Use the step-by-step Planning Guide below to make planning your child’s birthday party fun & easy! Visit Helpful Tips for 10 great tips for a successful party.
When to Start?
Begin planning 4-6 weeks prior to the party. This much time isn’t absolutely necessary, but it enables you to pull the party together at a relaxed pace. Plus, planning this far ahead will allow you to purchase party supplies as part of your regular shopping trips, instead of having to run all over town at the last minute.
The biggest risk with waiting until the last minute is that some of your close friends and family may not be able to attend due to other commitments.
Choosing a Theme
A good party theme unifies the party and provides the framework from which the rest of the planning process flows. Decisions about what kind of invitations, activities, decorations, and food become much clearer once the theme is selected. Our Themes page can help you choose a fun theme.
One of the biggest factor in selecting a party date and time is determining when the largest number of closes friends and family can attend. Check the proposed date and time with “key” friends and relatives before committing to the party time (before preparing the invitations or making any reservations). It’s better to select another date than not have a favorite friend or family member attend.
You’ll probably have better luck with a Saturday or Sunday party. A Saturday party gives you Sunday to relax and recover. While a Sunday party gives you all day Saturday to prepare. Sunday parties are less likely to conflict with sports activities, but should start at noon or later to reduce conflicts with church activities.
When selecting a party time, consider what level of refreshments you want to provide. If you don’t want to provide a full meal, then you really need to start the party at least an hour after standard meal times and end the party an hour before standard meal times. Basically, if you have a party anytime between 11 am-1 pm or 4-6 pm, you need to provide a meal. Outside these times you can provide snacks.
Choose a time of day when your child is usually at his/her best. Many younger children seem to be more pleasant in the morning and get fussier in the afternoon/evening, so a morning party may be good choice. Just make sure to end the party well before the pre-nap-time-fussies begin.
The best locations for 1st Birthday parties are places your child is familiar and comfortable with, such as your home, a friend’s or relative’s home, or a playground your child frequently visits. Some advantages to having a party at home include having plenty of time to set-up (you can start the day before), having all your supplies close at hand, and having the party in an environment your child is comfortable in. Some disadvantages to having a party at home include having to clean your house twice (before and after the party), possible damage to your house (purple grape juice on white carpet), space limitations (unless you have a big house and big yard).
Nearby parks are nice because they’re usually free or low cost (if you decide to reserve an area) and there’s usually a play structure or sandbox to entertain the kids. However, there are two drawbacks to park locations. One is that it’s a pain to haul all the party supplies to the park and the other is that the park can be crowded and you may have trouble finding a space for your party. Either reserve a space or send someone early to lay claim to the spot you want.
If you’re having an outdoor party, always have a back-up plan in case of poor weather. Try to reserve or stakeout a picnic area with a shelter. When you accept RSVPs be sure to get the guests’ phone numbers in case you need to call them with a last minute location change. It’s difficult and disappointing to reschedule a party at the last minute, so plan on having the party unless it just won’t work.
When deciding where to have a party, consider potential safety issues. Put yourself in baby protection mode and think about ways to make the environment safer. Take special precautions if the party environment includes: stairs, a balcony, high windows, glass doors, chemicals, a pool, or busy streets. Other children can be unpredictable in a new environment, particularly with the excitement of a party.
Some people advocate short parties (1 hour) to make things easier for the parents and reduce the likelihood that the children will get fussy. However, an hour can feel rushed. The time passes quickly by the time you allow time for the guests to straggle in (15 minutes), do some organized activities (30 minutes), have refreshments (20 minutes), open presents (20 minutes), and allow time for free play and socializing (30 minutes). You’ll need 2 hours unless you’re going to run the party like a drill sergeant.
Who and How Many?
The guest list start with the “must invites” – best friends, close family members, your child’s favorite playmates, and others you want to share this special occassion with. The rule of thumb to invite 1 child per each year of age (5 children for a 5 year-olds party), certainly doesn’t make any sense for a 1st birthday. Plus, since at least one adult will stay with each child guest, you don’t have to worry much about the level of supervision and keeping things under control.
However, you may need to give some thought to the issue of siblings. Many parent’s assume it’s OK to bring all their children to the party and it usually works out fine. However, too many siblings can be a problem if you’re tight on space or if the siblings are likely to require a lot attention or get bored with “baby” games. If you don’t want siblings at the party, you’ll need to find a tactful way to mention this when you send the invitation or accept the RSVPs.
The key components of most parties are games & activities and refreshments. However, many small children either won’t eat or will eat quickly, so don’t plan much time for refreshments. A typical two hour party agenda might look like this:
- 15-20 minutes – greet arrivals, free play and unstructured activities (blocks, balls, trucks, etc.)
- 30-45 minutes – organized activities
- 15-20 minutes – refreshments
- 20-30 minutes – additional organized activities or present opening
- 15-20 minutes – free play and unstructured activities.
