As adults, the fun and enjoyment of hosting or being a guest at a party gives us drive to make it through the working week, looking forward to the weekend event with much excitement.
To some of us, having a dinner party with eight friends over is a breeze. For others, we would rather run a marathon!
But once you become a mum, we all—at some stage—need to dig deep into the closet, dust off and firmly put on our event organiser’s hat.
For the average mum of two children, you are probably going to have to arrange at least 25 birthday parties by the time your children are 13, that is, if you believe that every birthday is special and should be celebrated with a bang, complete with all the bells, whistles and frosting imaginable.
To help you to plan your next children’s birthday bash, whether for a one-year-old or a 13-year-old, we’ve put together a kids’ birthday party checklist to make it easier than whipping cream.
About 4-6 weeks before:
Work out how much you want to spend on the party before you do anything else and try your best to stick to it.
Most people like to have a party on a weekend, but if it is a busy party time of year, you may have to consider having it after school/preschool instead.
The time of your party
This will depend on the age of your child and their current sleep pattern (if applicable). For children under 8, a 2-hour party is usually long enough for both the children and the parents. For children aged 3 and under, you could even look at less time. And remember to check what your guests have planned and work in with that, if possible, e.g. sports or religious commitments.
A theme for the party
Best to let your little one tell you what they would like and work from there. Many will choose their favourite character (Elmo, Dora the Explorer, Bob the Builder, My Little Pony, etc.) and you will be amazed at how easy it will be to find all the party supplies you need, including invitations, themed appropriately. Others might just want a theme such as underwater, pirate or fairy, etc., and this means your imagination can run wild with what you do.
This can be a toughy! The easiest in terms of your organising is to have it at your house where your kitchen, fridge, and bathroom are handy, but not all of us want to have 15 children under 5 racing through the ensuite, playing hide and seek, do we? You could look at a local park (make sure it has toilet facilities), a local hall, or even a venue that has party rooms, with many of these offering to cater for you for a fee.
The guest list
Work closely with the birthday girl/boy on this, firstly deciding on the number that are to come, and then whom. Some parties seem to have all the children of the class invited, and if you are happy to do this, great. But if you prefer something smaller, both for financial reasons and for more of an intimate gathering, set the number low and perhaps look at emailing or posting the invitations so that classmates not invited won’t get offended. A good rule of thumb is to invite a friend for each year of their age, e.g. a 2-year-old would have two friends come to her/his party; a 6-year-old would have six friends come to his/her party.
These can be handmade or purchased, even affordably custom printed and personalised for that extra special touch. Remember to be clear on the invitations of the party start and finish times, and whether or not parents are expected to stay (parties seem to be of a more drop-off nature around 6 years).
In theory, it all seems easy. Your child’s friends come over for playdates and seem to play quite happily together when it is just them. But once you have a group, the dynamics change dramatically. At this point, you will find that adult organised games are the key to ensuring everyone gets their time with birthday person.
Also, unless you are preschool teacher by choice, you will find this task bigger than you imagined, even though it is only for a couple of hours. That, coupled with getting the children fed and the cake ready at the right time, is enough to bring down even the most organised parent! I think you see my point. So, some form of entertainment is always a good idea — a clown with tricks, a fairy doing face painting, a super hero, jumping castles, animal farms … the list is endless! Do your homework and check prices before you book. Many of these businesses are booked well ahead so once you’re sure who you want, make the booking. Again, remember to work within your budget.
At the end of the day, party food is pretty easy, but you do need to remember to be creative and have some fun with it. It is a party for kids, after all! Don’t overload the children with sugar or they will run around like headless chickens, which is probably not the farm theme you had in mind. Try to offer a range of foods, including fresh fruit and vegetables, and make sure you check if any of the guests have any allergies: nuts, gluten, lactose, etc. Warm options are ideal in the cooler months, but check the food is not too hot when you serve it that it might burn them. If you don’t feel confident enough to handle the food side of things, there are professional kid’s party catering businesses that will make it all come together hitch free and with a third of the effort or stress you will put yourself through.
About 2 weeks from the big day
Have a Plan-B
Work out a wet-weather alternative, if you need to, and let parents know either the night before or on the day (with as much notice as possible) if there is a venue change. You might like to make mention that you will contact them at a certain time on the invite so they can look out for that phone call, text message, or email.
