For many kids, their birthday is their favorite holiday. And why not — it’s a day dedicated entirely to them, complete with cake, balloons, singing, and presents.
Although many parents stress at the idea of planning a birthday party, the preschool age is actually an ideal time to throw one. Here’s how to keep your sanity while ensuring that everyone has a good time.
Make the Details Age-Appropriate
Make sure everything, from activities to goody bag treats, is age-appropriate for the majority of your guests. If there is a wide range of ages, use the age of the birthday child as a guide.
The child’s age is also a good indicator of how many children to invite, the rule of thumb generally is one child for every year plus 2. So if your child is turning four, try to keep the guest list at six children.
Age also plays an important role in setting the theme and deciding where to have your party. Younger children might be comfortable in a home but feel your child out to get a good read on the situation.
Organize the Activities
Spontaneity is always fun, but for a preschool birthday, scheduling (with some wiggle room) is the way to go. Try planning activities over a short time span — 10 to 15-minute intervals. And if you have anything special planned, do it before the cake, a surefire sign that the soiree is winding down.
Remember, simple is best when you are dealing with young children with short attention spans, so you want to try to avoid activities where kids have to wait for their turn, especially if there are lots of other kids at the party.
Think bubbles, coloring pages, and books, freeze dance or even a craft station, complete with clay, paper, glue and other assorted items that kids can create with. Try to have at least one adult helper for each activity.
Define a Start and End Time
If your party is at home, it is important to have a beginning and ending time. Don’t leave the party open-ended as it could confuse guests and keep them from planning for the rest of the day.
Parties for kids under 5 should be set for about 90 minutes or two hours tops.
Include Relevant Info in the Invitation
An invitation should include all the basics — address, date, time and the guest of honor, but there are other important nuggets that parents may be wondering about.
Indicate if a child should be dropped off or if you’d prefer an adult to stay. (Dropping off usually begins around age 5 or 6, but it’s still a good idea to let your preference be known.) If parents do leave their children, get a phone number where they can be reached if there are any problems.
Also, note if you are serving food so people know if they need to feed their kids, and if possible, let them know what’s on the menu to alert those parents who have kids with allergies. Include an RSVP date and don’t feel funny about following up with a phone call if you don’t hear back.
Choose the Location
If you don’t have the room or the inclination to host the party at home, there are plenty of places you can go instead, but you should book this type of party several months in advance if possible.
Good places fill up quickly, especially those that can only host one party at a time. If you choose to avoid the pre-planned party route such as Build-a-Bear or bowling, consider privately owned recreation rooms (possibly owned by a church or firehouse), a park, or even your local daycare center.
These are great places because they are generally closed for normal business on the weekends, parents can often hire the staff to work the party, plus the kids are comfortable because it is a place they are familiar with.
Book the Entertainment
When hiring an entertainer for your child’s party — whether you have it in your home or at an outdoors location, ask key questions like how long their performance is, how much space they need and if they will be in costume the whole time. (Some companies have their performers change costumes mid-party, which can be confusing for young children.)
If cost is a factor and hiring a professional doesn’t fit into your budget, check at your local high school. You might find some members of the drama club who’d be willing to perform or some art students who’d you could hire to do some face painting.
Set the Menu
Pizza is most commonly found on the menu of many preschool parties, but it certainly isn’t the only option. Chicken nuggets, small sandwiches, hot dogs, bagels, vegetables and dip and fruit on skewers are all great choices and kid-favorites. They are also quick to prepare and are likely to please your adult guests. The reality is, this is one area you can probably not have to worry about spending a lot of money. Chances are your pint-sized guests won’t eat that much — so occupied will they be with all the excitement of the day.
Think About Themes
Whether your preschooler loves Dora, Handy Manny, or the Backyardigans, chances are you can find birthday party goodies that span the spectrum, from plates to wall hangings. And it’s not just about decorations. Popular characters lend themselves to other facets of the celebration, like games, food, and crafts.
At a Dora party, for instance, you can set up an adventure course and make an animal mask. Serve up sandwiches you cut from train-shaped cookie cutters at a Thomas the Tank Engine party.
And if you are so inclined, the big finale can be when the birthday child’s favorite character shows up. No matter where you hold the party, the theme is something your child is going to want to be involved with, so make sure to get her input.
Bake or Buy the Cake
Talk to your child about what she would like. A cake is a good option, but so are cupcakes, ice cream sundaes, or even big cookies.
You can incorporate the theme (if you have one) either by baking your own cake and decorating with small toys or even trying your hand at drawing something. Local bakeries, grocery stores and many big-box retailers (think Sam’s Club or BJ’s) can also make theme cakes to order.
You may even want to let your young guests get in on the act — bake a bunch of cupcakes, put out icing, sprinkles and other decorations like chocolate candies and let them get to work creating a culinary masterpiece.
Pick Out Fun Favors
Hand out goody bags at the end, as the children leave, so you greatly reduce the chance of lost items or misunderstandings. There are plenty of options — if you are having a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse party, for example, purchase favors related to that theme — stickers, notepads, pens, and more at all different price points.
No matter what type of party your child may be having, drink cups are popular favors. They serve a dual-purpose — you can use them at the party and then send them home with the guests.
If you aren’t thrilled with the idea of buying a bunch of small toys, consider buying one item — a shovel and pail, a book or even coloring books and crayons. Make sure whatever you choose is clearly labeled with the child’s name.
Prepare for Presents
Presents can be a highlight of the special day. If you decide to open them during the festivities, you may need to coach your child a little — if she gets a duplicate or something she doesn’t like, make sure she understands she shouldn’t announce it to the world. Toys should stay in their boxes to avoid losing pieces.
When all is said and done, be sure to mail (not e-mail) thank-you notes. This job will most likely fall on you, but your child can certainly practice good manners by drawing a picture or writing her name (if this is something she is capable of doing).