A Piece OF Cake Plan The Perfect Party Without The Stress
Even a veteran parent can be unnerved by the thought of planning a birthday party for their child. Most parents are crazy busy and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the possibilities. Entertaining a group of kids happily for a few hours can make the most accomplished adult uneasy. Even a simple home party needs planning and organization to ensure that it goes well and makes a lasting impression that will be cherished by friends and family and most of all, your child.
Let’s consider the overall flow of your event. Keeping kids busy and happy is a party must! If holding the attention and entertaining a group of kids is mind-boggling, make it easier on yourself by thinking of the party as having four elements. Write down your ideas for each activity, allotting about a half-hour for each and share it with your support team. Having an itinerary is critical to assuring the party’s success.
• First Act: Choose a welcome activity that will capture the children’s attention as soon as they walk in the door. Try making a large birthday banner. Each guest can help decorate it with stickers, markers and other craft supplies. It will keep kids busy and be a wonderful keepsake for the guest of honor.
• Main Event: The entertainment should keep kids engaged. Entertainment can be a craft project, organized games or be provided by a professional, such as an athlete, a magician, clown, musician, face painter or a naturalist. For preschoolers keep activities interactive. If the kids have been playing an active game you may need a quiet transition activity to get them to settle down for the next element.
• The Refreshments: These can be just a special cake that reflects the theme or guest of honor, ice cream and beverage or finger foods such as chicken nuggets, finger sandwiches cut with cookie cutters that express the theme and fruit kabobs that are colorful and flavorful. Most young children aren’t too interested in the food. When planning, keep in mind that having cake and singing “Happy Birthday” doesn’t take long so you can encourage your guests to go back to an activity, game or crafts. If you are planning on having a piñata, very popular with children of all ages, this is the ideal time to do so. Many party supplies retailers carry a large selection that will complement your theme.
• The Party is Over: Experts contend that opening gifts at the party can be difficult. Young children often don’t have the social skills to make this go smoothly. Many parents choose to open gifts later without the guests present. A good way to signal that the party is over is to say a general thank you to the group and indicate that goody bags will be available as children leave with or are picked up by their parents.
The Greater Details
Remember, you don’t have to plan the event of the year to make it unforgettable. You can save time, money and your sanity with the following planning tips. To alleviate stress here is a party checklist of what needs to be done and when to do it so you can streamline the process. Refer to it often to stay on track.
If you follow this timeline counting down from four weeks before the big day you will find planning can be a piece of cake (anything less than four weeks is super stressful).
If your child is old enough, have them help with the planning at every step. Doing so will make them feel special. It is their special moment so involve them in the decision making as often as you can.
About Four Weeks Before
• Penny Pinching! Draw up a budget, work out how much you can spend on the party and keep that in mind when you plan and shop.
• It’s About Time! Decide on a date and time; weekends are best for most families and the time depends on the age of your child and their guests.
• Team Up with Your Child to Select a Theme. to give the party direction. If you’re stuck trying to find the perfect theme for your party consider your child’s age, favorite books, toys and TV shows, music, favorite color, animal or activities.
• Location, Location. Select a location for the party. For some it’s easiest to have it at home, although some parents don’t want kids racing through their house. You can always choose to have it at a local hall, one of the many kid-friendly party spaces, a bowling alley, zoo, children’s museum, adventure park or restaurant.
• A List! Make the guest list. If your child is old enough, work closely with them to decide how many and which guests to invite. Experts say a good rule of thumb is to invite a friend for each year of the child, although others prefer to invite the entire class or team.
• Book Entertainment and Plan Activities. Do your homework and shop around before making your decision. The earlier you can decide the better chance you’ll have for availability, selection and price. Ask for references, what age group the entertainer is experienced with and if they are insured. Brainstorm and choose activities that are fun, age appropriate and complement the theme.
• Sneak Peak. Make or purchase invitations and snail mail them as soon as possible. Choose invitations that reflect the theme giving guests a sneak peek of the party. Be sure to include the date, time (beginning and end of party), an RSVP date and directions to the party. Remember, the younger the child the shorter the party. Two hours is usually plenty.
