Rock your Chicago block party this summer

An old-fashioned block party can be one of the true delights of summer. Getting the neighbors out and mingling is not only loads of fun, but it helps keep your neighborhood safe by providing a sense of community and togetherness.

To really get people involved and mingling, liven up your party and think outside the traditional hot dogs and water balloons.

  • Play with a theme. Food, decorations, games, even clothing, can all revolve around a theme. Fourth of July is an easy one. But Christmas in July is fun, too. Break out those twinkle lights and lawn decorations. Or consider hosting a rib fest where everyone cooks, eats and judges a slab of ribs. Joanne Pygon’s block in Elmhurst chose an Olympic theme one year. “Each household chose a country, then made a flag, did a game and had some food from that country. It was a really great learning experience for the kids and they had fun playing some new games.”

  • Silly activities lighten the mood. Volleyball and badminton are great for the sporty types but fun and funny activities really bring people together. Consider games with unlikely pairings: a parent and child relay race or grown-ups careening down the block on tricycles. A contest such as the limbo or hula hoop allows spectators and players to get involved. Nancy Sika of Elmhurst set up a pie-eating contest by spraying whipped cream into a pie pan. People held their hands behind their backs, leaned forward and dug in. Kids love watching their parents do it almost as much as they enjoy doing it.

  • Keep the area small. The block may be long, but don’t use all of it. Set up a section for food, eating and registration. Have only a few, long tables to encourage people to eat with other families. Stage a registration area with name tags and house numbers. As people pick up their name tags, have them write down their e-mail addresses. Decorate the area with balloons and festive tablecloths, especially if you have a theme. Use the rest of the block for games, crafts and bike riding.

  • Mix and mingle with a jingling beat. Have a few pre-planned, traditional games to break the ice. Consider a Neighborhood Trivia Contest (Who has gone skydiving? Who has lived in more than three states?) Collect a fact from each adult in advance. Or plan a group photo and include a funny face shot. E-mail it to everyone later. Twenty questions is always classic: Simply pin the name of someone famous on a person’s back; they get 20 yes or no questions to determine who they are. Don’t get too unusual or shocking in the games, the idea is just to get people mingling and talking.

  • Block banner.This is an activity and a decoration rolled into one. Cut a bed sheet in half, paint the block name. At the party, have everyone sign it and place their handprint on it. Hang it every year from two poles or trees in the street.

  • Talent Show. Now’s the time to reveal those hidden talents. Maybe you have a guitarist on your street or a comedian. Encourage people to get together and plan a short sketch or comedy piece. Even a talented animal could have a turn in the spotlight. You may be surprised at the type of talent all around you (or at people’s willingness). Use someone’s front porch as a stage and shine a light on it. A good game of charades also makes good use of the front porch stage.

  • After dark. For this, just let the classics shine. Teach the kids how to play Ghosts in the Graveyard. Light some sparklers. Bring out a fire pit and roast marshmallows. Then sit back and enjoy the stars and your neighbors.

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