lemonade learning Party Tips 
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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 parties.


Theme

The theme is perhaps the most important aspect of planning a children's party. If an obvious theme doesn't jump out at you ("you" being the birthday person and anyone else helping plan the party), take a few minutes to brainstorm based on the BDP's (birthday person's) interests and hobbies. Don't discount any ideas yet--you can create a spectacular party based on the least likely of themes if there is enough enthusiasm.

Let the list "simmer", keeping it in mind as you run errands and go about your business. If you have time, search the internet, the library, and the Yellow Pages on those categories for further ideas. Can you adapt a common party game to your theme? Is there a scavenger hunt or treasure hunt potential? What art or craft activities come to mind?

After a few days, read through your ideas together. Which themes lend themselves best to your imagination? Which appeal to both the BDP and the potential guests? Now is the time to make a decision.


Food

With children comes the food challenge. Allergies, food sensitivities, special diets and food preferences all must be considered.

In general, it's often best to keep food simple, but allow for some choice. Be judicious in your choices; just because it is a party doesn't mean nutrition and food safety need to go out the window. Be wary of hidden junk food. For example, several pizzeria chains now offer crusts made without hydrogenated oils. They taste the same, but are a much more responsible choice. Leave the "junk" to the areas the guests are most likely to enjoy it, like cake and ice cream.

If you have an adventurous lot, then by all means provide exotic choices, but often you can make the standard fare special with a little imagination.

For a Fairy party, cut personal pizzas as you would a large pizza and serve mini bagels and creamed cheese, mini burgers served on dinner rolls, and mini pitas with hummous. Pink lemonade served in tiny teacups or expresso mugs with a few edible flower petals floating on top completes the effect.

Halloween or Fear Factor parties can involve devilled egg "eyes", jello made with peeled grapes and raisins (eyeballs and flies), make-your-own monster-face pizzas (pizza toppings on pitas), monster gut dip (guacamole, sour cream, refried beans and salsa), etc. Let your imagination be your guide.

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Cake: the Final Food Frontier

The cake is the traditional crowning glory around which birthday tradition revolves. But how much cake is really eaten at a kids' party?

I've made this a project of sorts. I've found that regular store bakery cakes tend to generate the most waste; mixes a bit less, homemade usually (not always!) are mostly eaten, and both ice cream and a local bakery vegan chocolate cake always sell out.

Either way, smaller portions are a good idea, and kids who want more can come back for seconds. This is also a good idea because even when kids are seated at a table and served, there is usually one piece of cake that takes a tumble.

Cupcakes are another option. You can stack or arrange them according to your theme and create a cake effect for blowing out the candles, then serve them very quickly with little fuss.

Ice cream cakes are easy to make and decorate. Soften ice cream (use two or more flavours), add in layers to your chosen cookie-crumb lined container, re-freeze and sprinkle on coloured sugar, sprinkles, etc., according to your theme. Ice cream icing can be made with either softened vanilla ice cream, or whipped cream. Add a drop or two of food colouring if desired.

More cake ideas and recipes


Budget

Throwing a successful and memorable party need not break the bank.

Consider some of the following ways to cut costs:

 instead of decorating with expensive licensed products, choose a colour scheme that fits the theme and let your guests become a part of the theme (try encouraging them to dress up according to the theme);

 save licensed products for either a mylar balloon, stuffed mascot, or poster where it will be seen and not covered with food and/or thrown out

 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

 for licensed characters, look for the accompanying theme ie. SpongeBob=under the sea, Scooby-Doo=mystery, Dora the Explorer=rainforest, treasure hunt; Harry Potter=wizards, castles, magic

 make some or all of the decorations yourself; appliance boxes and paper mache can work miracles! Better yet, have the kids help out.
Instructions for appliance box castle
Instructions for appliance box fireplace
Instructions for appliance box platform 9 3/4
We have also used appliance boxes to make a train, a maze and a life-sized gingerbread house.

 bake or make your own cake

 use decorations that can double as party favours that the guests take home

 give invitations in person or send by email

 invite a fixed number of guests

 hold the party between meal times so that snacks and cake are served only

 hold the party at your own house, or if weather permits, a local park (one with public washrooms!)

 search your closets, borrow from friends and shop in thrift stores for any props you need

 ask local businesses and organizations for items that may match your theme ie. Home Depot gives out kids' work aprons, fire stations often have fire safety colouring books


Activities

The activities are the parts that make the party memorable.

If there are guests who don't know each other, you may want to start with an icebreaker. Choose a game that requires the kids to speak to each other or work together in a team.

You can find traditional party game ideas online, including (but not limited to) pin the tail on the donkey, hot potato, musical chairs, blind man's bluff, Kim's game, the egg and spoon race, obstacle courses, relay races, etc. See which ones suit your group and theme (be creative and adapt the ones that are favourites). Also check out the sample parties on this site for games that match your theme or can be adapted for your purposes.

Other activities can include scavenger hunts (in teams or each person for themselves), treasure hunts, and skits or plays the kids put together. A craft, art or building project is generally a hit, and helps bring the kids' energy level down when needed.

Toddlers and preschoolers are best served by allowing more unstructured play time. Provide a variety of toys and materials they can safely experiment with.

For tips on time, help, and guests, click here.