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The Birthday Swap 

If the thought of another toy in your home makes you cringe, try the swap for your child's next birthday party. The birthday swap downplays gift giving while focusing on the celebration — and the favors are included.

How it works: All guests, including the parent-host, bring a gift, wrapped but unmarked. When it's time to open presents, all the kids take one from the collection. You can elect to have the birthday child go first and have selections opened right there at the party, or have guests take them to go — whichever you prefer. Bonus: The latter eliminates the present-unwrapping chaos that ensues when everyone wants to "help."

What to swap: It's best to plan a theme for the swap, and to set a price limit. Here are a few suggestions for themes and gifts in the $10-and-under range.

For toddlers: A book swap is a great idea. Ask guests to bring a favorite age-appropriate title. Suggestion: Look for your favorites in paperback.

For 4-7-year-olds: Consider a game or puzzle swap with the same structure. Suggestion: UNO is a winner. For girls, a princess wand/crown swap can add a special touch to a costume party. I have three girls, but I hear that, for boys, Bakugans and Tech Deck mini-skateboards are all the rage.

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