Birthday bash at home: tips for success

A preschool teacher and mother of three says there are ways to make home parties fun and stress free



Having a party at home doesn't have to be stressful

I love throwing parties – always have and always will. In fact, I have a theme song that goes something like this: “It’s my party and I’ll plan if I want to...” And with three wonderful children and a career as a preschool teacher, it is safe to say I love kids too. Put the two together and you can figure out that I have organized dozens of parties and turned the task into somewhat of a science. So I would like to offer parents some advice about how to throw a stress-free, successful party at home. (I know what you are thinking but it can be done – I swear).

It all begins by making a list of the invitees. The rule of one more guest than your child’s age works well; however, try to opt for an even number of kids to facilitate games with partners. I then use the list to tick off RSVPs and calculate food needs.

But the most critical part of your written plan is blocking off 15- to 20-minute chunks of time for specific activities. Here’s a plan that totals two hours, which is perfect because three hours is challenging and anything more is simply insane. The party may deviate from your outline — and trust me, it will — but having a plan will help you get you back on track.

First 15 minutes: Arrivals

Not everyone arrives promptly. As guests trickle in, your child can show his friends around and introduce the ones who don’t know each other. Use this time to inform kids of any house rules, including rooms that are off limits. 

Next 20 minutes: Showtime

Schedule two games that last about 10 minutes each. Kids tend to run through games much quicker than you think. The only exception is a piñata, which can take up to 20 minutes depending on how hard it is to break open. (See game suggestions at end of this story.)

Next 20 minutes: Let’s eat!

Games, rules and taking turns can wear everyone out, so lunch in the middle of the party provides time for cool down. I typically serve pizza, chips and carrot sticks, but save the cake for later. Keep the kids at the table while they eat. You don’t need anybody choking, nor do you want to encourage roaming.

20 more minutes: Burn off lunch

Schedule two more games. At least one of them should include physical activity. The kids will now be refuelled and any lagging spirits will be refreshed. 

Next 15 minutes: Cake!

Digestion complete, they’re ready for sugar. Some parents opt for cupcakes but I like the impact of the big cake, which I whisk to the kitchen, after the song and candles, and cut into very small pieces.

Almost-final 15 minutes: Presents

Yes, it might be easier to skip this step, but each child is eager to see his or her gift opened. A little pre-party etiquette work will pay off: remind your child to express appreciation. (And be sure to jot down the gift and the name of the person who gave it.)

Final 15 minutes: Home stretch

It’s pickup time, and your bottle of Chardonnay should be chilling! Remember, not all kids are picked up on time (even if you’ve been smart and added the word “sharp” on the invitation). Break out Twister or play a game of Simon Says to keep the kids engaged and in one place. Afterward, as you hand out the loot bags, make sure your child thanks each guest personally.

The aftermath

Hopefully, if you used this party plan, you won’t feel the need to collapse. Don’t clean up everything all at once. I like to leave the decorations up for a day and sit down to reflect on the fun. Parties offer a wonderful glimpse into your child’s social life. Plus, they’re a great chance to let kids use their manners. Thank-you notes never go out of fashion. The day after the party, print up a generic thank-you card on the computer. Your child can decorate the front and write a brief thank you, mentioning the gift received. (Even a scribble will do, if she’s too young to write.) Your child’s friends will be delighted, and their parents even more so. In fact, they’ll probably be impressed by your party-planning aplomb.

Loot bags the kids will love

  • Don’t send junk home with a guest; it will only break in the car and cause tears. But there’s also no need to break the bank. You can’t go wrong with a few candies, a pack of sugar-free gum and a whistle. Here are some other ideas.
  • The craft bag: A pad of construction paper, markers, stickers or self-adhesive googlie eyes. Kids love them and they’re useful.
  • One big (inexpensive) item: A soft blanket from the dollar store — say with a Princess on it—is a special treat wrapped in a pretty ribbon.
  • The bug bag: Stretchy frogs + plastic bugs + a big rubber snake + some gummy worms = delighted kids.
  • The crowd pleaser: A nifty pencil and sharpener, plus a little journal or notepad.

Popular party themes

 Here are some party themes that have been a hit with my kids:

  • Medieval party: The children loved parading in the princess hats, wands, shields and swords that they decorated. And the cardboard-box castle was such a hit that no one wanted to stop and eat!
  • Superhero party: I cut out 16 capes from satiny lining material, using pinking shears — no hemming required. Then I sewed ties at the collar. Each child was thrilled to be a superhero in our backyard.
  • Olympic sports party: Who would have thought that one tiny inflatable swimming pool would keep 12 children so excited — and cool? The kids loved receiving their “medals” for participation.

Party games

  • Baby bottle race: Fill dollar-store baby bottles about one-third full with juice for each guest, and see who finishes theirs first. There’s no choking hazard, thanks to the nipple. Kids ages 7 to 11 love this game.
  • Cotton ball chase: Recently, my daughter’s friends went crazy for a game that involved using drinking straws to blow cotton balls to a finish line. It’s easy and hilarious.
  • Guess who I am? One child is blindfolded and is guided to sit on another guest’s lap. The guest oinks or barks, and the child tries to guess who she’s sitting on.
  • Pass the package: A classic for good reason. Wrap a small item in streamer or wrapping paper and secure with tape. Add another toy or favor, and repeat until you have one layer for each guest. Place the kids in a circle and pass the package; when the music stops, the child holding it opens a piece and keeps the prize.
  • Mummy wrap: Create two teams, each with one person as the mummy. The first team to wrap their mummy head to toe in toilet paper wins.
  • The personalized craft: OK, not truly a game, but try designing T-shirts with fabric markers, painting stretchy gloves with puff paints or customizing pillowcases.

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