One of the magical joys of childhood is celebrating your own birthday, and all that goes with it. For many years, this includes that special event known as "The Birthday Party". These three little words have been known to invoke terror or anxiety in many parents, and often make them feel overwhelmed. However, with some careful planning and organizing, contingency plans, and a sense of humor, you can plan a special day for your child that she will always remember. Start Planning Early.
Give yourself enough time to plan the party in a relaxed manner. If you start about 4 weeks ahead of time, you will have plenty of time, without feeling stressed. As I learned, however, there is such a thing as planning too early. The year my son was turning 4, he desperately wanted a "gym party", and had been talking about it for most of the year, and being the organized person I am, I had booked the gym, and had everything set several months in advance. About 3 ½ weeks before the party, my son announced, "I don't want a gym party, I want a Wizard of Oz party." The best laid plans... (In case you're wondering, yes, we did pull it off, including having Oz-themed decorations and favors shipped to us by a friend (UPS)
Get your child involved in the planning process. No doubt, he has some thoughts about the type of party he would like. Choose a theme. Get your child's input. Think about your child's favorite things/ heroes/games/hobbies as a starting point (dinosaurs, arts & crafts, ice skating, swimming, etc.) If the party reflects your child's interests, or hobbies, or personality, it can make the party more uniquely hers.
Decisions - Where will the party be held? Do you have the desire and the space to hold the party at home? There are benefits to a home party (no need to schlep things to the site, or lug all the presents back home; if you forgot to put something out, it's easy to correct; the environment is familiar, which may be comforting to a younger child; may be less expensive than renting space somewhere; etc.), but there are also liabilities (mess; space; may need to rent tables/chairs; etc.)
Who should you invite? The general rule of thumb is to invite one more guest than your child is old (i.e., 5 guests for a child's 4th birthday). However, as your child reaches school age, this becomes less practical as his circle of friends grows. Also, take into account the size of your party space. How many kids can you comfortably accommodate in your house or yard? How many kids can a potential off-site premises hold? Think carefully before you invite the entire class -- be sure your child can handle a group that large.
Spend some time in Cyberspace. There are a number of websites that provide soup-to-nuts party assistance (invitations, paper goods, favor bags, decorations, etc.). If you don't have time to run around to party stores, this might be a good option to consider.
Sending out invitations. Once you've established your theme, you can create or purchase invitations that are in sync with it, and start to build excitement. Plan to mail your invitations 2-3 weeks in advance. Be sure to put a date by which parents should RSVP. I'm always amazed how many people do not RSVP, but having a deadline helps minimize the number of follow-up phone calls you will have to make.
Unless you are inviting the entire class, splurge for stamps and mail the invitations, or drive them to the guest's home. A child who is not being invited, who then ends up hurt, inevitably sees invitations that are handed out in school.
Planning the menu. If you anticipate that parents will stay at the party with their children, plan to serve both adult food and "kid-friendly food". Determine if any of the attendees have any dietary requirements (i.e., food allergies, etc.). It's fun to make the food correspond to the theme. For example, at a fish-theme party, you might serve Goldfish crackers and blue Jell-O "aquariums" complete with gummy fish. Plan to shop for the food the week before the party to make sure everything you need is on hand.
Planning the events. Plan more games and activities than you think you need. This gives you flexibility if some games go faster than you anticipate, or if something fails to captivate the children's interest.
Contingency Plans. Is your party weather-dependent? Better have a back-up plan, just in case.
Goody bags. A good rule of thumb is to have several extra goody bags on hand for unexpected siblings who may show up. Consider whether to give one "nice" favor or a bunch of small, inexpensive items. Decide if the goody bags will consist of candy, toys or both. Again, it's fun to make the favors fit with the party theme.
Decorations. Determine the extent of the decorations, keeping in mind that a few balloons and streamers go a long way in making a room feel festive. Follow the chosen theme (i.e., skull and crossbones and parrots for a Pirate party) and purchase at least two weeks ahead of time, more if you are ordering by mail or on-line.
Off-site Locations. If you are planning to hold your party other than at home, keep in mind that popular sites book up, so be sure to reserve your party date and time well in advance. Determine if you provide food, or if the facility has a party menu from which to select food choices.
Determine if you need any rentals, and if so, reserve them.
Do you need extra help on the day of the party? If so, recruit some friends or relatives a couple of weeks ahead of time. Call a few days before to remind them.
The Day Before
- Write out a schedule of events.
- Decorate the party area.
- Check on food, including the birthday cake. (Bake and decorate the day before the party, or arrange bakery pick-up).
- Pick up rentals, if needed.
- Camera/extra film and/or camcorder. Be sure batteries are charged.
- If you hired an entertainer, be sure to stop at the bank for cash to pay her.
The Day of the Party
Walk through the plan of events with your child so there will be no surprises. Remind your child about manners (Thank you for coming to my party; introductions; thanks for the gift, etc.) If your child is going to open gifts at the party, you might want to role play how to act/what to say if he receives a gift he already has, receives a gift he doesn't like, or receives a duplicate gift at the party.
Be sure you have an activity planned to keep kids busy as they arrive, while you are waiting for the other guests.
Plan ahead regarding food. If things need to be heated or prepared, try to have another adult deal with this so you can enjoy the festivities with your child. Plan a few quiet games or activities for fast eaters.
Have your child distribute party favors, help guests get coats.
Make a list of each gift your child receives and whom it is from. Use this list for sending thank-you notes.
Best wishes for a relaxed, memorable party. Happy Birthday!