Birthdays are milestones that mark another year of growing, another year of change. But for many parents, these milestones are more like millstones when faced with the daunting task of putting together their child’s birthday party. Here are 10 tips to help.
1. Get your child’s input. Several weeks before your child’s birthday, ask him how he would like to celebrate. Give him parameters based on your time, budget, and preferences. Discuss his interests and determine if the party can be centered on one of these.
2. Consider the options. One way to host a party with your child’s interest is to have the event at home. Should you decide to choose this route, you’ll have two options: do it yourself or hire outside help. If you have the time and desire to give the party yourself, the possibilities are unlimited.
3. Make a manageable guest list. The recommended number of children will depend upon whether the party will be held inside or outdoors. If the weather is nice and you’d like to have it outside, you can easily invite 15 guests. However, if the party is indoors, limit it to no more than 10 children. Some experts suggest using a formula of 1 to 1-1/2 children per your child’s age. For example, if your child is 4 years old, invite 4 to 6 friends; if 8 years old, have 8 to 12 guests. The key is to keep it manageable.
4. Time it right. Unless the party is a sleepover, keep it to two or three hours (1 and a 1/2 hours for children ages 4 and younger). Make a list of activities you are planning and the approximate length of time each one will take. Remember that a well-planned party allows for both quiet and active play. Guests should be given time to warm up to the setting, release energy during the party, and calm down before heading home. Since the children will be arriving at slightly different times, plan a simple but flexible activity to keep them busy and free you to welcome other arriving guests.
5. Decide on activities. When selecting games, consider the number of children, their ages, and whether the games will be held inside or outdoors. Choose ones that are easy to explain, fun to play, and will involve all the children. Cooperative games are best because they take the spotlight off any one child and focus on the team as a whole. What’s most important is to be flexible. If the children aren’t enjoying themselves, stop, and move on to something else. And always plan more activities than you need.
6. Go for kid-fun grub. When serving food, stick with kid-friendly basics – sandwiches, pizza, veggie strips, and pretzels. If you want to make it festive, cut the sandwiches into interesting shapes, or turn the pizza into a clown face with pepperoni eyes, a cherry tomato nose and a strip of green pepper for the mouth. The cake can be special, too, by allowing the children to decorate their own cupcake.
7. Ease up on decorations. Simple decorations can go a long way. A few helium balloons and crepe paper can make any room look festive. Choose party favors that are fun, but inexpensive such as a toy related to the party theme or a bag filled with a blend of fun-to-eat but healthy treats. For those wishing to spend a bit more, an activity, such as painting T-shirts or planting flowers in pots, is fun. Most important, be flexible, creative, and stay within your budget.
8. Ask for helping hands. If you are giving the party by yourself, get help on the big day. An extra pair of hands (or two or three!) is essential no matter what age the children are. As you prepare a guest list, ask a few close friends or relatives to come and help. If there are no willing volunteers, hire a teen. Chances are she needs the money and would enjoy the event.
9. Pick a party entertainer. If you want to hire a party entertainer, get references from family, friends, and this magazine. Once you have a few names, call the entertainer and ask the following:
•What services do you offer?
•What ages do you typically cater to?
•Can the party be tailored to a particular theme?
•What exactly do you take care of (games, activities, refreshments, cake, invitations, decorations, party favors)?
•How long do the parties run?
•How much do you charge?
•What am I expected to do?
•Can I get references?
•Do you have an upcoming public event? (Note, since entertainers are often called upon for special library, festival, and fundraising events, this would be a good opportunity for you and your child to go watch them in action.)
10. Find a facility. If you would prefer to have the party at a local business, call to see if they offer packaged events based on your child’s interest. Because every establishment’s offering is a bit different, get specifics:
•How long do parties run?
•What activities are included?
•Do you provide food and refreshments?
•Do you offer free refills on drinks?
•Is a cake provided?
•What is the minimum/maximum number of children?
•Does a staff member host the party (or do you)?
•What is the cost?
•Is a deposit required?
Before making the final decision, stop by the facility and watch a party underway. How smoothly is it run? Is the facility safe? Is it clean? Are the bathrooms easily accessible? Are the guests enjoying themselves? Is the host or hostess friendly and good with kids? Do the guests have plenty of time to enjoy the activities, or are they rushed from one event to another? Does the food look appealing? By taking the time to stop by, you’ll learn a lot more about the place than if you just make a phone call.
Above all, remember that because your child’s birthday comes only once a year, it deserves recognition. Whatever you choose be sure to make it special. You are, after all, celebrating a milestone - another year of growth, another year of change.
Denise Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines, the mother of three children, and grandparent to four grandchildren.