Some people avoid having any unplanned time at the party for fear that the children will get unruly. However, 15-20 minutes of free time at both the beginning and the end of the party allows for late arrivals and early departures and is often the time when guests interact the most.
There seems to be some debate on whether or not to open presents at the party. Some people are concerned that it seems too materialistic or that a guest’s feelings might get hurt if the present isn’t an instant hit or their are duplicate presents. However, most guests want to see their presents opened and it’s a logical closing activity for the party.
Potential helpers include family, friends, neighbors, parents of guests, and paid professionals (entertainers, caterers, etc.). Fortunately, most of us know someone who will do just about anything you need and do it well. Grandmothers and aunts often fall into this category and are willing to help with the food prep, decorating, and clean-up. Then there are the people who are only willing or able to do a few specific tasks. For example, the uncle who is a photography buff and can be trusted to get great pictures and not drop the video camera.
Compare your list of things that need to be done with your list of people who are willing and able to help looking for some obvious matches. An artistic relative may be a good candidate to make decorations. A friend with a mini-van can fetch the balloons. A neighbor who loves to bake can make the cake or cookies.
After you’ve made all the obvious matches on my list, ook for additional tasks that just about anyone can do. This includes things like making a list of who gives what gift at a birthday party, so you can write meaningful thank you notes.
You’ll have to gauge whether your older children can be good helpers. Some parents expect siblings to help a lot and some just include siblings as “guests” at the party. Adult guests who don’t have their hands full watching children can help run some of the activities and serve refreshments. If you don’t have a lot of free help, consider paying a teenager babysitter to help.
Buy or Make?
Sometimes it’s not only easier, but less expensive, to buy what you need for a party instead of making it. Check our Party Shopping List page for shopping suggestions. Some staples can be used for almost every party, such as carnival type games (bean bag toss), muffin pans (cupcakes) and serving trays. Then borrow tables, chairs, and ice chests from friends.
If you end up with leftovers party supplies (favor bags, decorations, plates & napkins), pack them up into a box and give them to a local women’s shelter. Their children have birthdays, too!
A good rule of thumb is $20 per guest. However, costs can vary widely depending on what type of party you have. If you have to pay to use a location, hire an entertainer, serve a full meal, and give elaborate prizes and favor bags, the costs can really add up. However, it’s possible to have a party for as little as $10 per child. Just stick to the basics – cake, ice-cream, a few low cost favors and decorations.
Use the step-by-step Planing Checklist below to make planning your child’s birthday party fun & easy! Planning 4-6 weeks before your child’s birthday enables you to pull the party together at a leisurely pace, allows time to reserve party facilities and entertainment, and ensures you’ll get the invitations out well ahead of the party.
However, if you get in a pinch, you can pull together a nice party 2 weeks. Just make sure you get the invitations out right away or call your guest list. Less than two weeks is pretty stressful and you risk guests not being able to attend, because they’ve already made plans.
|4-6 weeks before party|
|Choose a theme with your child. Visit our First Birthday Themes page for a list of ideas.|
|Select date and time for party.|
|Choose location for party and make reservations, if necessary.|
|Develop the guest list (neighborhood friends, class mates, team mates, cousins, etc.).|
|Develop party agenda (example: 1-1:30 arts & crafts, 1:30-2:15 games and entertainment, 2:15-2:30 refreshments, 2:30-3:00 present opening, favor distribution, and free play).|
|Book entertainment, if any (magician, bounce gym, etc.).|
|3-4 weeks before|
|Make or purchase invitations.|
|Mail invitations 2 1/2 weeks before party|
|Plan games and activities|
|2 weeks before|
|Purchase party supplies (decorations, favors, games & activities. Purchase enough for siblings and a few other extra guests. See our Shopping List for help.|
|Plan menu and make grocery shopping list. See our Fun Party Food and Shopping List for ideas.|
|Arrange for help. Identify family members and friends who can help set-up/clean-up, prepare and serve food, and coordinate games and activities.|
|1 week before|
|Gather up tables, chairs, toys, coolers, serving dishes, and other supplies you’ll be using at the party.|
|Follow-up with the invited guests who have not yet RSVP’d to determine final guest count.|
|Order cake & balloons.|
|Prepare any foods that can be frozen for the following week.|
|2-3 days before|
|Charge camera batteries and make sure cameras are working.|
|Do grocery shopping. See our Shopping List.|
|Get cash or make out checks for any paid helpers.|
|Prepare favor bags.|
|Prepare remaining food, including cake or cupcakes if making these.|
|Clean and child proof party area.|
|Finish last minute food preparation.|
|Pick up cake and balloons|
|Set-up and decorate party area|
|Do minimum level of clean-up.|
|1-3 days after|
|Have your child prepare thank you notes for gifts. Don’t forget to send thank you notes to your helpers.|
|Send party photos to distant relatives, put one on fridge, save some for scrap book.|