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Your child’s first birthday is an incredibly special milestone, both for your child and for you are a parent, especially if this is your first or only child. So it is only natural to want to do something really special to mark the occasion and celebrate.
It’s fair to say it is unlikely that the child will be fully aware that the celebration is for them or that they will remember much of it. But it is still an opportunity for you to create cherished memories and make sure you have plenty of photos and even videos to share with your child when they are older.
So with all this in mind, how do you strike the right balance between creating a fun experience for your birthday baby and their baby friends, a memorable for everyone and celebrating the joy of parenthood?
In my experience, the best way to do it is to plan a party that very much caters to adult, baby, and child guests.
Here’s a guide to everything you need to do to plan and host the most epic first birthday party ever. I’ve included plenty of birthday party ideas and inspiration alongside the things you need to consider when planning the party.
FIRST BIRTHDAY PARTY PLANNING CHECKLIST
Here is a quick checklist of the steps you need to take to make like a party planner and plan your child’s first birthday party:
1. CHOOSE A THEME
Start by deciding if your party will have a theme. You don’t have to have a theme, but it can help pull the party together. Select a theme that reflects your child’s interests or a favourite character.
Alternatively, just pick a beautiful colour scheme and bring it to life through decorations and party food. Keep it simple and age-appropriate.
Bear in mind that a fully themed party will likely be more expensive than simply having a few well-chosen decorations.
2. SET A DATE AND TIME
Pick a date and time that works well for your family and close friends. Consider nap times and meal schedules when deciding on the timing of the party. Don’t be afraid to go for a morning birthday party. Lots of babies are better earlier in the day.
3. DECIDE ON A VENUE
Take a call on whether you have the party at home, outdoors, in a local park or whether you want to hire a venue.
Do consider the weather if you want to have the party outdoors. Think about convenience for both you and party guests when deciding where to have the party.
Try and book venues as early as possible. The best venues can get booked up months in advance, so this will give you the best chance of getting your first choice and sticking to the budget you want to spend on a venue.
4. PUT TOGETHER A GUEST LIST
Put together your ideal guest list of family and friends. A first birthday party is very much about the parents as much as the birthday boy or girl, so don’t be afraid to go large on inviting your friends and older family members. But don’t forget to include at least a few of your baby’s friends!!
5. PARTY SAVE THE DATE AND INVITATIONS
I always send a Save The Date message via text or WhatsApp for parties to ensure the date goes into everyone’s diary.
You can follow up with an actual invite with all the party details nearer the time. You can stick to traditional paper invitations through the mail, but it’s far easier to send digital invitations.
Include the date, time, venue, any special instructions and a request for info about special dietary requirements on the invitations. Always include an RSVP date to encourage everyone to confirm in plenty of time for the party.
6. PARTY DECOR
You can go as full-on or as minimal as you like with party decorations. Decide on the decorations that match your chosen theme if you have one. I am a huge fan of eco-friendly paper decorations, like paper pom-poms, garlands and banners. Balloons can also be a delight for babies, and it’s a lovely idea to give each baby or toddler guest a balloon as they leave.
7. AGE-APPROPRIATE ACTIVITIES
You don’t have to have any official entertainment or activities. However, there are many lovely simple ways to entertain babies and toddlers at a first birthday party. Just make sure to plan in advance, hire an entertainer as soon as you confirm the party date or buy all the appropriate props in plenty of time.
Here is a list of creative ways to entertain babies and their baby and toddler guests at the party:
1. BABY’S FIRST ART PARTY
Babies can start enjoying finger painting, or their version of it, as young as six months, and of course, toddlers love a spot of finger painting too. They might not be creating great works of art, but they will love exploring different textures and colours.
So, if you are willing to risk having a huge mess to clear up, a finger painting station could be a great way to entertain your tot and their pals.
Provide non-toxic finger paints, large sheets of paper and safe art materials. You can even create edible finger paint. I’d suggest a floor space is better than a table space, and babies can use their hands and feet to get creative.
2. SENSORY PLAY WONDERLAND
Create a sensory wonderland with various activities that engage a baby’s senses. You could set up a soft play area with pillows and blankets, a water play station with shallow containers and floating toys, and a tactile station with bins of safe materials like rice, pasta, or pom-poms.
3. MUSIC AND MOVEMENT FUN
Arrange a mini music class for babies and their parents. Hire a children’s musician or use recorded music to get the tots singing, dancing, and playing with simple instruments like shakers and drums.
If you are doing the music yourself, you could buy baby shakers and rattles that double up as party favours.
4. TEDDY BEAR PICNIC
A Teddy Bear picnic is a classic first birthday party theme and a lovely way to entertain one-year-olds.
Set up a cosy picnic area with soft blankets, cushions, and stuffed animals. Invite parents and babies to bring their favourite teddy bears or stuffed toys along as guests.
Bring the picnic to life with toy tea sets for the bears and a spread of picnic-style food for everyone else.
5. BUBBLE BONANZA
Babies and toddlers LOVE bubbles! So why not create a bubble bonanza by filling the party venue with bubbles of all sizes?
