Sleepover birthday parties become common among elementary school-aged girls, and some boys, starting at around age 7 or 8. If your little girl is not accustomed to sleepovers, it might be a good idea to choose some close friends to start to get used to the experience so they aren't left out of these experiences as they approach that age.
If your child wants to have a sleepover party, here's my top tip to help make it a stress-free success:
Plan Around a Movie (or two, or three!)
I'm not a typically a huge fan of TV for kids in general, but at sleepover parties, movies are invaluable. Movie themes are easy to create activities around, and provide a wonderful and relatively calm way to close out an evening. As I write, 14 little girls are falling asleep on my dining room/family room floor after a fun afternoon and evening of Willy Wonka-themed activities.
My husband borrowed an LCD projector and a roll-up screen from work (ask around and there may be someone who can do this, or they can be rented if needed). A big screen or wall-mounted TV might also be sufficient in many homes (our biggest is 27"… not so useful), but a projector and screen definitely adds a theater experience if they are available. Be sure to test out the system for what cords and outputs may be needed. Our setup is a complicated system of a portable DVD player input and a karaoke player-speaker sound output. With the right cords, you can use equipment you've got around.
My daughter is turning 8, so we watched the original Willy Wonka movie. When that ended and they weren't all asleep, I put on Fantasia 2000, which is a great standby to have around with its soothing music and largely benign storylines (the original Fantasia is a bit scarier). If the girls were a little older I would have also played the new Johnny Depp version of the film, but it's a bit too creepy for this age yet. High School Musical provides a great movie theme – for her 7-year old sleepover, we played all three movies in a row and all but 3 kids fell asleep during the course of the marathon. For boys, I would imagine Star Wars, Harry Potter and other serial movies could have the same effect.
What's useful about the movie ending to the evening is that it avoids the fighting and shushing and other hijinks that go on as over-excited and over-sugared children try to settle themselves down to sleep. Giving them an external focus makes it easy for them to drift off on their own timelines and keeps the noise under control. On the flip side though, there will always be a few kids who can't sleep with any sort of movie to watch. Once we're down to just those few, I go to minimal lighting and change to a nice instrumental soundtrack which lessens the stimulation but still leave an external focus to avoid chatter. Peter Pupping/Fred Benedetti music is great – I turned on "Here Comes the Sun" to let the last ones drift off. Most of the kids are asleep within minutes, as they were just keeping themselves awake for the end of the movie.
Remember that even at ages 7, 8, 9 or even older, there may be kids that need a little bit of special attention to settle. Moving kids away from other kids who are awake as well might occasionally be necessary, or sitting in between them. Some can still use back patting or shoulder rubbing, as when it gets really late and they are overtired, even confident kids can start to feel homesick and vulnerable when it gets quiet. Remind them the fun that is coming in the morning when they wake up with friends, and sit with them until they fall asleep.
The other thing to remember with a sleepover is not to stress out about bedtimes overall. The kids tend to wake up in a great mood because they are all together. Focus more on everyone having a good time while they are awake and a good experience falling asleep and the party will be remembered as a success. Have fun!
Fantasia 2000 and Instrumental Music (even if you don't have a movie-themed party!) are great tools to help kids sleep...