Birthday Party Organization 101
Birthday Party Organization: Birthday parties are similar to road trips in that getting there is half the fun. Choosing a theme, decorations, and activities makes the days leading up to the event feel like they are a part of the celebration. It doesn’t have to be extravagant kids will be content with a small party as long as they are made to feel special. Even a simple party necessitates planning; the sooner you begin, the sooner the excitement begins, and the fewer details you’ll have to iron out on the big day.
Include the birthday child in the planning process because he will most likely have ideas about the type of party he wants. Allow your child to choose the theme, assist you with shopping and decorating, and help you bake the cake. This helps to spread out the anticipation and keeps the focus on a couple of hours of a single day. Although it may be more efficient to do everything yourself, there is satisfaction in working with your child toward a significant goal. Plus, he’ll get to enjoy the magical day he helped plan with his friends.
Birthday Party Organization: Pre-Party Schedule
Six weeks before the party, decide on a theme, create a guest list, confirm the date with your child’s best friend, and reserve off-site space. Then, four weeks before the celebration, you’ll want to send out invitations, update the class list, and plan games, activities, and food.
Three weeks before the party, you’ll mail invitations, buy party supplies, start making homemade decorations and favors, and arrange for extra help if necessary. Purchase crafts supplies and favors one to two weeks before the event, create an activity schedule, make samples of planned crafts, and contact guests who have not yet responded.
You’ll also need to do a few things the week before. Plan to buy the food three days before the party. You should bake the cake, decorate your home or gather off-site supplies one to two days ahead of time, and prepare make-ahead foods.
Birthday Party Organization: The Attendees
Before you set the date, make sure your child’s best friend is available. If you want to avoid hurt feelings, think “all”—all the kids, all the boys, or all the girls—when including classmates. If you’re not inviting many classmates, the general rule is to invite as many children as your child’s age plus one. However, consider the activities you intend to undertake. A larger, even number of kids—at least eight or ten—may be best for team games at a 5-year-party, old’s but a 7-year-sleepover olds may only require three guests.
Birthday Party Organization: Invitations
Three weeks before the party, send out invitations. Even if your child’s school allows it, it’s best not to distribute invitations on campus (many don’t unless the entire class is included). Children who are not invited are less likely to feel cheated. Include the date, location (with directions), drop-off and pick-up times, and an R.S.V.P. Indicate what to bring, such as a swimsuit and towel. Indicate whether you’ll be serving lunch or dinner. Mention a specific form of entertainment, such as a film. Call any parents who have not responded to your invitations by the week before the party; after all, invitations do get lost.
Birthday Party Organization: Recruiting Assistive Personnel
You can’t greet guests or cut the cake while supervising a game, so plan on having one helper for every four to six children. Ask other parents ahead of time for assistance, or hire a babysitter or older sibling.
Birthday Party Organization: Where to Get It
The birthday child is on his own turf at an at-home party, and you know exactly where to find everything. Define the party area with balloons and streamers, and close doors to other rooms, to keep kids from wandering around. Parks are ideal for warm-weather gatherings; however, have a backup plan in case of rain. Hang streamers or paper garlands between trees or along a fence. Cover the ground with colorful sheets or blankets. Clusters of bright balloons tied to thin wooden dowels stuck in the ground mark the party’s boundaries and blanket corners. Draping fabric over a tall fence or a clothesline creates a visually appealing backdrop for party photos.
Have you considered your community center, YMCA, or church? Prices vary by location, but are typically around $75 at a community center or $100 at a Y, with an hour of swimming included. Make your reservation at least six weeks in advance and request the name of a contact person. You may only have a limited amount of time to decorate a rented space, so use portable decorations and enlist the assistance of another adult or two. Before you arrive at the site, have all of the balloons inflated and strung together in groups. Hang decorations with non-scratch materials like low-tack tape, string, and removable self-adhesive hooks. Make a large room more inviting:
Birthday Party Organization: When Should You Use It?
Plan parties for young children when they will be at their best, not when they will be too sleepy or too hungry. Toddlers benefit from naptime, while preschoolers benefit from lunchtime. Timing becomes less important as children grow older. Don’t feel obligated to entertain for hours. Parties for toddlers and preschoolers should be kept to an hour and a half. For school-age children, two to three hours is sufficient.
Party Essentials for Children
Ages 1 to 2
Time of Day: Following nap time
1 hour in length
The number of guests varies.
3 to 4 years old
Lunchtime or later in the afternoon
1 to 1 1/2 hours in length
4 to 5 children are expected as guests.
5 to 6 years old
Early afternoon to mid-afternoon
1 1/2 to 2 hours in length
Guests expected: 6 to 7 hours
7 to 8 years old
Early afternoon to mid-afternoon
2 to 2 1/2 hours in length
8 to 9 children are among the guests.
