Planning a kids’ party can be stressful, and there’s so much to consider. Where should you have it? What kind of food should you serve? How on earth are you going to entertain all those kids? But there’s no need to stress — children are easy to please. “More often than not, kids just want to play with their friends,” says Jennifer Shields, co-founder of Posh Tot Events. “So don’t stress about making every detail perfect.” Shields, along with party planners Seri Kertzner and Michelle Bachman of Little Miss Party and Debbie Madson, author of “Kids Party Themes,” offer these 20 tips for throwing a kids’ party:
- Set a Budget
“Costs for kids’ birthday parties can add up quickly,” says Bachman. So set a budget before you start planning — and stick to it. Ketzner says it’s easiest to think about the per-person cost. She asks, “What would you feel comfortable spending for each guest for food, drinks, dessert, etc.?”
- Pick a Date
Make sure it works for the key players, too, such as your child’s best friend and Grandma.
- Make To-Do Lists
Kertzner says, “Lists help us to organize our thoughts and keep us from feeling overwhelmed.” Plus, there’s no feeling more satisfying than checking something off your to-do list! Make lists for items you need to do the month, week and day before the party.
- Decide Whether You Want to Use Your Home
This depends on how much space you have and how much effort you want to put in. Home parties are more work for you, but great if you’re the creative type. A home party is also a great way to save money because you can control how much you spend on food and decorations.
- Book a Venue
If you decide to use a venue, look for one that suits your child’s interests. Indoor play gyms, bounce houses and children’s museums are great options. They can book up months in advance, so plan early!
- Select a Theme
“It’s important to choose a theme your child loves, not just something that looks cute,” says Shields. “Ask for her help, and look to her favorite activities, characters or sports for inspiration.”
- Create a Guest List
For preschoolers, invite your child’s entire class to avoid hurt feelings if you can accommodate everyone. It’s okay to stick with close friends for older kids. You can also keep the guest list down by having an all-boys or all-girls party.
- Choose a Time
“Consider nap times and when your child is at his best,” says Shields. Toddlers do better earlier in the day, before their afternoon naps, while older children do well in the afternoon. Choose your party time with this in mind.
- Keep It Short
Not sure how long the party should go? For younger kids, an hour and a half is plenty. Older kids (and parents!) will wipe out after two to three hours.
- Prepare Invitations
Include the date, start and end times, the location and an RSVP phone number or email address. If necessary, include parking information and special requests like “Bring a swimsuit” or “No gifts, please.”
- Decide If You Want Parents to Stay
Most parties become drop-off parties around age 6. Still, indicate on the invitation whether parents should stick around to avoid any miscommunication.
- Send Invitations a Few Weeks in Advance
If you send them too early, parents could forget about the party. If you send them too late, many guests won’t be able to come.
- Serve Classic Foods
“Stick to the basics for kids’ parties,” says Kertzner. You can’t go wrong with pizza, cake and ice cream. For an at-home party, go with finger foods you can set up ahead of time and serve at room temperature, like mini sandwiches.
- Get Creative With Favors
“Send kids home with something they and their parents will appreciate,” says Kertzner. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. At one party, Bachman’s daughter received a personalized container to hold snacks. Bachman carried it everywhere in her diaper bag. Have a few extra on hand just in case a guest’s sibling stays unexpectedly.
- Consider Entertainers Wisely
Musicians or puppeteers are great choices. Sometimes, young kids can be frightened by clowns or costumed characters.
- Have Plenty of Activities
“The most important thing is keeping the kids busy,” says Kertzner. Craft stations that fit your theme and classic games like musical chairs or the “freeze dance” work great.
- Let the Kids Help
Activities that allow kids to make their own food, such as building personal pizzas or decorating cupcakes, are popular. These mean less food prep for you, and one less activity to plan!
- Gather a Team
Have friends or relatives help guide activities, take photos and clean up. You might also consider hiring a helper to watch younger siblings.
Check out the resources here to start your babysitter search.
- Prepare for the Unexpected
“For an outdoor party, have a rain plan, whether it’s an alternate indoor location or a rain date,” says Shields. Side step minor emergencies by having a first-aid kit on hand, too.
- Open Gifts Later
“Opening gifts at the party is not a good idea,” says Shields. “Feelings can get hurt, gifts can get lost and children can argue over toys.” Wait until the guests have gone and let your tot have at it!
For even more tips, check out Care 101: Planning a Kid’s Birthday Party.
Jennifer Marino Walters is a Washington, D.C.-based writer specializing in children’s and parenting topics. She writes a mom blog at doubledutytwins.com and is getting ready to plan her twins’ 4th birthday party.