Get the party started with a bubble machine pumping out bubbles. Give the guests or their parents bubble wants and bubble guns.
You could even hire a bubble entertainer if older kids are at the party. We have been to a couple of parties with bubble entertainers who do the most amazing things with bubbles, including enveloping children in a whole single bubble.
6. BABY GYMNASTICS
Create a baby gym for all the little party guests to enjoy. Set up soft play mats, tunnels and soft obstacles for them to crawl around, clamber over and explore.
Alternatively, you could hire a soft play centre for a couple of hours.
7. STORYTIME SHARING
Create a cosy reading corner with soft cushions, blankets, and soft toys. Invite parents to bring their baby’s favourite short storybooks. Then ask the parents to take turns reading aloud to the babies.
8. BABY FOOD FIESTA
One-year-old babies and their pals are still in the early days of experiencing and enjoying food. So how about setting up a tasting party with a selection of baby-friendly foods?
Set up a buffet station of mashed fruits, pureed vegetables, and soft finger foods. Encourage babies to explore different tastes and textures with their parents.
9. PYJAMA PARTY BRUNCH
This is a lovely idea for weekend birthday parties. Organise a morning brunch party and invite parents and babies to come in their PJs or onesies.
Put together a lovely, calm, and soothing playlist and let everyone enjoy relaxing with friends.
8. FOOD AND DRINK
Determine the menu based on the time of the party. For a morning celebration, consider a brunch-style menu with finger foods and baby-friendly snacks. If it’s an afternoon party, provide light refreshments and a birthday cake or cupcakes.
You will need to have food and drink for adults as well as children, so it is worth costing up a food budget to make sure you don’t end up spending a fortune.
Here’s a simple menu of food ideas for babies and young children at a first birthday party:
- Finger sandwiches: Prepare small, bite-sized sandwiches with child-friendly fillings such as cream cheese and cucumber, peanut butter and banana, or turkey and cheese.
- Mini vegetable crudités: Serve a platter of sliced vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, and bell peppers, cut into small sticks for easy handling.
- Fruit skewers: Skewer small, soft fruit pieces like grapes, strawberries, and melon balls onto wooden skewers for a colourful snack.
- Cheese cubes: Offer bite-sized cubes of mild cheese, such as cheddar or mozzarella, easy for little ones to pick up and enjoy.
- Mini quiches: Bake mini quiches or egg muffins with a variety of vegetables and cheese for a protein-packed finger food option.
- Baby-friendly crackers or rice cakes: Provide a selection of baby-friendly crackers or rice cakes that are low in sugar and salt for little ones to nibble on.
- Mini pancakes or waffles: Make small, fluffy pancakes or waffles that little hands can easily hold. Offer toppings like mashed fruits or yoghurt for added flavour.
- Yoghurt parfaits: Serve individual cups of plain or flavoured yoghurt with layers of mashed fruits, granola, or cereal. I tend to steer clear of ice cream as it is so melty and messy!!
- Soft fruit pouches: Offer ready-to-eat fruit pouches made with natural ingredients if you want to keep things simple.
- Veggie or fruit cups: Prepare small cups filled with bite-sized portions of steamed vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower florets or cut-up fruits like watermelon or berries.
- Mini muffins: Bake mini muffins with healthy ingredients like whole wheat flour, fruits, or vegetables for a tasty and nutritious snack.
- Water or juice: Offer water or diluted fruit juice in spill-proof cups.
And let’s not forget the adults, tired parents, et al. Here is a list of simple party food and drink ideas for adults at the birthday party. I suggest sticking with finger foods and mini foods because parents watching over babies and toddlers won’t be able to relax if they have to deal with knives and forks!
- Veggie platter: Serve a variety of fresh, cut-up vegetables like carrots, celery, bell peppers, and cherry tomatoes with dips like hummus or guacamole.
- Caprese skewers: Skewer cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls, and basil leaves drizzled with balsamic glaze
- Mini quiches or savoury tarts: Offer a selection of mini quiches or savoury tarts with different fillings such as spinach and feta, mushroom and gruyere, or tomato and goat cheese.
- Bruschetta: Serve toasted baguette slices topped with diced tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic, and a drizzle of balsamic glaze or olive oil.
- Cheese and charcuterie board: Create a spread of assorted cheeses, cured meats, crackers, and bread accompanied by olives, nuts, and dried fruits. This is one of the easiest ways to cover off food for adults.
- Chicken skewers: Grill or bake chicken skewers marinated in a flavorful sauce like teriyaki, honey mustard, or lemon herb.
- Caprese salad: Prepare a simple Caprese salad with ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil leaves, and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic glaze.
- Pasta salad: Make a light pasta salad with colourful vegetables, like cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, and a light vinaigrette dressing.
- Mini sliders: Serve mini burgers or sliders with a variety of toppings like cheese, caramelised onions, pickles, and condiments.
- Fruit salad: Offer a refreshing fruit salad with a variety of seasonal fruits, such as watermelon, berries, pineapple, and grapes.
