Does the thought of entertaining ten preschool children send you into a panic? How about ten preteen boys? Planning the perfect birthday party can unnerve the most organized of parents. Here are some ideas that will help you plan that special day without feeling overly stressed.
What kind of party?
The first step in planning your party is to know what you want. There are numerous options for both at-home parties and parties held elsewhere. Think through these things:
· Decide if the party will be at home or away. If you have a small house or it isn't child or teen proof, you may want to have the party at the gymnastics facility, pizza place, skating rink, or bowling alley. If you have a big yard where you can have a cookout or set up games, you might want to host the party yourself. Have a back up plan in case of rain.
· Set the number of guests to be invited. How many children do you want to invite? Some parents use the rule of one child per candle on the cake. Others invite the whole school class. Decide how many children your budget and your nerves can handle.
· Determine how much you can spend. Parties at pizza places, skating rinks and other places run from $10-$15 a party goer. You can spend up to $30 a child at Build-a-Bear if you opt for each child to get a stuffed animal with an outfit. That adds up fast if you invite many children. The good news is that the cost may include everything -- cake, entertainment, and a party bag. If you have an at home party you may want to rent a bouncy house or something similar. That would cost you $75-100 for the afternoon, but you could invite as many children as you wanted and the cost for the bouncy house wouldn't change. Don't forget to figure the cost of food, cake, and party bags for at home parties. Avoid the urge to go all out for your child's party. Children can have just as much fun playing games and eating cake and ice cream as they would at a more elaborate party.
· Decide on the theme. Let your child help you plan. For younger children, pick a theme and plan simple games around the theme. If you choose a Blues Clues theme, make everything blue. Pin the tail on a blue dog. Play games with blue balloons. For an around the world party, have the children come dressed as though they were from another country. Make cardboard passports and provide stickers for different countries. Party goodies could be souvenirs from each country -- plastic sunglasses for the USA, fans for Asia and so on. Make the cake to look like a globe. Older children might want a theme based on a reality show or a mystery to solve.
· Keep the party short. For preschool children, an hour and a half is long enough. Plan parties for the morning before nap time. School aged parties shouldn't be more than three hours long unless you're planning a slumber party.
You can begin planning once you know what kind of party you want to have.
· Once you've decided on the number of guests, the budget, and the theme, make a shopping list. What food, party favors, and place settings do you need? What do you need for games? What will go in the party bags? Make your first stop the dollar store. You can often find the same items as you would at a party shop.
· Line up any entertainment. Ask for and check references before hiring a magician, clown or otherwise. The cheapest entertainment isn't always the best. The most expensive one may not be the best, either. Find out who other moms have used.
· If you're having the party away from home, book your party well in advance. You may get a better deal if you have the party Monday-Thursday rather than on the weekend.
· Consider hiring a teen or two to help with a party for younger children. They can help supervise games, serve refreshments, and trouble shoot. Parents may also volunteer to stay and help.
· Plan plenty of short games. Plan more than you think you'll need in case a game goes more quickly than you expect or flops. Have a favorite video ready for extra time.
· Make sure the invitation gives all the important details and that you invite everyone that you intend to. Follow up with phone calls if you feel it necessary.
· Have a few extra treats in case someone shows up that you didn't plan on. A parent may forget to RSVP, or a sibling may tag along. A prize may get broken or a cupcake dropped.
· If you don't know all the children personally, check ahead for food allergies. Nothing is worse than having a four-year-old come to a party and not be able to eat the cake or drink the koolaid.
Now that the big day is here, there are a few final things to do.
· Don't worry about having a spotless house. Children don't care if the bathroom is sparkling or the carpet freshly steam cleaned. They're there for the fun and treats. Just tidy up and save your energy for the party.
· Pick up the cake early. Check that you have enough treats, plastic silverware, plates and so on.
· Be flexible and plan for the unexpected. Keep a sense of humor. The point of the party is to have fun, not to have everything perfect. Someone will spill koolaid. A plastic prize will get stepped on and broken. Deal with it and move on.
· Have a video playing or a craft set out to entertain early guests.
· Open the gifts at the party and have the birthday child thank everyone. You might want to take pictures of your child with each gift giver and the gift they brought. Print the photos out and send the picture home with a quick thank you written on it.
· Have a final fun send off activity for the party goers to do until they're picked up.
Party ideas for children:
Magicians, clowns, other entertainers - These are usually a hit, but don't hire anyone without meeting them first and checking references.
Art/Craft Parties - You can purchase simple crafts supplies and kits for home, or pay for a certain number of children to make a project at a craft store.
Cooking Parties - This can be as simple as decorating cupcakes or as elaborate as preparing specialty food together.
Live Animal Parties - Meet at the zoo or hire someone to bring the animals to you. Check references and safety issues ahead.
Science Parties - Get a book of simple science experiments and set them up around the kitchen or bathroom. Turn the geniuses loose.
Storybook/dress up parties - Either have little ones come dressed in a certain theme -- favorite character, prince or princess, zoo animal -- or have dress up clothes available. Take pictures on a digital camera or Polaroid that you can send home with them.
Gymnastics, Bowling, Swimming, or Skating Parties - Unless you're set up for this at home, you'll have to pay to have the party at a facility.
Tea Parties - Tea parties and teddy bear tea parties are popular for the youngest party goers. School age girls sometimes enjoy a more formal tea party fashioned after an adult affair.
Detective Parties - School age children will enjoy finding clues and solving a mystery -- especially if it results in treats at the end.
Party ideas for preteens
Crafts parties - More elaborate crafts such as ceramics or pottery can be done at home or at a craft shop.
Sports facility parties- Gymnastics, swimming, roller skating, ice skating, and bowling parties can be hosted at the appropriate facility.
Makeover parties - Hire a beautician to come to your house and give make up and hair styling tips. Get parental permission before making permanent changes to hair.
Sleep over parties - Limit it to one gender. Provide lots of snacks and appropriate videos, and let them make their own fun.
Hired entertainment - This age group is harder to please than the younger group so make sure bands, magicians or other entertainers are familiar with what preteens like and want.
Scavenger Hunt - Divide into teams and give each team a list of items to find. Have prizes for winners and losers alike.
Video arcades or other entertainment complexes - Video games, laser tag, simulations or virtual reality games are a big hit with the guys but can empty your pockets in a hurry. Save this for a special birthday.
Special trip - Trips to a special event or sight seeing place offer a change of pace for older children.