10 Easy Steps to Success for Kids Birthday Parties
Kids birthday parties: A real mum's guide to success in 10 easy steps.
As mums (and dads) we have to wear many hats: nurse, school teacher, mentor, therapist, entertainer, coach, taxi driver, chef... you get the idea. But there's one hat namely 'party organiser' that can send shivers down the spines of all of us whose other job title isn't 'Event Planner'. And when you think that the majority of us have two kids or more that can add up to quite a few birthday parties.
When I was a young 80's child, birthday parties went something like this. Ready-made invites were purchased from the local newsagent and sent out. A couple of weeks later your friends (with presents in tow) arrived on your doorstep. They were warned to behave and kissed goodbye and would later be picked up after a few hours of fun, fairy bread, Cheezels, red cordial, chocolate crackles and usually some sort of reincarnation (in my case they were exact replicas - the result of having a perfectionist, crafty mum!) of a birthday cake your mother made following the directions set out in the Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake book. Party entertainment consisted of a few games like 'Pin The Tail On The Donkey', 'Musical Chairs' and 'Pass The Parcel'. At the end of the party you would thank your friend for coming, hand them a lolly bag filled with all sorts of sugary, food coloured-laden sweets that was sure to keep them on a sugar high for hours to come.
'...your friends (with presents in tow) arrived on your doorstep. They were warned to behave and kissed goodbye and would later be picked up after a few hours of fun, fairy bread, Cheezels, red cordial, chocolate crackles...'
Ah the memories... Fast forward to today and it's VERY different. With so many options now available how can you give your child that awesome birthday party to remember without going crazy or necessarily spending a small fortune?
Ok so where do you start? Firstly take a deep breath... Now go make yourself a cuppa and remember it's just a party. Before we get stuck into it, I wanted to take a moment to mention what I try and remind my young brood. I explain to them that it is not their right to have a huge over-the-top party every year. Having a party is a privilege that they should be very grateful for however large or small the celebration is. There are many children in the world that aren't as lucky as they are and go hungry or without every day including their birthday. I think it's important as adults that we keep that in perspective too.
Also, my husband and I agreed from the outset that our kids would not have a big bash every single year. It doesn't mean however that their coming of age goes unnoticed - we have a small get together with family and cut a cake to celebrate the occasion and make them feel special on their important day. Having taken this approach means that when they do have that bigger celebration we can afford to do more and it's actually appreciated. It's just a matter of managing their expectations.
Ok so what are these 10 steps I hear you ask? Let's start from the beginning...
Step 1. It's all in the planning.
I'm a person who loves lists and pretty much needs lists to survive the day-to-day. Lists help me identify what individual tasks need to be completed to reach the end goal, in this case a successful party. By dividing your tasks into things that need to be completed by a certain time will help you manage the whole process, alleviate stress and ensure a critical element is not overlooked. If you search online you can find an array of 'Party To Do Lists' you can print out and use. A great example of one can be found here.
Budget - It is at this planning stage that you should determine the budget for the party and stick to it.
Guest list - Linked to the budget is working out the number of guests to be invited and who to invite. For a first birthday you may want to invite family and friends. As children get older they may want their preschool or school friends. A good rule of thumb identified by Lana Hallowes at Kidspot is that the number of guests should be the age of your child plus one once your child is aged three and over.
Date - Most of us like to have parties on the weekend. It works better for younger children and family can attend but you need to keep in mind that guests can have sporting or religious commitments. After school parties can work well for older children or when it's a busy time of year.
Party start time - If you are planning to serve a main meal it is recommended to start your party in line with traditional meal times i.e. between 11am to 12.30pm or 5pm to 6:30pm. If you are planning on serving snacks and cutting the cake then have your party start two hours before or one hour after traditional meal times.
Duration - Generally for children under seven a 1.5 to 2-hour party is sufficient for the children and their parents! Older kids can cope with slightly longer parties. The crew at Bubhub recommend working out a running sheet for timings of things to occur to keep you on track.
Location - Having your party at home allows you flexibility and is generally less expensive than hiring a venue. You'll have the fridge, oven and toilet handy BUT not all of us have the space at home. Hiring a local church or council hall are options at a fee. Parties at local parks are great however you need to have a back-up plan in case of the weather. If budget allows hiring a venue with a party room can be exciting and makes your job a whole lot easier. Party packages often include catering and a party host.
Step 2. Know your target market.