• Fun & Games. Decide on the activities you will be having and organize them, making a list of what you will need for each. Regardless of whether you are having the party at home or other venue it is vital to consider your child’s age, interests and attention span. There are many traditional games that can be adapted to work with your theme. For example, pin the beard on the pirate, pin the wings on the fairy and instead of Simon Says use your child’s name. Manicure-pedicure or hair-do parties for girls are always a hit. Be creative!
Fabulous Desserts For Children with Allergies
Don’t let food allergies stop your child from celebrating with family and friends! The Divvies Bakery Cookbook, by Lori Sandler (St. Martin’s Press, 2010) contains delicious recipes, all free of peanuts, tree nuts, dairy and eggs. Sandler, the mother of a child with severe allergies, also has advice on avoiding cross contamination, the best ingredients and some baking basics. And with childhood allergies on the rise these recipes are a good choice for treats intended for the classroom. Baking a Divvies treat means even children with allergies can indulge.
“Bake the now famous cupcakes that Benjamin (the inspiration behind Divvies) and I made in front of millions of national TV viewers on The Martha Stewart Show. You won’t believe how moist and delicious these are!”
– Lori Sandler
Divvies Famous Chocolate Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 1/4 cups water
Makes 1 dozen cupcakes
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-well cupcake pan with paper liners.
2. In a mixing bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt together until well combined; do not sift. Set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl combine the vegetable oil, vinegar and water and blend with an electric mixer on medium speed.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the liquid ingredients and mix until very smooth, scraping batter from sides until all the ingredients are well incorporated. This batter will be more watery than typical cake batters.
5. Pour the batter into the lined cupcake pan filling each well about three-quarters full.
6. Bake the cupcakes for 25 minutes on the center rack of the preheated oven. After 12 minutes, rotate the pan to ensure more even baking. Remove the cupcake pan from the oven, and immediately transfer the cupcakes to a wire cooling rack – this is very important as it allows excess moisture to evaporate from the bottom of the paper baking cups.
– Sarah Nis
Two Weeks Before the Big Day
• Confirm any bookings and make sure you have paid deposits or other fees required.
• Plan Party Refreshments and make a comprehensive go-to shopping list.
• Choose a Birthday Cake that reflects the theme or something personal about the guest of honor. If you are ordering do so now or get your baking supplies ready. Many crafts stores carry pans and decorating supplies that can make the task easier.
• Support Team. Ask for help from family and friends, preferably someone your child knows, like a favorite aunt or babysitter to help with taking coats and gifts so that you can spend some time enjoying the festivities with your child. Remember to have someone assigned to take pictures or video the event.
• All The Trimmings. Buy or make decorations that reflect the theme in some way. Feel free to get very creative or opt to keep it low key with simple yet effective decorations like crepe paper and balloons. To make a statement cut the letters of your child’s name out of oak tag and embellish them to reflect the theme then string across the room.
• Goody Goody. If you plan on giving each child a goody bag, decide what you’d like to give and order items if necessary. Some stores and individuals offer goody bag services, which can save you time and energy.
• Follow up on your guest list for those who haven’t responded. One Week Before the Celebration
• To Market. Make sure you have everything you need for the big day. Decorations, balloons, banners, plates, hats, cups, candles and favors.
• Goody Bags. If you are making the bags yourself now is the time to put them together.
• Check camera batteries and memory cards. Long after the festivities are over, you and your child will enjoy looking at the photos and video to replay the big day.
The Day Before the Party
• Charge the camera.
• Make or pick up the cake.
• If possible put up all the party decorations.
• If possible organize the party space and set up a coat check and gift area near the entrance.
• Everyone should get a good night’s rest so you will be at your best!
The Big Day
Add any last minute touches and have fun!
Week After the Party
Express gratitude by sending out thank you cards. If your child is old enough, have them assist by drawing a picture, writing a brief note or signing the card.
Dawn Marie Barhyte is a freelance writer and educator who has given her fair share of birthday parties.