Kids' birthday party time
Birthday parties today can strike fear into the hearts of mortal parents. One merely needs to glance at the party section of Bub Hub or the classifieds of a local children's newspaper to see that the birthday party craze is in full swing. The decadent parties held for some children can make others of us feel, well, on the verge of a nervous breakdown!
But birthday parties should not be about competing. They should simply be about celebrating another year and your child having fun with their friends. I've seen some extreme parties, ranging from renting out a whole movie theatre to one with entertainers - everything from magicians to balloon sculpturists plus a bouncy castle (all at one party)! Oh, and please don't forget the party bags that look more like shopping bags and include vouchers as well as T-shirts - certainly not the little lolly bags we grew up with.
Despite having attended parties with this type of indulgence, my children always want a party at home. About a month before the celebratory date, the birthday cake books are dug out and scoured for the special cake that will determine the party's theme this year. Planning the party allows us to spend valuable time together, teaches the children about organisation and is just plain fun. Once the theme is settled on we run with it. Food, games, decorations and party bags all evolve out of it.
SET THE THEME
If your imagination lets you down there's no need to buy an expensive book on the subject. A Google search for "children's birthday party ideas" will result in a plethora of websites (don't leave out the quotes as that helps to make sure your search is for sites that include that exact term and will save you weeding out unrelated sites).
TO CATER FOR PARENTS OR NOT?
Well, at the ripe old age of one, most children do not have friends that they interact with, so this party is often more of a gathering of family and friends than a child-oriented party. In this case, I would cater for parents with food and drink, including alcohol if you have an afternoon bash and it is acceptable within your social circle.
Parties for two-year-olds often revolve around family and those met at playgroups but the kids prefer parallel play. In this case, it is up to you whether the party will be child focused or more of a gathering. If you go for child focused I'd have food for both the kids and their parents but no alcohol. A social gathering would be treated it in the same way as the one-year-old's party.
Once children hit three they are more involved in interactive play and do have friends or at least children they prefer to socialise with. So from this age on you could focus on the kids but provide food and non-alcoholic drinks for the adults.
And if you're wondering whether parents need to attend, the answer is a resounding yes - for your peace of mind! Small children who are in a strange house could experience anxiety that the host may not be able to alleviate. Unchaperoned toddlers can be a recipe for disaster as tears and tantrums are never far from the surface! It would seem that once children are in kindergarten it would be alright as they are used to being more independent and spending an entire day away from home with minimal supervision.
GUEST NUMBERS & TIMING
I have read about the concept of the child's age plus one as a good rule of thumb for the guest list, but I find that it's too small for the younger kids that way. Ten to 12 is a good number as it is a small enough group to control and cater for but large enough to allow for interaction and game playing. Let your child assist in choosing the guests. If they are too small to do so, ask the preschool teacher which kids your child enjoys interacting with.
With timing, two hours is about right. The first 15 minutes is usually a settling in time and you will most likely be awaiting late arrivals. Thirty minutes of games should tire everyone out. Follow this with a food break then a few more games. Next it's time for cake and party bags. If the party is organised well, the time will fly and it will be over before you know it.
You'll also find that late morning parties that last through lunchtime work well for a few reasons. The children aren't too tired, a meal during the party breaks it up, and you aren't feeding the children chips and lollies just before dinner.
In this modern world, one must decide whether to have a gift registry or not. There are pros and cons to this, and ultimately only you can decide what is right for you and your child. Some people find gift registries useful as it makes choosing a gift easy and parents of the birthday child say they are especially helpful for friends and relatives who don't see the child regularly. Others think they are tacky at the best of times and that it is downright rude to register for children. If you feel this way, you obviously won't have one!
If you choose to have one, there are many Australian sites where one can create a child's gift registry so just have a look on the web or check with your favourite store.
Invitations can take a variety of forms. Send them out about three weeks in advance. Digital cameras and printers make it easy to create invitations at home and saves you having to write out all the details by hand!
A photo of your child dressed up for the theme is simple and appropriate. Or you could make pirate invitations with the words "Ahoy there me hearties! You are invited to Captain xxx's birthday bash" by printing on paper that's been soaked in tea water. Roll it up and tie with a ribbon - you could even put it in a bottle for delivery! Alternatively, simply type in the details and add a bit of clipart that matches the theme.
Traditional party food is always a hit and can even be created to match your theme. For a butterfly party, use a butterfly-shaped biscuit cutter to cut out sandwiches to look like butterflies, or rectangular biscuits with red, green and yellow M&M's stuck on with frosting would be a traffic light for a car party. Green cordial can become turtle juice for little Ninja Turtles or red cordial can be nectar for butterflies. A mix of healthy food and party treats is a good idea and you might be surprised at how many kids choose water over fizzy drinks!
