Children’s birthday parties can be happy memory-makers or the stuff of parents’ nightmares. The proof is in the planning.
We have had at-home theme parties (from princesses to spaceships, from dalmatians to dinosaurs, and from undersea adventures to circus big-tops), as well as sited events (at gyms, skating rinks, fire stations, and more).
Frankly, our family’s very best parties have been those we hosted in our own home. Even the preparations were fun productions!
Here’s what we have learned, from our plentiful parties:
Never attempt to throw a surprise party for a young child. It simply is a bad idea. For a little boy or girl, most of the fun is in the anticipation of his or her big party! Plus, most kids cannot keep a secret, so the party is not likely to be a surprise anyway. Someone is bound to blab.
Count Your Guests Carefully.
The old rule of thumb is this: The birthday child should be allowed to invite one young guest for each year of his/her age. (A five year old might invite five friends.) We have found this to be a suitable guideline.
Of course, you might bend this rule either way, depending on your planned activities. (Also, you can plan on having about 10 percent no-shows!)
Select Your Site
At-home birthday parties are gaining in popularity again. Although these take a bit more planning and effort, they can be the most memorable of all.
Certainly, successful parties can be held at local pizza parlors, bowling alleys, roller rinks, gymnastics facilities, swimming pools, activity centers, zoos and even county parks. Reserve your date early!
Pick a Party Theme
Using the birthday child’s favorites, pick a theme for the day. Underwater adventures, island luaus, superheroes, cowboys, jungle animals, space travels, and dinosaurs are popular ideas.
Adapt traditional party games, or make up your own, to fit the theme. (We have played Pin-the-Patch-on-the-Pirate, Ring Around the Rhino, Clown Concentration, Princess Pictionary, and many other themed games.)
Games and activities will help to structure the event. Draw up a tentative schedule ahead of time, but be flexible. Children may simply enjoy an opportunity for free play and visiting together. If you don’t get through all your games and activities, do not be concerned. The kids will only know that they enjoyed themselves.
Send Invitations Early
Printed invitations are a must! Include a map or directions to your home or party site. (Use an online map engine to produce a diagram of your location.)
List specific starting and ending times for the party, and provide a list of items to wear or bring. (For example, kids may need closed-toe shoes, if you are offering pony rides. They must wear socks, if you will have an inflatable bounce-house.)
Be sure to mention whether parents are invited to stay, particularly for preschool parties.
Include a deadline and phone number or e-mail address for RSVPs (responses).
Aim for Simplicity
Well-meaning parents may be tempted to go overboard with elaborate prizes, take-home bags, decorations, and more. The party need not be extravagant to be fun. Free online printables, economical balloons and streamers, and a colorful tablecloth may be enough. The whole family can help with this.
Select suitable party supplies in local stores or online party supply sites, or design your own! My children have enjoyed rubber-stamping solid-colored napkins with ponies, mermaids, and other specialties to fit various parties.
A few pieces of candy and a simple take-home item for kids (perhaps a ball or jump-rope used in a party game) can be enough.
As guests arrive, place all birthday gifts in a large laundry basket. When you are ready, have all the guests sit in circle in a designated area with the birthday child, who will open the gifts, one at a time. Each guest is invited to sit next to the birthday child, as his or her gift is opened.
With younger children, it can be fun to place a numbered sticker on each gift. Have the birthday child draw numbers from a pail or basket and open gifts in that order.
Be sure to jot a note on each birthday card or gift tag, indicating what the gift was.
Go for Gratitude
The thank-you note is quickly becoming a forgotten art. Let it not be so!
Why not snap a few digital or Polaroid photos of each guest, and include it with a written thank-you from the birthday child? This can be short and sweet:
Thank you for the ____________.
I was so glad you came to my birthday party.
Didn’t we have fun?