Confirm any bookings you’ve made (caterers, venues, entertainers) and make sure you have paid any necessary deposits, etc.
Work out with an adult guest — ideally a steady handed one — if they would be able to be the official photographer of the party. That way, you won’t miss any magic moments when you’re busy in the kitchen. Give them a list of shots you would like, e.g. blowing out the candles, playing a certain game.
The week of the party
Head off to the supermarket and grab everything you need. Remember that if the adults are staying, you may need to think about adult food. Most parents these days do not expect anything special but if you’ve got grandparents or elderly relatives coming, they usually like to eat something other than fairy bread with their cup of tea. If you’re having the party in a local park or playground, contact a mobile coffee van and tell them where and when your party is so that they can turn up. That way, you’ll keep the adults happy too — just pre-warn them to bring loose coins.
Make the cake
If making the cake yourself, you can bake it and freeze it uncut.
Make up the Goody Bags for each child to take home with them and remember to make a couple of extras for younger siblings who might be at the party, although not officially on the guest list. Rather than filling the bags with lollies, you could do something different like follow the theme of the party: novelty items such as magic tricks, pencils with animals on top, porcelain fairies, stretchy animals, some simple painted shells with their names painted on will be treasures forever and won’t break the bank. If the budget allows, think of giving something really different like a garden set, complete with kids’ gloves, tools and seedlings, or a kids’ cooking set with apron, cookbook and some biscuit cutters! Very stylish.
If you haven’t got any help coming, organise the games you will be playing and get all the pieces ready. Pass the Parcel, Pin the Beard on the Pirate, Samantha Says… there are a myriad of games you can adapt to work in with your theme. At a party, even most boys will get into the craft act – decorating balloons and even their own Goody Bag are all perfect ways to make your party unique and memorable.
Work out a running sheet for timing of things – and be exact.
Night before / day of the party
Put up all the party decorations — it’s a good idea to invite some adult help to blow up all the balloons, or at least invest in a reliable balloon pump!
Decorate the cake
Buy or decorate your cake. Make sure it is stored correctly before the party.
Set up a gift area near the entrance for presents to be placed.
Get contact numbers
If children are being dropped off, make sure you get a contact phone number for each parent just in case there’s an emergency. Yours won’t be the first party to have a broken bone or a bumped head, but it is better to be prepared.
Super, Super Important! Make sure the guest of honour has a good night’s sleep before the party. It is their special day so it is important that they are not stressed (which always ends in tears!) in the lead up to the party. Plus, you’ll be surprised to learn that most children are a little nervous, too, when they have a party, wondering if it will all be as wonderful as they hope.
Decide on when to open presents
Depending on your situation, it may be easier to open the gifts after the party, just so that your child doesn’t manically rip through paper and forget about the true meaning of why they are receiving such gorgeous gifts. If you have decided to open the gifts at the party, ask an adult to be the monitor so that you can keep track of who gave what by simply jotting on the back of the card what the present was.
A week after the party
Send out the thank-you cards
A good rule of thank-you card etiquette is that if your child opened the gift while the giver was there and they said thank-you at the time, you do not need to send a card.
If your child opened the present after the guests had left, a thank-you card is a really nice touch.
As with the invitations, you can buy these personalised or off the shelf, even in co-ordinating theme to the invitations. You can also consider hand-making the cards, although this does become harder to achieve time wise when you have more than one child. For younger children, you could put a hand or footprint on card (use non-toxic paint) and stick it to the front of a blank card. You could also look at using a photo taken on the day for the front of the card, perhaps of the child having fun at the party or even a group shot of all the guests on the front of the card as a really special memento for them to keep.
Grandparents and elderly aunts and uncles also usually appreciate a thank-you card, along with those who have sent a gift for the child without being a guest at the party. For these, it is a nice idea to include a photo of your child with the gift they received from that person.
So that’s it. Well done — the party is over for another year and having followed the Party Checklist, the event was a great success. Now all you have to deal with is finding the time to get through all those wonderful craft gifts your daughter received, or how to get all those balls your son received off the roof, as they always mysteriously end up there despite no-one owning up.
We won’t even go into how to get over finding that hidden pirate sword or fairy wand behind the cushion on the lounge when you least expect it!