HDYDI: Plan a Great Child Birthday Party

Before we talk party planning, there’s just a few hours left in the awesome Lisa Hendey book giveaway. Entries close at 1pm CST so get on it, y’all!

Last week was all about the parties, wasn’t it? Several of you asked how I did it and below is your 411. And, because I understand that sometimes birthdays aren’t always cupcakes and singing, I wrote a piece for PreemieBabies101 recently about celebrating birthdays for your preemie. With our youngest, my normal jovial birthday demeanor took a hard right turn onto the lane of difficult. Been there, done that.

Wherever you are on the birthday realm, I hope this post helps you enjoy birthdays even more!

1. Pick a theme. Maybe your inspiration comes from walking by Party City’s huge display of helium balloons, from a cartoon on TV, your kids’ toybox or the sale bin at Pier 1 Imports. As a graphic designer I’ve learned that inspiration comes in many forms and in many places. Take a cue from your children. Do they have a favorite toy or word? Is there a shirt they never want to take off for fear the washing machine will eat it? Do they enjoy a sport or after school activity? Those are great jumping off points and can be the start of a great party.

2. Set a date. When my children were very little, we talked to family members about dates they could attend. As my oldest has gotten older, he’s less keen on the grandparents attending. I’m not even 100% sure he wants me there sometimes! However, if there’s someone you really want to attend, make sure the date works for them and you. I will say, however, that occasionally the party planning stars do not align. That is when you have to remember why you’re doing the party:  to celebrate the life of your child. Focus on their best interests and the party will always be a smashing success.

3. Find a place. It only takes a walk through the mall to realize how many places now host birthday parties. We’ve enjoyed them at the fire station, a bowling alley, the movie theatre, a great restaurant and a hunting/fishing store. One year, we even brought the location to us. The majority of our shindigs, though, have taken place right in our own backyard. I am a HUGE fan of at-home birthday parties. No, I’m not particularly a fan of the destruction, the cake crumbs or the wrapping paper decor. I do my best to corral the fun to the backyard and that helps tremendously. If having them at your home isn’t an option, then consider a family member’s home, the park or a community center. Just make sure when you set the date, the place and time you requested are available.

4. Set a budget. Oh, can I say I am not super great at this? With a combined 33 parties under my belt there’s quite a bit of using and reusing items. For some parties, the majority of the budget went to food, others went to activities and still others paid for the entertainment. My best advice is be realistic. Ask yourself:  Will spending the money on X really make a difference or is there another inexpensive way to get the same result for less money? My husband keeps me in check. If you’re wondering, I do not have the same budget for every child. It all depends on our current finances and the birthday theme. Our biggest budget expense is the 10-year-old trip. You can read more about that on my 10-year birthday post.

5. Send out the invites. I’ve done the occasional electronic one, but I’ve mostly stuck to the old-fashioned paper and stamp kind. You know why? Everybody loves to get mail. Kids especially. When my children are older I even have them address the envelopes. You can get super creative with these. Earlier this year, we made lollipops (very fun) and I have something fabulous up my sleeve for the upcoming Harry Potter birthday. Check back in late January for all those details.

6. Brainstorm the activities/favors and order the treats. The theme can be grand, but at least make it fun for the kids! I know lots of inspiration on Pinterest SHOWS you a great party, but you don’t see what they DO. A party isn’t the dessert table, it’s the celebration! We made beautiful masterpieces at our art party (which doubled as party favors), had wheelbarrow races at the Bob the Builder party, painted pots at the garden party, squirted the wanted poster at the cowboy party, made crepes and took pics in a photo booth at the Paris party and enjoyed some water fun at the mermaid party. All were economical or free and the kids had a blast. For favors, I’m a fan of function. We’ve always made the favors something the kids can use long after the party. For treats, we’ve enjoyed cake, cake pops and cookies. And yes, we usually get them from the infamously delicious Polkadots.

Below is a listing of a few favor ideas:

Cowboy party:  western-themed crayon holder and art pad
Passport to Paris party:  Eiffel Tower-shaped coin bank
Candy/Lollipop party:  box of candy and a toothbrush
Hunting & Fishing party:  compass keychain, cookie & water bottle
Rockstar party:  CD, sunglasses and harmonica
Cookie Monster party:  A layered Bell jar with a candy mix (sorry, that one was pre-blog!)

7. To open or not open gifts? We opt to not open gifts, but that’s a personal family decision. We wanted the focus to be on the fun and celebration and not what the gifts the birthday boy or girl received. When guests arrive, we stash the gifts out of sight and then pull them out after the party is over and enjoy the fun as a family. It’s also ensured we don’t misplace the card from the gift! At a few of our parties we’ve asked guests to bring new or gently used books in lieu of a gift. A few days after the party, we head to our local children’s hospital and donate the books. It has been a tremendous lesson in gratitude and stewardship.

8. Go shopping/stalk Pinterest. Pinterest has certainly made the world of party planning better – and worse. Better in that the inspiration is so easily accessed. I have found some absolute gems of ideas there. Worse in that we now feel unless the party is magazine worthy, we’ve somehow failed our kids. Focus on the better, y’all. Whatever you do for your children, if done with love, is really all that matters. When it’s all said and done, your child wants to hear a rousing rendition of “happy birthday” and play with their friends. The rest is for you.

9. Set up for the party. As we’ve had more and more children, the army to get things ready for the party gets bigger and bigger. I try my hardest to do things ahead of time and then the night before (or morning of) we set up the activities and food table. For the activities, I try to troubleshoot before the guests arrive. When hosting the Passport to Paris party for my daughter, we realized (a wee bit late), that the “pin the butterfly on the Eiffel Tower” would not adhere to the fence outside. My dad stepped in – literally – and made it work. For the Lollipop party the next month, we used foam core instead of paper and hung it over the fence with ribbon. Score one for learning a lesson.

10. Enjoy the celebration, take pictures and send the thank you’s! At one point during the party, take a moment to just stand there a take it all in – the smiles, the laughter, the smeared cake on the floor. These are the memories you’ll want to remember. Don’t forget to have a little fun. For photos, we designated a family member (holla to my brother) to take pictures at our parties. After he moved, my husband and I now trade off picture taking duties. But, be sure YOU – yes, YOU Mom – get in the photos with your children. You’ll want those someday. Even if you think your hair looks bad or the baby just spit up on your shoulder, do it anyway. When the dust has settled and the wrapping paper finally makes it to the trash, do your kids a favor and teach them how to write a proper thank you note. And, that’s your HDYDI for next week!

Go party!

This post is featured over at Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by Many Little Blessings.

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings


  1. Kara King on October 8, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    Great ideas Kathryn, a good timing too because I am planing Tierney’s Alice In Wonderland tea party for Nov 3rd. Lost on the “activity” party. Any ideas?

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.