Streamers, balloons and a birthday banner form the basis, and the amount of time you have will determine the rest. Whilst helium balloons look nice, they aren't a necessity. Blown-up balloons tied together in bunches with ribbons can do the job admirably well. Cups and plates can match the theme in style or colour. A soccer party just needs black and white with a few witches' hats. There are plenty of party shops around, but Big W and Kmart along with Sam's Warehouse also carry birthday party goods these days.
GAMES TO PLAY
Children relish familiarity, so they do enjoy traditional games such as pass the parcel, pin the tail on the donkey and musical statues. Plus it's fun to throw in some new games that are associated with your theme as well. Different ages have varying needs:
- ONE-YEAR-OLDS are too young for games so I would give them a miss with this age group. If you invite a lot of one-year-olds to the party, make sure the beginning walkers are safe by blocking off any stairs and so forth. Renting a ball pit might be a nice change of pace and something the kids would enjoy.
- TWO-YEAR-OLDS prefer playing on their own so it's best to put out lots of toys and just let them go. You might want to consider borrowing some toys from friends or renting a few from a toy library. Search the toy libraries in your state by using the links at the base of this article for more information. An up-and-down rollercoaster is a sure hit with this age group! Put toys on mats in different areas and the children will wander between them. For example, dolls in one area, cars in another, animals else-where and so forth.
- THREE AND FOUR-YEAR-OLDS will enjoy a few games but the less structured the better. As some will have been to preschool they do have a basic understanding of taking turns. Make sure everyone gets a turn and don't force children to participate if they don't want to. Go for a few longer-lasting games than many games that are over so quickly the kids don't get to enjoy them.
- Duck, duck, goose is always a fun one. Simply change the game to suit your theme, for example: soccer, soccer, goal or fairy, fairy, wand. The kids also enjoy musical statues, and for four-year-olds, pass the parcel and pin the tail on the donkey, but don't be too strict! Blindfolding is enough - no need to spin children around at this age. Simple games are often the best as too many rules can muddle little ones up.
- CHILDREN TURNING FIVE will either be in kindergarten or preschool so there will be a range of maturity levels. All of the games mentioned above would still be appropriate. Try a treasure hunt to find the party bags. Let the children look together in a large group and leave visual clues for the next location rather than words as many five-year-olds cannot read fluently. A sporting party might include some goal kicking, while a pirate party could have children walk to a finish line holding a cannon ball (black balloon) between their legs. Again, keep it simple, limit games to four or five and leave plenty of time for free play.
At parties for three-to-five-year-olds, quiet activities are good for settling-in time and for children to take a break from all the chaos. An area with playdough, photocopied pages for colouring-in or a theme-related craft would be ideal. Borrowing books with a subject similar to the theme from your public library can help to settle the kids in between activities. Usually one game followed by a story helps to keep chaos at bay!
Now, if you have time and like to make cakes, you can use some of the great Women's Weekly cake books available for ideas or search the internet. Sara Lee slab cakes are helpful if time is short as you can decorate one but don't have to bake it. Use some of the beautiful cake decorations available at your local supermarket. Most of the party idea sites listed above have cake ideas, but for more ideas see:
coolest-birthday-cakes.com where all the cake ideas have been submitted by readers.
bettycrocker.com/baking/birthdays/ has some really cute ideas - especially for cupcakes.
If some of the decorations are from the US, you are sure to find similar items here. For those who don't wish to bake or just don't have the time, most bakeries can accommodate a variety of requests to fit in with your theme.
Try to think outside the box and avoid a plastic bag full of lollies and toys that will break within minutes. Decide on a price limit (a few dollars a child is really sufficient) and see what you can come up with. A blow-up beach ball or bucket and spade for a summer party, a book related to the theme, princess dress-up gear for a princess party, a sports ball (you can get them reasonably on sale at department stores such as Kmart), plastic jungle animals for an animal party, or five-year-old girls might really like a beading kit. Don't hand them out until the children are leaving or they might go missing, resulting in floods of tears.
Don't forget the thank-you notes. A simple idea is to have your child paint some large sheets of paper before the party. You only need to cut them out, fold them in half and write the note. It's nice to try to mention the specific present and doesn't take that much time. Alternatively a picture of the gift giver could be placed on the cover of the card and might be a nice keepsake.
So, go on, have fun. After all, your child only has a birthday once a year so why settle for memories of just the party day when you can provide a lot more by letting them not just enjoy the day, but plan and prepare with you?