A children’s museum, an arcade, a petting zoo or a kid’s fitness center are fun venues for a birthday party. But why not give the coffee table a shove and turn your home into celebration central?
Compared to renting a party space, “home birthday parties are more personal,” says Aviva Samuels, owner of a wedding and party planning service. If your child’s birthday party will include adults, throwing a party is a chance to build your tribe.
“When you open up your home, you’ll develop a deeper bond with your guests. When they’re invited into your space, they get to know you better,” Samuels says. Another home party perk: You can be as creative as you want. If you want to transform your backyard into a circus, there’s no one saying you can’t. “In your home, you make your own rules,” Samuels says. Your child may be more comfortable there, too. And since you don’t have to rent a space, a DIY birthday party can be easier on your budget.
Still, there will be countless details to attend to. “A host is responsible for the experience, which is everything from how your house is decorated to making sure the buns come before the hot dogs on the buffet line,” says Holly Stiel, the owner of a hospitality consultancy. But the personal payoff can be priceless, especially when you see your child and everyone having fun as a result of your creativity, time, and resourcefulness.
To pull-off the ultimate event, being organized is key. “A well-thought-out task list at the beginning of the process will save your sanity,” Samuels says. This schedule can help you stay on track to hosting a kid’s home birthday party that’s anything but ho-hum.
PARTY PLANNING TIMELINE
ONE-THREE MONTHS AHEAD
Select a theme. A theme helps you with choosing decorations and activities. “You won’t be stabbing in the dark, doing exhaustive Internet searches looking for something ‘fun’ or ‘interesting,’ which is too ambiguous,” Samuels says.
Not sure where to start? Ask your child for ideas. If your little one has a blank face, feel free to make suggestions and see what gets your kiddo excited.
Pick a date and make a guest list. Before setting a birthday party date, check with extra special guests to make sure they’re available. Your child won’t be happy if his/her best friend will be out of town. After selecting a date, decide with your child whether to invite the entire daycare, preschool or school class, or just a handful of his or her best buds.
“While including everyone on the guest list might be a nice thing to do, if your child is timid or happiest in a small group, then your child’s needs ultimately should come first,” Samuels says.
Book the entertainment. If you want to bring in outside entertainment, get them while you can. “Ask for references from people who have used those entertainers recently, or check their online reputation to make sure they’re reliable, professional and personable,” Samuels says.
ONE MONTH AHEAD
Send invitations. Whether handwritten, ordered professionally or computer generated, an invitation should fit the theme. For kids ages seven or older, indicate on the invitations whether parents are invited, so they won’t have to ask if the party is a drop-off.
Include an RSVP date, as well as both a start time and end time, so parents know when to pick up their children.
Line up help. Enlist friends, parents, teens or relatives to help supervise activities. Consider hiring a few high school students, your babysitter or a professional service to help with pre-party or post-party clean up, or to supervise games, deliver, serve and replenish food, and generally take some of the weight off your shoulders. If you’ll be having a pool party, hire certified lifeguards.
Order party supplies, favors and a bakery cake (if you won’t be baking your own). Take inventory of what you already have on hand and note what you’ll need to purchase or borrow, then stock up on party supplies.
You’ll also need party favors that fit the theme and goody bags to put them in, as well as prizes for the games. “It’s a nice idea to include at least one prize for everyone, so everyone gets to feel like a winner and sensitive feelings don’t get bruised,” Samuels says.
TWO WEEKS BEFORE
Confirm the final head count. Follow up with anyone who hasn’t RSVPed, so you have time to make sure you have everything you need.
Make a schedule of party day activities. Plan to fill two-three hours with a mix of energetic games and calmer activities, such as crafts or storytelling. For babies and toddlers, you can’t go wrong with a ball pit. Factor in time for snacks and general playtime. If the presents will be opened at the party, save it for the end. If you run out of time, you can always skip it. Keep in mind that an outdoor party may become an indoor party in case of rain, so be prepared with alternate, rainy-day activities.
Get your decorations on deck. “Nothing says fun like balloons,” says certified balloon artist Sandi Masori. Air-filled balloon columns are an easy way to liven up any space and turn a DIY birthday party into an event.
Plan the menu. “Finger foods such as chicken fingers, fries and pizza are not only super easy for you, they are also sure to please,” Samuels says. For the adults who attend, a few add-on treats would be nice, such as fresh guacamole and chips.
Skip common allergic foods, such as tree nuts or shellfish. For younger kids four years of age and younger, don’t serve common choking hazards as well, such as hotdogs, chunks of cheese and whole grapes or marshmallows.
Spiff up the yard. For an outdoor party, do any major yard cleanup or planting and give the patio furniture a scrub.
THREE DAYS BEFORE
Clean the house. Don’t wait until the day of the party to do a thorough house cleaning. This way, you’ll need only a quick once-over before the party.
Tackle kitchen prep. If you’re doing the cooking, Samuels recommends making any foods you can in advance that can be frozen and defrosted. On the event day, set out foods early that won’t spoil.
Do a sound and camera check. Charge your smartphone and make sure you’ve got plenty of storage for the photo memories you’ll be creating; stock up on extra film, batteries or memory cards, if applicable. Also, line up the music–a party essential, even if it’s just a playlist on your iPhone.
Make your home into a safety zone. Do a quick run through to make sure there are no dangers lurking, such as slippery floors, uncovered electrical outlets, unlocked windows and choking hazards.
Lock up cleaning solutions and other dangerous chemicals; cover sharp-edged corners on furniture. Remove fragile objects around the house or yard and stow them away.
FEW HOURS BEFORE
Refresh the guest bathroom. Give it a welcoming feel with a fresh set of hand towels, scented soap and soap dispenser.
Set the stage. Lay out your serving dishes, glasses, cups and utensils on a table so everything is in one place.
Role play greetings and goodbyes. Coach your child on handing out the goody bags and saying thank you at the same time. If opening gifts is on the agenda, practice polite “thank yous.”
AT THE PARTY
Watch for cute moments with your camera. “Pictures can help you remember the little moments you might easily forget,” says Karen I. Hirsch, a professional photographer. “Be on the lookout for the cute things that happen. You have to watch and be ready.” If you suspect you’ll be too busy to be in the moment, designate someone to be the party photographer.
Make adult guests feel welcome. If adults will be staying for the party, consider how you can make them feel comfortable. Create a welcome message and help them make connections. Don’t leave guests to fend for themselves.
AFTER THE PARTY
Stay organized. While your child is opening gifts, make a list of who gave what. You won’t remember later.
Help your child send thank-you notes. They’re the right thing to do, no matter what your child’s age. They’re a tangible act of good manners and teach gratitude.
Reflect on the experience. Talk with your child about what the party was like.
Whatever happens, know that the party was perfect just the way it was. “If your child had fun, it was a huge success,” Samuels says.