- Mini pita pockets: Fill mini pita pockets with a choice of fillings like falafel, grilled vegetables, or chicken with tzatziki sauce.
- Assorted desserts: Provide a selection of bite-sized desserts like mini cupcakes, cookies, or fruit tarts.
It’s totally fine to offer alcohol at a first birthday party, but clearly, the emphasis is on having a drink or two rather than a big old booze-up!!
Many fellow parents of babies will be tired or running on empty, so it’s a nice idea to have tea, coffee and uplifting fruit cordials and soft drinks to hand.
It can be a total faff having to stop and make tea and coffee for loads of adults during the party, so think about asking one of your parents or a couple of them to be on drinks duty as a party gift to you.
9. PARTY FAVOURS
Welcome to the world of party favours!! Now, I must clarify that it is not obligatory to give party favours, and you must never feel like you have to.
However, if you are super excited about hosting your baby’s first birthday party and want to go all in, think about giving each little guest a small party favour or little party bag.
Here is a list of party favours that work well for a first birthday party:
- Mini board books
- Sensory balls
- Fun teethers
- Finger puppets
- Baby socks or Sock-Ons
- Bubble wands
- Cute sippy cups
- Fun water bottles
- Snack packs
- Customised photo frames
- Musical instruments
- Play-Doh or modelling clay
- Personalised baby T-shirt
- Personalised bibs
- DIY sensory bottles
- Fun bath toys
- Bath crayons
10. CAPTURE THE MOMENTS
Ask a friend or family member to be the chief photographer for the party. This is one party you want to be able to look back on in years to come. It’s also one that the party boy or girl is unlikely to remember, so having a set of photographs they can see when they are older is lovely.
Of course, you could hire a photographer if you have the budget. Just make sure that plenty of photos are taken, and get a few that include you with your baby on their big day.
11. PREPARE FOR BABY GUEST’S NEEDS
It is a really good idea to plan ahead for the needs of baby and toddler guests and their parents. So make sure there is a designated area for baby changing and also try and designate a quiet space for little guests who are overwhelmed and for feeding.
12. REMEMBER TO ENJOY THE PARTY
The danger with hosting parties is that you don’t actually get to enjoy the party yourself. A first birthday party is a huge milestone for your baby. It’s also a huge milestone for you. So try and find a way to enjoy the party and congratulate yourself on completing one whole year of being a parent!
Good luck planning the party. I hope it is a super happy birthday party for everyone involved.
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FIRST BIRTHDAY PARTY FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
Here is a quick FAQ guide that I’ve put together based on my experience of hosting and attending first birthday parties. I hope that this guide helps you navigate hosting a first birthday party:
Q: When should I start planning for the first birthday party? A: It’s recommended to start planning at least 4-6 weeks in advance. This allows you enough time to organise all the necessary details.
Q: Should I choose a theme for the party? A: Choosing a theme is optional but can add fun and cohesiveness to the celebration. Consider your child’s interests or a favourite character for inspiration.
Q: How long should the party be? A: Keep in mind the age and attention span of your child. A party duration of 1-2 hours is generally suitable for one-year-olds. Plan around nap times and meal schedules.
Q: Who should I invite? A: The guest list should primarily consist of close family members and friends. Keep in mind the capacity of your chosen venue and consider the comfort of your child.
Q: Should I send out formal invitations? A: It’s up to you! You can choose to send digital invitations or opt for traditional paper invitations. Ensure to include the date, time, venue, and any special instructions.
Q: How can I make the party enjoyable for the little ones? A: Plan age-appropriate activities such as a soft play area, sensory stations, or simple games like peek-a-boo and musical chairs. Keep it fun and engaging without overwhelming the babies.
Q: What should I serve for food at the party? A: Prepare a simple menu with finger foods for both babies and adults. Include options like finger sandwiches, fruit kabobs, cheese cubes, and mini quiches. Consider any allergies or dietary restrictions of your guests.
Q: Do I need to provide a birthday cake? A: It’s a common tradition to have a small birthday cake for the child to smash or enjoy. Alternatively, you can choose cupcakes or a healthier smash cake made from baby-friendly ingredients.
Q: Should I have party favours for the guests? A: Party favours are not mandatory but can be a nice gesture. Choose age-appropriate and eco-friendly favours like seed packets, wooden teething toys, or fabric bookmarks.
Q: How can I capture the memories of the day? A: Designate someone to take photos and videos throughout the party. Consider hiring a professional photographer or setting up a photo booth area for extra fun.
Q: How can I ensure a smooth experience for the baby and guests? A: Create a designated area for diaper changes, a quiet space for napping, and provide ample supplies for feeding and soothing the baby. Communicate any special instructions or requests to your guests.
Q: How can I thank the guests for attending? A: Send thank-you notes or emails expressing your gratitude for their presence. Personalise the messages and consider sharing a photo from the party.
Luci is the founder of Mums Make Lists (Est. 2011). Over the last decade or so, she has used her experience as a mum to create useful guides to organising family life. During that time, she has found the most joy in creating lists of ideas and inspiration to make it easier for busy parents to plan and host kids’ parties and find great gifts. Read more.