You look at the calendar and realize with dread that your child's birthday is fast approaching. And that means you need to plan the birthday party. The mere thought is enough to give you a headache! What to do?
For children's' parties, planning is the key to success, and also prevents overspending. Your first priority is to sit down with your child and get his/her input as to what kind of party is desired. Very often parents plan complicated parties with elaborate entertainment, only to discover that their child really wanted a very simple affair with a few friends and some games. Remember, the party is for the child, not for you to show off to the neighborhood!
Traditional parties with games and prizes are pretty much wasted before the fifth birthday; young children haven't really grasped that games have rules before that age, and you will spend more time explaining things than you will having fun.
When my son neared his sixth birthday, he and I sat down and thought about his upcoming party. First I asked him to choose a theme, and he chose "cowboys." Then we talked about who he would invite. Our family rule is "invite the age plus one," so since it was Ian's sixth birthday, he was allowed to invite seven children. We did invitations on the computer and mailed them out three weeks in advance.
We talked about the different types of games we could play at the party, and tried to work them into the theme. Musical chairs became "Musical Stagecoach"; a treasure hunt was a search for the bandit's hideout. Each child got a cowboy hat (ordered from the Oriental Trading Company, a great source for inexpensive party favors and decorations) and a bandanna. The cake was shaped like a cowboy hat. The total cost for the party was around $75, and was a tremendous success.
When my daughter approached five, I asked her what kind of party she wanted, and she chose an art party instead of a traditional games-and- prizes party. At her party, we decorated T-shirts (bought on sale for $1.50 each) with fabric paints, glitter glue and glue-on "jewels". The kids then decorated picture frames (cut from a sheet of mat board from the art supply shop) with stickers and crayons, and each child got their picture taken with an instant camera to put in the frame. Since it was a nice day out, the kids elected to go outside and play on the swingset instead of doing the last craft. Total cost for that party: roughly $70 (I already had some art supplies around the house from my own crafting stuff).
Other party themes we have done at our house include "Geography" and "History of the World". The hardest part of those themes was finding decorations to go along with them...I ended up going to a teaching supply store for classroom-style materials. I have also made extensive use of the computer and graphics programs such as Print Artist and CorelDraw to create decorations.
Here are my Top Ten Lessons I have learned from planning and holding birthday parties for small children:
Welmoed Sisson is a mother at home with her two children, Ian, 7, and Diana, 5. She holds a degree in journalism and psychology, and has worked in graphic design for the past ten years. She and her husband, Bob, are currently finding all the ways to pinch pennies until they squeak as they build their Dream House. Her hobbies include sewing, reading, piano and finding new bumper stickers for her car.
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