P is for Party Planning: 12 Tips for Planning a Perfect Birthday Party
Spring and summer mean birthday party planning time in our house. I have to admit that I really love planning birthday parties for my girls. I get really in to the details and like to put a fair amount of time into being creative about my themes. Over the past few years I have come up with a strategy to help me plan out a party that covers every details. Today I am sharing with you 12 tips for planning a perfect birthday party. Here we go:
Identify a Birthday Party Theme
The possibilities are endless for birthday party themes. You can choose a character theme (Mickey Mouse, Paw Patrol, My Little Pony, Disney Princess, Frozen, etc), a theme based on a children’s book or song (Old MacDonald Had a Farm, Dr. Seuss, Harry Potter, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, You Are My Sunshine, etc) , a theme based on a color palette (pink & gold, navy & white, rainbow, etc) or a theme based on an activity or interest (tea party, rock star, swimming, horseback riding, construction, art, etc). Visiting a party supply store or party website can be a good source of inspiration.
Pinterest is also an excellent resource to help brainstorm ideas about themes. I have a whole board devoted to party themes and party planning. Check it out here: Ava’s Alphabet/PartyPlanning.
Here are a few of my favorite party planning websites that also have great ideas about party themes:
When picking a theme, I think about what my child is most interested in at the time or what themes have naturally occurred over the year. Ava’s first birthday party was a “Look Whooo’s One?” owl theme. I realized that the onesie stickers I had used to take her monthly pictures throughout her first year all had owls on them. We also had other cute owl items around that became useful for the theme. I chose pink and green for the colors as her nursery was a pink and green theme also. Ava’s second birthday party was a farm themed party. She was just crazy about the song Old MacDonald Had a Farm at the time and it turned out to be a really fun party theme. I used a red and white table cloth with sunflower bouquets and lots of fun farm animal toys and printouts – many of which we already had around the house. As kids get older they definitely have their own ideas about what kind of theme they would like. Ava was insistent about having a Frozen themed birthday party last year and it was a big toss up between My Little Pony or a Shopkins theme this year. Have fun and be creative. Once you have identified a theme, it can give you the framework for choosing the rest of the details.
Make a Guest List
Jot down a list of who you plan to invite to the birthday party. This can help you make decisions about where to have your party, how much food you need to plan for and how much money the party will cost you. Is your party focused on your child’s friends? Or is your party more of a family affair? Maybe it is a combination of both. Either way, having an estimated number of guests will help you plan the details of your party more efficiently.
Secure a Location
Decide where you will have your birthday party. Do you need to rent a space or will you have the party at home? Will this be an indoor party or do you hope to hold the event outside? Do you ample room and furniture to have the party at your house? Perhaps you would rather have the party at a venue that will provide the food, favors, and entertainment. A restaurant, a local pool, a park, the beach, the zoo, a museum, an activity focused venue (horse stable, pottery painting, arcade, indoor trampoline park, etc) or a church or community building might all be possibilities.
Set a Date and Time
Where you hold your party may impact which date you can schedule your party which is why I list selecting a location first. Think about what time of day is best for your child. Also make sure to factor in prep and set up time as well as clean up to make sure you are not feeling too rushed or pressured at the last minute.
Now that you have settled on your theme, your guest list, your location and your date and time, it is time to send out some invitations. There are many choices for this category as well. Some people prefer to send an email or electronic invitation and others like to send an invite by mail. Calling people by phone with a personal invitation is an option as well. I usually like to send an invitation by mail. I have made my own invitations in the past by using scrapbook paper and my own creative genius, but this can be time consuming. You can certainly purchase paper invitations that you fill out by hand – the party store, Target or even the dollar store can have cute options. You can purchase darling invitations from Etsy as well. I have had good luck finding free printable templates on Pinterest for some of our recent parties. One year I had them printed up through the Target photo center and I think they cost something crazy like 19 cents a piece. This year for Ava’s birthday party I found a template that prints out two 5×7 invitations per page of card stock on my home printer.
Think about what you need to include in the invitations. Instructions on how to RSVP? A map to the location? Preferences about gifts? Perhaps no gift please or to make a donation to a cause or charity instead of bringing a gift. Include requests about what guests should bring or wear. Bring a swimsuit and towel. Dress as your favorite superhero. Wear your fanciest attire for a tea party. Be prepared to get messy. You get the idea.
Get Creative with your Decorations
Start envisioning how you want to reflect your theme at the party. Will you use just a few simple touches or do you want to really get into it? I usually start by identifying the main colors that I plan to use. I survey my house for items that I might be able to use – everything from table linens and serving bowls to left over party and crafts supplies from previous projects and parties. I don’t think it is necessary to buy every plate, cup, hat, favor, napkin, etc that matches your theme. Use a color palette and then add a few theme specific touches. For example, I might use plates and cups and tablecloths in solid colors that coordinate with my theme and then only purchase cake plates and napkins with the actual character or theme on them. Can’t find what you are looking for in the store? Search online. I have purchased adorable party items from party store websites. Pinterest is also a great place to find inspiration for party decor. Things to consider might be balloons, festive decorations to hang around the room, how you want the table or food serving area to look, a sign for the door or outside and a way to designate the birthday girl/boy’s seat or place. One money saving tip is to shop around for the best prices on balloons. Ordering balloons from a party story can be pricey. I have found that my local grocery store does a great job with balloons at a fraction of the price. The dollar store has cute Mylar balloons for $1 each as well.