Don't freak out if you are sitting there thinking this is sounding more like a marketing plan than a guide to organising kids parties. What I mean here is that identifying who the party is for is critical as this will dictate most other decisions going forward. A party for a four year old boy is going to be a lot different to that for a tween girl by way of invitees, themes, venues, party time and duration, entertainment and catering.
When it comes to the younger ones, as their parent you are the one most likely to have any idea of their likes. Are they obsessed with Queen Elsa from Frozen? Does your little guy love superheroes? When it comes to the older children you can involve them more in the planning but ensure you limit their choices. Instead of asking them what sort of party they would like, give them two to three options they can choose from that will adhere to your budget.
Step 3. What about a theme?
Here's where you can get really creative and are only limited by your imagination. Personally I believe having a theme however overt or subtle really brings the party together and can make your choices for party supplies, decorations, food and entertainment easier. Social media enables us to share our creativity and a simple online search will return all matter of theme ideas. Popular choices for the younger ones will of course include Frozen, Princess Parties, Superheroes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles etc and it is easy to find a stack of ready-made party supplies. To tie in with the theme you can hire character entertainers that will come to your party - taking it to the next level.
If you want to scale things back even applying a simple colour scheme can be really effective.
Step 4. Invitations.
I'm a sucker for a gorgeous invitation and it's really the first time guests get an idea of a possible theme to the party. These days you can hand make them (there are a stack of free printable templates online too), purchase ready-made invites, some party venues provide invites and if budget allows custom printed and personalised (this last option will need to be ordered usually around six weeks before the party).
Make sure all the details on the invite are correct, including the birthday child's name, the party start and finish time and be specific regarding the venue name and address. It is wise to add the word 'sharp' after the party start time if the party needs to start precisely on time. Also note if there are any special requirements for attendees. I always include an RSVP date of about 7 to 10 days before the party date alongside my name and mobile number using the following format 'RSVP by 22 October to Belinda on [phone number]'.
One last point on invitations...While I have enjoyed channeling my inner crafty/designy goddess to produce some pretty damn good invites, I have also had to resort to sending invites (on more than one occasion mind you) via text message. That's not so bad is it?
Step 5. The party entertainment.
Now for the fun part. Party entertainment is an essential component of a successful party. Organising a bunch of kids to come over and expecting them to just play by themselves simply won't happen. Some form of adult organised entertainment is required otherwise you will have bored, upset children who are likely to get up to mischief.
Traditional party games like 'Pass The Parcel' or 'Musical Chairs' work well with younger children who are learning about these games for the first time. Jumping castles, craft activities and face painting are also fun, affordable options. It is important that the number of games or activities is managed well - too many can be overwhelming for the children and the adults charged with running them!
Sometimes however the best solution is to leave it to the professionals and hire the entertainment. The birthday child and their friends are kept busy with engaging, fun activities and the parents get to have a breather for a while. A popular choice, entertainers bring excitement and thrills to the party. Some bring prizes for games and party packages can include loot bags too. There are many fantastic options out there to suit all likes and budgets, whether it's for a girl's party, boy's party or a mixed crowd.
Recently my sister was stuck and I offered to drop off her ten year old daughter to her friend's birthday party. Woah was I SUPER jealous as I herded my three boys back into the car having left her in capable hands and about to enjoy a high tea and pampering.
When I returned to pick her up she was so excited to show me her painted nails and glitter and didn't stop talking about how awesome the pamper party was. Lucky her!
For younger girls an affordable option can be to have a princessgram visit. Kidspamperparties.com.au offer a range of princesses to make any little girl's dream come true. Choose from Disney favourites such as Queen Elsa, Princess Anna, Snow White, Aurora, Cinderella and Belle.
If you have a mixed crowd, what about karaoke, a disco or a photo booth?
Step 6. Party food and drink.
A great tip from Louise Fulton Keats author of 'The Best Ever Birthday' and contributor at Essential Kids is to have a freezer/fridge/pantry full of food ready to go. This needs planning but most party food can be prepared ahead of time saving you work on the party day. Serving a mixture of savoury and sweet, including some novelty food will cater to all tastes too. Menu suggestions include homemade sausage rolls, mini hotdogs, chicken wingettes, fun vegetable platters, fresh fruit skewers, pretty cupcakes and jelly cups. For more party food ideas you can click here.