9 to 10 years old
Time of Day: Late afternoon to early evening
2 1/2 to 3 hours in length
10 to 11 children are expected to attend.
What to Offer
It’s worth the effort to bake and decorate your child’s birthday cake (or cupcakes). Spend time on that, and then select other foods that are simple to serve, eat, and clean up. Having said that, even simple food can appear special. Here are some suggestions: Cut sandwiches into cute shapes with cookie cutters (crusts removed first), or cut them up into puzzle-like pieces with a knife. Snacks should be served in unusual containers. Hot dogs taste better served in paper boats, just like at the movies. Kids will enjoy being served punch from a fishbowl at a fishing-themed party.
Favors such as trinkets and candy are popular and inexpensive options. If you prefer, you can distribute a single larger favor, such as a board book for toddlers or a small flashlight for older children. Adapt the treats to the theme: For a tea party, you could give a teacup, an action figure for a character party, or a flowerpot and seeds for a garden party. Allow children to make their own party favors, such as an ice-dyed T-shirt, as one of the sensory activities. Decorate with items that guests can take home after the party, such as baseball posters or pennants for a baseball party. Arrange for the use of props or supplies, such as individual face-painting kits or magic tricks, with the entertainer.
What Should You Do?
Pacing is essential. It’s a good idea to divide the party into 10- to 15-minute increments, with a new activity for each. Allow 30 minutes for an entertainer (or the kids may lose interest) and 15 minutes for lunch, cake, and gift opening. If a game or craft isn’t working out, abandon it and try something else; if children enjoy a particular game, let it run longer than planned. Make a schedule on an index card and refer to it frequently to keep the party moving. As children arrive, direct them to a crafts table where they can occupy themselves until more guests arrive.
Keep toddler games and activities simple: Stick to familiar games or activities with simple rules (such as dancing or tag). Older children require more stimulation: plan sports or organized activities based on your child’s interests or consider hiring an entertainer.
Recruiting an Entertainer
Collect references from other parents, as well as from children’s museums and local libraries. Before you mention your child’s age to a potential entertainer, ask what age group the show is intended for. While magicians and clowns are traditional for children’s parties, there are many other kid-friendly options, including balloon artists (whose creations double as party favors), mobile petting zoos, hairstylists or manicurists (contact a local beauty school for recommendations), choreographers or dance teachers, face painters, professional storytellers, and DJs.
Games aplenty Tweak old favorites to match the party theme. For a princess party, Simon Says becomes Fairy Godmother Says, Musical Chairs becomes Musical Towels, and Pin the Tail on the Donkey becomes Pin the Trunk on the Elephant for a jungle theme. At “go,” the first child in each of two teams balances a hard-boiled egg on a spoon, walks about five feet to a marker, returns, and passes the egg and spoon to the next child in line. The team with the most uncracked shells wins.
For a treasure hunt, have children follow the first clue (“Go to the TV”) to the next clue (“Look inside the mailbox”), and so on until the final clue reveals the treasure: goodie bags. Draw or photograph the clues for nonreaders (such as the refrigerator or car). Guests participate in an obstacle course by walking along a two-by-four, hopping a figure eight around two chairs, crawling under the length of a picnic table, doing a wheelbarrow walk between two markers, and so on. Two shopping bags of clothes contain a skirt, shirt, hat, gloves, and jewelry for a dress-up race. Every item is put on by the first child in each team.
Now or later?
There are compelling reasons to open gifts during the party, as well as compelling reasons to wait until afterward. Some children enjoy seeing their gift being unwrapped, especially if they chose it. Put names in a hat to keep guests entertained; the child whose name is drawn is the child whose present is opened next. In the excitement, children can forget their manners, so help your child practice her thank-yous ahead of time. If your child opens his gifts after the party, it may be less chaotic, especially for young children. In that case, take a photo of her with each gift and include it with your thank-you note.
A Proper Farewell
Allow the birthday child to personally thank and goodbye to each guest at the door, as well as hand them a favorite bag as they leave.
When should a birthday party begin?
8 p.m. is a good time to end your child’s party. Friday is always a better day because you don’t have to get up for school the next day. We believe that a birthday party for a child aged 8 to 11 should last between 2-3 hours. If you’re going on the weekend, 2-5 pm is a good time to avoid mealtimes.
What factors contribute to the success of a birthday party?
A well-organized party is the best way to reassure guests of everything they need to know before they arrive. This means that as soon as you’ve decided on a date, time, and location, you should send out an invitation with all of the pertinent information. This will also prevent people from asking you the same questions over and over.
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