Birthdays are an exciting event for children and really not complete without a party. The challenge is to plan a party that won't throw your budget clean out the window. Organization and planning ahead are the keys to success for any party. The simplest way to organize a party is to write your ideas and plans down on paper. Talk to your child to get their input as to what kind of party they would like and who they wish to invite.
For one and two year olds, you might want to invite the Grandparents or other special relatives and friends for a home cooked meal or coffee and dessert, unless half a dozen sticky toddlers complete with parents and siblings is your idea of a fun time. For 3 to 5 years olds, limit the party to between 3 and 5 children plus your own. With the short attention spans of this age group, one and a half to two hours is usually long enough.
The 6 and over party can be larger if you wish or you can invite a couple special friends and go on an all day excursion to an amusement park, ski hill, swimming pool, hockey or ball game, or other event or attraction in your area. If you plan these activities in advance, you can take advantage of group rates, special offers and discount coupons.
The time and location of the party should be decided with the age of the children in mind. If your child is often difficult to get along with in the afternoon, a morning party might be more appropriate. If you plan an outdoor party, have a backup plan and location in case of poor weather. With half a dozen children counting the days until the party, it's best not to disappoint them by changing the day.
Choosing a theme sets the focus for the party and simplifies planning. Select a theme based on your child's interests and age. Design invitations, decorations and activities to fit the theme. Helping your child make her own invitations is a fun and inexpensive way to involve her in the planning. Balloons and crepe paper streamers make colorful inexpensive decorations. Party napkins, plates, glasses, place mats and tablecloths are nice but not required. Check discount bins and buy in advance to take advantage of sales. A large white sheet of paper to cover the table and markers or crayons can double as a warm up activity for early arrivers and a tablecloth. Put a layer of newsprint under the paper to protect the table.
Activities can include games, craft projects or any activity which allows for maximum participation. A summer party could be held in the back yard with a child's pool, lawn bowling (a rubber ball and empty plastic bottles to knock down), golf (a cardboard tube, small ball and large tin can with both ends cut out for a target), and other activities available for free play. Limit group activities to 2 or 3 well planned ones. Choose activities that do not emphasize winners or losers. Giving prizes is unnecessary. Saying something like, "Sarah won that time, now let's play again" recognizes the winner without emphasizing it's importance.
A fun way to end the activity session is to have a party favor scramble. Give each child a bag and throw handfuls of individually wrapped candies, gum, pennies and inexpensive items such as bookmarks, pencils, erasers and stickers. The children try to quickly pick up the items and put them in their bag.
Party favors are not required but if you wish to give them out, choose inexpensive, theme related and unique items such as a mini flashlight (camping party), a magnifying glass (detective party), helium balloon (circus party) or sunglasses (swimming party). Check dollar stores frequently and buy favors ahead of time to take advantage of sale prices.
No party is complete without refreshments. A drink, home made cake and fresh fruit are simple and easy to prepare and serve. Cupcakes work well with small children. For a simple, yet attractive look, ice the cupcakes and decorate with animal crackers and soft, sugarless candies. Serve the "Zoo Cakes" on a tray surrounded by a paper cage. Serve "Jungle Juice" (unsweetened orange juice with a little gingerale added is good) and some fresh fruit. Choose refreshments that can be completely prepared and stored in the fridge until serving time.
End the party on a positive note by stopping it while everyone is still having fun. It's better to leave them wanting more than to drag it out and lose their attentions.
Maxine Sprague is a parent, author and educator living in Edmonton, AB.
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