Planning and Preparing Children's Parties
Children’s parties are a source of much parental stress. From whether to manage the whole process yourself through to catering and numbers, there is much to decide.
Managing the expectations of child and family also takes some effort, but is perfectly achievable with a little thought.
This page largely focuses on parties for children under the age of about 10 or 12. For more about teenage parties, please see our page Teenage Parties and Sleepovers.
The Importance of Forward Planning
Perhaps the most important aspect of surviving a children’s party is forward planning.
Whether you need to book a venue, or simply organise something at home, prior preparation and planning will make your life significantly easier. If nothing else, it will enable you to buy the food well in advance, and organise party bags without worrying about finding things.
Children’s parties don’t have to be perfect
You may notice that you forgot to lay out table napkins, but you can be certain that the children won’t! All anyone wants from a children’s party is that the children have a chance to run around and let off steam together, perhaps play some games or do some crafts, have something to eat, and go home happy.
Planning a Party
There are a number of things to consider when planning a party. These include:
The age of the child
Much depends on the age of the child. Toddlers and pre-school children may be happy with a friend or two coming for tea, and no organised activities. Slightly older children, however, will need a more organised approach, and perhaps an external venue, depending on numbers.
It may be helpful to involve the child themselves in your planning, to make sure that they are happy with what you suggest. It’s not much fun trying to organise a party with the birthday boy or girl weeping in a corner because they wanted to do something else.
The party venue
There are a wide range of options for party venues, ranging from your own home through church halls and similar venues through to soft play, swimming pools, laser tag and the like. Your choices will depend on:
- the number of children you want to invite;
- your budget;
- the activities you want to offer at the party; and
- the number of adult helpers available.
By the time you host your first children’s party, your child will probably have been to at least one or two parties, so you will probably have a reasonable idea of what is available locally. You can also ask other parents for ideas, and check out the options at local leisure centres and soft play. Most entertainment and leisure venues offer some kind of children’s party options, and prices are surprisingly competitive even at otherwise expensive locations. Many also provide catering, taking away that particular stress.
Popular venues can be often booked up to three months ahead, so if you want somewhere in particular, and have one date in mind, get in early.
When children are small, say under about three or four years of age, their parents will generally stay at a party with them. This means that you are only limited by the venue. Once children get older, you are limited by the number of children that you and your adult helpers can manage as well as any budgetary or venue constraints (for example, some venues charge per child).
A useful rule is to calculate manageable numbers as the age of the child plus one or two more. Alternatively, consider that each adult can (roughly) manage three to five children, although this does depend on the children.
Although not essential, sometimes it can be helpful to have a party theme as this helps you to make familiar games and activities more novel. For example:
For a pirate party, you can ‘Pin the Beak on the Parrot’ instead of the tail on the donkey.
You can also tailor craft activities to the theme, which makes it easier to choose suitable options as well as table decorations and invitations.
The number of adult helpers that you need depends on what you are planning to do at the party.
For example, if the party involves an organised activity, with instructors managing the group, you probably do not need much additional help. If, on the other hand, you are planning rowdy games, it will pay to have several other adults to help.
Pick your adult helpers carefully and in advance: you need people that you can rely on to get stuck in and help, without you needing to direct them too much. Grandparents may be good options, or aunts and uncles or other parents.
It is reasonable to send out invitations about a month ahead of the party. However, if your party will be in school holidays, it’s probably a good idea to send them a bit further ahead than that in order to give you time to chase up any stragglers.
Make sure that you include a mobile number or email for responses on your invitations, and also (if necessary for catering purposes) a deadline for responses.
As a general rule, two to two and a half hours are plenty for any children’s party. Both you and the children will have had enough by then. If you can, pick a time when the children would normally be eating: 3 to 5pm, for example, as you are then less likely to have children say ‘Oh, I’m not hungry, I’ll just carry on playing football/on the bouncy castle/running around’, as this is much harder to manage.
Party bags are apparently essential. No party is complete without them. But they do not have to be terribly expensive, and there are various models for filling them:
- You can take the time-honoured option, and provide several bits of ‘plastic tat’, available at most large retailers. Most will break within about five minutes of opening the party bag, and most grown-ups will regard them as a waste of money.
- You could instead spend your budget on a small but nice gift, together with a balloon and a bottle of bubbles, plus cake. Suitable gifts include pen and notepad, eraser, or a small craft activity. This is particularly easy when you have fewer children, as your budget may be less limited.
- If you have done craft activities or a treasure hunt as part of the party, it is perfectly acceptable to send the children home with no more than their completed crafts and a piece of birthday cake. It is even possible to use ‘decorating the party bag’ as one of your craft activities.
- A single slightly larger present, such as a book or craft activity, together with a piece of cake, provides an acceptable alternative to any of the above.
Bought or made is just fine, depending on your baking skills. Home-made probably tastes better, but shop-bought may be more beautifully decorated (unless you or someone you know is a whiz at decorating cakes).
It is, however, surprisingly easy and effective to decorate cakes with buttercream and small sweets, with added Lego people. A quick Google search for things like ‘swimming pool cake’ or ‘climbing wall cake’ will show you plenty of ideas for simple decorations that look very effective.
You can make and decorate the cake several days in advance and store it in an airtight container.
Make two cakes (or one, and a batch of small fairy cakes). Cut one up in advance and use it to fill the party bags, and leave the other for the candle and ‘happy birthday’ moment. This will save you having to cut up the cake in a rush before everyone leaves, and will make sure that the birthday boy or girl gets to eat their own cake.
…however much advance planning you do, you will still need to do some organising on the day (and see our page on Children’s Parties – Managing the Party.