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For easier cleanup: set up a large garbage can near the food area, put your food area in easy reach of a washroom, provide a stack of washcloths near the sink, and keep the present area well away from the food area.
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If you are new to planning children's parties, or would like a general checklist to help yourself plan, you have come to the right place.
I've divided this into the following sections: time, help, guests,theme, food, budget, and activities. Here you will find ways to plan both the simplest and the most elaborate children's birthday, holiday and theme parties.
How much time are you willing or able to spend on the preparation for this party? How much help do you have?
If you are pressed for time, consider the following list of time-savers:
order your cake and/or other food from a local bakery
send invitations by email
limit the number of guests
arrange to have the party away from home.
Consider which elements are most likely to interest and excite the birthday person (BDP), and concentrate on those elements first. Other details can come later if there is time. Remember that enthusiasm can help guests get into the mood of a party even more than the best prepared decorations.
During the party (and especially for a larger party):
consider using recyclable juice bottles for the kids to eliminate pouring time and wash-up
pre-scoop ice cream (scoop into bowls then place in freezer ready to serve) or serve ice cream bars
serve cupcakes or large cookies as well as or instead of a cake
If you have lots of lead time, the possibilities are endless. You can shop for decorations and favours at end-of season sales (Halloween sales are great for mystery, Harry Potter, Scooby-Doo etc. themes). You can make or arrange to borrow extra decorations, search for ideas, try out recipes etc. Check out thrift shops for costumes and props. You can collect music that matches your theme (place a hold on music from the library if they have what you need). Getting the kids involved extends the celebration.
You will also need to determine the time, date and duration of the party. Be sure to check with favourite friends to be sure the party time fits their schedule. Try and have invitations arrive three weeks in advance if possible.
What sources of help do you have available to you? This could include:
aunts, uncles and grandparents
older cousins, older siblings
babysitter, friendly neighbour
any parents of guests, etc.
don't forget the BDP!
consider renting dishes, glasses, cutlery, table linens etc. from a party rental store--it costs about the same as disposable, and they do all the washing
Often (but not always) a teenager will have the energy and enthusiasm to help the kids get into the spirit and theme of a party.
The BDP may enjoy making some of the decorations ahead of time, and addressing the invitations.
The more help you have, the more that can be done. For a larger party or one with younger kids, help both before and during the party isn't just a bonus, it is a necessity. Cleanup help is nice too!
Consider the birthday person (BDP) first and foremost. What common interests do they have with the friends they intend to invite? If the BDP has chosen a theme, this might help define the guest list.
The location and budget, and available help will also contribute to this decision. Would your child prefer an intimate party, with a few good friends, or a more general get-together with many? Will the guests know each other? How well do you know the guests? Are there any special needs that should be considered (mobility, diets, etc.)? The answers to these questions will help determine who should be invited, and help you choose activities during the party.
A quick (and opinionated) note about large parties
Some parents feel obliged to invite all of the BDP's classmates, dance friends, soccer team, etc. This might be fun to do once, but as a parent and teacher my opinion is that this is not necessary. The BDP is more likely to spend time with his or her closest friends, and those who are left out at a party may feel worse than if they had not been invited at all. For this reason, try and ensure that each guest knows (and gets along with) at least one other guest at the party.