Take a Deep Breath and Plan!

How to Organize a Birthday Party, Detail-by-Detail

Getting ready for a birthday party can unnerve even a normally well-organized parent. A surprising number of details need to be planned. Here are some tips that will smooth the way to your child’s birthday bash.

What Kind of Party?

The first step in planning your party is to decide on the basics.

  • Will the party be at home or away? If you have a small house or it isn’t child- or teen-proof, you might want to have the party at a facility. If you have enough room or a yard where you can have a cookout or set up games, you might want to host the party yourself. If the party’s outside, have a back up plan in case of rain.
  • Set the number of guests. Some parents use the rule of one child per candle on the cake.
  • Determine how much you can spend. Parties at pizza places, skating rinks and other facilitiess run from $6-$15 per child. Parties at home usually cost less. (See accompanying article, Birthday Parties on 3 Budgets.)
  • Decide on the theme. Let your child help you plan. For younger children, pick a theme and plan simple games around it. For example, if you choose a Blues Clues theme, make everything blue. Pin the tail on a blue dog. Play games with blue balloons. Older children might want a theme based on a reality show or a mystery to solve.
  • Keep the party short. For preschool children, 90 minutes is long enough. Plan parties for the morning before nap time. School-age parties shouldn’t be more than three hours.
Ideas for Kids’ Parties

Does your party planning need a jumpstart? Here are some favorite kids’ party themes.

Art/Craft Parties. You can purchase simple crafts supplies and kits for home, or pay for a certain number of children to make a project at a craft store.

Cooking Parties. They can be as simple as decorating cupcakes or as elaborate as the kids working together to create a special menu.

Live Animal Parties. Meet at a zoo or arrange for a zoo or nature center to bring the animals to you. Check references and safety issues ahead.

Storybook/dress up parties. Either have little ones come dressed in a certain theme — favorite character, prince or princess, zoo animal — or have dress-up clothes available. Take pictures on a digital camera or Polaroid for souvenirs.

Tea Parties. Tea parties and teddy bear tea parties are popular for the youngest partygoers. School-age girls sometimes enjoy a more formal tea party fashioned after an adult affair.

Detective Parties. School-age children will enjoy finding clues and solving a mystery, especially if it results in treats at the end.

The Next Steps

Your next set of decisions includes what food, party favors and place settings you need. What do you need for games? What will go in the party bags? Make your first stop the dollar store. You can often find the same items for less than you might at a party shop.

  • Line up entertainment or facility, if any. Meet the entertainer if possible. Don’t forget to ask for and check references. Book your party well in advance if you’re having it away from home. You might get a better deal if you have the party Monday-Thursday rather than on the weekend.
  • Send invitations. Give the date, time, address, directions, your phone number for RSVPs, and if special dress or preparation is called for, the theme. It’s okay to follow up with phone calls.
  • Arrange for help. Parents might volunteer to stay and help. Don’t be reluctant to ask. Consider hiring your babysitter for the party if it’s for younger children. She can help supervise games, serve refreshments and trouble shoot.
  • Plan plenty of short games. Have more than you think you’ll need in case a game goes more quickly than you expect or flops. Have a favorite video ready for extra time.
  • Have extra treats. Someone unexpected might show up. A parent might forget to RSVP or a sibling could tag along. A prize might get broken or a cupcake dropped.
  • Check ahead for food allergies if you don’t know all the children personally. It can be disconcerting to have a four-year-old come to a party and not be able to eat the cake.

Party Day

Now that the big day is here, there are a few tips that will make the day breeze by.

  • Don’t worry about having a spotless house. Children don’t care if the bathroom is sparkling or the carpet freshly steam cleaned. Tidy up and save your energy for the party.
  • Pick up the cake early. Check that you have enough treats, plastic silverware, plates and other items.
  • Be flexible. Keep a sense of humor. The point of the party is to have fun, not to have everything perfect. Someone will spill a drink. A plastic prize will get stepped on and broken. Deal with it and move on.
  • Guests might arrive early. Have a video playing or a craft set ready.
  • Have the birthday child say thank you when the gifts are opened.
  • Have a final fun send off. You might need an activity for the partygoers waiting to be picked up.

Katrina Cassel is a freelance writer and the author of five books.

Ideas for Tween Parties

Crafts parties. More elaborate crafts such as ceramics or pottery can be done at home or at a craft shop.
Sports facility parties. Gymnastics, swimming, roller skating, ice skating and bowling parties can be hosted at area facilities.
Scavenger hunt. Divide the kids into teams and give each team a list of items to find. Have prizes for winners and losers alike.
Special trip. Trips to a ballgame, special event or sightseeing venue offer a change of pace for older children.


Categories: Party Features