My oldest is 11, so we have been throwing birthday parties for a long time. Most of them have gone really well, and some I’ll never repeat. Throughout my time as a mom, I’ve learned some lessons along the way. One constant is that the party is about the people.
Make it Age Appropriate
When our kids were very young and unable to remember their birthdays, we kept them at home and had a few friends and family members over. Their celebrations really involved them smashing cake in their faces and opening presents while the adults enjoyed each other’s company and watched their own children play. We did this for at least the first two years to three years of life for each of our kids. I loved this because the kids are going to have fun no matter what, so why not make it fun for adults, too? Having a small collection of your family friends over for a BBQ or small get together is a great way for everyone to celebrate a small child’s birthday. If you do anything magical regarding a clown visit or pony rides, kids will not remember this and it could be wasted. Consider saving that for an older party.
When you’re ready for a “kids only”party, try to indicate whether or not parents are expected to stay on the invitation. Parents will have no problem telling you if they’d rather stay, and this way everyone is clear on the party planner’s expectations.
It’s Quality Not Quantity
No matter where you choose to have a party, keeping the number of attendees manageable is good advice. If you have too many people at an in-home party, you may not be able to pay attention to the birthday boy or girl. If you have too many at an off-site party, you could be pulling your hair out trying to find them in the playground or trampoline park. Kids also aren’t able to socialize with everyone at their parties when the group is too large. Have an intimate number and everyone wins.
Happiness is a Grab Bag
When we went to birthday parties when I was growing up, the gift for the guests was the actual party. Nowadays, the gift bag is a definite must-have. One year I decided to go old school and skip the gift bags for guests because the pool party was supposed to be so epic. I had a bunch of sad kids exiting the party. Whether I believe it should be a common practice or not, it is a small token to say thank you for coming. Gift bags for attendees are great for so many reasons. Your child can help you create them, and you can get creative with the contents. Like any human alive, no one wants to leave a fun party, but when it’s time to go and the room needs to be put back the way it was, gift bags for party goers can help the biggest party animal cooperate and make his or her way home. Grab bags are good for any kids, but I found giving them out at birthday parties for ages 3-10 were the most appropriate. My oldest is about to have his 12th birthday, and I don’t plan to send the invitees home with anything but a smile from a sugar buzz. I don’t think he or his middle school buddies will mind.
Location, Location, Location
Throughout the years, I have enjoyed both home and away parties. I love having friends over, but it can be very fun to go off-site if you can find a good deal. If we go off site, I try to find one event for the party goers to enjoy for an hour or two with about a half an hour for cake and presents. This varies depending on age. My daughter’s sixth birthday party was the biggest success as far as efficiency goes. Since trampoline parks are tiring for anyone, especially six-year-olds, I learned that an hour of jumping is enough for her age group. Then, we traveled by way of red mini van to ice cream cones at a local fast food restaurant (that had an outdoor play area). The whole party took two hours. She invited four friends, and the timing worked out well for their exhaustion levels. Having a party too short or too long is frustrating for all involved. We kept it simple, we kept it age appropriate, and I had a very happy daughter.
My favorite home party was when my oldest turned three. We had a cowboy/cowgirl party, a small inflatable pool, and treats for adults and kids. We cut outs of cow-folk where we put their cute heads through the circle for pictures that we could send to our guests’ parents. It was so much fun and provided us with some of our most treasured pictures.
There are so many food allergies lurking around, so I find there are two ways I go about feeding our party crew. First, I ask their parents on the invite to tell us about any food allergies. Next, I keep it simple. If I am at home with a bunch of kids, my go-to is always pizza (can be vegetarian very easily), carrots, and strawberries, and a special drink that they don’t usually get. (Soda!) If I’m off-site, and the party isn’t over a meal time, I opt for cupcakes and ice cream cups. This way, I am not tied up with cutting and delivering cake, and cupcakes/ice cream cups are easily transported home. Also, with each year I am constantly surprised at how many kids dislike cake/frosting/etc. With disposable items such as these, parents don’t have to worry about waste.
Whether you are BBQing at home or trying out a new local spot, birthday parties can be so much fun if parents cut out unneeded stress. Our rules are: Keep it small, keep it short enough for age, and keep the food simple. Birthday parties are for enjoying the people who make each year of your child’s life so much fun. Focus on the people and you can’t go wrong.