Being organised and putting some time and energy into planning the party can make the difference between ending the day in smiles or tears, and we don't just mean your child's!
Parties can be fun or they can turn into all out competitions between parents, leaving little thought to what the children actually want. Sit down with your child and discuss it, but always remember to have a few realistic suggestions up your sleeve in case you need to curb their enthusiasm or imagination.
Planning a children's party
Below you'll find our favourite things to keep in mind when planning a party for our little ones. Jump to each section using these links:
This can be a stressful item on the list for parents for two reasons. One, money might be tight but you don't want your child to know, or two, there is a big competition between parents in your child's class to put on the best party and outdo each other.
Both of these issues can be avoided if you set a budget and obtain your child's input. Make sure you propose a list of activities that are within your budget and let them choose. As long as they are having fun, they are not likely to notice if you bought table cloths at John Lewis or Asda, they'll both look the same by the time the kids are through with them!
Secondly remember it's a party and you don't have to compete with anyone, take the pressure off yourself!
Set a date
Between busy schedules and other children's birthday parties, it can be difficult to find a date when all of your child's friends are free. So the first thing to do, a few months in advance, is decide on a date for the party.
Sending out invitations 4-6 weeks before the event usually ensures a good turnout, as well as less chance of their BEST friend having other plans. You could even send out a save the date email, well in advance if you want to be sure.
Some schools also have rules about not holding parties on certain days, definitely worth investigating before you set a date! It's also a good idea to avoid school holidays as many people will be away.
If you need to book a venue or an activity, it helps to do so in advance to avoid disappointment. Popular venues will book up fast, so avoid disappointment and scrambling by making sure you book in advance.
If you know someone else in your child's circle of friends has a similar birthday, why not discuss having a joint party? Remember to check that your child is still friends with the other child and that as parents you have similar planning styles or this won't work! This is a good way to cut your budget in half as well.
Set a time
Deciding how long the party should last can be difficult, and will be dependent on the age of children and the activities planned but as a guide, parties should last about 2 hours. This is long enough for the kids to have fun and not run out of steam or get bored.
As kids get older and they want to do something more adventurous like have a sleep over, remember you have a lot more hours to fill, so plan your activities accordingly. Not everyone needs to be entertained all the time, but you'll be amazed at how much more smoothly your party runs if you have enough planned to keep everyone occupied!
Depending on the age of your child, some schools have rules that the whole class needs to be invited up to a certain age. Check into this before you start to plan so that you don't get a big surprise at the end! It's also good to include all the children so no one feels left out.
When they get older, another way to look at the guest list is one friend per year!
Decide if you are expecting parents to stay or drop and run! This will make a difference to the amount of food you need to prepare, and the number of extra hands you might need. As a rule, you can assume if a child is under 5 their parents will stay, over 5 it becomes less clear, so make sure you ask OR make a note on your invitations that states either way.
Siblings is a sticky matter. Strictly speaking the invitation is for the one child, unless specified, but you will have some parents who ask if they can bring brothers and sisters. While a little cheeky, expect this and plan on a few extra children for whatever activity you are planning, for the amount of food you prepare and always have a few extra party bags on hand.
Make sure you have enough adult helpers to make things run smoothly. An extra pair of hands never goes astray!
Whether you're posting, hand delivering or emailing invitations, make sure to include the following details:
- Name of Birthday Party Child - Make sure you include your child's surname in case there is more than one Adam or Emma in the class
- Day & Date of Party - Good to include both, just in case!
- What time the Party will Start & Finish - Unless you want to be dealing with stragglers at both ends, make this clear!
- Where the Party is going to be held - The more information you include here the less questions you will need to answer. If you are emailing, why not attach a Google map
- Don't forget to put an R.S.V.P on the invitation with your telephone number or email address - A telephone number is a good idea in case there are any issues on the day
- Include an RSVP date - Don't give parents too long to respond as they are likely to add it to the to-do pile.
Make sure if it's fancy dress you let people know on the invitation. It's never fun to be the child who doesn't show up in costume!
Theme for the party
A theme is an easy way to start your planning, and to help you make your list. Having a theme will help you decide what decorations you need, what activities you can adapt and what entertainment is needed, if any.
Party themes can be anything from a garden party to a full on pirate invasion. As children get older they may be influenced by a TV show or film they have seen. Try to avoid doing something just because someone else in their class or their best friend did it as you'll either surpass it or it won't measure up. Either way someone is going to feel pretty lousy!
Some of the themes we've tried and tested include:
- Super heroes
- Toy Story
Other themes have been dictated by the locations we've booked and while this can be an added cost, it can also take a load of stress off you on the day, as there are usually staff on hand to help and the majority of the party is taken up by the activity.
Some of our favourites are:
- Swimming pools
- Skating rinks
- Cooking classes
- Pottery classes
- Soft Play Centres
If you need to find some local venues and entertainment options why not use netmums or mumsnetlocal? They are great resources for everything in your local area.
In the images throughout this article you'll see an example of how far you can take a theme! Combining homemade elements and store bought accessories, Janine prepared a construction themed party for her son Easton's 2nd Birthday party. As you can see, it's only your imagination and time that will stop you!
The food you need to organise will depend on the time of day you hold the party. Although every party needs some level of party food!
Of course you'll have a cake, or cupcakes to finish things off, but when it comes to the main course, keep it simple and balanced. Finger foods are simple and they usually go down well, just make sure you have a healthy option to go with it. Not every child will be content with crisps and pizza, although most of them will! Based on the sugar they are likely to consume, it's important to get some savoury items into them first - if you want to limit the insanity later!
