Sharron recommends solving all these problems by turning the gift opening into an organized game, in fact the last game of the party. The basic game is that all the kids sit in a circle, with their gift to the birthday child behind their back. The birthday child sits in the middle of the circle. An adult or older child has charge of a large trash can or trash bag for wrappings, and another adult controls the music and takes notes on who gave what (to help with writing thank-you notes later!). A large stuffed animal or other item (in keeping with whatever the party theme was! So for example, perhaps a wand at a fairy party, a bear dressed as a pirate for a pirate party, and so on) is passed around the circle as music is played. When the music is paused, whoever is holding the item gets to give their gift to the birthday child! The birthday child opens the gift, and stands up and turns around so everyone can see the gift and "ooh and ahh" over it, then the birthday child turns to the child who gave the gift (it's easy to remember who, because they are still holding the pirate bear or whatever!) and says "Thank you _________!" Then the gift is given to an adult who puts it away for now. No opening packages or taking toys out, because they are in the middle of the gift opening game! Then, the music starts again, the bear or other item is passed, and the game continues until everyone has had a chance to give their gift to the birthday child!
This is a perfect activity for while the parents are arriving to pick up their kids, as they will doubtless be impressed by how calm and well-organized all the kids are! Plus, the adult in charge of the music can subtly control who gets to give their gift next, so if someone needs to leave before the game is finished, that can be easily arranged. :-)
There are a lot of other variations to this game too, such as:
- Numbering the gifts (if there are less than 12 kids present) and then letting the birthday child roll dice to find out which number gift is next,
- Writing all the guest's names on the underside of individual floating rubber duckies in a little wading pool, then letting the birthday child fish for duckies with a net! Whoever's name they drew gets to give their gift, and the birthday child gives them their ducky to put in their loot bag to take home!
- Drawing names out of a hat to find out whose gift is next
- Tossing a soft foam ball or stuffed animal from person to person across the circle, rather than simply passing it to the person next to them, while the music is playing.