( Originally Published 1916 )
THE parties that a child attends do not come with such frequency that they are likely to be serious factors in the molding of his life habits. Nevertheless, when they do come, they ought to be made to count as far as possible; and they certainly should be made to interfere as little as possible with the general scheme of things. There is indeed some question whether we have not allowed too much sophistication to creep into the gatherings of the little people. Most of us have so little imagination and so little inventiveness at work, that we too easily repeat the satisfying adult experiences for the benefit of children—for whom they are not at all satisfying or satisfactory.
It is no doubt for this reason that there has been a reaction against children's parties. There are now many parents who will not allow their children to take part in such functions. They feel that there is too much of being entertained, too much of a certain unhealthy rivalry for prizes and favors, and too much, perhaps, that upsets the stomach.
But there is a place in life for the happy gathering of children on festive occasions. These parties have their value not alone for the immediate pleasure that the children derive from them, but for the opportunity they furnish to try out the social accomplishments and resources of the children. But they should be first of all children's parties, and not adults' parties in miniature to which children are invited for the amusement of the elders, or to be passively entertained.
The children who are to be the hosts should take an active part in the preparations. So far as possible they should share in arranging the programme of entertainment, the decorations, the refreshments. Except for very young children, who are naturally dependent upon others for everything they get, the success of a party should be to a large degree related to the amount of thought and effort that the children themselves put into it. It is easy enough to hire professional entertainers and decorators and caterers. The elaborateness and perfection of the preparations that they make for a party are only a measure of how much money the host has to spend on the occasion. With children the unshared preparations are largely wasted in a double sense. There is the wasted opportunity to apply thought and effort for others ; and there is the likelihood that the entertained children cannot appreciate what is done for them in proportion to the outlay.
The entertainment should be of a kind that calls for the direct participation of as many of the children as possible. The younger children require a great deal of directing and assistance in their games. But as the children grow older, they should be left more and more to their own resources, even in the management of the games and the selection of leaders. One of the most valuable features that can be introduced into a children's party is some form of dramatization. With children from about six years up this always has a strong appeal, and gives opportunity for a wide variety of ingenuity and inventiveness. It is not necessary to select a regular " play " for this purpose. Indeed, it is better not to do so, but to let the children " make up " their play.
This they will readily do with a little encouragement, and perhaps a few concrete suggestions. It is very amusing to see in these improvised plays the direct reflections of the familiar fairy tales, or of domestic or neighborhood incidents. Thus, at one party, a boy of six commandeered his father for participation in what the child called " The Giant and the Soldier." The father had to capture his son and yield to his entreaties to spare him; in the second act, the father as giant lies entangled in the clothes-line while the " soldier" with his tin sword liberates him in compensation for his former kindness. The children will agree on a" plot " and then carry out their plays with impromptu conversation of a most interesting kind. They will use the chairs as trees or houses in true Shakespearean fashion, and any unattached garment will be assimilated into their wardrobe with an ingenuity that too seldom finds exercise in the ordinary affairs of the child's life. One good thing about this form of entertainment is that each performance or " stunt " stimulates the other children to try their skill, and there is then a true exchange of services in entertaining, instead of letting some do. all the giving and others all the taking.*
* Plays for the Home, by Augusta Stevenson, will be very helpful and suggestive.
The conventional assault upon the digestive system by means of a superfluity of sweets between meals can be avoided by a little planning. By having the party come well along in the afternoon, the refreshments may be made to conclude the festivities and take the place of the children's supper. They can be made sufficiently attractive and interesting, and include the indispensable ice cream, to give the true party effect, and yet be sufficiently nourishing and filling to make another meal quite unnecessary.
Where the weather and other conditions permit, having the party out of doors will add a great deal to the freedom and activity of the children. Successful children's parties have taken the form of outings to the park or to the country. But whether indoors or out, the essential thing about a children's party is that the children should do the entertaining as well as the enjoying.