I, in no way, consider myself an expert when it comes to planning children's parties. I just really like it. I have had a few friends ask me for advice and tips and so I decided I'd put it all in a post (or two!).
When I sat down to write this post I thought it would be a quick post with just a couple of paragraphs. Then I ended up dumping out my brain and realized there was WAY too much for one post. So, I'm going to give it to you in pieces so you're not overwhelmed.
Now, as a disclaimer, I don't think there is one right way to plan a party (though certainly lots of wrong ways!) and this is just how I go about it. You might do things in a different order or skip some of these "steps" altogether. That's okay, but hopefully this will help you think through some of the details and help you plan an awesome party.
The first thing I do is brainstorm a theme. There are so many different themes out there. And tons of places to look. I usually start with Google. And I usually start with an image search so I can SEE the parties (I'm visual after all). You can go with "traditional," well known themes (such as trains, princesses, pirates and art parties) or you can go with trendy (movie or book related, pop culture) or you can go with truly unique (I can't give you examples because if it's truly unique then it hasn't been done *wink*).
Your best bet is to think about your child. What do they like? For Mady's last birthday I did a 1950's sock hop. In no way, shape or form would I say she's obsessed with the 50's, but she is into dancing, so that's what she was excited about and the 50's was what I was excited about (part of the party planning process is truly just for my enjoyment). If there isn't a particular thing the child is into you can go with more general kid-friendly themes (bubbles, polkadots, rainbows, dinosaurs or even just a simple colour.). Look through their toys for ideas (and cheap decor!).
Along with the theme choose your location; A park was a much better setting than home for our Teddy Bear's Picnic party. Once you know your location it will help you think through some of the other aspects of your party. Certain locations may offer you options for activities or limit what you can do so keep location in mind when you're planning. And if you're not at home, make sure there are washrooms close by!
What time of the day do you want your party? In the morning, afternoon or evening (maybe even overnight if it's a sleepover!)? Weekday or weekend?
I have some thoughts on this. Please, please, please think about the ages and stages of your guests. For example for Mady's first birthday I planned her party for early afternoon. Why? Because I thought that was when birthday parties were supposed to happen. I didn't think about the fact that most of the kids were still of the napping age (including the birthday girl!) and planning the party during nap time made for cranky kids (the parents did fabulous in keeping their kids happy, but I'm sure they thought I was nuts to have a party then).
For preschoolers, I have found the very best time to have a party is 10am (10:30 or 11am if they still have morning naps). This way everyone is at their happiest, you can serve lunch near the end and they're nicely worn out for their afternoon naps. And even better, the birthday child doesn't drive you nuts in their excitement over the party all day while you're trying to set everything up. In fact, most of the set up can be done the night before when they're in bed. It's brilliant really.
Older kids might want the early afternoon slot or the evening. Think about your guests and how life works for the them and plan accordingly.
As part of your time-line thinking, think about if you want to serve a meal, snacks or just dessert? This will play into when you want to host the party. And make sure you let your guests know so they can eat beforehand if needed or so they don't come straight from having a large dinner only to find you've prepared a 7 course meal.
A party isn't a party without food! But party food can range from full on meals to simple cake and ice cream. It's all up to how much work you want to put in and how much is in your budget. Consider how many people you're inviting and if they're all kids or if there are a bunch of adults in the mix. Remember the more people you're feeding the more expensive it will be. So for large parties you may want to limit it to just dessert.
Kids will let you get away with simpler foods (though under the umbrella of a kid's party, the adults are pretty forgiving!). And keeping the food as part of the theme lets you get away with less and simpler foods. It doesn't have to be fancy. You can give chips a fun name ("Computer chips" for a robot party) and people think it's great.
When I plan food I think about this:
-something sweet, something salty/savoury, something somewhat nutritious (such as fruit/veggies). If your food table has something of each of these then generally everyone can enjoy, even those on crazy diets.
-Remember allergies and palette preferences. I always ask about allergies either on the invite or when guests RSVP. Nothing would ruin a party quicker than an allergic reaction. If I can't make everything allergy-friendly (such as dairy-free) I try to always have something for that person as an alternative. And this is especially true with things like the cake! No child wants to feel left out.
As for the palette preference, this is usually tied to ages. 12 year olds will eat more interesting food than 4 year olds. There is no point creating a baked brie for the young ones if they won't even eat it!
-How will food be served? Is this sit down, buffet or finger food? If most of your food is finger food, make it all finger food (it's easier for you!). Try to avoid super messy foods. It's not fun to clean up! And remember the cutlery and napkins!
-Think about where you'll set up the food. I try to have it set up in a separate spot than where the rest of the party is taking place so that it can all be set out at the beginning and I'm not busy in the kitchen missing the party.
Whew, has that got you thinking? I'll talk about activities and decorations (and some other tips) tomorrow. Stay tuned!