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Planning the Perfect Party – It’s a Piece of Cake!

Your child’s birthday is coming soon. You want your child to have a terrific birthday party and create fun memories. With some simple planning and preparation, here are some easy ideas and tips to make your child’s party run smoothly.

Kid's involvement. The first step a parent needs to take is to speak with your child about what they want for their birthday party. As a parent, it’s easy to get overly excited or run off on a tangent rather than asking your child about their wishes. Talk to them about who they’d like to invite and what they’d like to do.

Size. The size of the party will help determine the other parameters of the day. Watch out for inviting too many kids. “When you invite a smaller number of kids, it makes it more enjoyable for your child, you and the rest of the kids,” says Angela Dean, mom of two.

Another point to consider is that when you invite certain kids, do they have siblings that will want to come, too? Think through how you want to word your invitation, if siblings are not invited. Can your party area include children and can moms or dads attend? Three weeks ahead of the party, you can send out e-vites or send invitations by snail mail for each child to ‘save the date.’

To theme or not to theme? Themes do not have to be complex. Check out birthday party websites to explore different themes, if your child is not sure of what they want.

Keep it simple for younger children. “Balloons are enough. You don’t need all those streamers and extra decorations,” says Kellie Knutson, mom of four.

Food. Fabulous candies and cute cookies adorn the pages of magazines, so parents can easily go overboard with party food. Instead, pick easy, healthy snacks to go along with the cake. Remember to check with all of the children’s parents to see if they have any allergies, especially to nuts.

Cake and ice cream. Decide if you want to make and decorate the birthday cake on your own or buy it at a bakery or a store. Three, four, and five year olds are aware that their neighbor got a piece of cake with a flower on it and they didn’t, so plan accordingly.

Cupcakes or plain sugar cookies can be baked beforehand, and the party activity can consist of the kids decorating their own cupcake or cookie. Ice cream can be scooped out with an ice cream scooper, put in a cupcake paper liner, placed on a cookie sheet and put in the freezer the night before. When the birthday cake is cut, pull out the cookie tray from the freezer and serve each child.

Games and activities. One of the most important areas to plan is games. Decide if you want to give prizes for the winners of the different games because prizes can cause competition and hurt feelings. Pick age-appropriate games and walk through the game beforehand to see if it works for the area that you plan on using. “Games where the kids move around like musical chairs, relays and races are great because young children have such short attention spans,” says Knutson.

Cover tables with either butcher paper or a vinyl tablecloth if you have any messy activities. The kids can draw on the paper, too, while they are waiting to be served.

Find help. Elicit help from a parent that can either come early to help you put the finishing touches on your party or stay late to help you clean up. Assign them the task of taking pictures. Or, they can help write down the gifts your child opens.

Goodie Bag or not? Discount stores are a treasure trove for tiny gifts like pencils, erasers, a bottle of bubbles, etc. Yet, not every birthday party sends home goodie bags. A craft activity, such as a decorated picture frame or painted flower pot, can go home with the artist.

Protect your pets. If you have inside pets or the kids will be outside around the dog, lock up your pets for their own protection. Some children are afraid of dogs and some kids do not know how to treat pets properly. “It’s not fair to your animal to have a piece of cake shoved up its nose,” says Diane Smith, mom of two.

Last-minute preparation hints. The day before the party, grab a shoebox and put your camera, batteries, (film, if necessary), the cake knife, matches, a permanent marker, pen and paper, and scotch tape in it.

Put the children’s names on drinking cups with a permanent marker. Have a list of all the attendees so the helper parent can write down the name of the gift when your child opens it.

Be prepared for your child or another child to become overwhelmed with all the activity and needs some quiet time. If you see a child that seems to be withdrawing, pull them aside and check in with them. Have a quiet area for anyone who needs it.

Planning and thinking through the different components of a birthday party can help you and your child enjoy their day.

Jan is a mom of five, and a freelance writer. She loves both jobs most of the time.


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