Birthday Party Planning Tips and Ideas

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Essential Advice for Planning the Best Birthday Party:  How to Host a Successful and Stress Free Celebration for your Child!

Hosting your child’s birthday party at home is definitely not for the faint of heart!   The prospect of dozens of little feet and little hands, along with the necessary snacks, treats, games and entertainment is enough to deter even the bravest of parents.  But, the old fashioned pleasure of celebrating a birthday in your own home is undeniable!  As a parent who has gone down this road before (as well as doing extensive research on the topic), I’ve compiled my best tips for handling every aspect of the “at home” birthday party gracefully and skillfully! 

Planning Tips

Themes

If your child is old enough to discuss a theme, do it!  You want your son or daughter to feel that the party belongs to them!  If they’re too young, look around their world and decide what’s important to your little one!  Is it Curious George or trucks or bubbles?  Let what they love guide your choices!

Time of Day and Duration

Schedule the party for the time of day when your child is at their best, even if that means an early morning gathering or late afternoon (post nap) event.  And, no matter what time you decide to start the party, keep it short!  A 1 ½ hour party is more than enough for the 1 to 4 year olds and two hours is plenty for everyone else!

Time of Year

If the season allows, consider an outdoor party which can be a lot of fun while sparing your home wear and tear!

Invitations

  • While you’ll definitely want a cute invitation that expresses your theme, make sure that you let parents know whether or not you expect them to stay at the party or just drop their child off. 
  • A good rule of thumb is to keep parents in attendance for anyone under the age of 5.  If a messy activity is involved, provide that information as well! 
  • Another important point – unless you are inviting your child’s entire class, do not send the invitations into school!

Guests

Start with the age of your child and then add just a few more!

Entertainment

Before you book the life sized Barney, Elmo or whoever, be sure that your child will enjoy this addition to the party and not be terrorized by it!  Get references from any child entertainment outfit that you are considering.

Prepping  Your Child

  • For the youngest children, practice singing “Happy Birthday” and blowing out a candle so that they will not be overwhelmed on the actual occasion! 
  • For older children, decide in advance if opening gifts will be part of the party and whatever you decide, stick to it!  Generally speaking, I prefer to have my children open their presents after the party, but I saw one nice idea done where two chairs were set up – one for the birthday child and one for the child whose present was being opened!  It made both feel special!
  • Review good manners with your child, reminding him to greet guests, be thankful for his presents and to say goodbye (and thank you again!) as guests leave.
  • Find out which guests your child would like to be seated next to at the table.  Be firm as the children take their places at the table.

Prepping Yourself

  • In addition to the party supplies, some easy to forget items include:  fully charged digital and video cameras, candles and matches, pen and paper to record gifts and givers, and extra adult help.
  • It’s also important to draft a rough schedule of party activities and keep this in your pocket during the event! Here’s a quick example for a two hour party:

            11:00: Guests arrive and are directed to the “on arrival” activity or craft

            11:15: Quiet activity or craft

            11:30: Active game

            12:00: Lunch, cake and ice cream

            12:30: Active game and/or present opening

            1:00: Favors and good byes (sigh of relief!)

  • Prepare or order party food in advance!  Ordering pizza after the party has started could lead to an unanticipated delay and grumpy kids! Double check with parents regarding food allergies!
  • Fill in your helpers on the order of events, so that they can be helpful without having to ask you a lot of unnecessary questions during the party.

Prepping Your Home

  • Consider renting or borrowing child sized tables and chairs. This will make your younger guests more comfortable!  Another thought is to ask parents to “BYOH” or “Bring your own Highchair!”  Highchairs will keep children safe and contained!
  • Scan the party area (whether indoors or out) for any possible dangers such as loose rugs, sharp corners and breakables. 
  • Plan to have family pets outside or contained. 
  • Decide which areas of your home will be off limits and close and/or lock those doors.
  • Put on some fun, age appropriate CD’s on as guests arrive – it will set a fun tone for the party!

Balloons and Pinatas

These staples of birthday parties are among my least favorite things in the world!  I marvel at the fact that concussions aren’t a common side effect of piñata breaking and I really hate it when I’m forced to cut down balloons for each and every child demanding to take one home, in a specific color no less!  Skip these two when at all possible! (Note: if you must have balloons, make sure that you choose Mylar balloons for any party involving preschoolers, due to the choking risks associated with latex balloons!)

Preparing an Initial Activity for Guests

Set out something for the children to do as they arrive at your home!  Since they won’t all arrive at once, it’s nice to provide something fun to occupy them until the real party activities begin!  Some of my favorite ideas include:

  • Coloring a plain, white gift bag which can then be used to stow their party favors
  • Puzzles
  • Stringing fruit loops cereal onto shoe string licorice!

Prepping for Craft Projects

If you are planning to make a craft:

  • Make sure that you have a sample!  It’s even better to have the birthday child make the sample so that you’ll know how long it will take and if there are any challenges involved! 
  • Prepackage the craft supplies needed for each child into separate zip lock baggies, making it easier to distribute! 
  • Have extra bottles of glue, scissors or whatever else is needed to finish the project.

Preparing Party Games

  • Plan to offer a variety including some that are active and some that are quieter.   Alternate the two!  Keep one or two games in the wings, just in case you run out of things to do! 
  • For each game, place the necessary supplies into separate baskets so that when it’s time to play, you’re all set!

Filling Your Goody Bags

  • When preparing the goody bags, try to keep the contents of each bag the same and label the bags with the children’s names.  This will make the distribution of bags much easier and you’ll know whose bag has been forgotten if one is left behind! 
  • It’s also helpful to make one or two extra bags for the unexpected sibling in attendance. 
  • My general thought on goody bags is that I’d rather purchase one slightly substantial item, instead of lots of little trinkets.  I think that parents appreciate this gesture as well.  For example, at a candy themed party, we gave children the game “Candy Land” which I had found at a discount store for a terrific price.  At a ghost themed party, each guest received a mystery book, geared to their age and reading level.

Planning Your Party Food

  • Although I’d like to advise simplicity, the particular tastes of kids may require a choice or two.  Consider pizza and chicken nuggets, or hamburgers and hot dogs.  Some easy accompaniments could be fresh fruit salad, containers of yogurt, jello or pudding, goldfish or pretzels.  For more ideas, see Creative Menu Ideas for Your Child’s Birthday Party!
  • Don’t forget that if you’ve asked the parents to stay that you should have food to offer them as well.  So that you don’t end up offering adults the left over chicken nuggets, consider ordering a small sandwich tray and providing some soft drinks. 

Wrap Up

  • Be firm about pick up and don’t give in to last minute requests for a favorite friend or two to stay after the party is over!  Your family will definitely be ready for some down time to recap the party and enjoy the presents!

Pour a glass of wine for you and your spouse, sit back and be proud of the memorable occasion you have just created for your son or daughter!

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