Your toddler’s third birthday party can be small and cozy or full of colorful fun to keep your child and his friends engaged for an hour or more.
Birthday party themes for a child’s third year run the gamut from animals, superheroes and cartoon characters to cowboys or ballerinas. The ideas for your child’s party are only limited by your imagination.
Here are some ideas on how to plan your toddler’s party. You’ll need to choose a fun theme, but lots of little details – including how to invite guests, and what activities to include, can turn a nicely-decorated room into a memorable day for your child and her friends.
Here are 20 ideas for 3rd birthday party themes. Some ideas are dedicated to TV shows, movie characters, or cartoon characters, while others are history-based.
1. Cowboy or Western-Themed
Guests can wear a cowboy hat or bandana, and try their skills at being a cowpoke by riding a pony. Rent a handler and pony for the day so that guests can practice their riding skills. Cowboys and cowgirls can also come to the party wearing fringed cowboy shirts or jackets, chaps, and/or cowboy boots.
Rent a photo booth (or create your own) and put a “Wanted” poster in the background. Use Legos or Lincoln Logs and let kids get creative and build their own Western house. Make a faux campfire with sticks and paper flames. Kids can gather around it and eat hamburgers, beans, or other cowboy foods and sing “Home on the Range” and other Western songs.
If your child likes the Muppets, throw a party complete with Kermit and Elmo cake pops and cardboard cut-outs of the characters. Kids can sing along with “Rubber Duckie” or “I Love Trash.” Play favorite episodes on your SmartTV to entertain kids between games and cake-cutting.
Use printables to make Muppet character invitations. You can send greeting card type invites or print out tickets good for admission, with Elmo sitting in a choo-choo train. Put Bog Bird, Elmo, Kermit stickers on the backs of envelopes before sending invitations.
Make personalized Muppet Baby centerpieces by using mini-Miss Piggy, Kermit, Elmo, and other characters holding colorful balloons.
3. Toy Story
For a party based on the Toy Story movies, decorate with yellow, red, orange, and blue balloons. Paint empty cardboard boxes to look like alphabet blocks or paint the label “Andy’s Toys” and fill the box with stuffed animals, dolls, and other toys for kids to enjoy.
Turn green cups or balloons into googly-eyed aliens Transform a few potatoes into Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, and have kids create their own version of potato people.
Print out party invitations using your favorite characters from the movie- Woody, Forky, Buzz LightYear, Giggle McDimples, and others.
Party supply stores sell dozens of Toy Story products from paper plates, napkins, hanging swirls, and temporary tattoos to balloons shaped like the characters. Combine these products with homemade touches for an experience your child will never forget.
Turn red foam cowboy hats into Jesse hats for girls with white ribbon, and offer black cowboy hats for boys who want to be Woody for an hour or two.
Serve foods like Slinky Dog Pasta (spiral macaroni), and Galaxy puffed cheese snacks.
Does your little girl love ballerinas? Deck out the party room in pink and white, with pastel-frosted cupcakes on a three-tiered white pedestal. Make custom decorated cookies in the shape of tutus, ballet shoes, and prima ballerinas.
Balloons and banners should all be in the same white and pink color scheme, with a touch of silver or gold. Attendees should wear dance leotards or ballerina tutus, and enjoy a dancing lesson from a ballet teacher, or, better yet, a real ballerina.
Give every guest a ballerina necklace. (You can find budget-priced girls’ necklaces with ballet shoes or a ballerina figure online.)
Kids love superheroes, and Spider-Man is one of the most famous superheroes of all. If your child can’t get enough of Spider-Man, decorate your party room with fake spider webs and use the character’s red, blue and black color scheme for balloons, banners, and crepe paper. The birthday cake and cupcakes should have spider web designs.
Turn cardboard boxes into tall city buildings by covering them with blue or red wrapping paper and drawing in black boxes for windows. Stack a Lego Spider-Man and other superheroes on top of the buildings.
Have Spider-Man tests of strength and power, like a Spider-Man Agility Balance Beam consisting of slim pieces of lumber, or a crisscrossing spider web of crepe paper for kids to maneuver.
Throw a Frozen-themed party for your little girl, with an actress portraying Elsa entertaining the guests. Decorate the party room with winter designs and have an arts and crafts table where kids can make snowflakes with construction paper or draw pictures of Elsa, Olaf, and other characters.
Take a small chalkboard and cover half of it with a picture of your child’s favorite scene from the movie, and write Happy Birthday on the other side. Place the chalkboard above a table filled with blue, silver, and white streamers and fake snowballs. Kids can leave their presents on this table as they arrive, and take their goody bags from it when they leave.
Send out paper invitations a few weeks before the party using Frozen invitations from Amazon or a party store. Let parents know if their kids should dress up as one of their favorite characters or bring winter or Frozen-themed presents. Give kids a craft kit so they can make their own snowman, or dress up dolls like Elsa or Anna.
Create a backdrop from a Frozen tablecloth (add fabric snowflakes or other crafty designs) and use it as a background for guest photos – and for happy photos of your child as he or she opens presents.
