Party Planning to the Letter!
Trying to create the perfect birthday bash for your child? Not great with keeping track of all the small details and things to do? Fear not! We’ve created the perfect guide for the modern parent that covers everything from décor to games to food.
Table of Contents
Create a guest list for the people you plan to invite. Consider what number makes sense for the age of your child and ask your child who he absolutely wants to invite. Make sure your child’s best friend is free before you set the date.
Check in with your child’s day care or school to find out who his friends are. Some schools may have a rule about passing out invitations—if you’re going to do it in class, you may be expected to invite everyone. As kids age, the number of friends they want to invite may go down to their closest friends. If you’re not inviting the whole class, the rule of thumb is to ask as many kids as your child’s age, plus one.
Before the party planning begins, create a budget and stick to it. It can be tempting to go all out, but your child and her friends will have tons of fun without you having to shell out the big bucks for the best and biggest items. And, if it’s one of those milestone birthdays you think deserves a bigger budget, go for it!
If you’re feeling up to it, you can make the cake yourself. Or if you have a relative who’d love to help, you can ask her to make the cake. You can also make it easier on yourself by not serving a full sheet cake, and instead making birthday cake kabobs, cake pops or cupcakes.
However, it might be easier to order a showstopper cake and put the creation in someone else’s hands. Make sure bakeries (even at grocery stores) have plenty of time to make your cake. Some fantastic bakeries in the metro area include: Nothing Bundt Cakes; Baker’s Man Inc.; Cakes by Darcy; Cake Hag; Piece of Cake; Mae’s Bakery; Henri’s Bakery & Deli and Sugar Benders Bakery & Café.
There are tons of décor items you can use to jazz up the party space: streamers, tablecloths, centerpieces, birthday banners or signs, party hats, confetti and ribbons. Buy only a few themed decorations. You can mix colored decorations with themed ones; that way, you’ll get more out of generic decorations you can reuse for other parties. Consider making or buying paper decorations, such as paper pompoms. A piñata doubles as a décor item and an activity for later in the party. At an at-home party, keep kids from wandering around by defining the party area with streamers.
Ordering or designing invitations online can save time, money and waste. It can also create fewer hurt feelings, as your child is not handing out invitations in the middle of class. Send invites out three weeks before the party, and include the date, location, time (including drop-off and pickup times), RSVP information and any items guests will need to bring. Consider these services: ECHOage; Minted; Snapfish; Paperless Post; Evite; Greetings Island; Etsy; Punchbowl and Shutterfly.
Don’t overdo it. Most kids are not at the party for what you can give them!
Consider items that relate to the party theme, such as character-themed stickers or temporary tattoos, finger paint, a beach pail or beach towel, dinosaur figurines or washcloth puppets. You can also purchase party favor sets or kits for an activity the guests can take home or buy pre-filled party bags.
Games are a must for at-home parties, but you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Stick to the classics, just change what they’re called based on the theme: Simon Says becomes Princess Says, Musical Chairs is Musical Towels for a pool party or Pin the Trunk on the Elephant for a jungle party. Other favorites include BINGO, Freeze Dance, Egg Relay Race or Three-Legged Race, Charades or Pictionary or Water Balloon Toss. Utilize your backyard to set up an obstacle course, lawn games, cornhole or giant Jenga.
H: Home Party
If you’re having the party at your home, keep these things in mind for your schedule:
- Three Days Out: Confirm that helpers will show up; and finalize all props and music needed for games and crafts.
- Two Days Out: Make food that’ll keep or freeze; check the house for safety hazards; and put away any special breakables.
- One Day Out: Bake or pick up cake.
- Six Hours Out: Pick up last-minute items; clean up clutter; and put away any special items not used for the party.
- Four Hours Out: Decorate house.
- Three Hours Out: Make final food and game preparations.
- One Hour Out: Set table; and dress yourself and your children.
- 30 Minutes Out: Have helpers arrive and explain the schedule and their basic responsibilities; and put out materials for first activity or game.
I: Ice Cream
For a delicious dessert, set up a make-your-own sundae bar with ice cream and all the toppings. Make serving easier by pre-scooping ice cream into muffin tins and freeze until you need them.
If your theme is ice cream, let kids shake up their own ice cream in a bag for an experimental activity. Or you can bring the ice cream to you with a rental truck.
J: Joint Party
Consider holding a joint birthday party with one of your child’s friends. This way, you can split the costs, the planning and the workload.
Be sure to model kindness at your child’s party. The party can be an opportunity to remind her of kindness and gratitude, especially if she is too young to understand why saying “thank you” after every gift is important.
Keep everything organized with lists. It might be helpful for you to write out a to-do list that includes your budget as you research venues, entertainers, food, themes and more. When it’s party time, make sure to keep a list of who gives your child what present for keeping track of thank you notes.
For an at-home party, keep the food simple. Chicken nuggets, pizza, sandwiches, cake and ice cream are easy. For drinks, drink cartons are less mess for kids, and you can have a separate drink area for adults with pitchers and cups. Consider what items you could make ahead and ask friends or relatives to pitch in to bring food. Also, hold the party after lunchtime to serve snacks and finger foods, rather than having to worry about a full meal.
At a venue, locations often will offer party food packages as part of the pricing or as an add-on option.
