How to Have a Sleep-Over Party for Second Graders: A Step-by-Step Guide

During last night’s festivities, I found myself composing a how-to post on How to Have a Sleep-Over Party for Second Graders. Here it is.

Step 1: Don’t actually have a sleep-over party for second graders. Just as you (and I!) suspected, they are too young.

Really. I mean it. And I’ve screwed myself and my friends by hosting this one, because of course J’s set a precedent that others are likely to follow, but please, please, for your own sanity’s sake, learn from my mistake.

So why am I arguing that they’re too young? Because:

  • They’re not mature enough to take care of themselves. Most second graders can do most things, but if you have a group (even a small group: we had four guests) together, there’s always someone who needs help getting a drink of water, unzipping a sleeping bag, soothing down into sleep, opening a bag of M&Ms. All of which is fine. For a 2-hour party. This party lasted 16 hours, and for more than ten of those hours, at least one guest was awake.
  • Their idea of a party is still a little-kid idea of a party. You know how, at a party with a wide range of ages, there will be little knots of adults sitting or standing around talking, and the kids between about 3 and 8 years old are just running around like maniacs, dodging people’s legs, and jumping over sofas until some grown-up banishes them somewhere else? Sleepovers are best for guests who are moving out of this run-around-like-maniacs phase of partying and toward the hang-out-and-chat phase. Right? I mean, think about it: the stereotypical sleep-over will include perhaps 15 minutes of pillow-fighting as a brief intermission between rounds of conversation. Alas, that’s just not how kids J’s age roll (yet).

Clearly I knew this before the party. And yet, I “knew” it like I knew that labor would be painful. The actual experience was far more convincing.

So, if you would like to have a sleep-over party for the slightly-too young, here are tips that will make survival possible. I know that that’s a low bar, but you’ve been warned.

Have a specifically-planned physical activity for when guests arrive. I foolishly figured that they would just settle their stuff, chat, and play for a bit at the beginning. That works when it’s older kids, and it even might have worked if I had had the moderating influence of my super-sophisticated fifth-grader in the house. But Cute W and M were at a soccer practice. So the girls started running  around, shrieking like banshees. One guest suggested a game in which she stood on the stairs, then shut off the light, and all the other guests could try to pull her off the stairs in the dark. I was running into the garage looking for a playground ball (all half-deflated) and next thing you know they’d all climbed themselves into our car for a drive or started knife-throwing competitions. I’m exaggerating, but only a little bit.

Keep a pad to take pre-party notes on each guest. Get the parents’ middle-of-the-night best number to call and note any special concerns–lights, insomnia, extra bathroom trip, etc. Asking the parents about calling in the middle of the night ahead of time helped me to gauge where the parents stood so that I wouldn’t have to debate myself if it came up (we actually did call one dad at midnight for some late-night comfort). Having the information written down in one place made me feel marginally more in control throughout the party. Consider the notes your own personal comfort item.

Make sure that food will be ready when you need it. I ordered pizza and pasta two hour before the party, but when Cute W went to pick it up at the appointed time, he had to wait twenty minutes for the late food. I don’t want to make any restaurant (like Homestyle!) feel bad or anything, but if you are tempted to get your food takeout (especially from Homestyle!), you might want to double- and triple-check the food order (or order from someone besides Homestyle). Not like I’m still bitter or anything about the longest twenty minutes I’ve spent in the past five years.

Offer an engrossing craft. By far the most peaceful parts of the party were when the girls were working on their Perler Beads crafts. It’s a lovely project because it’s a little unusual without being staining-messy. Of course, if you’ve ever done this, you know that it’s inherently risky because if you knock the little pegboards, the beads get wrecked. Usually I do well with ironing these, but there were some incidents. If I had it to do again, I might pre-knot some strings for a beading craft or get a gorgeous set of markers and some detailed coloring posters. Getting the beads melted while avoiding wrecks and warning the girls away from the hot iron was sweat-inducing.

Put a schedule in place, and use fun activities to get them through dull activities. In the morning the girls wanted to craft some more, but I said that I’d pull the craft stuff out after they’d changed and packed their things together. That worked great: one of my few parenting triumphs during the party.

Bring in reinforcements. At some points we had four adults and a big sister to help; at others, (like when I was handling a hot iron in the basement playroom and people were ringing the doorbell upstairs), I was working solo. When M was hanging out with the girls, she was incredibly helpful. If I were to do this again, I think an ideal addition would be hiring a favorite babysitter for the overnight portion of the party, and “sell her” as a cool older friend who’s going to hang out with them overnight. I think that some of the girls wanted no grown-ups nearby, while others would have liked a grown-up in the room when it was time to sleep. We went with a grown-up nearby and drifting in and out to check, but a teenager camped out in the room would have been a welcome addition for everyone. A babysitter could serve as a first line of defense if, say, someone looks confused on her way to the bathroom or starts sniffling in her sleeping bag, with the option to fetch a parent for anything serious. I have no idea if a babysitter would be willing to take that gig, but if one is, she should totally open a business.

Absolutely show a movie. Bigger kids can coast on sociability, but a movie kills tons of time, which is exactly what I needed. Choose ahead and go with something controversy-free. We watched The Muppets.

Include an intermission during the movie. We didn’t do this, but if I had it to do over, I would have served snacks and drinks at the beginning of the movie and told them that we’d have a half-time intermission for them to take bathroom breaks, brush teeth, and get cozy in their sleeping bags. If I’d done that, I’m pretty sure we would have had earlier sleep-age. One poor guest asked me during the credits, “Can we please brush our teeth now?” Which made me feel awful. If we’d used an intermission, I bet that she would have been half-asleep during the credits. As it was, all of the bedtime activity roused her and she ended up being one of the last to drift off.

Stockpile some simple books and small flashlights. If some kids aren’t ready for sleep, they can read quietly to themselves. They’re young enough that this silent bedtime reading still feels like a grown-up treat, so it will keep the wakeful ones happily occupied without disrupting the sleepy ones.

Prep breakfast ahead of time so that you can feed them early. They’ll be awake early, anyway. J had specifically requested waffles. It was delicious, but donuts or bagels would have made the morning easier.

Allow yourself a free pass in the morning. For example, instead of my high protein/high vegetable breakfast in the morning, I went with waffles with whipped cream and Nutella and a side of Taylor Ham. Then I took a nap. Ideally, I’d add a spa appointment and four margaritas later in the day. Next time. Wait, didn’t I say I’d never do this again?





  1. Meghan

    This reminds me of my 3rd grade sleepover….lets just say about 6 girls in the living room with my mother on the couch to ward off the evils from the basement! When I asked to have a roller skate party the following year I am sure it was met with a big YES!

  2. @G & Deb, thank you!
    @Meghan, yeah, I’m already hoping for something different next year. But of course J thought it was super-fun.

  3. Lisa

    I just hosted a second grade sleepover last night, and I read this post at least 10 times beforehand. Such wonderful advice that made things go so much more smoothly than they would have otherwise. The other thing I added was a big Rubbermaid bin for each girl to keep her things in—sleeping bag, pillow, pajamas, dolls, snow clothes (it’s a Minnesota winter, so we did an outdoor obstacle course), etc. Thanks for the great advice! Loved it!

  4. @Lisa, glad it helped, and an outdoor obstacle course is SUCH a great idea! The thought of managing all the snow clothes is super-intimidating; glad the bins worked!

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