Now if you are short on time, talent or desire outsourcing some or all of the catering may be the way to go. Ordering pizzas, BBQ chickens and hot finger food can ease the strain especially when you have larger crowds. On the sweeter side, cupcakes, cake pops or candy buffets are a popular addition to any party.
Having fun can be thirsty work. A cold drink urn is a great way to allow guests to keep hydrated and saves wastage.
Step 7. The Birthday Cake.
Do you or don't you make the cake? Unless you are a professional baker you may not feel confident in making the birthday cake however, by keeping it simple and knowing your limitations you can create something gorgeous to be proud of. Cake mix, coloured Smarties, M&Ms or freckles, coloured icing and silver cachous are easy to work with and look great. Do as I have in the past and raid your child's toy box for figurines to be used as cake toppers (make sure you wash them first before use).
A great tip from the team at Kidspot is to bake then freeze the cake un-iced as it is easier to work with a semi frozen cake and there will be less crumbs!
For more homemade birthday cakes ideas to impress visit babyology.com.au
For something really simple check out this no bake snake cake made using ready-made sponge rollettes.
If you decide that it's probably best to order a cake make sure this is done 1-2 weeks prior. Ice cream cakes are nice in the hotter months but remember they will need to be kept frozen until cake cutting and this may not be suitable if your party venue isn't at home.
Step 8. Don't forget the adults.
Until your little one turns eight it is highly likely that one or sometimes two parents will be sticking around for the duration of the party. Set up a separate table or section of a table out of harm's way for tea/coffee and 'adult' drinks.
I like to also consider the adults when it comes to menu items. Some suggestions include cheese and dip platters, hot food platters and cut sandwiches. The parents can then help themselves leaving you free to manage other things. Seating for adults is something that needs thought too as it can be uncomfortable having to stand for any length of time.
Often parents are willing to help out so delegate tasks to any volunteers. Ask a friend if they wouldn't mind taking photos. Other parents can be in charge of organising different games. You can return the favour when it's their child's party.
Why not involve the adults in the fun too with a lucky door prize or guessing competition just for them!
Step 9. Opening presents.
Save yourself stress and confusion and sometimes even tears by making it a rule to leave the present opening until after the party. Always make a point of reading the card with your child before unwrapping the gift. I like to get someone (if it's not me) to write the contents of the gift on the back of the card so I know who gave what.
Step 10. Show your appreciation.
Loot/Goody bag - When my children come home from a party I literally head straight to my rubbish bin and throw away pretty much most of the lollies. Party pooper I may be, but there are so many non lolly fillers available now that won't prompt an appointment to the dentist. What I tend to do is keep the lolly ratio low, add a plain packet of potato chips, popcorn or plain biscuits (these bulk up the bag) and a non-food item or two such as a toy or stationery. Two dollar shops and discount departments stores have heaps of items to fit your theme and budget. Reflecting the theme will make it truly memorable. For example a teenage girl's pamper party goody bag could include a lip gloss or nail polish. As mentioned previously, some party venues or hired entertainment provide loot bags saving you the hassle.
Saying 'Thank You' - Manners are important in my books. As well as showing appreciation by saying thank you and providing loot/goody bags you may like to consider writing a thank you note to be sent out a week or so after the party. If you want to keep things a little more casual sending a brief 'thank you' text message from the birthday girl or boy is a nice gesture too.
More tips from real mums...
Well we have come to the end of the 10 steps. I hope this guide has been helpful in planning your child's next party. Keep reading below for some other great tips:
- If you are running a party on a budget, check out this interesting article - 7 Tips to Plan a Birthday Party on a Budget
- What Makes A Kid’s Birthday Party Great? - 10 Elements Of A Successful Kid’s Birthday Party
- Make sure you have bins or tubs set up for rubbish. Mark one for 'rubbish' the other for 'recycling'.
- Have a caddy, box or basket handy containing facial tissues, anti-bac wipes, sunscreen, insect repellant, antiseptic cream, band aids and a few hair elastics.
- If parents are dropping off children ensure you have their contact details in case of an emergency.
- Use a balloon pump to blow up balloons. I bought mine from a local party supplies shop for less than $5.
- If the party isn't at home pack a large box or extra large bags to make it easier to bring the presents home.
Resources and Acknowledgements
Invitation image – source Milly Boo Designs https://www.facebook.com/MillyBooDesigns
Disney CARS cake image – source Corrine's Cakes https://www.facebook.com/Corinnescakes.com.au