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Party Planning Steps

10 Steps to a Successful Kids Party

1. Where do I start? Choosing a theme…

Choose a theme for the party and it will be much easier to decide on decorations and games. What does your child love to play with? Is it trains, Hot Wheel cars, princess dress-up outfits? How about a favorite friend like Elmo, Ariel or Nemo? Does she love dance class, soccer or puppies? All of these would make a great party theme.

I usually narrow it down to two of my child’s favorite themes and then let my child make the final decision. You will only need to do this for very young children, because around age six they start planning their party theme months in advance!

2. Where to hold the party…

A party for babies or toddlers should be held someplace familiar to them, which usually means your home or a relative’s home.

Starting about age four, you can branch out and hold the party at a park or other party venue. And as the kids get older you will find that many parents choose to hold the party somewhere that offers activities to keep the guests entertained, such as a mini-golf course or bowling alley.

See here for a list of birthday places that offer to host children’s parties.

3. Who to invite and how many is too many…

Decide how many children you are comfortable hosting. This definitely includes making your budget a consideration. A party that you can manage is more fun and more likely to be a success.

We often hear the advice that we should invite only as many guests as the child’s age, plus one. This means that a child turning four would invite five children to the party. This approach is meant to prevent young kids from being overwhelmed by too many people. Each year they learn to handle a larger party. I followed this guideline for one of my children because it made sense for that child…but my other child could easily handle a much larger guest list. So use your judgment and decide which approach will work best for your child.

Click here for more info on party invitations.

4. How long should the party last…

A one hour party is long enough for babies and toddlers up to about three years old. Children ages four to seven can handle a one and a half hour party. By the time kids are eight to eleven years old, they are ready for a two hour party…and sometimes that isn’t long enough.

A more elaborate party with lots of games will require more time for the kids to complete all the activities. We once held a two-hour Harry Potter party and it could easily have lasted three hours! This particular theme lent itself to a long list of possible games and the kids weren’t ready to leave after two hours when their parents arrived.

Once kids reach about twelve years old, they may want an evening party or a sleepover.

5. When to have the party…

A party for babies and toddlers should be scheduled right after naptime. The best time for them is probably around 11am or noon.

After that age, parties generally are held from around 2pm to 3:30pm or 2-4pm. This gives enough time to play some games, eat a few snacks and serve the birthday cake. An afternoon party also means you don’t need to serve a meal, which is easier on mom and the budget.

6. How many adults are needed…

When your party is for young kids age five and under, you really do need other adults on hand to help supervise. Plan to have one adult for every 4-5 children. Many times the other parents will stay at the party because their child isn’t ready to be left alone. These parents will help you gather the children for games or cake, but you should confirm ahead of time that enough adults will be staying.

As the children get older, you will need one adult for every 6-7 children. For a party with 12-15 guests, I often ask one good friend to help and hire a teen to handle some of the activities.

7. How much to spend…

Budgeting for a child’s party can be tough. We all want to throw a great party, but it’s easy to overspend on food, decorations and favor bags.

When planning a party on a budget, here’s my advice: decide which items you need the most and cut back in other areas. For example, a certain decoration may really set the mood for your party, so splurge on that one item and try to make some of the other decorations yourself.

Remember that helium balloons are pretty inexpensive and are the number one most popular decoration with children. Make clusters of seven balloons and anchor them around the party room. They look festive and kids love them!

To save money, limit the amount of food you prepare, because the kids are much more interested in playing than eating. Bowls of kid’s snacks like pretzels and goldfish plus the birthday cake are really all you need.

Order complete party favor sets to save money. The favor sets come in a cute bag or box, and they cost less than buying individual items to assemble your own goody bags.

8. When should I start the planning…

Start planning about a month (or more!) ahead of time. This is the time to pick your party date and choose the party theme. Mail the invitations about 2-3 weeks before the party date and start shopping for supplies.

Order the birthday cake unless you will be making one yourself. The week of the party you need to buy the food and get a final headcount of who is coming.

Click here for a complete Party Planning Timeline that you can use as a checklist.

9. What food should I serve…

For an afternoon party that doesn’t include a meal, plan a few snacks plus the birthday cake. You can often stick with kid-friendly food but give it a new name to match the party theme. Kids love this and it makes the snacks seem more special.

For example, at a Dinosaur party you can serve Dino Dogs (hot dogs), Dino Eggs (green grapes) and Dino Bones (pretzels). At an Ocean theme party you can serve blue jell-o with gummy fish mixed in, “Jellyfish” sandwiches made with any flavor jelly, and goldfish crackers. Any dog theme party can include Chex Mix labeled as “Puppy Chow”, Scooby Snacks brand of graham crackers (shaped like bones) and hot dogs.

If the party begins near or includes a normal mealtime, you will need to plan a more substantial menu. We all know what happens to over-excited kids on an empty stomach…whining, arguments, tears and tantrums. Not what you want at your child’s party. Good choices include sandwiches, pizza, chicken nuggets, hot dogs or tacos. Add a veggie tray or fruit platter. Even if your own child doesn’t like them, you may be surprised at how many other kids will eat the fruit and veggies!

The birthday cake is always the highlight of the menu. Serving ice cream is optional, but I’ve found that the little individual cups of ice cream from the grocery store are an easy and less messy way to serve a large group quickly.

The kids will need drinks available, especially if there are running games. Mini water bottles and juice boxes are the easiest drink choices because the children can serve themselves with less mess. Pouring drinks into little party cups hasn’t worked for me…they spill too easily.

Click here for a list of Kids Party Food Ideas

10. How to choose party games and crafts…

Having a theme for the party can make it easier to choose games and activities. Often you can change the name of favorite kid games to tie in with the theme.
For example, Pin the Tail on the Donkey can be changed to just about any theme. Pin the Black Belt on the Ninja (for a Karate or Kung Fu Panda party), Pin the Dalmatian on the Fire Truck (for a Firefighter Party) or Pin the Crown on the Princess (for a Princess Party).

Musical Chairs can be called “Flying Jets” for an Airplane Party, or “Moo-sical Chairs” for a Farm Party with the children mooing like cows as the music plays.

Duck, Duck Goose can be called “Monkey, Monkey, Tiger” for a Jungle Animals Party. And Simon Says can be called “The Conductor Says” for a Train Party.

Paid entertainers like pony rides or a magician can add excitement to the party activities. Rental companies offer a variety of moon bounces that you can rent for the day. Include some quiet activities to bring the energy level down or to include shy guests. Try coloring pages that match the party theme and craft projects.

A piñata to match the party theme is always popular with children. They love both the pull-string type (which is for younger children) and breaking one open with a bat. We usually need to help empty the contents of the piñata once it’s been broken. Have little bags for each child to hold the treats they pick up.

Click here for our complete list of party games by age, craft suggestions and lots more.