7. Dr. Seuss
Generations of kids love the Cat in the Hat and other Dr. Seuss characters. Deck out your table and party room with whimsical Dr. Seuss creations based on One Fish, Two Fish, and other stories. Buy foil balloons printed with drawings of Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and other famous characters and sayings to decorate your home.
Put marshmallow versions of green eggs and ham into Dr. Seuss goody boxes and pass out cone hats with the Grinch, Horton, Sam-I-Am, and other characters on them.
Kids can put on their own play and reenact scenes from their favorite Dr. Seuss books and cartoons.
Kids can dig for dinosaur eggs in a sandbox or other diggable spot, and retrieve a small prize for finding them, like a small toy dinosaur. Give kids temporary dinosaur tattoos, and pass out dino party hats.
Print out dinosaur footprints for kids to follow to the food and game tables. Put small inflatable dinosaurs on tables and in play areas. Use tiny soft plastic dinosaurs and leafy plants as centerpieces for the table, along with inflatable dinosaurs. The plants shield the dinosaurs, just like they did in the days when Dinos roamed the earth.
Show Dinosaur themed cartoons and movies, like Dino Time or Dinosaur Train, after the gifts are opened, and the delicious Dinosaur-themed cake has been served. Dinosaur cakes can have mint frosting or be ice cream cakes made with mint ice cream.
9. Peppa Pig
For a Peppa pig party, use small stuffed animals to decorate the room and the birthday table. Use small trains, balls, and cars to represent the toys the character George would like. Your child can wear a Peppa Pig shirt, and other kids can wear clothing similar to their favorite character.
Make a Peppa Pig Award Ribbon for your child by gluing a picture of Peppa to a circular badge, and adding strips of ribbon beneath it. Fill pastel-color buckets with Peppa Pig hair bands, bracelets, costume jewelry, pencils, color markers, and other goodies for kids to take home at the end of the party.
Set the table with hot pink plastic utensils and hot pink cups in keeping with the show’s color scheme. Fill a Peppa Pig paper bowl with vegetable sticks or fruit slices.
10. Ice Cream Party
Have a good, old-fashioned ice cream social in your backyard, kitchen, or a restaurant. Make a pink pastel iced cake for girls or a baseball-themed ice cream cake or boys. Have kids make their own sundaes or banana splits by putting ingredients on a special table. Supervise their creations, so things don’t get too messy!
Make flower arrangements with crepe paper for the center of the dining table. Serve cake, cupcakes, and ice cream treats on a pastel color, two or three-tiered ice cream cart. Pass out tiny marshmallow ice cream cone candies, along with toy ice cream trucks in goody bags for guests.
11. Animal-Themed Party
Hold your child’s third birthday party at a farm or petting zoo. Kids will love seeing goats, chickens, cows, and other animals up close and learning more about how food gets to their table.
Can’t find a farm or petting zoo nearby? Throw a critter birthday party at home. Kids can come in costume as cats, dogs, tigers or other animals. Pass out headbands with make-believe animal ears on them, and show cartoons and movies with animal stars, like 101 Dalmations, Kung Fu Panda, and Happy Feet.
Give kids animal-themed goody bags with toy animals, animal crackers, and story books starring animals like The Velveteen Rabbit.
If your son or daughter has a favorite sports team or likes to jump and play like the big kids, a sports themed party will provide many happy moments. Kids can dress up in jerseys and caps from a favorite team. Set up a baseball diamond, pint-sized basketball hoops or soccer pitch for kids to play fun, informal games.
Give kids trophies or medals for a game well-played
Goody bags can include baseball cards, foam footballs and baseballs,mini-cupcakes, and small inflatable baseball bats.
Sports-themed birthday cakes usually have football and baseball designs on the frosting. More elaborate designs may feature a toy pair of ice skates on the top for aspiring figure skaters or frosting in the design of a favorite sports team logo.
Does your child like building things or helping Dad with chores around the yard or garage? If so, a construction-themed party will bring out the builder in your child. Guests can wear hard hats and create their own building with blocks or Legos.
Decorate your house or yard with yellow and black signs that you’ll see at construction sites. The signs can say the same things you’d find at a real construction site- “Detour,” “Safety First,” or be birthday-related like “Party Zone” or “Game Zone.”
Children can use toy dump trucks to dig up dirt in the backyard, just like grown-ups do at a real construction site. Use white, black, and yellow crepe paper and balloons to keep the theme going throughout the house or backyard.
14. Pool Party
If your child’s birthday falls during the summer months, throw a backyard pool party. Include lots of colorful rafts and pool toys depicting your child’s favorite animals or cartoon characters. Set up inflatable pools throughout your yard for kids or throw the party at a public or private pool that allows parties if you don’t have a pool.
When pool time is over, kids will be hungry and ready for food and cake. Serve mini chicken sandwiches, fruit slices, and small crackers before serving aquatic-themed birthday cake. As guests leave, give away plastic goody buckets filled with Goldfish crackers and mementos from aquatic-themed movies like The Little Mermaid.
At a pool party (or any other outdoor party), guests can play games like Treasure Hunt. Print out photos of various locations in your backyard (or wherever you’re holding the party). Hide each printout in a location that leads to the next spot. Use a few clues that lead kids to the treasure (toys, snacks, etc.)
