By Jill Simeone -
I love throwing parties. I think it's in my DNA.
My parents always organized tons of events in our home when I was a kid, and planned surprise-filled birthday parties for us. I remember big pink heart-shaped cakes (I was born in February), pizza-making parties and scavenger hunts. I definitely grew up believing in the value of celebration.
Now, as a mom, I love it when spring comes...birthday season for my kids!
But kids' birthdays are a mixed bag. I've seen lots of tears. And lots of BORED parents. And tons of money and energy being thrown at activities & themes that miss the mark. So in planning my kids' parties, I have tried to re-cast the kiddy party into a new formula that is successful (and FUN) for everyone involved. We've had some really fun parties, so here are the take-aways that I think make kids' parties work...and some pics from the most recent: A Robot Party!
1. The Theme - I like to pick a theme that not only my child will relate to...but that all the kids (boys & girls, younger and older) will enjoy. Though I have girls, I steer clear of princess-type themes. Not only are princesses boring to talk about, but the little boy guests (and every adult) will be turned off. Same is true of "typical" boy themes. I also don't pick her "favorite thing" right that moment...because that will invariably change before the party. Instead, I pick something for us to explore and delve into as we plan the party. This year, for my younger daughter, we decided to have a robot party.
2. The Lead Up - For the theme to have relevance, it is important that the kids "get" robots. To do that, we spent the month before the party learning all about robots. We got robot books, watched robot movies, made homemade robots, and did robot dances. It was a TON of fun. By the time the party rolled around...robots were a BIG DEAL, and really resonated with my daughter, even though she was only turning four.
3. Planning Activities - I like to plan activities that are:
- Not adult led...this allows the kids to play freely. Little kids have more fun with less structure. Give them crafts, toys, building sets & manipulables...and perhaps some examples of how to use them...then let them explore & create!
- Accessible across a range of ages - I always invite the whole family, so there are younger and older siblings. If the activities are open-ended, then both big and little kids will find age-appropriate ways to make fun.
- Don't invite crazy behavior - Crafts are great. Dress-up is great. Dress up with swords...not so much.
4. Make the Party Fun for Adults - I'm interested in seeing and entertaining my adult friends (the parents) at the party as much as my kids' friends....so I make sure that the parties always have good food, wine and other adult beverages, and that the cake is delicious. If the activities are child-centered and not adult-led, you'll have plenty of time to chat, too.
5. Piñatas! - I lived in Mexico for a while, and in Mexico the piñata is such a focal point of a kid's birthday celebration that a child's birthday party is actually called a "piñata"! I love piñatas because they act as a great "wrap-up" activity.
For little kids, I convert the piñata into a pull string pinata (a bunch of ribbons taped to the bottom, and one ribbon attached to a trap door at the bottom).
I don't make up goody bags....but instead decorate brown paper lunch bags with the theme of the party and hand them out to the kids once the piñata breaks. They use the paper bags to collect their loot...and this ends up much more exciting and engaging than a typical favor bag!