Kids love to be invited to a birthday party

Not all parents are good at planning them

Birthday Party Theme: Angry BirdsCredit: Thanks to Joy Palmer

Do you dread throwing a birthday party for your kids? Do you put off planning until the last minute because you are not sure what to do? Have you sent a child to a friend’s party that consisted of a bounce house and delivered pizza? Or a pillow party where everyone sat around watching a movie? These activities are fine, but you can do better.

 As parents, we have a duty to our children to teach and educate them. A party is a great way to have fun while helping them learn social skills. A child’s birthday party can and should be a highlight event for any child, but it can also be a stressful nightmare for parents giving the party. Pay a visit to your local library or to Amazon and you will find a variety of books full of fun and creative ideas. If you have decided to have a friend birthday party, follow the five steps below to help you pull off the perfect, stress free (well almost) party.

 1. Plan Ahead!

The key to any event planning is to plan. I know this sounds elementary, but if you feel overwhelmed by having a child’s party, planning is the key to reduce your stress. Also, eliminate the feeling that you need to one-up last year’s party and certainly don’t trip yourself up by trying to out do the neighbors. This is failure waiting to happen.

 Ideally, begin planning two months or more ahead of the birthday event. Map out and organize the event into a solid plan. Planning ahead will allow you to find the perfect items for your party, find trinkets online and have them shipped to you in plenty of time, and allow you to refine party ideas.

 2. Brainstorm

Have fun with this step! Jot some ideas down, let them form and develop over a few days to get a general concept and direction. At this point, the sky is the limit. There are no boundaries other than being age appropriate. Talk to your son or daughter, and ask for their ideas. Consider educational, social, or physical activities that will stimulate and appeal to the age group. The goal of this step is to establish a theme for the party. Having a theme will give you a good direction and simplify planning by narrowing the choices.

 2. Determine your Budget

Some parents will go all out for a party and spare no expense. Have you ever given a gift to a child only to find that he or she plays with the box? Don’t be overcome by the temptation to spend more and more. Most kids will not appreciate the extra expense anyway. Truth be told, parties do not have to be expensive. Determine a realistic amount for the party and stick to it. By making plans a head of time you can take advantage of bargain prices. My wife routinely looks for items that go on sale after a major holiday that would work in a birthday party setting.

 3. Type of Party

There are generally two types of parties for children. Do It Yourself (DIY) parties where you plan the details, make or buy the decorations and so forth. Then there are Hosted or catered parties. This is where you might go to a theme park, or some other local kid friendly entertainment or they come to you. There is not a correct party type; choose the one that is best for your family needs. Let’s take a look at each of these.

   - DIY

A Do It Yourself (DIY) party entails you taking charge of everything from invitation to parting gifts and thank you cards and everything in between. Many times we will elicit the help of the birthday person to help create the invitation and decorations. This approach lets the fun begin early, and it adds to the child’s excitement. Children also get a sense of accomplishment from seeing the party come together.

   - Hosted

A hosted party is quite the opposite of the DIY party. Perhaps you would take the kids to a local water park, bowling, indoor bounce house or trampoline gym. These types of activities generally have a party room and have party packages where they provide the invitations, party hats, decorations, and even cater the cake. All you really need to do is show up with checkbook in hand. But don’t be fooled, a successful hosted party will still need some planning. Try introducing some competitive activities and provide ribbons or trophies for the winner of each event.

 4. Key Party Components

To successfully plan a party you would do well to consider the following key components. These are given as a guideline; they keep the planning simple.

   - Party Theme

The party theme can be more formalize such as a super hero, sports themed, or following on the tail of the most recent Disney success. Party supplies stores will have no end of plates, napkins, and decor to supply your needs. You may also consider a less formal approach, a broad category such as a particular favorite color or an educational theme. We once had a science experiments theme that was a big hit. The activities were a variety of erupting fluids, air driven rockets, and the like. I am positive we had more fun than the kids.

   - The Party Invitation

Invitations can be purchased from a party store or homemade with special 3-D details. When planning ahead, you will have time to create your own fun invitation. These can be created in Microsoft Word or Publisher or other software you might have installed on your computer. Such software and color printers are so common place these days that it is an easy way to create a custom invitation for the special occasion. Hand out or mail invitations three to four weeks prior to the party.

 When considering which friends to invite and how many, the answer will largely depend on the type of party and space available. A simple rule of thumb is to have one friend for each year being celebrated. A five year old would then invite five friends.

   - Party Games and Activities

The fun activity is the heart of the party. You will spend most of your planning and preparation in this area. I can’t stress enough that activities must be age appropriate to keep the party goers engaged and excited. It does not take much to keep the children on the edge of their seats, but there must be a variety.

 Children quickly lose attention. For planning purposes, an activity should not extend beyond double the age of the child. If an activity will take more time, see if there are ways to cut some corners. For example, if the children are making a craft, have all the bits and pieces already cut out or if painting, have the base color already applied. Our family has found it best to avoid activities that involve one person at a time like pin the tail on the donkey. Group activities like doughnuts on a string or sack races are much more entertaining.

   - The Cake

Be creative with the cake. Yes, a store bought cake with all the colors is nice. A quick search of YouTube will review all kinds of fun-to-make cakes, candies, or healthy fruit snacks that will be sure to be a hit. Favorite cakes in our house have been a monster cake filled with M&M candies and a smoking cake that had a chamber for dry ice and water to create fog. The idea is to have fun and be creative. Don’t forget the candles.

Kids Party Science CakeCredit: Thanks to Joy Palmer

   - Parting Gifts for Guests

Parting gifts (goody bags) for guests is always a fun part for kids. However, don’t feel obligated to provide parting gifts, it is optional. My suggestion is something fun that ties back to the theme of the party. I am always disappointed when the kids come home with a bag of candy. For those that take pictures during the party and can print them at home, a fun surprise is to print a picture of the guest with your child involved in an activity and put it in the gift bag. Or place the picture in the thank you card that follows the party. It makes a memorable treasure.

 5. Have fun!

Parties should be enjoyable for everyone and not just during the actual event, but in the weeks leading up to the party. Involving the birthday child makes it an extra special occasion. The more prepared you are, the better chance things will run smoothly and everyone, including you, will have a good time. Kids are full of energy and sometimes they may need a little re-direction to keep the happy mood going. Be flexible, and if the party goers want to spend more time with one of the events, no problem. Go with the flow. As long as the party leaves the birthday child feeling special, consider the event a perfect party.