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How to Plan the Perfect Kids Birthday Party

Birthdays are landmark moments in the life of your family and every child deserves a birthday to remember. Whether they’re just out of diapers or already starting to act like a young adult, there’s nothing quite like a day surrounded by friends and blowing out a few candles. But these things don’t just come together by chance. Our guide takes you through the essential steps for planning a party, with a few handy tips to make sure your event goes off without a hitch.

Part 1: Planning

Choose the party size

Before you do anything, you need to know whether you’re having a small intimate event or a massive bash. There are a few tactics to employ to help you judge the right level for your event:

  • Ask your child which of parties they’ve been to they most enjoyed, then base yours roughly around those.
  • Make a list with your child of all the people they want to invite. They won’t recall them all, but it’ll show if it’s 5 or 50 on their mind.
  • Consider multiple events for different groups. A separate cousins day out could be better than having them added to the party guest list.

Set a budget

Once you know how big you’re going, it’s time to decide how deep you need to dig into your pockets.  

  • Know the party price per head - for every person you invite, every other cost gets multiplied. Keeping this in mind helps you understand the real value of each element of your event.
  • Spend money on the important things - venues are often the biggest outlay, but perhaps you’d be better off going for somewhere less extravagant, or hosting a party at your home with more activities to enjoy.
  • Make room for flexibility - budgets are important, but so are memorable experiences. Keep a little in reserve for if you see something that you just can’t do without.

Pick a party type

While every party is unique, certain common trends help guide parents down a path rather than being faced with a blank page. Do you want a performer to keep things moving along and everyone smiling? Or perhaps an activity to help burn off some energy?

Whatever you go for, consider these tips:

  • It’s their party, not yours - this is something too many parents forget, arranging something they would have loved, rather than asking their child what they want.
  • Avoid highly specific themes - these are dangerous, especially with young children. A certain cartoon may be the current favorite, but things can change overnight at that age - more general superheroes and princesses may be a safer option.
  • Consider something more sedate - Parties don’t have to be all go go go. Activities such as a video games truck or a movie afternoon (with an authentic popcorn cart) might be just as entertaining, and considerably easier to manage.

Timing is everything

No matter how good the entertainment, there’s only so long kids can be kept occupied for. Kids parties rarely last for longer than 2 hours, and 90 minutes is perfectly acceptable. Your chosen venue may have specific party time slots which will guide you in making the right choice.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Weather - It may be hard to do a few months in advance, but being inside when it’s sweltering our outside when the rain is pouring down is an immediate buzzkill.
  • Other events  - if half the class has soccer practice on Saturday mornings, that might be one to avoid.
  • Party timing - Plan your party between 2-5pm - it’s a time that won’t interfere with most other families plans, and means a full meal won’t be expected.

Combining celebrations

It’s becoming increasingly popular for parties to be joint affairs, and it makes a lot of sense both logistically and financially. If your child has a class friend who’s birthday falls within a few weeks of their own, it’s worth approaching the parents to see what they have planned.

If you do come to an agreement, it’s worth making sure:

  • there’s a high friend crossover, otherwise, the invite list could spiral
  • the children want roughly the same kind of party
  • the financial arrangements are clear. Are you splitting costs as you go or is one person paying and keeping a total to be settled afterward?

Part 2: Preparation

  1. Book a venue
    There are a million venues out there available for any budget. A general rule is to find a venue that can work with your date, rather than the other way round. Make sure it’s easy for people to get to (with plenty of parking) and suitable for the kind of party you want to have.
  2. Send out the invites
    While this used to be done by paper, digital options such as the Punchbowl app are now far more common. Whatever method you choose, aim for 3-6 weeks to give both you and your attendees time. Expect about a 20% decline rate, but don’t send out more than you can cater for. If everyone says yes and you’ve overcommitted, it may cause trouble.
  3. Arrange some entertainment and activities
    Every party needs a centerpiece to dictate the vibe. You’ll have already got a general theme, but now it’s time to get down to specifics and make the choice between the inflatable obstacle course or bounce and slide combo that you had your eye on.
  4. Decide on the food
    Will it be a buffet table or will everyone have their own ready-made meal box? Is it going to be a few sandwiches and snacks, or do you want to have a concessions stand to deliver something special?
  5. Pick up supplies
    You could buy paper plates and birthday banners as a pack, or buy supplies whenever you see something on special sale. Just because your child won’t be having a party for six weeks, don’t hesitate to pick up party supplies well in advance of your party if you see some bargains.

Part 3: Party buildup

Start a chat group

It’s useful to have a dedicated WhatsApp group (or similar) to help with logistics. You can add things that weren’t covered on the invite such as whether parents will be expected to stay or free to go, and what children may need to bring or wear.

Make a gift list

It may be awkward to ask party attendees for presents, but most parents would prefer direction for what to buy. Share a link to an online list with lots of items your child needs or wants, all with small (and similar) price tags.

Build a music playlist

Whether you’re arranging a DJ or doing it off your own device, it’s nice to ask each person attending if they have a favorite song they’d like played. This makes sure that you’ll have something for everyone.

Customize the cake

Things can get competitive with parents when it comes to cake design.  Not everyone has the time or talent to bake, and there’s no shame in going for a store bought option. A blank cake with DIY decorations is the perfect compromise. If you get younger siblings to help, you’ll be forgiven if it’s not going to make anyone’s Pinterest board.

Prepare food in advance

Do as much as you can the night before to make the day itself easy. You don’t want to be maniacally slicing sandwiches with minutes to go before you need to set off.

Part 4: On the day

  1. Get there at least an hour early
    If your venue permits it, give yourself enough time to decorate. Kids don’t care about intricate details so concentrate on the table where food is due to be served and a few banners and balloons.  
  2. Make sure people know where to go
    If your venue doesn’t make it obvious, have someone stationed to point people in the right direction or some well-positioned signs.
  3. Get parents involved
    Most will generally be happy to help out, but don’t force anyone into a job they don’t want. Find a designated photographer, someone to keep the kid’s drinks full, and put someone in charge of coffee or other beverages for the adults.
  4. Bring food out before kids are seated
    While they’re otherwise occupied, fill the table with enticing treats. That way, when they eventually sit down, they’ll stay seated. Make sure any children with specific requirements are served the right food, but don’t section them off at one end of the table, excluding them from the group.
  5. Offer water as well well as juice
    If you’ve had some kind of energetic activity, it’s likely a few will need rehydrating.
  6. Don’t forget your backup plan
    If the event isn’t going as you’d hoped or a key piece of technology fails, this is no time to be fretting. A pair of backup speakers or some traditional party games (such as musical chairs, charades or duck, duck, goose) could get you out of a tight spot.
  7. Keep one eye on the clock
    Parties are like a military operation. You don’t want to be starting a new game just as the backup troops (the parents on pick-up duty) are arriving on the scene. If things are taking longer than you’d anticipated, don’t worry about skipping an activity!
  8. Get your child involved in giving out gift bags
    It’s nice for the birthday boy or girl to personally thank each and every person who attended their special day. Have something set up by the exit door so nobody misses out.

Part 5: Party aftermath

Cleaning up

It depends on the venue, but many will ask for you to leave it as you found it. Take a few garbage bags with you to bundle all the food leftovers, popped balloons and all the other evidence of the great time you had.

Don’t forget the thank you cards

It’s useful as you open gifts to note down who gave each present. Hopefully, they will have attached a card to assist with this! A good thank you card is not just polite, but it also increases the chances your child will be on the list of future birthday parties too!

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