N: No-Gift Party
Avoid toy overload with a gift-free party. Have your child pick a charity guests can donate to or ask guests to bring donations for a food pantry, toys for a children’s hospital or supplies for an animal shelter.
If your child is not ready to give up gifts, ask him to think about items he’d be willing to donate to make room for the new toys he’ll receive.
Spring means warmer weather, and the excitement of parties outdoors can be tons of fun! Party at a local park. Often cities have areas or pavilions you can rent for an event, and the kids can burn off energy by playing on the playground or going for a hike or walk. At home, use your backyard for a camping-theme adventure, setting up a movie theater for a viewing under the stars, or create a carnival atmosphere with cool games.
One fun activity that’ll entertain your child and his friends, as well as document the day, is a photo booth. Set up a backdrop that matches the theme of the party and add props and dress-up clothes. You may feel that it’s worth investing in the camera equipment and software, you can rent the equipment, or you can use a sheet and DIY it with your cell phone.
Q: Queen (or King) for a Day
As much as possible, on her birthday, let her choose how the day will go by doing whatever she wants. Host a movie night as a family and let her choose the movie and the snacks. Let her decide what you order for dinner or what games to play. For her party, involve her in the decision making as much as possible.
You’re not a nag! Check in with anyone you did not receive a RSVP from by the deadline. Always list the deadline as a few days before you really need the final count to give yourself time for these check ins.
As a host, know that you might be asked if it’s OK for a guest to bring a sibling. Don’t be afraid to be honest; you may not have room for extra people in your home, or the venue might charge you extra the more guests you have. If you cannot accommodate extra people, be clear in your invitation. For kids up to the age of 6, a parent may stay with them for the duration of the party.
For your own children, ask older siblings to help. Pay them to help you clean, set up activities or pet sit. See if younger siblings can spend the time with one of their friends if it’s your older child’s party.
Give your child a choice between a few themes you know you can make work. Some easy ideas: puppets, LEGOs, tea party, sports, glow-in-the-dark, arts, beach, culinary, favorite movie/show/book, spa, rainbow, under the sea, cars, animals, princesses, pirates, unicorns, superheroes, mermaids or dinosaurs.
Then, incorporate that theme into as many elements of the party as possible—invitations, décor, paper goods, cake, activities and the goodie bag.
Think about ways you can upcycle materials you already own into handmade decorations before buying new party supplies. Order a lot of takeout? Reuse the plastic silverware you’ve received and add paint to the handles for a pop of color and to match the colors of the party. Use old yarn to create a decorative tassel garland. Glue glitter to old clothespins to create a photo display or hang birthday banners or signs. Use recyclable materials, like felt, cardboard, Mason jars and string lights, to decorate. Set up white packing paper as a tablecloth for kids to decorate and color. Upcycle old T-shirts to create cloth napkins.
Holding a party at a venue will take some of the stress off you—you won’t have to worry about cleaning, hosting or the menu. However, make sure the place is within your budget and will be able to accommodate the amount of people your child wants to invite. Also, check the age requirements. If your child is not old enough for some of the rides or activities offered, the party won’t be fun for them. Book early, especially if the venue is popular.
Even if you’re trying to be more eco-friendly, it can be easy to go overboard with a birthday party. Keep these ideas in mind for less waste:
- Have a clearly labeled recyclable bin for guests to dispose of items properly.
- Opt for reusable, classic decorations that can be pulled out every single year, or use items you already own, such as colored lights from Christmas.
- As much as possible, try to use eco-friendly decorations. Beware: balloons claiming to be eco-friendly still aren’t great for the environment.
- Buy new-to-you items from a local thrift store.
- Consider asking friends, family and neighbors if they have any leftover party decorations you could use or borrow.
- Don’t overdo the food preparation. Rather than ending up with loads of leftovers, put out only what is necessary.
- Use reusable plates, metal cutlery, real cups and cloth napkins. You can buy colored and pretty paper straws for drinks.
- Hold a “fiver” party. Instead of presents, each guest will bring $5 for your child to buy an item he really wants.
- Consider environmentally-friendly party favors, such as a leftover cupcake, play dough, flower seeds and a mini pot or a book.
- Save the gift bags and tissue paper to reuse for future gifts and holidays.
X: X Marks the Spot
Set up a scavenger hunt game for guests. Create a list of clues or a map that leads to a hidden prize. You can set up this activity indoors or outdoors.
Y: Yard Décor
You can build your own yard sign to celebrate the birthday child, or buy the service via celebrationyardgreeting.com, cardmyyard.com or peachtreeyardcards.com. Help guests find your home by placing a sign outside or tying balloons to the front door or mailbox. Decorate the fence or gate with streamers. Decorate the driveway with chalk and leave the chalk out for guests to add their own well wishes.
For tweens, think about hosting a slumber party. You will need to include breakfast plans in your menu. Since kids will be too excited to sleep, you likely won’t get a lot of sleep either, and you’ll need to think about where the kids will set up their sleeping bags. Not everyone will want to sleepover, so have a plan to include those kids for the evening activities and set a pickup time for after the activities are done.
For younger kids, consider a “sleep-under” party. More like a pajama party, this is for kids who aren’t ready to commit to a sleepover. Guests will arrive in PJs with a favorite stuffed animal and a sleeping bag to watch a movie. You can also serve dinner and decorate cookies for dessert before sending guests back home to sleep.