A children’s museum, Chuck E. Cheese, a petting zoo or kid’s fitness center are fun venues for your kiddo’s birthday party. But why not give the coffee table a shove and turn your home into birthday party central?
Home birthday party perks
Compared to renting a birthday party space, “home birthday parties are more personal,” says Aviva Samuels, owner of KissThePlanner, a wedding and party planning service based in Palm Beach, Florida.
Until your child is 7 or 8 years old, your child’s birthday party is likely to include adults too, which is a chance to build your tribe on a richer level beyond just “hi” and “bye” at daycare, preschool or school drop-off.
“When you open up your home, you develop a deeper bond with your guests. When they’re invited into your space, they get to know you better,” Samuels says.
Plus, you can be as creative as you want. If you want to transform your backyard into a circus, there’s no one saying: “Sorry. We don’t allow actual circuses.” You can attach birthday decorations to the walls, the ceiling and adorn the yard, and set up whenever you want.
“In your home, you make your own rules,” Samuels says. Your child may be more comfortable there too. And since you don’t have to rent a space, a DIY birthday party can be easier on the budget. Before Googling “best toddler birthday party places near me,” eyeball your playroom, family room or your back yard. It’ll do!
You’ll play a leading role
To pull-off a DIY child’s birthday party, you’ll need to roll up your sleeves. There will be countless details to attend to. “A host is responsible for the experience, which is everything from how your house is decorated to making sure the buns come before the hot dogs on the buffet line,” says Holly Stiel, the owner of ThankYouVeryMuchInc, a hospitality consultancy.
But the personal payoff can be priceless, especially when you see your child and everyone having so much fun as a result of your efforts, creativity, time, resourcefulness and heart.
“When I plan my own parties and I hear guests say, ‘Wow, did you see that?’ or ‘Oh my gosh. That was delicious,’” I get goosebumps,” Samuels says.
Here, Samuels, Stiel and other professionals divulge their secrets to planning a home child’s birthday party that’s anything but ho-hum.
How to plan a kid’s home birthday party
Create a master task list
A master to-do list is your starting point. “A well-thought-out task list at the beginning of the process will save your sanity,” Samuels says.
Assign a start date and completion date to each task and don’t beat yourself up if you miss a deadline. Pad each task with extra hours or days so you can realistically get it done without stressing.
Here’s a general list of what to do, when:
1 to 3 months ahead:
Select a theme
A theme gives you something to anchor decoration selection and activities to. “You won’t be stabbing in the dark, doing exhaustive internet searches looking for something ‘fun’ or ‘interesting,’ which is too ambiguous,” Samuels says.
Not sure where to start? Ask your child for birthday party theme ideas. “Even if your child is just a toddler, don’t be surprised if your little one knows exactly what he or she wants from the get-go,” Samuels says. If your little one has a blank face, feel free to make suggestions and see what gets your kiddo excited, such as trains, safari, unicorns, bulldozers, woodland animals or the circus.
Pick a date and make a guest list
Before setting a birthday party date, check with extra special guests to make sure they’re available. Your child won’t be happy if his/her best friend will be out of town that weekend. After selecting a date, decide with your child if you will invite the entire daycare, preschool or school class, or just a handful of his or her best buds.
“While including everyone on the guest list might be a nice thing to do, if your child is timid or happiest in a small group, then your child’s needs ultimately should come first,” Samuels says.
Book the entertainment
If you want to bring in outside entertainment, such as a storyteller, singer, balloon animal expert, storybook character, professional scavenger hunt creator (for older kids), the we-bring-the-petting-zoo-to-you-folks or face painters, get them while you can.
“Ask for references from people who have used those entertainers recently or check their online reputation to make sure they’re reliable, professional and personable,” Samuels says. Be sure to ask the entertainers about any setup requirements they may need so you’re fully prepared.
1 month ahead:
Whether hand-written, ordered professionally or computer generated through Evite, send an invitation that fits the party theme. For kids who are 7 or 8 years old, indicate on the invitations whether parents are invited too so they won’t have to ask if the party is a drop-off.
