Birthday parties are like road trips: getting there is half the fun. Deciding on the theme, decorations, and activities makes the days leading up to the event seem like part of the celebration itself. It needn't be elaborate - kids will be happy with a small party as long as they are made to feel special. Even a simple party requires planning; the sooner you start organising, the earlier the excitement begins and the fewer details you'll have to work out on the day itself.
The birthday child will likely have ideas about the kind of party he wants, so involve him in the planning. Let your child pick the theme, help you with shopping and decorating, and take part in baking the cake. Doing so helps spread out the anticipation; that way the focus isn't on a couple of hours of a single day.
Although it might be more efficient to do it all yourself, there's pleasure in working with your child toward an important goal. Plus, he'll have the reward of enjoying with his friends the magical day he helped plan. (Print our planner and work on filling it out together.)
The Guest List
WHOM TO INVITE
Make sure your child's best friend is free before you set the date. When including classmates, think "all" - all the kids, all the boys, or all the girls - if you want to avoid hurt feelings.
You can't greet guests while supervising a game or cut the cake while pouring drinks, so figure on having one helper for every four to six children. Ask other parents ahead of time, or hire a babysitter or older sibling to help.
Where to Have It
At an at-home party, the birthday child's on his own turf, and you know where to find everything. To keep kids from wandering around, define the party area with balloons and streamers, and close doors to other rooms.
Parks are great for warm-weather parties; just be sure to have a backup plan in case of rain.
1. Suspend banting or paper festooning between trees or along a fence.
2. Spread colorful sheets or blankets on the ground.
3. Mark the party's boundaries and blanket corners with clusters of bright balloons tied to thin wooden dowels stuck in the ground.
4. Draping fabric over a tall fence or over a clothesline provides an attractive backdrop for party photos.
What to Serve
Baking and decorating your child's birthday cake (or cupcakes) is worth the effort. Spend time on that, and choose other foods that are easy to serve, eat, and clean up. That said, even simple food can seem special. Here are some ideas:
1. Cut sandwiches into cute shapes using cookie cutters (cut crusts off first); or use a knife to cut them up into pieces like a puzzle.
2. Serve snacks in creative containers. Somehow, hot dogs are more appealing served in paper boats, just like at the movies. For a fishing-themed party, kids will get a kick out of being served punch from a fishbowl.
3. Turn lunch into an activity. Let kids top English-muffin pizzas. Show them how to make faces with sliced-olive eyes, a pepperoni nose, and bell-pepper mouth.
Hiring an Entertainer
Gather references from other parents or the internet. When you call a potential entertainer, ask what age group the show is designed for before you mention your child's age. While magicians and clowns are classic for kids' parties, there are lots of other kid-pleasing options:
1. Balloon artists (their creations double as party favors) 2. Mobile petting zoos 3. Hairstylists or manicurists (call a local beauty school for suggestions) 4. Princess actresses
5. Face painters
Presents - Now or Later?
There are good reasons to open presents during the party, and just as many reasons to wait until afterward. Some kids love seeing their gift being unwrapped, especially if they picked it out. So guests don't get bored, put names in a hat; the one that's chosen is the child whose present gets opened next. Kids can forget their manners in the excitement, so help your child practice her thank-yous beforehand. It may be less chaotic, particularly for young kids, if your child opens his gifts after the party. In that case, snap a photo of her with each gift and send it with the thank-you.
A Proper Good-Bye
Have the birthday child personally say thank-you and good-bye to each guest at the door, and hand them a favor bag as they leave.