Frances Cuomo Perpero, owner of Little Doll Studio in Rockville Centre, wanted to create an atmosphere where children could be creative through doll play.  Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Bring a stuffed animal to life, dine with a doll and design fashions for them all at birthday parties on Long Island.

These days, stuffed animal and doll parties are more creative than ever. Kids can make anything from teddy bears to unicorns to kangaroos with babies in their pouches. Parties include diverse dolls with different abilities and body types, too. 

Stuffing toys at parties has become an art form. As Paula Sayage, owner and operator of Fun Stuff Express puts it, “It’s a sensory experience."

She adds: "When we’re stuffing an animal at a party and a child is watching, we stop halfway through and ask him or her to squeeze it. The child lets us know if it’s perfect or needs more stuffing.”

Lucas Giovaniello, 7 of Massapequa, has been to three Fun Stuff parties. He confirms, “If we say our animal is squishy enough, we get a perfect toy with the right amount of squish and love.”

Doll and stuffed animal parties are a fun break from screens, and great ways to inspire imagination. Here are five that'll bring your creations to life: 

FUN STUFF EXPRESS

Juliet Giovaniello, 5, is beside the black panther she just...

Juliet Giovaniello, 5, is beside the black panther she just stuffed at a Fun Stuff Express party.  Credit: Paulina Giovaniello

Fun Stuff Express offers a party you can have in your home where each child creates a stuffed animal with a little help from the staff. There are 60 different animals available for stuffing, so Sayage often brings creatures that are in sync with a party’s theme. If it’s a winter party, she’ll bring polar bears, snow leopards and her newest stuffed animal — a yeti. Sayage also brings along and operates a bear stuffing machine.

Once an animal is stuffed, each child gets a satin star or heart, makes a wish on it, places it inside the animal and zips it up. The stars and hearts have words written on them such as courage, kindness or love. “How great is that for a child who could use a little courage or kindness?” Sayage asks.

Kids select a T-shirt for their animal from a variety of styles. Juliet Giovaniello, 5, of Massapequa, chose a Jasmine T-shirt since Jasmine was the theme of her party. Kids can pick costumes such as firefighter or police uniforms, ballerina costumes, or military outfits. Each animal also receives a birth certificate with a name request. 

For the grand finale, the kids gather their creations around a long table with a make-believe salon and doctor’s office. 

COST: Party package pricing starts at $699

INFO: 1779 NY-106, Syosset; 516-238-2730; funstuffexpress.com

JUMP AND SLIDE ENTERTAINMENT 

A stuffing machine comes straight to your home for these parties. If you’re not up for operating it, two staff members will assist. The basic package comes with 10 kits. Each includes an unstuffed animal, stuffing, a make-a-wish key to zip inside your creation, animal sized T-shirts with markers to decorate and a birth certificate. Animal choices range from bears to penguins to puppies. A favorite is the Doodle Stuffing Message Bear — a furless bear made of white fabric and kids can write messages all over it.

To keep the animal party going, you can add a photo booth or mini carnival. Kids take photos with their furry friends, and if they’re up for playing mini carnival games, there are well over 100 to choose from. 

COST: Base price: $299

INFO: 20 Lucon Drive, Deer Park; 631-321-7977; jumpandslide.net

KUDDLES PARTIES 

At Kuddles Parties, company president Daphne Tembelis O’Connell and her staff will travel to your home with everything you’ll need to stuff an animal, minus the stuffing machine. Instead, each child gets a bag of fluff and everyone stuffs by hand. Tembelis O’Connell says, “Parents have mentioned their kids like to do their own stuffing because they feel they’re part of bringing their animal to life.”

Tembelis O’Connell usually brings animals based on a party theme. She explains, “Panda parties are really popular now. So are dinosaurs.”

After stuffing the animals, each child makes a wish on a star, zips it inside the animal, and decorates an animal T-shirt. If parents want to upgrade, they can select outfits including mermaid, sailor and cowboy costumes. Your animal party can continue with add-ons such as popcorn, cotton candy or bubble machines. 

COST: Base price: $450 for a minimum of 10 kids

INFO: Mobile company travels to your home; 646-739-9397; kuddlestheclown.com

LITTLE DOLL STUDIO

A Little Doll Studio birthday party for Sienna Baydala, age...

A Little Doll Studio birthday party for Sienna Baydala, age 5, left, with her friend Julia Azznara, in Rockville Centre. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

The Little Doll Studio is an innovative place to celebrate a birthday or visit for open play time sessions. When a party begins, kids enter an area filled with 70 dolls of all different racial and ethnic backgrounds. There’s a doll in a wheelchair, another has a hearing aid. Others are from Disney movies or are Marvel heroes. There are baby and toddler dolls, adult dolls, and many have different body shapes. “We want to have dolls that give kids a chance to see themselves,” owner Frances Cuomo Perpero says. Each child chooses a doll to play with for the day.

The kids continue the party at a craft table. Each is given a doll sized white dress, superhero cape or hoodie. From a tray filled with gemstones, stickers and markers, they design an outfit for their doll. Cuomo Perpero adds, “I tell the kids whatever they create is their vision. They can write words on the clothing, numbers, or add hearts and stars.” When the outfits are complete, there’s a fashion show where kids walk their dolls down a runway and describe the clothing designs.

The biggest wow is when kids enter a room filled with 30 different “doll house-like” rooms. Cuomo Perpero explains, “The playroom is a combination of familiar and aspirational. So, we have a library, gym, dance studio, camp site, a Target, a Starbucks, even a rocket ship area for those who want to be astronauts." 

Eight-year-old Violet Ghiuro, of Oceanside, is a regular at the studio. “The dolls all play together,” she says. 

COST: Base price: $599 includes food; see website for open play schedule

INFO: 137 N Park Ave., Rockville Centre; 516-238-6159; littledollstudio.com

MY STYLE CAMP

At My Style Camp, bring your favorite doll or stuffed animal to a party or playdate with six kids or more. Founder Stacey Saltzman and her staff of professional designers help kids design, sew or embellish animal or doll T-shirts, hoodies or tutus, and make kid sized versions to match.

“One of the nicest things is you can make your fashion design look like ‘you.’ We pay special attention to style when we use different sized mannequins and skin tone markers," Saltzman says. "We always have an inclusive feel.” You can sew clothing made of flannel, fleece, cotton, designer swatches and novelty trims. Decorate outfits with color spray, stencils, gems, patches and ribbons.

“After we make the outfits, we can have a doll and me tea party,” Saltzman says. “We’ll have cupcakes and little sandwiches. Or we can have spa-doll day. You and your doll can paint your nails.”

COST: Playdates/camps: $85 per child

INFO: 2-8 Haven Ave., Suite 210; Port Washington; 209-782-7895; mystylecamp.com

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