It's a good thing birthdays only come once a year; it takes so much stress, time and money to throw your growing baby a bash that you need a whole year to recover! Use these ideas when organizing your daughter's next birthday party and you'll keep her guests excited and engaged the whole day without putting yourself in a panic.
To get the nitty-gritty on fun party ideas, we went to the most knowledgeable experts on the subject: parents and party planners.
A Princess Birthday Party
Little girls are enamored by anything to do with princesses. Luckily for busy moms and nannies, you don't need a magic wand to pull off a princess party. It's easy to throw one at your home (aka the castle.) "All little girls should have the chance to be a princess," says Daba Beach, a mom from Portland, Maine who held a princess party for her 5-year-old twins. "And this party lets them be one!"
Decorations: Beach's guests decorated crowns, wands and white gloves with as much bling as they liked. They were also given a set of sparkly plastic jewelry and colorful bows to make their ensemble complete. Snag a bunch of glitter-filled balloons to create an archway, complete with a red carpet, which leads up to your home's entrance. Ready the big table that everyone will be sitting around when it's time to blow out the candles by creating a "throne" at the head of the table for your little princess. Kimberly Lee, a mom from Great Meadows, New Jersey, had girls at her daughter's birthday build sugar cube castles, sticking them together with icing.
Activities: Energy burners can consist of a princess dance-off and a rubber frog toss (instead of a bean bag toss). Set up a crown decorating station for girls to design their own tiara. Plastic tiaras and crowns come in bulk at your local party store, and you can buy feathers, gems and anything sparkly that you can get your hands on.
Snacks: Put together a royal meal of finger sandwiches, fresh fruit, cookies, pink lemonade and cupcakes. Or throw a princess tea party, complete with apple juice or cider in a tea pot, which can be served into little tea cups. Serve with lavender scones and tea sandwiches made with strawberry jam and cream cheese, cut into heart shapes with a cookie cutter.
Goodie bags: Send each princess home with the pieces they decorated, along with goodie bags of glitter tattoos, nail decals, ring lollipops, candy necklaces and stickers.
A Crafting Birthday Party
This type of party is a great choice because it can be tailored to girls of all ages. Is she a girly girl who gravitates towards jewelry design or is she more of a tomboy who can't wait to pick up a hammer and put together a birdhouse? A craft party works for everyone, and you can hold them at home, in the park or at a craft store.
Decorations: Craft stores are a great source of inexpensive party decorations, including stationery to make place cards and signs. The sky's the limit, with everything from balloons and wooden letters to fake flowers and paints.
Activities: Brenda McTee, a party planner at Michaels in Marysville, Washington, says some popular party choices at the craft store include jewelry making, mosaics, birdhouses, memory boxes and T-shirt or flip-flop decorating. As McTee explains, "We talk to the parent and child beforehand to make sure the birthday girl's wishes are all fulfilled." By basing activities around the guest of honor, each party can be unique and special.
Snacks: Carry the crafting over to the food choices as well. Buy or bake sugar cookies or cupcakes for the guests to frost and garnish to perfection. Snag a cupcake-decorating book for fun, crafty design ideas, and pick up tons of candies, marshmallows and food coloring for creating people, flowers and anything else your brilliant crafter can imagine.
Goodie bags: Buy inexpensive and plain handbags at a discount store or canvas bags at a craft store, and have each guest decorate one during the party. Use fabric paint, glitter, sequins, stickers, etc. to make each bag unique.
A Cooking Birthday Party
If you have a budding chef, why not take that cue and turn it into a fun birthday party? Laura Sheets, a mom from Salt Lake City, Utah, has held cooking parties for her two kiddos. Sheets says she chose to go with this theme to "encourage the party guests to continue cooking after the party." It must have worked, because she later had "multiple parents call just to tell [me] how often their little ones put on their chefs outfits and ask to help in the kitchen." These types of shindigs are easily adapted to a child's age and skill level.
Decorations: For parties like this, it's less about decorations and more about drop cloths. Open the kitchen (or backyard tables) up to include as much walking room and tabletop space as possible. Put newspapers on the floor for a cheap and easy-to-clean option.
Activities: Sheets' 3-year-old had a cookie party where they decorated large sugar cookies cut into fun shapes. The guests had an assortment of frosting and colorful toppings to use. The bakers were each given a chef's apron and hat (with their name in fabric paint) to wear while decorating their masterpieces. The activities were all cookie-based: cookie bingo, pin the chips on the giant cookie, how high can you go Oreo stacks and animal cracker memory games.
Her five-year-old daughter had a pizza and ice cream sundae party. Because the kids were older, they were able to use fabric paint to personalize (and decorate) their own cooking aprons. Using pre-made individual pizza dough, the kids added the sauce, toppings and cheese. Later, the birthday guests used a selection of ice creams, chocolate and caramel sauces and toppings to make sundaes.
You can also do fun food-related game, like blind taste tests (have kids guess the jellybean flavors, cookie types, ice creams etc.); chopstick spaghetti races, where guests have to transport cooked spaghetti into buckets using only chopsticks; marshmallow tosses; guess the number of M&M's in a jar; one-handed PB&J-making races; or a donut ring toss.
Snacks: Obviously, kids will be eating their own creations at a cooking party. If you're making sweets, be sure to regulate the kids' sugar intake or you're bound to have parents wondering why their kids are bouncing off the walls when they come to pick them up. Pass out plates of fruit, vegetables and sandwiches if sweets are the focus of the day.
Goodie bags: Give them kid-sized cooking utensils, an easy sugar cookie recipe, cookie cutter and colored sprinkles all packed into an oven mitt. Also include any leftover cookies or treats the kids baked.
Kristy Stevens-Young is a freelance writer in Seattle. Her work can be found here.