In our neighborhood is a large group of grade school-aged girls who go to different schools and different churches and therefore don't know each other. So my friend, Kari, and I decided to introduce them to each other and help them become friends with a "Fast Friends Open House." This idea would work equally well to help a new school class of girls gel!
The idea was to make it easy for the organizers, and comfortable for the girls, and include a few activities to break the ice. Moms were invited too so they could get to know each other and lessen any potential anxiety in their girls. I pulled out some party decor from my fortieth birthday and we sliced a bunch of watermelon and put out some ice water on a table where our guests could grab a name tag. We also had a clipboard with a signup sheet where all the girls could share their information so we could distribute a contact list afterwards--hoping they'll use it to arrange play dates or another neighborhood party.
As the girls and their moms arrived we made certain to personally introduce everyone and then we got them immediately engaged in an activity:
Activity #1: A "What am I?" game. When the girls arrived we had them put name tags on the front of their shirts and we put a second tag on their backs with a word ("marshmallow" or "puppy" or "pencil eraser" for instance) they needed to guess by asking questions of the party guests. This activity required a bit of facilitation but the girls ended up asking questions such as "is it a person place or thing?" or "do you see one here?" or "is it something to eat?" to correctly guess what was written on their back. That broke a few smiles and giggles.
Activity #2: Cupcake decorating. What could be easier? I bought "naked" cupcakes from the local store, made a big bowl of buttercream frosting (recipe here but with vanilla flavoring), and set it out with a bunch of sprinkles, colored sugars, and colored frosting tubes for the girls to decorate with. I think you either need food or an activity to get people interacting and this leveraged both. Perfect.
Activity #3: Papered clipboard craft (tutorial here). I made mini papered clipboards as a favor for this party a couple years ago but this time we set out the supplies for the girls to make their own. We gathered some different patterned papers and let the girls select one to decorate the back of their clipboard. They used a template I'd prepared (get it here) to cut out the shape and glue to adhere it. We also supplied ribbon and mechanical pencils (leftover from this party) to tie to their clipboards so they'd be ready for the final activity....
Activity #4: The Fast Friends game. My friend went to a church activity that used this game to help the women in the congregation learn more about each other, and we adapted it for the girls. (It must have been inspired by the speed-dating concept.) We had them line up in two rows of facing chairs and then take turns interviewing each other. We had a short list of "getting to know you" questions pre-printed for them to use with their clipboards and mechanical pencils. The idea was for them to quickly conduct an interview with the person across from them and then rotate so that each girl had a chance to interview every other girl. It's a fun way to force everyone to spend a few minutes chatting with everyone else. And it scripts some great party small talk! It wasn't as quick as we had imagined (I forgot that they wouldn't be able to scribble the answers as quickly as adults!) but it worked great! They loved playing the interviewer and offering details about themselves when it was their turn to answer the questions.
When all the interviewing was finished we wrapped it up by asking the group if they could remember some of the details about each other, such as "who remembers what sport Audrey plays?" and we tossed a small piece of candy to those with the right answers.
If you are interested in using our Fast Friends game sheet for a party you're planning I've got a printable PDF (this can't be edited) and a Word doc you can download, edit and use. (You'll need to download the free font "FFF Tusj" for this file to display the way it was designed.) These are designed to be cut out and clipped onto a mini (6"x9") clipboard. Or you can make your own! It's simple.