Keep it short. Given the fact that most kids have short attention spans, parties longer than two hours become a nightmare, for both kids and parents. When entertaining children under five, you don't want to interfere with nap time, and there's really no such thing as a toddler dinner party.
How Many Guests?
A general rule of thumb is to invite one guest for each year of a child's age, plus two, though it is often difficult to stick to that limit. Large groups can intimidate the younger children at your party. In general, the larger the group the more difficult it is to keep things running smoothly, to keep track of all the guests, and to provide individual attention when needed. If you decide on a party of more than 15 kids, make sure you have an extra adult or two on hand to help.
It is often best to mail birthday party invitations. Young kids hearts are broken when the invitations are handed out at school, unless you're planning to invite the whole class. Get your child involved with the invites. Depending on their age, kids enjoy filling out invitations or customizing them stickers. Don't forget to include the directions to the party and mail the invites at least 7–10 days in advance. You can use the following terms to request a response from the invited child's parents:
RSVP: Call if your child will attend the party.
Regrets: Call if your child will not attend the party
Be prepared to call any parent you haven't heard from a week before the party so you know how many guests to plan for.
The day is here and the party is about to begin. Don't panic. Here are some very basic guidelines on how to manage a typical two–hour kids' party. Be flexible and sensitive. All plans, including this one, need to be adapted to fit the mood of the party goers.
00:00 – 00:15
Here comes the of kids
Some will arrive early. Think of a simple game or activity as an ice–breaker to get everyone involved the minute they arrive. This is a good time to explain any rules–of–the–house and to set the boundaries (e.g. which rooms are off limits).
00:15 – 00:45
Plan for free time to allow your guests to get acquainted and get in the swing of things. The younger the party guests, the longer this period should be.
00:45 – 01:15
Time for Games
Party games should be age–appropriate and, if possible, non–competitive with plenty of prizes for everyone. Plan more games than you'll have time to play. If one's a dud, just move on to the next.
01:15 – 01:35
Time for Cake
Kids won't stay at the party table longer then 20 minutes
01:35 – 01:55
Open the Birthday Gifts
The end of the party is the best time for opening presents. It minimizes party guest envy and it allows you to keep better track of what came from whom. This is a good time to pass out the party favor bags, so everyone gets something.
01:55 – 02:00
Party Guest Pick–up Time
The party will be almost over at this point. Your job is to help locate coats and make sure each guest leaves with their party favors.
Guidelines for Age–Appropriate Party Fun:
Toddlers are too young to enjoy organized games. Just having enough toys around for everyone should keep them happy. Short and sweet is the key for this age group – the party shouldn't last more than 90 minutes – Stick to people your child is familiar with and schedule the party for a time when you know the toddler will be in a good mood. Eating a piece of birthday cake and playing with wrapping paper will be the extent of your toddlers party games. Be prepared for toddler tantrums, especially when struggles break out over the birthday gifts. Parents recommend opening presents at the very end of the party, handing out favors at the same time so everyone gets something at once. Be sure to stock up on film. Photos will be your child's only way to remember this landmark event.
Kids in this age group love theme parties. Choose one that reflects your child's current interests (super heroes, animals, fairy tales, etc.) and decorate the room and cake accordingly. Free playtime is still the best mode, although simple games are appropriate, too. Have enough game ideas ready so that if one bombs you can go on to the next. The usual rule of thumb for parties is to limit the number of guests to the birthday child's age plus two, e.g. four for a 2–year–old's party. For 3 and 4 year olds, the best time of day is usually mid–afternoon, when kids have napped and are in good moods. Avoid lunch–time parties at all costs; kids will be tired and hungry, but too excited to eat and rampant crankiness will be the result. Plan simple games and activities that they can do side–by–side. A half hour of play followed by cake and gift opening is all kids want at this stage. Getting a "goody bag" is a party highlight for the age group. Make sure that all gifts are identical and that items are safe. Children this age are quite possessive, so make sure that favors can be kept close at hand. Personalized favors go over well. A birthday cake is essential–guests won't notice anything else.
Starting at this age, parties need more structure. Themes are still popular. Games are increasingly the favorite activity, but simple arts and crafts projects are also a good alternative. Again, have more options than you'll have time for – some activities will be more popular than others and kids this age have extremely short attention spans. Avoid competitive games if possible and have prizes for losers as well as winners. This is also the age where professional clowns or magicians go over big. Although it is still a good idea to limit the number of guests, a group of eight kids is manageable at this stage. Children may have more fun without their parents along, but be sure to enlist at least one adult helper. If most of the children are in school or kindergarten, schedule the event for the weekend. Five and Six year olds love mastering the rules of games. Try to keep the competitive games to a minimum, and be prepared to break up squabbles and console "losers." Entertainers like clowns are also popular at this age. When planning refreshments remember that at this age the cake and ice cream will be appreciated most. If you offer a meal, keep it simple, such as peanut butter and jelly or pizza.
Your child will want to invite her whole school class, so make sure you are firm about limiting the Guest List. Because children this age love games, make sure there are enough players. Your child will consider planning activities a major part of the fun. School–age children love theme parties. A party favor linked to a theme will be a big hit. School–age kids are less fussy about food, so if you plan a meal it can be a little more varied. Try a hot dog roast or create your own pizza or ice cream sundae as it will also be an activity.
Party Planning Time–Line
One Month before your party:
1. Create a guest list – try to include a range of friends from church, day care, play groups, neighbors and relatives.
2. Choose your birthday party supplies pattern from our on–line catalog and order everything for the party. Be sure to order a little extra in case of unexpected guests.
3. Pick a party date and time – remember its best to keep parties around one hour long for younger children. Older children can enjoy parties up to two and a half hours long.
Two weeks before your party:
1. Send your invitations – be sure to ask for RSVP or Regrets so you can estimate the amount of food and cake needed.
2. Make a Party activity schedule – decide on games, activities, when to serve the food, present opening and socializing time
3. Plan the menu – be sure to include both sweet and savory snacks. Finger foods work best for small children.
One week before your party:
1. Order the cake from a bakery or make it yourself and freeze it.
2. Shop for other foods
One day before your party:
1. Pick up the cake or remove from the freezer.
2. Clean and child proof the party area
3. Phone any guest who has not RSVP
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