I'm planning a kid's birthday party but where do I start?
How can you create a children's party that will have everyone smiling, including yourself? We've come up with this handy checklist guide for throwing fantastic birthday parties without unnecessary stress.
Start by thinking about a potential theme for your birthday party. Maybe you're thinking of a Star Wars party, Harry Potter party, Avengers party or Disney Princess party? These are just a few popular character party themes that give you excellent costume and decorating options.
A theme is also a good way to help you tie your ideas together and guide your choices. Never forget, the most important consideration is your guest of honour. Do they have a favourite character, book or movie that could act as inspiration?
Even if you don't have a specific character theme, you can play with other ideas - such as a colour, season or a playful design element like dots, stripes or crazy wigs. A themed party doesn't have to be a costume party but parties with dress-up themes tend to be the most popular with kids.
Creatively brainstorm your party concept and take notes for reference until you settle on the theme that works the best.
Map out how much you have available to spend before you start planning your birthday party in detail. You should account for invitations, food and drinks (including a cake), decorations for the room and the table (including any disposable or extra tableware you need to purchase), any gifts you will be giving, party favours and entertainment costs (this might include a paid performer, equipment rental or DIY entertainment kits and games).
You may also need to budget for some additional cleaning supplies if you have high numbers of enthusiastic young guests running around the house. Be realistic about what you can afford and - don't worry - there are plenty of fantastic but frugal ways to add pizzazz to a kids' party.
Start your planning comfortably in advance so you don't feel rushed (e.g. a couple of months' forward planning is ideal). If you want live entertainment, you're more likely to get the performer you want if you book them early. You'll also need to give yourself time to work your DIY magic with decorations and party favours.
The best time of day to hold your party will vary but experts advise holding it between main meal times so young ones don't get too hungry (and you don't have to prepare huge lunches or dinners). Your main festivities shouldn't extend beyond two hours for tiny tots, and more than four hours for kids or teenagers. If your guests are very young, they'll probably need a nap, which means organising a comfy place for them to catch some shut-eye after the rush.
Get creative with your invitations and make sure they tie into your theme. If you're sending paper invites, decorate them with stickers, pens, glitter or character cut-outs to build a sense of excitement. If you're emailing invites or using a social network, add a tailored header and images to help set the mood.
Make sure you include all the particulars:
- Date and time
- Location (with directions)
- Drop-off and pick-up times for guardians
- Anything special they need to bring (e.g. bathers and a towel)
- RSVP date (follow up anyone who misses it to avoid disappointment)
Check for food allergies and any other sensitivities among the guests so you can factor it into your menu planning and have the necessary safety resources available.
A final important tip: Check that your child's closet friends will be available in advance so there are no birthday upsets.
Now that you know your theme, how many guests are attending and the venue, you can start building lists of supplies.
Start with two main overarching lists - one for your Decorations and another for your Menu. Plan out all the items you'll need under each list. This includes tablecloths, streamers, bunting, craft supplies, tableware, party hats, gift bags, toys or gifts and absolutely everything in-between.
The next important list is your Party Schedule. This lays out everything that will happen on the day so you leave nothing to chance. The times (and timing) you should include on this list are:
- Your set-up on the day
- Cooking or food preparation
- When snacks or meals will be served
- When entertainment is happening (whether that's a magician, face painting, a karaoke machine, a movie, etc.)
- What games you'll play, and in what general order
- Free-play or naps
- When the cake is due to make its grand entrance
- What happens during arrivals and departure windows
The Party Schedule list is your running sheet and your go-to guide for a smooth party operation. You can include details like important phone numbers or names, and give copies of the list to any helpers.
Give yourself time to set up for the party. You can start stocking goodie bags and creating decorations and party favour combinations a week ahead, even as soon as you've got your RSVP confirmations. Do your shopping trips and stow your party goods together in a safe spot. Clear a place for yourself on the dining table or study desk to complete your party preparations such as DIY decorations. Make as much as you can ahead of time, and check off those lists one-by-one.
Don't do it alone. Even if you're Superwoman or Superman, it takes a full superhero squad to pull off a kid's birthday party unscathed. Enlist the aid of party helpers that can assist you with your preparation, set-up and chaperoning on the day, not to mention the clean up.
Ask family and friends, and don't be afraid to ask the parents of attending guests if they could do a few tasks here and there. Be specific with your instructions so you can maintain order and keep things right on track. Some experts recommend having one helper for every four to six kids. And, whatever you do, don't forget the guest of honour...
Involving the birthday boy or birthday girl in some of the preparation can make the whole experience more personal, and ensure everyone gets the party of their dreams. How much they're involved depends on their age and temperament but involving the guest of honour can be a great way of teaching some lessons, and should make the big event all the more special.
Remember Murphy's Law? There's always a chance your best-laid party plans will be disrupted by unforeseen circumstances, especially when unpredictable young ones are concerned.
If your party is planned for outside, make sure you're armed with a no-fuss alternative if the weather turns bad. Have multiple options for games and activities ready in case the ones you swore would be popular are actually a bust.
Last but not least, remember to have fun yourself. If it's your little one celebrating a birthday party, that's a day you'll want to remember and relish. Take the time to enjoy the creation of your party, fully participate in it and capture some wonderful memories that you will carry for many years to come.