Include an RSVP date, as well as both a start time and end time, so parents know when to pick up their kids or how to plan the rest of their day.
Line up any help you may need
Enlist friends, parents, teens or other relatives to help supervise activities. Consider hiring a few high school students, your baby-sitter or a professional service to help with pre-party or post-party cleaning, or to help supervise games, deliver, serve and replenish food, and generally take some of the weight off your shoulders. If you’ll be having a pool party, hire certified lifeguards.
Order party supplies, favors and a bakery cake (if you won’t be baking your own)
Take inventory of what you already have on hand and note what you’ll need to purchase or borrow, then stock up on party supplies online or at your local party story. Include game and craft essentials, sports equipment, existing or portable tables for food and gifts, coolers for drinks, serving pieces, tablecloths, plates, cups and utensils, like these cute jungle safari themed party decorations.
You’ll also need party favors that fit the theme and goody bags to put them in, as well as prizes for the games. It’s just not as much fun without prizes! “It’s a nice idea to include at least one prize for everyone, so everyone gets to feel like a winner and sensitive feelings don’t get bruised,” Samuels says. Need ideas for birthday prizes? Check out this list of fun stuff for kids of all ages.
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Two weeks before the birthday party:
Confirm the final head count
Follow up with anyone who hasn’t RSVPed so you have time to make sure you have everything you need.
Make a schedule of party day activities
Plan to fill two to three hours with a mix of energetic games and calmer activities, such as crafts or storytelling. For babies and toddlers, you can’t go wrong with a ball pit that matches the age of your child and his/her guests. Factor in time for snacks and general playtime. If the presents will be opened, save it for the end. If you run out of time, you can always skip it. Keep in mind that an outdoor party may become an indoor party in case of rain, so be prepared with alternate, rainy-day activities.
Get your decorations on deck
“Nothing says fun like balloons,” says certified balloon artist, Sandi Masori, author of The DIY Balloon Bible For All Seasons. Air-filled balloon columns are an easy way to liven up any space and turn a (frugal) DIY kid’s birthday party into an event.
Balloon column to-do tactic:
You’ll need an inexpensive pole lamp and about 17 large balloons. After blowing up each balloon to the same size, tie balloons together in groups of two. Twist those duplets together to make a quad. Then, wrap each quad around the pole, starting at the bottom and stack them until you’ve covered the whole pole. Attach a jumbo foil balloon as a topper like these zoo-themed ones. Use balloon columns to adorn doorways or frame your party space. Sound complicated? This balloon column kit can help take out the guesswork.
Personalize balloons by adhering foam-board sticking letters, decorations or photos with double-stick tape.
A fun idea for toddlers for an indoor party: Make your own balloon pit: Move your living room furniture around so that it forms a box and fill the center with air-filled balloons. “Just blow them up in random sizes and throw them in,” Masori says. “Everybody will want to get in and play.”
Safety note: If any balloons pop, pick up the pieces immediately (radar: choking hazard).
Don’t forget the birthday party bubbles. They’re magical and captivating for
kids of all ages, even adults. Who can resist trying to pop them?
(More on bubbles at the end of this post.)
Plan the menu
Keep the menu manageable. “Finger foods such as chicken fingers, fries and pizza are not only super easy for you, they are also sure to please,” Samuels says. For the adults who attend, a few add-on treats would be nice. A party fave, pretty much everywhere: fresh guacamole and chips. (Check out this cool bowl to serve guac in.)
General rule: “Make it easy on yourself so that stress doesn’t take over and put a damper on your day,” Samuels says. “Hosting is challenging, but it shouldn’t make you miserable.”
