After I posted an Instagram picture of Fairy Dust necklaces I was putting together for my daughter’s upcoming party, one of my friends commented on FB that she felt intimidated by the idea of it all. I completely understand why she feels that way. Even though we’ve all been to a kid’s birthday party, we don’t have any experience with them other than as a guest.
Here are my best tips & tricks for planning an amazing party for your little monkeys. Pick and choose what works for you and HAVE FUN!
Theme: Choose this first. I know that seems obvious but everything flows from the theme and it just makes the whole process easier. Themes can be as simple as a colour, one year we hosted a pink party for my daughter. It can be a time period, like the medieval party we threw for my son’s fifth birthday. Or it can be more kid-specific like a superheroes or princesses.
Date & Time: If you can, talk to the people you plan to invite. I like to check with the parents of the birthday boy/girl’s best friend(s) to make sure they can come. I also try email save-the-dates if I get myself organized early enough because I want to make sure it’s on people’s calendars as far in advance as possible.
When you’re planning for start times, think about your child’s schedule. Plan around key times like naps or if your kids have off-times during the day. My older daughter still gets sleepy after lunch even though she doesn’t nap anymore so I try to do parties in the morning or later in the afternoon for her. Also, the younger the child, the less time the party should be. If children are being dropped off, 1.5h is perfect until they’re old enough to amuse themselves and then you can lengthen it (if you want). I prefer to invite parents and make it just as much about them as it is for the kids because I love getting to know everyone, so my parties tend to be 2h or longer.
Invitations: I used to design all the invitations for our parties. Now I use Etsy. It’s affordable, customizable & saves a ton of time. I love finding beautiful invites that come with party packs (birthday banner, water bottle wrappers, food labels, cupcake wrappers etc.). I know the party pack seems like a lot of work, but it’s the details that take anything from good to great. Here’s the invitation I chose for the upcoming Mermaid & Pirate party:
See the matching party pack here.
When my children get invitations to birthdays, I like a month’s notice so that’s my miminum for sending out invites for our parties.
Party-Favours: Ok, I’m going to say something most people won’t like. I can’t stand trashy party favours. You know, the ones that your kids play with for 2 minutes but never want to throw away so they junk up their rooms until you can sneak that crap into the garbage when they’re not looking. They’re worse than the toys that come with McDonald’s Happy Meals. I try to find alternatives that are theme-related and ones that I’m happy to keep if we have leftovers. These are a little more expensive and take more time to find but they’re so worth it.
For this Mermaid & Pirate party I’m completely in love with the favours. I was at a Loblaws Superstore about a month ago and saw really pretty striped beach towels on sale 2 for $10 in colours that echo the invitation. Then in the kids section I found clear acrylic cups with fish floating in the sides that matched the towels perfectly. They were also on sale for $1.49 each. A little further down the aisle, there were long bubble wands again, also in a perfect colour to match at $0.99 each. Last, but not least, I found EOS lip balm at Dollarama of all places for $3 (yay!). I wrapped them in clear poly bags from Walmart’s party aisle and tied the top with green raffia from Michael’s that looks like seaweed. I know $10 per favour seems high, but these are not going to be thrown out.
If that doesn’t suit you, that’s ok! I’ve been to parties where each child leaves with a cupcake or candy skewer. Those are great. Simple but pretty and my monkeys loved it. If you’re not into candy, you can also incorporate a craft into your party activities that the kids take home as part of their favour. Imagine a pizza party where the kids decorate their chef’s hat and apron. Or a painting party where they keep their smock and paint set. So fun!
Decorations: Pinterest is the BEST source of inspiration for decorations and has a wealth of ideas that you can DIY. I love those because, as you can probably tell, I need to find areas to save on costs [ahem]. Do a search for ‘your theme’ birthday ie. mermaid pirate birthday and you’ll see lots of different ways that people have decorated their parties with your theme. After that, search for DIY party decorations. And if you don’t have a Pinterest account yet… well…we can’t be friends until you get one. Seriously.
For this party, I used a polka dot wrapping paper from Winners as the backdrop to the cake table, tissue paper poufs from Dollarama in blue and pinks and the ombre teal accordion circles from Ikea. Both the kids’ tables and the cake table has a burlap runner made from a big piece of burlap I picked up at Rona. Then, I used natural sea shells and silver spray painted sea shells as part of the centre pieces. Oh, and the Happy Birthday banner from the party pack is printed on card stock and strung on jute twine.
Food & Drinks: I’ve never matched the menu to the theme. There are lots of people who do and although I’m impressed with them, this is one area where all that matters to me is how much our guests will enjoy what they eat. We have yummy finger food for the parents and a kid-friendly meal for the kids like nitrate & preservative-free hot dogs, pizza, homemade chicken fingers or mac & cheese.
