Managing Children's Parties
Advance planning is vital to the smooth running of any children’s party.
This page focuses on what you need to do to manage the party itself, as opposed to the prior preparation such as booking the venue. The prior planning aspects are covered on our other page Children’s Parties, Planning and Preparing.
This page covers activities, timing and running order, catering and other adults, as well as organising and distributing party bags and cake.
The information on this page is relevant for parties for younger children - for more about teenage parties see our page on Teenage Parties and Sleepovers.
You will need to provide some kind of entertainment for the children apart from a party tea.
Some venues provide entertainment, for example, soft play for younger children, or laser tag, swimming or climbing for older children.
Other venues such as church halls only provide a location; you need to provide the entertainment. This may be via an entertainer such as a magician, or you might hire a bouncy castle, or run a series of team games or craft activities.
Whatever you choose, make sure that your entertainment is suitable for the ages of the children invited, and will also fill the whole time.
It’s a good idea to have a couple of extra activities or games up your sleeve in case you run out of things to do. It is much easier to have thought of them in advance than try to do them at the last minute. Useful extras include:
- Musical bumps or musical statues – all you need is music and a suitable space;
- A drawing or sticking activity – just supply paper, pens and stickers and the children will do the rest.
Party Running Order
A useful rule of thumb for running order is:
Have an activity which will take a variable amount of time, and which they can join as they arrive (for example, a craft activity or ongoing game).
Next 30 to 60 minutes
Games or other structured activity.
Try to alternate competitive and non-competitive activities to avoid too many winners and losers, and also locations (for example, one outside activity if the weather is suitable, followed by an indoor one).
Next 30 minutes
Final 30 minutes
Finish tea, party cake and candles, and some quiet activity (again, crafts) or a game such as musical bumps or musical statues. The idea is to do something that children can leave as their parents arrive to pick them up, but others can continue, and which can go on as long as necessary.
Generally, children want to eat crisps (chips). Sandwiches are for the benefit of grown-ups, although small boys, especially if you have run them around, are likely to eat anything that you put in front of them, like a pack of starving wolves.
Talk to your child about what food they would like, but suitable food includes options such as:
- Sandwiches – cheese, ham or jam. Avoid anything with vegetables. Provide both white and brown bread if possible;
- Carrot and cucumber sticks, and cherry tomatoes;
- Grapes (cut a bunch into smaller bunches of about five grapes each, so that children can get them easily);
- Mini sausages and sausage rolls;
- Pizza slices;
- Crisps or small cheesy biscuits.
Jelly is a good option for dessert (and it can be made in plastic cups if you are going to an outside venue), as are small cupcakes or biscuits. Don’t put these on the table until the children have had a reasonable chance to eat savoury food.
You do not have to make the food yourself. Bought food is just fine, and will be much less stressful.
Do as much of the catering organisation in advance as you can. For example:
- Cut up salad bits the previous day and store them in plastic bowls with lids or cling film, so that you can just whip off the lids and put them out on the day.
- Get out bowls for crisps ahead of time, and put the packets in them, so that all you have to do is open them and tip them out.
- Cook sausage rolls or sausages so that they only need to be reheated.
Organising Other Adults
Depending on the venue, you may need to encourage parents other than your designated helpers to leave, especially if space is limited.
You do not want to spend your time rushing round making cups of tea for other parents, as well as organising the children’s games. Be firm with parents that their presence is not necessary.
On the other hand, if their presence will be helpful (for example, to help children get changed at a swimming party), actively encourage them to stay, explaining what they can do to help you!
At the end of the meal, when everyone has had enough food, light the candle on the birthday cake and bring it out for everyone to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to the birthday boy or girl.
Once the candle has been blown out, remove the cake again for cutting (or putting back in the container, if you have two cakes).
Children don’t very often want to eat birthday cake at the party (they have usually had enough to eat by then), so it’s best cut into pieces and wrapped to go in party bags.
Party bags should be handed out as children leave. For ideas about what to include, see our page on Planning and Preparing for Children’s Parties.
Label each bag with the name of the designated recipient. That way, even if you get a rush on bags, you will still know who has not had one. You can also ensure that each child gets suitable gifts, and your child can help you to fill the bags.
Finally: Don’t Forget to Have Fun!
It may only be two hours but, even with careful advance planning, you will probably be ready to drop by the time the party is over, and so too will your child. But don’t worry, now you can relax because that’s it for another year.