Friday evening was my eldest daughter's 7th birthday party - her long-awaited, much-planned-for and very wonderful science party!
As I wrote earlier, my daughter wanted a birthday cake that captured something about either chemistry or astrophysics (her favourite areas of science). After a brief flirtation with the idea of a solar system cake, she settled on a Periodic Table of Cupcakes ... a big job, but one, I'm glad to say, we pulled off. As my husband remarked, it wasn't like each cake was perfect - there were flaws and smudges aplenty - but taken as a combined effect, we think they looked pretty good. My girl was thrilled with them and her friends were seriously taken with them, so it was all good.
Planning this party involved thinking about: - food that reflected the theme, without being excessively hung up on it - simple and easily mounted / removed decorations and relevant music - appropriate experiments and activities to do that demonstrated simple and engaging scientific principles - games and free time that allowed the kids to run off steam and play (it was an after-school party in winter, always fraught with the potential for overtired and overexcited little meltdowns.)
The food issue we resolved fairly simply. As well as the usual chips, party pies, sausage rolls & frankfurts, we had dinosaur bread instead of fairy bread, I made fruit skewers with the fruit cut into star and moon shapes with cookie cutters, and we had pink jelly made in the mould of a brain (designed for Halloween parties, but just as good for science parties. Very tragically I neglected to get a photo of it before it was enthusiastically lobotomised by hungry children ;-)
Decorations were equally simple - aside from plastic dinosaurs on parade, we mounted eight or nine posters around the room with different scientific principles. As well as the periodic table, we had a large chart detailing Australian flora and fauna, a poster about the exploration of Mars, a solar system chart, an order of life chart, and a couple of posters about the chemistry of life. We mounted them randomly on the walls in the big hall we had the party in. We also had bunches of primary-colour balloons - a red, blue and yellow in each bunch, with purple because it is my daughter's favourite colour - to add brightness and festivity.
My husband was in charge of experiments, and he decided to set out a few simple ones on four different tables. We had an optical & magnetism table, with different optical lenses and a set of magnets & compasses;
a puzzle table, with cut-out pieces of the continents to allow the kids to visualise continental drift;
a chemistry table, with lemon juice for invisible ink, a mini-volcano, and a couple of other little things;
and an auditory table, with a string telephone, water-glass xylophone, and bells.
While all the tables were pretty popular, I'd say the magnetism and sound experiments were probably the greatest draws (oh, and the demonstration of the baking soda volcano!) Each of the 24 kids spent at least 10 minutes at each of these tables in concentrated action.
In terms of games, we had only two - the traditional pass the parcel, where the prizes in each layer were small science-related objects purchased from Scienceworks last weekend on a visit there; and musical statues, a game that had the added advantage of letting the kids move their bodies a bit before the hot food was served.
All in all, it was a fantastic party. The two hours was more than amply filled and all the kids seemed to have a great time. It was also not as costly as it probably sounds - because I made the cakes myself and we didn't hire any entertainment, I have costed the entire shebang at $350 for 25 children and 15 adults, including hall hire, balloons, party bags, food, pass the parcel objects, cake ingredients, and experiment consumables (but not the actual tools used in the experiments, as they came from a "50 experiments in a box" kit we'd bought for our kids at Christmas). This puts it on a par with what I paid for her 6th birthday party for 18 kids at a local playcentre, which was fun enough but nothing extraordinary (and did not feature any home-made insanely complex cakes!)
Most importantly, my 7 year old magnificent girl was transported. "This," she said to me as we drove home, tired but pleased with ourselves, "was the best party EVER, Mum. The best party I could ever IMAGINE. Thank you so much for giving me a science party."