15. Drive-In Movie Party
Host a drive-in movie party for your three-year old’s birthday. Toddler can’t stay up as late as other kids, so host a party in a rented tent during the day or in a basement or other large room in your house.
A drive-in movie party starts with mini-cars made from cardboard boxes for your child and all the guests. Gather boxes or buy them from Amazon or another outlet. Fashion one of the flaps into a dashboard on each box. Paint wheels, steering wheels, and racing stripes onto each box using non-toxic paint.
Once you have the cars ready, you can put up a movie screen using a king-sized white sheet with blankets behind it. Set up a concession stand with treats for the guests. Your child or a designated guest acts as the ticket agent and gives each child a ticket in exchange for playing money in the child’s gift bag.
Guests also use play money to buy food set up at your concession stand/table. Treats can include juice, milk, sausage rolls, fruit slices, chopped bananas, and mini-sandwiches.
Children then get in their cars and watch the movie while enjoying their treats. Your child can open his or her presents during intermission. Bring out the cake during intermission, so children can enjoy the slice during the second half of the movie.
Put up a small tent in the backyard and let kids pretend they’re roughing it in the wild. Give kids their own backpack with camping supplies – including a toy shovel, compass, binoculars, whistle, plastic bug collection, and magnifying glass.
Fill goody bags with toys and small stuffed animals representing all the critters kids would see while camping in the wilderness – squirrels, bears, moose, and ducks. Treats can include tiny candy campfires and marshmallow logs. You can even include toy replicas of flashlights, tents, or other items campers use.
Kids can play with mud Playdough, prepare pork and beans over a fake campfire and eat S’ more and Pigs in a Blanket. After a few snacks, bring out the birthday cake. One version of a camper’s birthday cake can have crumbled chocolate bits on the top, and an evergreen tree made of minty green powdered sugar, and yellow candles bunched together like a campfire.
17. Princess Tea Party
Tea parties are classy, so guests to your three-year-olds tea party- themed birthday should wear feather boas, fancy hats, gloves, and toy tiaras to the festivities. Use cookie-cutters to give mini-sandwiches animal and flower shapes. Serve weak tea, strawberry milk, or other beverages in paper or plastic tea cups.
Give the tea party an extra spark by adding a princess theme to it. Your child and other guests can dress in chiffon and other finery as princesses. Place pink balloons on the floor around the birthday table and on chandeliers and tied to the backs of chairs.
Put a paper or plastic crown on top of the birthday cake for your little princess.
18. Teddy Bear Picnic
Invite kids to bring their teddy bears to an outdoor soiree in your backyard. You can also fill a painted crate with teddy bears for kids to play with during the party. Set plastic tea and saucer sets for the bears as well as the guests. Kids can pretend to serve tea and treats to the bears.
Read “The Teddy Bear’s PIcnic” to the party-goers before they sit down to eat with their stuffed animal friends.
Set down blankets and gingham picnic baskets. Fill the baskets with goodies like chicken nuggets, finger sandwiches, and gummy teddy bears. Make teddy bear-shaped cookies and top the birthday cake with adorable teddy bear decorations your child can play with long after the celebration ends.
Create your own brightly-colored carnival in your home or backyard. Hire an artist to paint faces with flowers or other designs. Serve funnel cakes, ice cream, and mini hot dogs. Use small baskets and plastic balls to make an easy-toss carnival game and give small stuffed animals, rubber ducks, prizes to winners.
The A Minute to Win It game is easy and fun for three year olds and kids can learn the art of competition by playing it. Children compete for small prizes by completing a task in a minute or less. For example, kids can thread Cheerios or Fruit Loops onto a pipe cleaner. The kid who has the most cereal on the pipe cleaner when time is up wins.
Another game that teaches toddlers how to compete is Nerf Target Practice. Stack up red Solo cups and place Lego men between them and on top of the stacks. Kids use beanbags or Nerf guns to knock down the Lego.
Kids can look in funhouse mirrors to see how they would look if they were shorte, taller, or skinnier. (You can buy your own funhouse mirror for as little as $20 from some vendors.).
The birthday cake can have a clown theme or feature icing made in the shape of a Ferris wheel or other carnival rides.
20. Bubble Party
Bubble birthday parties are fun for toddlers and affordable for adults. Although you can have a bubble party indoors, it’s much more fun to bring the festivities outdoors. Give every guest a non-toxic hoop and bubble maker, and kids will stay occupied for the entire party, or at least until it’s time to sing Happy Birthday and get a piece of cake.
A Bubble party combines all kinds of generic games and fun, including a Time Capsule game. Kids write a list of their favorite toys, games, and cartoons (with Mom’s help) and bury trinkets representing their interests in the backyard. On your child’s next birthday, dig up the time capsule to see how much everyone’s interests have changed during the year.
Keep the bubble theme intact by letting kids dance on bubble wrap sheets. Guests (and the guest of honor) will laugh about the popping sounds and want to make more.
Let kids make their own edible necklaces using marshmallows, soft chocolate pieces, or other toddler-appropriate treats.