Point, Click,Party!

With a crafty spirit and a computer, you can plan parties that will give your birthday child and his guests something to sing about.

The Theme’s the Thing

The most important part of party planning is to pick a theme and stick to it. This will give your party focus and help you save time and money. So think about what your kid really likes. Is he obsessed with monster trucks? Baseball? Or does she love horses or fairies?
Pinterest is a parent’s best friend when it comes to creative theme ideas. A search for “boy birthday party themes” will yield enough results to keep you up all night trying to decide. Scavenger hunt, super spy, sock monkeys, outer space, samurai, scientist, surfing, safari, and on and on!
Ashley Croxton of Acworth says that Pinterest is how she started planning her daughter’s first birthday party. “I saw a party invitation with a lemonade pitcher with slices of lemon and a cute tag. That set the theme for the lemonade party!” 
Once you choose a theme, the invitation is a natural starting place – it sets the visual tone of the entire event. Resist the urge to buy fill-in-the blank cards and seek some new options. 
Etsy is a great site for ideas. Whether your party will feature cowboys or the Cat in the Hat, this incredible online marketplace has scads of custom-designed invitations and party printables from independent sellers. For my son’s “firefighter” party, I purchased an adorable digital download invitation that allowed me to change out our personal information on my own in Adobe Acrobat and print the final product online through Mpix. For $25, the package also included goodie bag tags, thank-you notes and other items I simply printed at home.
Gracie Gummere, an Ormewood Park mom of two young boys, created elaborate “message in a bottle” invitations for the boys’ joint pirate-themed party. “I got the idea on Pinterest,” she says. “My husband contributed to the effort by drinking beer. I soaked the empty bottles to remove the labels. I bought and downloaded a pirate ship clip art on iStockphoto and designed the invitation myself. I printed it on textured paper, tied it with twine and rolled it up in the bottle.”

Let Them Eat Cake!

Let’s face it. The real reason kids love birthday parties are the cake and treats! Gummere continued her party theme with a detailed candy-decorated pirate ship cake she made herself, thanks to directions she found online.
For my son’s second birthday party, I watched a YouTube video on how to make Cookie Monster cupcakes. Six bottles of blue food coloring and a few hours later, I had adorable treats that are still legendary – at least in my neighborhood.
For Tonya Kennedy, Cartersville mom of a 4-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl, a good old-fashioned Google search is how she begins party planning. “For my son’s fourth birthday party, we used Google to look for images of monster cupcakes. When we found one we liked, we took that to our local bakery and asked them to replicate it.” Kennedy let her guests know what to expect with a cute, inexpensive monster invitation created from a template and printed through Shutterfly.
Lisa Czech, Decatur mom of girls ages 5 and 7, says she also starts her planning with Google. For her daughter’s mock slumber party, she found ideas for decadent breakfast treats that she served for dinner. Says Czech: “Kids go to so may parties. Using the Internet gives you endless ideas to choose from that you can tweak to make your party unique.”

All the Trimmings

The slumber party fun did not stop with the food; “I think the key to a good party is to keep the kids busy,” Czech adds. The pajama-clad girls had a blast decorating pillowcases and door hangers – both activity ideas mom found online. Activities, décor and favors are all opportunities to reinforce your party’s theme.
Fun decorations help your guests feel immersed in the event, and there are so many more options than balloons and streamers. Big, impressive balls made of tissue paper can add a pop of color; at my son’s firefighter party, they looked like fireballs! Check out marthastewart.com for the how-to on this project and so many other quaint and quirky ideas.
Super Why! birthday banner? Why yes! If your party is themed around a particular character, search online to find specific ideas. For example, the PBS parents website has free party printables for their popular shows. And dig around on Disney.go.com for crafts, party favors and decorating ideas for characters from the Little Mermaid to Mickey Mouse.
Sometimes it’s the subtle touches that help set the mood. Search on iTunes for songs that match your theme to create a playlist for background music or a game of themed musical chairs. Use your television as a tool: use prezi.com to set up a fun slideshow of digital photos from the last year so your guests can see how your little one has grown, or use your TV to add to the mood. During my son’s fireman party, for example, I set up a YouTube video of a crackling fire to loop continuously.
Spending a little extra time online can make a huge difference when it comes to planning a memorable party. So put on a birthday hat, eat some cake, and start tapping away – and surfing!

The Site List

  • Pinterest.com: A social networking site that allows you to create boards and “pin” items from others or anywhere on the internet to organize ideas. Fair warning: once you get started it can be really hard to stop!
  • Etsy.com: A seemingly endless online marketplace where you will find beautiful invitations, unique gifts and countless ways to customize your party.
  • iStockphoto.com: If you have any graphic design experience, find artwork galore on this site to create your own special invitations and party items.
  • Mpix.com and Shutterfly.com: These are just two of many sites that offer printing online. Tip: print your invitation as a 4X6 photo, which is much less expensive than actual cards.
  • Marthastewart.com: This site has precious party ideas, detailed decoration how-to’s and lots of recipes for menu inspiration.
  • Pbs.org/parents/birthdayparties and Disney.go.com: Two places to begin when you are looking for ideas for parties themed around specific characters.
  • YouTube.com: Learn how to make your own balloon arch, bob for apples or sing Happy Birthday in Chinese.
  • Prezi.com: Create fun presentations to show on your TV or computer screen.