Always have lots of water on hand. Offer a punch, lemonade or iced tea in a large self-serve container. Keep juice boxes easily accessible for little hands. Since we have an adult component to our parties, we also make sure to have lots of wine & beer available.
I’m a stickler for having more than we need so that plates and glasses are never empty unless someone wants them to be. To help estimate the amount you need, this is how I ball park it:
Kids – 1-2 juice boxes each and a glass of milk/water with their meal.
Adults – 10% will drink more than 3 glasses of wine/beer, 30% will drink 2-3 glasses of wine/beer, 40% will drink 1-2 glasses of wine/beer and 20% will have water, pop or juice.
Cake: I’ve made every one of my kids’ cakes. I prefer to make them from scratch but if you Google it, there are lots of ways you can play with boxed cake mix to make it taste a little more homemade.
I’m a HUGE fan of dense rich cake. Here’s a great chocolate cake recipe that you can amp up by using a cup of hot coffee instead of the hot water and adding 8 oz of melted semi-sweet bakers chocolate to the mix. And I finally found an AMAZING vanilla cake recipe after years of being disappointed with other ones. Yay!
Prep Work: These are all the different components of the party that I plan for ahead of time.
Cups, Plates, Cutlery & Napkins – Get more than you need. Much, much more. Guests shouldn’t have to search for any of these things and the last thing you want to do in the middle of a party is a mad search to find more. These are things that will always get used again in the future.
Glassware (if using for adults) – Make sure these are washed & polished. Nothing worse than dirty glasses (ick) and put them out where little hands aren’t able to reach.
Tablecloths – You may or may not need these. I like nice disposable ones (that don’t scream disposable) on food tables to make the clean up easier. Plus you won’t be worried about stains on Grandma’s linen when the glass tips over or the little chocolatey hands use it as a napkin.
Room layout/design – I’m a bit of a geek and usually draw out where things will go ahead of time. It helps me visualize all the different areas and what I need to buy or prepare for the party.
Decorating – If you can, put your decorations up anywhere from a week to 3 days ahead of time. It’s the last thing you want to do right before the party starts because they’ll look like an afterthought. Plus the extra time means you can move things around and add/subtract to make it look exactly they way you want it.
Garbage – Have a plan and places where people can throw things out that are easy to find. If you want garbage sorted a certain way, don’t be shy about making nice signs with instructions to put in garbage specific areas.
Games/Entertainment Set-up – This is a big one. If you’re planning to hire entertainment this needs to be done 6-8 weeks in advance (or more if you can swing it) of the party. The good ones get booked way ahead and you don’t want to settle for second rate. They will need specific things, like power outlets or a quiet space to set-up so make sure you know this to plan for it when they come.
If you want to do the games yourself, enlist the help of a friend at the party because it gets busy! Until kids are 4 or older, it’s hard for them to take turns and stay focused for longer than 10-15 min at a time. I’ve done musical chairs, pin the spider on the web, pass the parcel etc. It’s lots of prep and lots of time management because if a game isn’t going as planned you need to be able to switch gears and do something else.
Plan of Events:
Arrival (30 min)- People need somewhere to put their shoes, coats & bags. Kids need something enticing & immediate to do as they acclimatize themselves to a new place.
Entertainment / Games (30-60 min) – Have everything set-up and ready to go! Assume parents who stay won’t help unless you give them specific jobs. They aren’t being rude, they just may not know they could do something that would make things run smoother!
Food (15 min) & Cake (10 min) – This will be a complete whirlwind. Take a moment to enjoy the happy quiet little people at the table and get the camera ready so you don’t miss when the candle gets blown out!
Presents – There’s some debate about whether to open presents with guests or after they leave. I prefer to do it afterwards. It’s hard for kids to pretend they like everything plus it’s boring for their friends to watch someone else open presents they won’t be able to have or play with! Opening them afterwards allows you to jot down who brought what for thank you cards and you can have an honest discussion with your child about which presents they want to keep and which ones they want to donate or exchange.
Thank Yous: I’m a big fan of written thank you cards. Plus, since we don’t open presents in front of other people I think a card is necessary. It’s important for children to get in the habit as well as learning how to express appreciation. However, the etiquette rules state that if you open a present in front of the giver the receiver may say thank you in person and that’s sufficient.
So, do you feel ready to tackle a birthday now or have a I left you feeling more overwhelmed! I hope it’s the former and not the latter. If you do use some of what I’ve shared, let me know or send me pictures. I’d love to hear and see your party!