Here’s an idea for a gender-neutral, customizable, and (bonus!) budget-friendly birthday party theme: a sleep-under. Similar to a traditional sleepover, guests indulge in popcorn, play simple games, and wind down with a movie. But, instead of having a houseful of kids (and drama) overnight, everyone gets picked up before bedtime. Hooray for a not-too-late night!
Calling all Guests!
Slumber parties are a hit no matter what, but receiving an invite to one in the mail? That will only add to the excitement! Although texting or emailing a party announcement might be the easiest route, mailing a personalized invitation will help set the overall vibe for the party you’re planning.
Include any essential party information on the invitation, then hint at the other party fun. Ask younger guests to bring their favorite stuffed animal and older guests to bring a cozy pair of slippers. Don’t forget to note that pajamas are a must!
The three invites shown right, which were made by Denver stationery and specialty paper companies, prove just how versatile a sleep-under party theme can be.
Invite from The Lettery Co
Amp up the theater theme! Order invites that display images of popcorn and movie lights, and put your child’s name in lights.
Invite from Wordshop Paperie
A night sky paired with whimsical fonts gives off a storybook vibe, which is ideal for a gender-neutral event.
Invite from Lucky Onion
Cursive fonts and soft tones set the scene for a girlie get-together. Include a sleep mask with each invitation.
“Party lengths can vary, but a four to five hour event is a good amount of time—it will run on the slightly longer side if showing a movie. Plan the first half hour to hour for late arrivals and for all the kids to mingle before starting games, food, and activities.”
—Elizabeth Restauri, owner of Total Imagination Events, an event planning company located in Denver
Dreamy Party Decor
Rather than going overboard with decor, keep things simple by sticking to budget-friendly and easy DIY options. Hang a star banner (Target, $5) or make your own bunting banner out of colorful cardstock, ribbon, and stencils or stickers. You can customize the banner with the paper you choose, the shapes you cut out (we did stars and moons), and the wording. Tip: Go with a more general design, like something that says “Celebrate” so it can be reused for future parties.
Every birthday party needs balloons! These star and moon balloons (Target, $6) are ideal for carrying the sleep-under theme throughout the decor, and they add a bit of shine and texture to an otherwise ordinary room. Let each guest bring a balloon home with them when they leave, which serves as one small party favor, and less cleanup for you.
“Planning ahead will give you plenty of time to source the details that will make the event spectacular. Think about how you can amplify the theme by incorporating small details that immerse your party guests in the concept at every turn.” —E.R.
DIY Party Games
Breakfast Cereal BINGO
Take a game night classic up a notch by crafting your own breakfast cereal BINGO game. Using a traditional BINGO game as a reference, draw a grid on a sheet of cardstock. Make a list of six to eight different cereals and draw a doodle for each. Fill in the BINGO grid with the cereal doodles and remember to leave a FREE SPACE in the center of the card. Make one card for each guest, mixing up the order of the doodles on each. Make calling slips by writing a letter and a cereal name on pieces of paper, (N-Lucky Charms, B-Golden Grahams, etc.) Enlist the help of your little one while you’re crafting so they get a chance to be a part of the party planning process.
When game time comes, dump the calling slips into a bowl and call out the letter and cereal listed on the slips as you draw them. Use your child’s favorite cereals in place of traditional BINGO tokens—but head’s up—some snacking might take place! The winner is the first person to fill five squares across, down, or diagonally, and yell BINGO.
Pin the Popcorn
Create your own pin the popcorn in the box game with cardstock and craft paint. Cut out small pieces of popcorn for blindfolded party guests to try pinning to the top of the popcorn bucket (the smaller you make the pieces, the more challenging it will be).
Hang the game up on a wall, blindfold and spin one player at a time, then ask them to try and get their popcorn piece into the top of the bucket. The popcorn piece closest to the top is the winner. This is the perfect game to play right before you start a movie to release any jitters, and get kids excited to snack on popcorn.
“Two to three games are appropriate for a child’s birthday party, but be sure to allow a little bit of time for transition in between each activity.” —E.R.
Movie Night Magic
No sleepover (or sleep-under) is complete without a movie. Roll out sleeping bags on your living room floor for kids to slip into, or set out blankets, tents, or chairs on your lawn for an outdoor movie night. If you have a trampoline, dress it up with fabric drapes and twinkle lights and let the birthday bashers watch a movie underneath the stars.
Regardless of where you set up your theater, make each child feel extra cozy by placing pillows and stuffed animals around each guest. Tip: On the invitation, you can ask guests to bring their own pillows or blankets to the party if you don’t have enough.
Movie snacks are another must. Make a “build your own popcorn” bar by setting out an oversized bowl of buttery popcorn along with a variety of fixings, like candy and snack mix. Serve in small, disposable popcorn bags, which are available at stores like Amazon, Target, and Michaels.
“Consider sourcing unique seating for a movie night, which will add a fun element to the party. Air mattresses and bean bags make great kid-friendly seating both indoors and outdoors.” —E.R.
Crowd-Pleasing Party Bites
It can be easy to overthink food when you’re hosting a group, but keep in mind that kids are generally easygoing when it comes to party snacks. Stick to tried-and-true basics like open-faced sandwiches or hot dogs, which are quick to prepare and affordable to buy. Serve with your child’s favorite type of chips, cheese cubes, or a fruit and veggie platter.
It might seem messy, but go buffet style and let each guest make their own plate. Kids love to be in control whenever they get the chance, so by letting them lead you’ll not only be making them happy, but you’ll also be giving yourself a break.
What You’ll Need:
- Hot dog buns
- Cheddar cheese slices
- Star cookie cutter (We used this one from Wilton)
- Sandwich fixings or hot dogs
- Cut off a small portion of each hot dog bun to create a slipper shape (as shown).
- Use a cookie cutter to cut cheese stars.
- Place the cheese stars on the top of each slipper.
- Serve on a platter with sandwich toppings or hot dogs.
Sweet Dream Sweets
Most kids love cake, and this one from Happy Bakeshop is loaded with eye-catching rainbow sprinkles. Make things personal by crafting your own cake toppers that match the rest of your party decor. Simply attach paper cutouts to the tops of wooden skewers and carefully stick each into the cake.
Don’t have a cake fan? There are plenty of other tasty treats that are easy to DIY or outsource. Even if party attendees aren’t sleeping over, a mini pancake bar is a delicious and on-theme dish that works just as well for dessert as it does for breakfast. To make things extra sweet, set out bowls with different toppings like chocolate chips, sprinkles, and whipped cream. Stack the pancakes on a big plate and add candles so your child’s guests can sing to the birthday child.
Another beloved breakfast food that works perfectly as a dessert: Doughnuts! Stop by your local shop (we found these cakey delights at Berkeley Donuts) and pick up an assorted dozen. Set them out along with glasses of milk for the perfect late-night treat.
“For another dessert option, set out milk and cookie shooters! Line glasses of milk along your countertop next to a platter of cookies. Guests will enjoy dipping their treats into their milk.” —E.R.
Festive Party Favors
More often than not, party favors can feel junky. Rather than filling a goodie bag to the brim, opt for fewer, more useful favors instead. Spruce up plain white party favor pails (Michaels, $4.50 two-pack) with colorful paper or stickers. Then, place glow in the dark stars, notebooks, and colored pencils in each pail. It will be easier for guests to say goodbye if they’re leaving with something exciting, and parents will appreciate adding something useful to their child’s stack of toys.
Other Favor Ideas:
- Mini lanterns
- Sleep masks
- Pillow cases
- Softcover book
- Bath Bombs