Plan the Menu, Beverages and Serveware
Deciding what kind of food and drink to serve can be one of the most challenging parts of party planning for me. Start by thinking about what time the party starts and ends. Does it overlap a traditional meal time? If not, you can probably get away with some light snacks or just cake and ice cream. I usually have my parties around lunch time so I try to serve enough food so that guests don’t leave hungry, but a simple enough menu that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg or involve a ton of prep time. Some of my favorite things to serve are turkey pinwheel roll-ups from Costco, sloppy joe’s or pulled pork sandwiches or deli trays/sub sandwich slices. It can be fun to incorporate food that fits with your theme. For example, I made blue finger jello squares for Ava’s Frozen party that we called Kristoff’s ice blocks. We also served Sven Antlers (pretzel sticks) and Olaf Noses (baby carrots). You can also decorate your food serving area with menu cards or food picks that match your theme. I usually keep beverages simple – bottled water and lemonade or 2 liters of soda. My husband thinks I am crazy, but I love printing out cute water bottle wrappers that match my theme. A pair of scissors and some double side tape and you have an adorable way to add to your party theme. As you plan your menu, think about what kinds of serving pieces you might need so you can purchase or borrow them ahead of time. A drink dispenser? A larger serving tray? A folding table? A cupcake stand? A cooler? Consider asking friends and family member who make a special dish to help you out. Does your mom make a great potato salad? Or a friend who makes a great dip? Ask them if they would be willing to bring their signature dish to share at the party.
Decide on the Cake
Every good birthday party needs cake of some kind, right? But that doesn’t mean you have to put the pressure on yourself to bake up a masterpiece. I personally like to focus on other details of the party and tend to order my cake or cupcakes from a local bakery. Cupcakes can be fun and are darling displayed on a simple cupcake stand. I like to make cute little picks or decorations that match my party theme to stick in my cupcakes. Cake pops can be a fun alternative to traditional cake too. Do you want a small individual cake or smash cake for the birthday child? Once again, Pinterest is a great source of inspiration for some really amazing cakes. Whether it is homemade or store bought, the birthday girl or boy will love blowing out the candles on their special day.
I made fondant buttons to add to the cupcakes at Madeleine’s Cute as a Button first birthday party. Find pictures and instructions HERE.
Organize Games and Activities
What will you do at the party? A few simple games? Pin the tail on the donkey or a themed variation, musical chairs, guess how many candies are in the jar, and pinatas are fun options. We personally are big fans of theme based bingo. You can find free printable bingo games for many different party themes on the internet. Do you want to have guests make a craft or work on a project? What about taking pictures with the birthday boy or girl? A photo booth can be a lot of silly fun. I had signature mats out at both of my girl’s first birthday parties so that guests could write a message and we could frame a picture from the party to make a sweet keepsake. Do you want to rent an inflatable slide or bounce house? Hiring a performer (balloon artist, face painter, clown, character impersonator) is an idea as well. My general rule of thumb is that 2-3 games or activities are plenty. Make sure to think about the ages of your party guests when deciding what activities would be appropriate and fun for your birthday party.
Choose Party Favors or Goody Bags
People have mixed opinions about goody bags. I know kids never need another bag full of trinkets and junk, but they sure do love a goody bag. The dollar store or party store are good places to look for goody bag fillers that won’t break the bank. You could also make a craft or project that your guests can take home and would serve as the party favor. I am planning to make stick ponies out of pool noodles for my daughter’s upcoming My Little Pony party. You could also send guests home with a small bag of candy or cookies with a cute coordinating thank you tag. I made sugar cookies shaped like buttons as a thank you gift for guests at Madeleine’s Cute as a Button first birthday party.
Thank You Notes
I firmly believe in sending a thank you note to guests after the party. It is important to me to teach my kids about manners, gratitude and respect. I usually look for thank you notes that coordinate with my theme and invitations, but they certainly don’t have too. Target or the dollar store can have cute, inexpensive options or you can print them out at home. Having your children draw or scribble a picture with a thank you included can be a sweet, personal way to thank your guests. Sending a picture from the party of of the birthday boy/girl is another option.
I find it helpful to try to plan for the birthday event as a whole. In addition to the actual party, you may want to think about how you will celebrate in other ways. Do you need to plan for school treats or goody bags? Will you tie the school celebration to the theme of your birthday party or do something different? What about celebrating on the actual day if your party is the weekend before or after? Last year I filled the living room with balloons on Ava’s actual birthday and then we went out to dinner at her favorite restaurant. She was thrilled and it was a simple way to recognize her actual birthday. We tend to give our kids their birthday gifts from us on their true birthday rather than at the birthday party. Another fun thing that I have done is to schedule a photo session around the same time as the party. You can bring balloons and other decorations from the party to use as props in the photos to not only capture your little cutie at that age but to remember the party theme as well. If you decide to have your child wear a special outfit or accessory at their party, this can be used in a photo session too. After the party is over, I try to salvage any extra plates, cups, napkins and decorations to save for future parties. I store these in a big plastic container with a lid in my craft closet. It is amazing what I have been able to reuse for other parties, projects and events.
I hope that these tips and suggestions will help to take some of the stress and worry out of planning your child’s next birthday party. I would love to know what other strategies and secrets have worked for you. I would also love to hear in the comments about what your favorite party themes have been in years past. I truly believe that with a little planning ahead you can host the perfect birthday party for any size group that matches your budget and vision. Party on, my friends!
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