In case you missed yesterday's post, part 1 of my party planning tips can be found here.
So now that you've got your theme, timeline, venue and food figured out it's time to plan what's going to make this party fun! These are the things that really make a party pop!
This is generally what I try to plan:
*A simple activity (often a craft or simple game) that kids can do as soon as they arrive while they're waiting for other kids to come.
BUT, if someone comes after this activity is done, it can't make or break the party (such as a costume that all the other kids are going to have or something you need later for a game). For younger kids colouring pages work well or simple games (we did Don't Eat Pete at Mady's party, which I've learned is over 3 year old's heads, but you get the idea).
*Next I pick one large activity that takes a bit more time. This is the main part of the party. You can do this as a bunch of stations (perhaps for a mad scientist party and you have them doing a bunch of experiments) or for a dinosaur party have the kids doing a big "archeological dig." This HAS to be theme-related or there's no point to a theme. Put lots of thought into this one for how you can tie in all the details.
*Other games, activities or crafts. You can add as much or as little for other activities (pinatas, scavenger hunts, pin the tail on the donkey) as long as you have time. I try to fit them to a theme, and depending on how you structure your big activity you may or may not want other games. But no matter what, make sure you have:
*Throw away activities. There is nothing worse than having a party end before it's supposed to end. What if the game you thought would take 20 minutes only takes 5? If you planned a 2.5 hour party and all the kids are looking at you bored only 1 hour in you're going to have to do something!
If you need to fill time, you want to have some extra "fun" in your back pocket. But here's the thing. You don't want these things to be anything you have invested a lot of time, money or resources into because if you've planned the rest of the party right, you will never get to these activities. So aim for these to be things that include items you already have on hand or are super cheap: bubbles, colouring pages, simple crafts and traditional games - re-named to fit the theme of course!- such as duck, duck, goose or party games (think of all those ones you played as a kid), play doh, hula-hoops. You get the idea..
I love the impact of decorations fit to a theme. I always pick party colours (usually 2) that compliment the theme so that it all looks cohesive. I don't decorate everywhere, generally the food table and the main party area are good enough. If you want to have something on the door or front lawn greeting guests that works too.
Less done well always has more impact than lots done poorly, so choose wisely. Decorations are something that is easy to make yourself. Think double duty. If it can be used as a decoration and an activity (or be used for parties year after year no matter the theme) all the better!
Printed material (either designed yourself or bought from party suppliers) is a super simple and cheap way to bring the party together. And it's fun to put all those cute food names on matching labels! *wink*
I've done favours a couple of different ways. The traditional goodie bags filled with trinkets or one larger item. I must say, I prefer the one larger item. I'll usually add something edible fit to the theme in there too.
I think most parents prefer receiving one item as opposed to many and you can easily spend a small fortune on junky $1 store trinkets that will be thrown away in a week or put all of that toward a nicer item (and sometimes you come away spending less!). I'm a fan of books or a larger, themed toy (For Mady's sock hop we gave out hula-hoops).
Remember the invitations. I try to send them out 2-4 weeks in advance. If your child's birthday is during a busy time of year aim for more notice. I like the impact of a themed, hand-delivered or mailed invite. They set the tone for the party.
Remember to ask guests to RSVP (even if it's just regrets-only) and give them a deadline date so that if they forget to contact you, there is a date after which you can call.
There are lots of thoughts on presents, but I'll throw mine into the mix. It's becoming quite trendy to ask for no gifts, which I think is fabulous (except that kids don't get to GIVE gifts all that often and I think it's important to teach them how to give a gift).
I also think parties shouldn't be all about the presents. I don't want my kids to ever feel that birthdays are just about getting things. We do big parties because it's for us it's all about the celebration and sharing that with friends. As soon as their focus shifts to the it being all about presents, we will be forgoing them.
For Kate's party we didn't open gifts at the party. It was a joint party with her cousin and we thought that would get overwhelming and boring for the guests and since we didn't have even amounts of guests who could make it, we didn't want it to be awkward.
For any party I've done where we do open gifts, it's always done at the end because I don't want my kids to think that that's what parties are all about. When the guests arrive, we put the presents away in a corner where they are not the focus. When they open the gift at the end they can give the favours to their friends (or as they're leaving. I kind of play it by ear if the attendees are feeling left out about the presents).
I'm also going to use this as my plug for suggestions on what gifts to give. The actual gift totally depends on the age, but here are some things to keep in mind.
Most kids have a lot of toys. Personally I limit the amount of toys I give. I try to only give types of gifts that I would want my kids to receive (hence we don't give Barbies or Hannah Montana crap) and I use the gifts received by their friends as gauges as to what those families deem appropriate. I'll usually ask the parent leading up to the party if there is anything their child wants or needs and if there is anything they don't need or the parent would prefer them not to have. (**Disclaimer to Katie: Last year's gift of the noisy instruments for Makenna was purely because you mentioned that she wanted something like that and you said you were fine with them! You KNOW how I feel about these sort of toys...) :)
I try to pick toys that are educationally based (books, puzzles, games, or those requiring lots of imagination). I don't give toys that need batteries (well, Mady's play kitchen does, but we've never put them in and she doesn't know the difference. Ha!). I like "experience" gifts; either passes to somewhere (like the zoo) or crafts or things that get "used up" and therefore don't take up more space in the house long-term.
Clothing is usually appreciated by the parents (girls are typically excited about this longer than boys). For younger kids buy a few sizes larger so they can be put away for a few years for when the kids aren't so excited about getting clothes, but Mom and Dad love the help with purchasing them.
Okay, I'll end the gift rant now...
So that's basically how I PLAN the party (and remember most of this can be done MONTHS in advance). Did I miss anything important? Any questions about sourcing things or aspects you'd like more specific tips on?
Coming soon, I'll have a Party Planner's Toolbox for you which is a great checklist of things to have if this is something you'll be doing often (you know, a few times a year for your kids parties!). If there's anything you'd like to make sure I cover for that, let me know in the comments.