family time
 
Planning the Perfect Party

The key to a "successful" birthday party is remembering who the party is for - the child. Creating a party your child will remember for years to come doesn't have to be elaborate or expensive. With a little thoughtful planning and enthusiasm you can throw a party that both you and your birthday child will enjoy.

The Plan
About one month in advance set the time for the party, the location and the number of children to invite. Because infants and toddlers often nap in the afternoon, consider a "breakfast" party (complete with breakfast pizza, fruit, bagels, and muffin cupcakes). Decide on a length of time for your party. A long party is not necessarily a successful one. In fact, for young children, a well-planned two hour party filled with activities and entertainment will more likely be a success than a longer party would. Next, decide where to have the party - at home, in a public place or in a rented facility. A good rule of thumb on the number of invitees is to invite the same number of children as the age in years of your child, plus one or two.

Invitations
The announcement of the party gives the first impression and sets the mood. You can purchase invitations at a party store, at a finer stationery shop or you can create your own unique invite using your computer and one of the many print shop programs available. Try taking a polaroid picture of your birthday child and using it in a home-made computer-generated invitation.

Decorations
A little crepe paper and a lot of balloons make a party festive. Be careful using latex balloons as they are a choking hazard to young children and animals, you might want to use mylar balloons instead. Be resourceful by using your child's toys instead of purchasing decorations or centerpieces.

Party Favors
What's a party without a "Goodie Bag"? Traditional favors can be found at any party store - stuffed animals, small games and toys, books, candy, bubbles, even gift certificates to fast food restaurants. Whatever you choose, make the gifts age appropriate (be sure that young children aren't given small parts that could be a choking hazard). It doesn't always have to be a bag of goodies, for a change try giving one special gift to each child. For a unique favor, try personalized treats - paint the birthday child's name on a small frame containing a photo of the child at the party or personalize a sippy cup. If you're not "artsy," find one of the many shops that specialize in this type of gift.

Don't Forget The Food
Tailor the food to the age of your guests - serve something they like to eat! Keep the menu simple, healthy and child-sized. Try miniature cupcakes instead of a traditional cake - or do both! Serve 100% fruit juices, natural ice cream and fruit salad.

The Theme
Choosing a theme for the party is not always necessary, but it can give you ideas for decorations, favors, food, entertainment and activities.

One Year Olds
The one year party is more of a celebration of the child for the parents and relatives than the birthday child himself. Parents of the guests should know they are responsible for their child. Try themes that coincide with the month of the year the birthday falls within: Jan.: snowflakes; Feb.: Valentines; April: flowers; May: bunnies; June: fish; July: red, white & blue; Sept.: foliage, teddy bears; Oct.: pumpkins; Dec.: snowmen, angels....Or you can go with a more traditional character theme like Barney or Winnie-the-Pooh.

For activities and entertainment use circle play, bubbles, finger plays and sing alongs. Remember a visit by a character might scare your small child more than delight him. Try a sing-along with a guitar player or buy a birthday songs CD to guide you along instead.

Two Year Olds
Keep the party small, short and simple - attention spans on two year olds are short lived! Attendance by the parents of the invitees is still a must.

By now your two year old is probably showing an affinity toward a character seen in a book, on TV or in the movies. Or he may love specific toys like cars and trucks. Use this interest in creating the party tailored to your child's interests and abilities.

For activities and entertainment, a two year old still might be afraid of that large character jumping out of his book and into his party. Contact a local farm about renting a pony or a petting zoo that comes to your house. Musical games and sing-alongs are also hits at this age.

Three To Five Year Olds
Now your child is probably ready for the more traditional party games (like pin the tail on the donkey and piņatas) and entertainment. At this age your child's interests will probably lead you into a specific theme for the party festivities.

The most popular locations for parties outside the home are: play programs (Gymboree), pizza parlors, zoos, parks, miniature golf, fast-food restaurants, ice or roller rinks, bowling alleys, children's museums, or amusement parks. Some party at-home ideas our readers have had "success" with include: dress-up Victorian tea party, pirate theme, hot-wheels party, action figures, cowboys, construction site. Depending on your child's personality he may be ready to welcome a visit to his party by a character he loves You can hire a clown, magician, puppeteer or rent a moon walk. Entertainment can include arts and crafts activities, science projects, or fitness activities. Children, no matter what age, will want some unstructured time just to play. But, it's also a good idea to have some back-up activities (coloring books with a bucket of crayons, a bottle of bubble solution, easy craft projects) just in case you run out of things to do and the children are getting bored.

The Supplies
It's getting easier and easier to purchase all your party needs under one roof at a party discount store or on-line. Even if you opt for a theme party, you can purchase generic paper goods and make your own designs or better yet, have a contest where each child can use his imagination and draw what he wants.

The most important thing to remember is that this party is a celebration of the child for the child. Make sure you have your camera, video camera and film to capture great photos and happy memories. Be sure to take some pictures before the party. There is little else more satisfying than seeing smiling faces and hearing laughter from children.

 

Laureane Duda, is a freelance writer living in Milford, a mother of one, and in her 13th year of throwing great birthday parties.

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