Skip common allergic foods, such as tree nuts or shellfish. For younger kids 4 years of age and younger, ditch these common choking hazards as well:
- Hot dogs
- Nuts and seeds
- Chunks of meat or cheese
- Whole grapes
- Hard, gooey, or sticky candy
- Chunks of peanut butter
- Raw vegetables
- Chewing gum
Spiff up the yard
3 days before:
Clean the house
Don’t wait until the day of the party (like me, gah!) to do a thorough house cleaning. This way, you’ll need only a quick once-over before the party, like spritzing the kitchen counters and giving the guest bathroom a final check.
Tackle kitchen prep
If you’re doing the cooking, Samuels recommends making any foods you can in advance that can be frozen and defrosted.
On the event day, set out foods early that won’t spoil, such as crudité and dip. Wrap them tightly to ensure freshness and tear off the plastic wrap when the doorbell first rings.
Line up the music–a party essential, even if it’s just a playlist on your iPhone.
Do a sound and camera check
Charge your smartphone, video and digital cameras and stock up on extra film, batteries or memory cards, if applicable.
Make your home into a safety zone
Your house is probably already childproofed. But do a quick run through to make sure there are no dangers lurking, such as slippery floors, uncovered electrical outlets, unlocked windows and choking hazards on the floor that small children might put in their mouth, such as paper clips, small batteries or hard candy.
Make sure cleaning solutions and other dangerous chemicals are locked up and cover sharp-edged corners on furniture. Remove fragile objects around the house or yard and stow them away. Rearrange the furniture if necessary.
Find a place for coats and boots (colder weather)
Make space in a hall closet or designate a bed for personal items.
A few hours before the party:
Refresh the guest bathroom
Give the bathroom a welcoming feel with a fresh set of hand towels and new scented soap and lotion dispensers.
Set the stage
Lay out your serving dishes, glasses, cups and utensils on a table so everything in one place. That’ll save you from running around during the party, looking for everything.
Role play greetings and goodbyes
Coach your child on proper etiquette upon greeting guests. Your child can hand the goody bags out and say thank you at the same time. If opening presents is on the agenda, practice polite “thank yous” with your child ahead of time.
At the party:
Watch for cute moments with your camera
“Pictures can help you remember the little moments you might easily forget,” says Karen I. Hirsch, a professional photographer in Chicago. (Psst! No need for a fancy camera. Your smartphone will do.)
At birthday parties, “be on the lookout for the cute things that happen. You have to watch and be ready.”
If you suspect you’ll be too busy to be in the moment, designate someone else to be the party photog, such as your spouse, a friend or a family member with a good eye for magical moments.
Make adults guest feel welcome
If adults will be staying for the party, consider how you can make these plus-ones feel comfortable. BabyProductsMom can’t help but think of her shy friend, Brennan, who often gets relegated to birthday duty because his wife works on weekends. “I hate taking my daughters to birthday parties,” Brennan says.
To every birthday party guest, especially the reluctant ones like Brennan, “it’s very important to convey that ‘We’re glad you’re here and we’ve been expecting you,’” Stiel says. These tricks can help:
Create a welcome message
Set up a chalk board in the kitchen or the main area guests will congregate, with a welcoming message, such as: “Welcome to Jackson’s 2nd birthday party! We’re so glad you’re here!”
- Help your guests make connections
As the host, you’ll have a lot on your plate. Still, “you have an obligation to circulate,” Stiel says. Don’t leave guests to fend for themselves. Introduce guests to each other, such as “Hi Brennan, meet Sam. Sam is Adam’s dad. Adam and Jackson (the birthday boy) go to story time at the library every week.” Parenthood is the great equalizer and kids are a natural conversation starter.
After the party
Stay organized until the end
While you’re child is opening gifts, make a list of who gave what on the spot. (You’ll be so glad you did when it comes to to write thank you notes.)
Help your child send thank-you notes
Thank you notes never go out of style and they’re the right thing to do, not matter what your child’s age. They’re a tangible act of good manners and teach kiddos gratitude.
Reflect on the experience
Talk with your child about what the experience was like and make a mental note of what you personally gained from the it and what you would do differently next time. Whatever happens, know that the party was perfect just the way it was.
“If your child had fun, it was a huge success,” Samuels says.
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