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Photo: Elizabeth Mayberry of Oak + Oats

The Ultimate Guide To Throwing a Kid’s Birthday Party

Throw your kiddo the birthday bash of their dreams with these expert tips and local recommendations.

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Birthdays are a big deal when you’re a little kid. And for good reason: A party gives your child a chance to play with all their friends, and have cake and presents. (What’s better than that, TBH?) Here’s your guide to throwing an amazing party everyone will love, while also keeping your sanity and budget in check.

Skimp or Splurge: Kids Party Edition

When it comes to planning a kid’s party, there are some aspects that are worth spending extra time (and, yes, money) on and others that you can tone down. Here are the areas you should go all out on, versus where you can dial it back.

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Go All Out on the…

Theme

It doesn’t have to be Paw Patrol or Harry Potter, but it’s nice to have at least a loose theme for the party (such as rainbows or farm animals). A theme makes it easier to choose decorations and activities, and also gives guests an idea of what to expect. The best way to choose one? Ask your kiddo. “Involving the birthday child in the planning always helps make a party a success,” says party planner Allison Welch of As You Wish Colorado. “Let them pick out colors, themes, and ultimately, have a say in helping you plan their special celebration.”

Entertainment

If you have the budget for it, hiring birthday party entertainment can take a lot of pressure off of the hosts and be a big thrill for the kids. “We had the most amazing experience hiring a princess for one of my kid’s birthdays,” says Laura Funk, a Denver-area mom and blogger, of her experience with Princess Ever After, an entertainment company based in Denver. “They came right to our home and entertained the kids with songs, face painting, story time, and more. It was a massive hit and is one of my child’s favorite memories.” There are loads of unexpected entertainment options, depending on your child’s interests.

Activities

If you’re not bringing in entertainment, then it’s important to have a few activities set up for guests. This could be a table with an art project, sidewalk chalk to draw with on a patio, or a bouncy house (ask in your local neighborhood group if someone has an at-home version you can rent). It’s nice to have activities like these ready for kids as they arrive. Then once most guests have shown up, you can start the more organized games (like an obstacle course race or piñata).

Dessert

Especially for, say, a one-year-old’s party with a lot of adults, you may want to have something set up that feels Instagram-worthy. Elizabeth Mayberry, a Denver mom and photographer, suggests using a dessert table for this purpose. “You really only need one photo spot and that usually ends up being a dining room table. I take our theme and make a statement spot with the cake, snacks, and decor,” she explains. “The rest of the food, I set out unceremoniously on the kitchen counters and open up the rest of the house and our backyard for gathering spaces. My entire decor budget and photo op location goes to the cake table.”

Photo: Elizabeth Mayberry of Oak + Oats

Feel Free To Skimp On…

Invitations

Check Etsy for affordable downloadable invitation options for all types of themes. When you buy them, the designer will plug in your details and then send you a file that you can either print out at home or text to family and friends.

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Decorations

Yes, you want the party to feel festive and fun, but it’s OK to stick to just a few easy decorations. “Children will always remember how much fun they had at a birthday party, not necessarily the little details, like the amount of balloon bouquets hanging around the room,” Welch says.

Food

“One big way to save on parties is to have some snacks and drinks, but not serve a meal,” says Laura Falin, a Littleton mom and blogger behind Peace But Not Quiet. “Cake or cupcakes, fruit, some cheese and crackers, and that’s about all you need!” Just make sure your party doesn’t fall over lunch or dinner, and have something extra on hand for any kids with food allergies.

Goodie bags

There’s a real divide when it comes to goodie bags: Kids love them, but parents tend to not be so fond. “As a parent, I don’t love the kids getting goodie bags with lots of plastic trinkets that clutter the house and make more waste,” admits Falin. The solution? Gift your guests one small item they can use up, like a box of crayons, bubbles, or a snack packet with a ribbon on it. Set them out on a table near your front door for easy, post-party pick up, and call it a day.


Entertainment that Wows

Partying at home? These companies and entertainers bring the fun right to you, for a birthday your kiddo (and their friends) will never forget.

Your Burning Birthday Party Questions, Answered!

Didi Lorillard, etiquette expert and founder of newportmanners.com, gives you the lowdown on how to handle sticky birthday party situations.

Do I need to invite my child’s entire class to the party?
Didi Lorillard: Here’s the rule of thumb: Invite six kids or fewer, or invite the whole class. People understand if a party is small, but if it is a medium-size party and a couple of children are left out, there will be hurt feelings. On the flip side, teach your child that they may not be invited to every party, especially if they aren’t close friends with the birthday child.

I’d rather my child wait to open presents until after the party. Is that OK?
DL: Yes. Personally, I think it’s more polite to do the gift opening after all the guests have gone home. There might be one guest who hasn’t brought a gift, or one or two presents that may be far more expensive than the others. Plus, if the child already has, say, a particular Lego set, this new Lego set can be regifted.

If a parent asks to bring a sibling to my child’s party, do I have to agree?
DL: If the party is in your home, depending upon the age of the sibling and your relationship with the family, you kind of have to say “of course.” If the party is at a venue where you are paying per child, you can always say that you’ve only reserved for 15 children—which in fact is probably true. You can even add something to the invitation like, “Please keep siblings at home; the venue has limits on the number of party guests.”


The Sweet Stuff

No matter what your child is craving for their b-day dessert, outsource the baking to one of these local experts. We promise you won’t be sorry you did!

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Photo: Elizabeth Mayberry of Oak + Oats

Run the Show

You may be hosting a bunch of six-year-olds—not wedding or gala guests—but throwing a successful kids party does take some planning. Here’s what you should keep in mind, according to party planner Allison Welch of As You Wish Colorado.

  1. Set up early.
    Enlist a family member or friend to help you set up ahead of time, so that you can enjoy the party instead of running around taking care of things.
  2. Keep it short and sweet.
    Two to three hours is plenty of time for a kid’s birthday party, and it’s totally OK to note an end time on your invitation.
  3. Make an itinerary.
    Jot down a plan for everything you want to do, and in what order. Set an alarm on your phone for when you want to round up everyone for cake, for example.
  4. Stock up.
    Keep extra supplies on hand, such as replacement parts for an activity if something breaks, cleaning supplies, and even a first-aid kit.


Steal This Itinerary

Start with this basic timeline of a party, then make it your own.

Party Games for Every Age

Easy to set up, budget-friendly, and oh-so-fun, old-school party games are a big win for any bash. Here are some of our faves based on the age of your guest of honor.

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Photo: Elizabeth Mayberry of Oak + Oats

Ages 1 to 2

Make a DIY ball pit using a kiddie pool and a set of inexpensive plastic balls.
Turn on a bubble machine in the backyard, then have toddlers run and try to catch the bubbles.
Give each child an inflated balloon that they can bounce around the room.

Ages 3 to 5

Crank up some tunes and play freeze dance.
Check out a book related to your party’s theme from the library and have storytime.
Blindfold each child and let them pin the tail on a unicorn, Paw Patrol character, or whatever goes with your theme.

Ages 6 to 8

Gather all your spare pillowcases and have kids do a backyard sack race (you could use potato sacks, of course, but most people already have pillowcases).
Set up a limbo line with a broomstick or scarf and see how low guests can go.
Fill a piñata with trinkets and candy and let the kids take a whack.

Ages 9 and up

Set up a photo booth with a backdrop and props, snap pics with an iPad, and email them to your guests later.
Split guests into teams and send them on a scavenger hunt around the yard or neighborhood.
Hang doughnuts on long strings (one string and doughnut per child) and have kids try to eat the treat without using their hands.


5 Decoration Hacks To Try

Family Food

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