I’m not a party planner. I’ve not even organised that many birthday parties. I’d probably rather have a smaller get together with friends, but when you have children you can’t get away from holding at least 1 birthday party. I might moan about organising parties, but given I’m a project manager and love order and logistics, I can certainly share my tips on making party planning easy.
I’m focusing on children’s birthday parties, but these tips are easily applicable to weddings, adult parties, or any other get together or social.
How to make party planning easy
The easiest way to planning a party is to start by asking a lot of questions, of you, of your family, of the birthday child. Once you’ve got the answers you can start pulling it together.
Have a checklist – I use an excel spreadsheet, but if you’re sharing your planning use something like Google docs or Trello. Or even have an offline planner. Just keep it updated so you know where you are and what you’re doing, and when things need to be done.
How much budget do you have?
You will spend as much budget as you have, so keep on top of what you’ve spent and what’s remaining.
Decide regularly during the planning stages, what the priorities for spend are. Do you want an amazing cake, or is the entertainment more important?
What type of party is it?
Children’s party for school friends, family party, party at home, traditional birthday party in a hall with games, taking a few friends out somewhere? If you don’t want to give the child free rein, give them a menu of options to keep within a) your budget and b) your willingness to spend weeks planning.
If the party will be in warmer months, then is an outdoor party an option, or if in winter, it’s likely to be indoors. If the later, do you have the room for it at home or do you need to research a hall.
Some halls charge a flat rate for kids parties, others charge for everything – a second room, use of the kitchen, tables/chairs, music, heating, electricity etc. Check and compare everything including the size of the hall before booking. Also check if there will be more than 1 party in on the same day – if not, you may be able to get in and prep without worrying or rushing, but if the turnaround time is only 30 minutes, get all hands on deck to help.
Or will you have it at an activity centre? If so, how will the children get there? Is it a reasonable distance for parents to drive/leave them, will parents need to stay, or will you provide transport?
When to hold it?
If you want to restrict numbers, then hold it after school. If parents work, chances are the children will be at after school clubs or childcare, so won’t be able to attend. Ditto, over holiday periods, you’ll likely have people away.
Weekends are the usual dates and they give you more time to prep and set up. Think about where lunch or tea falls and ensure that that time falls at the end of the party. So popular times are times between 10.30-1 and between 2-5. 2 hours is usually the optimum time dependent on the age of the children and the activities taking place.
Who will be invited?
With preschool age, many parties are just family events, or family plus a few nursery friends. We held pre-school parties like summer playdates out in the garden with a picnic. Easy to organise, and no pressure for the children who may otherwise get overwhelmed by all the guests turning up for them.
With school age children invites can become a minefield. Ask around to check how their school deal with it. Don’t assume there won’t be politics surrounding parties and make a decision whether you want to just ask everyone in their class (or year group if they mix years) and keep everyone happy, or invite only a few and then have your child upset everyone not invited by pointing that out to them in school. It will happen. Or you’ll end up with the extra children being invited by your child anyway without you knowing!
Generally my experience and from asking around, is that in Foundation stage the whole class are invited, further up the school there’s less expectation that this is the case.
Depending on the type of party, venue and budget, you may be restricted by numbers anyway. Remember you may have non school friends you want to invite too.
What’s the party theme?
Keep it simple with a traditional children’s party – this will need people to run the party games, food and balloons or go more complex with a full on theme, fancy dress, themed food and outside entertainment.
We’ve been to a great traditional party recently, and while some parents looked on in horror while 20 kids ran riot, chasing each other and dragging a couple of children around, plus bashing balloons, they all had a ball. Our most recent party was a science themed one with a Mad Scientist, themed decorations, piñata for the post food lull and homemade slime to take away.
We’ve also been to a myriad of parties, from a winter wonderland one, Frozen, cowgirl, rainbow, pirates, disco, softplay and farm themed. We’ve also been to activity parties held at other venues – where you might pay for activities run by a party planner or take part in activities, then there’s food afterwards. All you need to do is turn up and pay (maybe with a cake).
Themes can be as simple or complicated as you want, but don’t make fancy dress compulsory because not all children like it.
Also take into account the boy girl split. Holding a Frozen party might be your little girl’s dream, but if she wants boys to go as well, bear in mind they might not want to get involved with Ana and Elsa look a likes turning up.
How are you inviting people?
Bear in mind the politics and check how it’s dealt with in schools. Some are happy for parents to put in drawers, teachers will sometimes put invites discretely in book bags, others are fine with them being handed out in the playground. The alternative is just inviting via text or email. Do have an rsvp date on it, and follow up quickly after that date.
Send invitations out 3-4 weeks before the party date. Give 1-1 1/2 weeks to respond, and then time to chase.
