One of the most important things to get right when having a party is entertainment! I can't think of much worse things than a group of kids running around with nothing to do especially if the party is at your house!
Classic party are great and they're classic for a good reason. Most of the children will already know how to play and they are usually easy to organise too. The first ones which spring to my mind are Musical Bumps, Statues or Chairs, Pass the Parcel, Corners, Simon Says and Pin the Tail On The Donkey. These games can easily be revamped and themed to your party too.
Musical Bumps, Statues or Chairs
If space is limited then musical chairs might not be very safe. You could use cushions instead or cut shapes from paper to fit with your theme - a shield shape for a Knights party, a crown for a Princess theme, wings for Fairies, eggs would work for dinosaurs or Easter. You could even have the children decorate the shapes with crayons before the game as an extra activity if you like.
Rather than just asking the children to dance you could get them to do different actions before they sit down or become statues. I've often found that some children feel a bit shy about dancing or are rather cunning and don't move too much so it's easier to become to a statue. Again, you could customise the game to your party theme by doing appropriate actions.
To make musical statues more interesting ask the children to pose in a particular way when they become a statue! I'm currently listing jungle animals for a jungle themed statue game for my son's party - I have a snake (children could lie down), a crocodile (perhaps they might use their arms and hands as jaws) and a nice easy elephant! This is great way to get the children really engaged and using their imaginations and I'm sure there'll be lots of giggling as they try to think of something for more tricky poses! How about offering extra prizes for the best pose, the silliest pose and the most giggling!
Pass The Parcel
One of my favourites! You can add a small sweet in each layer so everyone gets something which is always popular or I have seen this game played with the child who has just unwrapped a layer then sitting out so that everyone only gets one turn. Another way I've seen this played is with a slip of paper in each layer with a challenge on which the child then has to do such as sing a nursery rhyme, tell a joke. I would be cautious with this as some children will find it very difficult to do anything in front of others, but if you know you're guests will be fairly confident then this could work very well and adds depth to the game.
For groups of slightly shyer children (like me!!) I thought that having a "fortune" in each layer would be nice. Again, these could easily be themed so at a princess party you might get the fortune "You will meet a handsome prince".
I do have some plans to make a sheet of fortunes and challenges in different themes which can be used for games like this (also great in crackers and party bags).
A fairly good space is needed for this game and for anyone who doesn't know the rules, you simply have four corners of a room assigned a different name (colours or something to fit with your theme). Stick up a piece of paper or card with a picture on to remind everyone which corner is which. You play music and the children dance: when the music stops the children have to run to a corner. Some would be the caller and without looking will then call out a corner (ie blue) any children in that corner are out and the game carries on until you only have one child left (or maybe 2 or 3 if time is running short).
I'm pretty sure we all know how to play this game. Another easy one to theme by changing Simon to The king, the fairy queen, Obi Wan Kenobi! And again the actions you ask the children can include some themed ideas - wave your wand, Strike down the Emperor! You don't need too many special actions, just add a few in with all the normal stuff like clapping hands, jumping and wiggling bottoms!
Pin The Tail On The Donkey
A little artistic skill may be needed here but I find children are pretty forgiving if your dinosaur looks more like a poorly cat!! Using a piece of wallpaper for your picture will keep costs down. If the children are quite young then just blindfolding them but older children can be spun around once or twice (try to gauge their ability so the game isn't too easy but they do have a chance!).
Well, I hope this has given you some ideas for simple games. Look out for future posts on booking an entertainer, doing something crafty, timetabling the party, party bags and food presentation.