It's a good idea to ask on the invitation if there are any allergies. It's not worth the risk! If you haven't asked be on the safe side, and leave anything with nuts or seafood (i.e. fish fingers) off the menu.
Make sure you have enough food, running out is not an option! Better to have leftovers as hungry children = grumpy children. An extra bag of crisps or cheese strings could be a life saver on the day!
When it comes to drinks, some parents are dead set against their children having fizzy drinks, some object to juice. So it's good to think about options. Having some bottled water as an alternative, or sticking to sugar-free squash can eliminate this conundrum.
Food is another area where you can carry on your theme, cutting sandwiches into shapes or buying a cookie cutter can turn a traditional cheese sandwich into the bat signal or dancing shoes. Or as Janine has demonstrated, everything from tool inspired shapes to serving snacks out of construction vehicles.
If parents are staying it might be worth thinking about a few adult nibbles as well.
Some of our favourite party foods are:
- Pizza triangles
- Simple sandwiches
(ham, cheese and peanut butter and jam)
- Vegetables and dip
- Cheese and crackers
- Fruit kebabs or dried fruit
- Biscuits, and of course CAKE!
Entertainment can be tricky and expensive. The first decision is: are you doing it yourself or are you hiring someone to do it for you? Obviously doing it yourself is cheaper, but hiring someone for an hour or two can reduce the hassle and eliminate a desire to pull out your hair.
If you are going to do it yourself, make sure you have LOTS planned, it's amazing how short attention spans equate to short games, and unless you are lucky and have a lot of garden space, you'll need to be organised. This is where a theme can come in handy.
Changing traditional games to suit your theme can be fun and entertaining. Depending on the age of your child, musical chairs can become musical manhole covers, or lily pads. Pin the tail on the donkey becomes pin the wings on the fairy or you can bob for golden pirate treasure (aka apples), pass the parcel or in moments of sheer madness sleeping lions! Your own creativity is the only limit here. Remember that if the game you are playing eliminates children, you'll need to entertain the ones that are out! Having a small prize for everyone who plays tends to avoid tears as well.
If you've decided to bring in an entertainer, make sure you know what they need and have everything ready well in advance of their arrival. Nothing worse than a delay in the entertainment that could have been avoided.
Remember to check the references of any entertainer you hire, you don't want to find out they are a scam on the day while you have a room full of children looking forward to seeing Bobo the Clown. Or ask around and use someone who had been recommended by a friend.
Some of our favourite entertainers have been:
- Punch and Judy Show
- Face painters (while you can do it yourself, you'll need a lot of practice to look professional!)
- Drama coach
- Sports coach
Gifts will be different in every circle of friends, but once you're in with the crowd you'll start to know how it works. In some circles everyone is expected to bring a gift, others may collect and buy one gift and others may give money to the child if you let them know they are saving for something special. There is no right or wrong so don't feel pressure to conform!
Traditionally in the UK, gifts are opened after the guests have gone home. But as cultures merge this is less clear, so it's up to you how you play it. If you do open them at the party, make sure you have an adult close at hand to write down who gave them what as gift tags and cards have a way of going walk about and trying to remember later is a logistical nightmare!
Thank you notes are a must, first of all it's polite and second of all it's a great habit to get your children into early in life. Recognising that someone has put thought into what they are going to give you and realising that they didn't have to! How you do this is up to you, and depends on how old your child is. We've found that writing them and having your child sign them can shorten the process. We've also had children draw a thank you card and colour copy it for a more personal thank you.
If you have opened the gifts at the party, and your child has said thank you to each child in person a more generic approach can be used where there is a thank you note included in the party bags.
Most people wonder how much they should spend on party bags and what should go in them.
It used to be simple, a few sweets in a bag and the children were satisfied, now it has become at risk of being sucked into "keeping up with the Jones" territory.
What you put in the bags is up to you and can go along with the theme, as Janine demonstrated it doesn't even have to be a bag!
Our suggestions on how to handle party bags:
- Set a total budget for party bags, this can be as low as £1 per bag - remember this is a thank you not a GIFT!
- Avoid any sweets or chocolate that contain nuts!
- Buy items in bulk and divide them between the bags. Things like wrapped sweets and chocolate work well for this
- Make the bags what you want them to be and don't get caught up in the competition!
In some instances the children will have made something at the party, from a decorated t-shirt, to a piece of pottery. In most cases this substitutes for a party bag as the children will be taking it home with them.
Think about the venue of your party, you don't want to have too many decorations, but you also don't want to end up with blank walls and tables.
Remember kids will inevitably make a mess, so don't pull out your coveted disco ball, or you'll spend the whole party wondering if it will survive! You can find some cool decorations online (don't forget to factor in delivery time - it's not good to leave this till the last minute), but you can also get everything you need for less than a tenner at Poundland.
Decorations can be as simple as balloons and streamers or as elaborate as wall displays and replicas, just remember to stick to your budget.
In the current climate of Facebook and sharing files, a lot of parents are nervous about having images of their children appear online. Some will be reticent towards having cameras around their kids.
To save yourself a headache later, it's a good idea to find out, in advance, if there are any issues.
Put parents minds at ease by letting them know you will only post images of your own child on social networking sites.
If we can impart a few final words of wisdom, it's PLAN, don't wait till the last minute and remember it's JUST A PARTY!