Oh yes...Birthday parties were once a simple celebration where the only entertainment included a stereo, giant camcorder hoisted over your shoulder, unwanted guests (younger siblings…and maybe an aunt after a wine spritzer), and a few poorly organized backyard games. Thanks to Covid (#notreallythankful) parties are now much quieter affairs, celebrated at home for the foreseeable future. Gone are the days of hiring expensive entertainment, renting out large venues and feeling the need to invite the entire class (#silverlining). This does not mean that birthday parties cannot be amazing and perhaps even better by bringing it back to basics!  It may be the foggy memory of how good the 80’s truly were, but by going back to the basics, kids can really appreciate simple party games (and so can your wallet!). To help you out, we have put together some easy, low cost birthday party games that may induce some nostalgia, but will definitely leave you and your family with some wonderful memories.

Pin-the-Tail on the Donkey

Did you know that donkeys are actually highly intelligent animals, despite popular misconception? Trust us, we know a really sweet one! So while donkeys are the butt-end of this joke/laughing game (#nopunintended), this is actually our favourite old game - and animal too! This game is guaranteed to elicit the loudest laughs as dizzy and blindfolded friends go deep into a garden, fall down from the spinning, or even pin the tail on some innocent bystanders. As an expert in this game, make sure you catch any little ones trying to sneak a peek under their mask by holding their heads high back in the air (wise words from the 1989 champion ;).  You can download a free printable donkey image for play or get creative by grabbing a large bristol board, sharpie and do your best donkey or interpretation of one!!  You can even use this design! #nailedit!

Musical Chairs

Hooray to the old adage “put out chairs, put on the music, and they will play”....everyone knows that one right!? Musical chairs have stood the test of time and still bring out the best of laughs, and competition, at any birthday party! Play some tunes that are on theme, a few kids’ favourites, and even some requests.  If you're lacking in chairs, outdoor cushions are an easy replacement and may even result in a softer fall (or tumble, brawl, battle) to reach it. It may be an oldie, but it’s a goodie! Learn the rules of Musical Chairs here.

Pass the Parcel

Pass the Parcel is a classic British game that gives each child an opportunity to win a small prize (or not!).  Remember in keeping with the theme of going back to basics, wrap small but exciting and useful toys (pencils, tattoos, treats) rather than extravagant prizes.  It's also useful to make a parcel easy to unwrap for younger kids or you may be watching a never ending game.  Trigger warning: watching the children pray to the party gods in hopes that they'll unwrap a prize can bring up some anxious memories! 

Easy rules go as follows:

  • Prepare your parcel. Place a gift at the centre of the parcel.
  • Begin the game.
  • Sit in a circle.
  • Select the music-keeper.
  • Stop the music.
  • Restart after each layer is unwrapped.
  • Continue playing until the last layer is unwrapped.

Three-Legged Race

Although this game is an easy concept (for Olympians and three-legged dogs), adding in some young children with their poor balance and coordination will easily make this the LONGEST race ever witnessed. However long this race lasts, it will easily be one of the most belly-laugh-inducing activities you’ll witness all party.  Make sure to include a ribbon strung across the finish line and some slow-motion videos to capture that picture-perfect ending. Lastly, pairs in this race should include siblings, bubbled families and masks if needed, because it definitely doesn’t follow social distancing rules. Follow these easy steps and ready...set...go!: 
  • Tie one player's left leg to the other player's right leg and line the teams up!
  • Practice walking together until you get a rhythm going and then try hopping or running.
  • When all teams are steady, let the race begin!
  • The first team to the finish line wins!

Tug of War

Everyone knows that a Tug of War is anything but innocent and will automatically unleash our little ones inner grunting, brow furrowing and deep squatting stances only seen on Bavarian muscle men. Make things a little easier on their hands by digging out some winter gloves and keep an eye on any competitiveness that starts to border aggression for a swift ending of the game. Trust us, it can get tense!

Egg and Spoon Race

This is one of the few games that will take a bit of planning prior to the party. Precisely 10 minutes of boiling some eggs, add in some spoons and voila – your planning is done!  Or, for the brave, risk it all with some raw eggs!  Coordination, skill and luck are the recipe to success in this game.  As parents, you'll never see your children more quiet (or focused!) when it comes to this game of steady hands and fast feet!  Follow these easy steps for egg spectacular time:

  • Arrange all of the children at a start line with an egg and a teaspoon each.
  • When you are ready to start the race, ask them to place the egg onto their spoon and then place their other arm behind their back.
  • When you say go, the children will race - as fast as they can without the egg rolling off the spoon - to the finish line.
  • If the egg falls, the child starts again!
  • Whoever crosses the finish line first with their egg still balanced on their spoon and an arm behind their back, wins.

Freeze Dance

Watch your kids lose their minds and dance their little heart rates up to 300bpm by playing the latest radio hit! Don’t forget to represent all 80’s parents out there, by grabbing your smartphone and pressing record to capture the most outrageous dance moves. Because these are the moments best caught on tape, when our parents would rush to grab a blank VHS tape, fumble with the ‘record’ button, and watch the entire dance competition with one eye open and the other squinting behind a lense. And if you really want to take it to the next level, bring out the karaoke machine…or don’t! Word of advice: keep an eye on the little one who doesn’t move their feet off the ground, only sways their hips and watches your finger hover over the pause button the entire time!

Duck Duck Goose

The one game where most of the party guests would have been honing and sharpening their skills since preschool, Duck Duck Goose is a well-known and beloved game amongst all kids.  While this game is quite self-explanatory and familiar to kids, make sure that you have an adult policing the force used to pat heads - the more excited they get, the harder that pat becomes!  Here's a refresher on how to play:

  • In this game, kids sit down in a circle facing each other.
  • One person is "it" and walks around the circle. As they walk around, they tap people's heads and say whether they are a "duck" or a "goose".
  • Once someone is the goose they get up and try to chase "it" around the circle. The goal is to tap that person before they are able sit down in the goose's spot.
  • If the goose is not able to do this, they become "it" for the next round and play continues. If they do tap the "it" person, the person tagged has to sit in the centre of the circle.
  • Then the goose becomes it for the next round. The person in the middle can't leave until another person is tagged and they are replaced.

What Time is it Mr. Wolf

Although birthday parties are best enjoyed from an acceptable parenting distance (let kids be kids!), What Time is it Mr. Wolf will always be a screaming delight when an adult plays Mr. Wolf at least once (so dads, please polish off your running shoes). As a fair warning to neighbours and any other guests, you may want to hand out ear plugs, or at least warn them about the decibel level these kids will hit when Mr. Wolf turns and tries to chase them! Learn how to play What Time is it Mr. Wolf here.

Who Can Clean Up The Most Garbage in One Minute

Okay fair enough, I’ve just made up this game. But if parenting young children has taught me anything, it’s that you can have a turbo-charged team of cleaners as long as you make it a competition with a prize for the winner.  Shop Caring Confetti for some quality and sustainable prizes and gifts.  Be sure to make this the last game of the day, and before long, your last guest will have left, your house will be quiet, and you can finally take a breath (and large gulp of wine).

Being basic is anything but bad. It’s refreshing to scale things back a little bit and just let the kids have some good old-fashioned fun. As with everything in life, things will come back into fashion, so you never know, you may just be the next trendsetter!

Do you have a favourite  birthday game that’s well-loved and missing from the list? Let us know by emailing