If people can’t attend, do you have a minimum number requirement? If so, make sure you’ve followed up rsvps, and then think about doing more invites to others. This isn’t bad, it’s giving more people the opportunity to attend who your children would probably have loved to come, but previous number restrictions prevented it. Just don’t tell people that others couldn’t attend and therefore they weren’t first choice!
How to choose an entertainer or activity provider?
You obviously want good value and a good entertainer that all the children like. Word of mouth is always the best way to find party entertainment. Google is your friend, or ask for recommendations in a local Facebook group. Some entertainers will cover different themes amending their standard games, others are more specific.
Look into distance they have to travel. Some entertainers/providers have a certain distance they’ll travel, others will travel further, but all will usually charge mileage for over a certain distance. Mileage can tot up, and if the party is in winter, watch out if there’s a potential for snow which means they’re unable to travel. Either have an alternative party in mind or ask about cancellation due to bad weather/illness and whether you get a refund or a revised party date.
Other things to take into account before signing: provision of extras (game prizes, awards), additional paid for options eg party bags, balloons, package discounts if you add extra activities, how much time will they need for set up, what they need, how much space is needed, what’s their experience. And overall cost, is the deposit refundable (and if so, when).
DIY party games?
Either stick with the traditional games like pass the parcel, musical bumps/statues/chairs, dancing competitions or pin the tail on the donkey/nose on the witch/patch on the pirate. Younger children are often happy with parachute games
Alternatives for older children – team relay races go down well, or scavenger hunts/picture quizzes. Think Crystal Maze style challenges or team building style activities in particular for outdoor fun.
The alternative is activity stations – especially for younger children, have areas with different physical or craft activities for them to do, and get stickers on a card for each activity done that can be swapped for party bag fillers at the ‘shop’.
What food will you serve?
I’ve never experienced a party without food. Even if the party isn’t at ‘lunch’ or ‘tea’ time, there’s always been food, so don’t think you can avoid this unless the party is very short or in the evening if you’ve older kids (eg at a roller disco or concert – but I’d argue that even then they should be provided with snacks or light food of some kind). Children get hungry, and half way through a party you will end up with kids flagging or sitting down to wait for food (yep, that’s my son!).
Traditional party food is easy, generally inexpensive, and easy enough for even young children to eat. Think sandwiches (offer a couple of options), crisps, sweet options, fruit and veg sticks. Some people serve the cake at the party, but my view is most expect to see it in the party bags, so offer a small basic cake, party biscuits or jelly and ice cream for ‘pudding’ and keep the cake for party bags. Make sandwiches in advance, put in an air tight container and freeze. Just defrost in the morning and they’ll be fine for the party.
As an alternative lunch boxes work well. Just fill boxes or party trays with a drink, crisps, sausage rolls, fruit/veg sticks, sweet pudding like pot of jelly, popcorn or little chocolate lolly, and offer a choice of 2 sandwich fillings (we make up enough sandwiches for 2 squares of each flavour per child – because sods law, all the kids will want the ham and there’d be riots if there weren’t enough – just wrap the portions in cling film or foil and freeze the leftovers – great for lunchboxes). The kids love these although prepare to sort out some swapsies.
Hot food is also an option at home or elsewhere. Hotdogs or pizza and chips are easy to manage and usually liked by most children. Just ensure that when you send out invites, you ask for any dietary requirements.
If you’re budgeting and buying food yourself, start buying non-perishables early to build up stock until needed. Most parents will let healthy preferences go for parties, but do offer non-sugary drinks as an alternative. Not everyone gives their children fizzy drinks, so definitely avoid provide those.
What type of birthday cake?
Shop bought, homemade or cake maker?
Plain cake or themed cake? Large cake or cupcakes?
If you want an easy themed cake, buy or make a plain cake with fondant icing and order a cake topper to your own design. These can be bought online, or for an easier option we go to Asda where you can get your pictures printed on a cake.
Decide whether you’ll do them, then what you want to put in them. And what types of party bags – loot bags or just get plain white paper bags and sticker them up to the theme.
I’d personally avoid cheap tat although kids love it. A slice of cake, a balloon are pretty much essentials here, and a little notepad and pen are universally liked. The alternative is including 1 better present with just some cake. We’ve been to a party where every child was given a Roald Dahl book which was lovely. Our recent party, all the children were given the game Uno. In the past for an outdoor party, I did pocket kites. If you’re buying in bulk check out wholesale sellers, or request discounted deals from ebay sellers.
Obviously try to prep for the party the night before – do as much prep in advance and allow more time than you need. It will take longer than you expect to set up especially if not planned out. Get to the venue on time, set up, and have time to spare. Don’t forget bin bags for rubbish and either boxes to transport any gifts home.
I’ve made my party planning checklist available for download. Hopefully you’ll find it helpful.
What kind of parties have you had to organise? What planning tips do you have?
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