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Planning a kids’ birthday party is hard work and can feel overwhelming on top of all the other things you already have going on.
So I’ve created the ultimate guide to planning a kids’ birthday party to make the planning and preparation process as smooth as possible for you.
The guide takes you through everything you need to cover to pull together a successful party for your child.
I’ve also included all the kids’ party planning tips I’ve learnt over the last 12 years of planning kids’ parties.
The biggest tip I can share with you on how to plan a kids’ birthday party is to keep things as simple as possible if you want to plan a fun and entertaining kids’ party that you can enjoy hosting.
Related content: Download a copy of my free kids’ party checklist to help you keep on track with your planning.
STEP-BY-STEP HOW TO PLAN A KIDS’ BIRTHDAY PARTY
Here is a quick checklist of the elements you will need to cover when planning a party for kids.
- Set a budget
- Consider a joint party
- Draw up the guest list
- Decide date and time
- Choose party theme
- Book venue – if not having party at home
- Book entertainer/entertainment
- Send invitations
- Order birthday cake
- Plan activities/party games
- Source party decorations
- Plan and buy party bags or favours
- Plan party food
- Day of party checklist
- Birthday gift etiquette
And now read on for the detail on each of these steps complete with tips and ideas on the best way to go about making your plans.
THE ULTIMATE KIDS PARTY PLANNING GUIDE
1. SET A BUDGET
I know this may seem obvious but it is SO easy for costs to get out of hand when you’re planning a party.
It can be so tempting to splash out on lots of fancy decorations or end up spending a fortune on party bags.
So work out your maximum budget and stick to it.
2. JOINT PARTY OR GOING SOLO?
Something it is always worth considering is whether to have a joint party with another child.
Whilst your child will have to share the limelight, there are benefits to having a joint party, especially if the guest lists will be similar or the same. Here are some of the benefits to hosting a joint party:
- Stress reduction – a burden shared…
- Cost reduction…. literally 50% saved if you’re lucky!
- Time reduction – there’s two of you working on it, so you can hopefully halve the work load
Do make sure that you are ‘party’ compatible with the person you plan to host the joint party with.
There is no point saddling yourself with a party spendthrift if you’re going to need to stick to a tight budget.
Equally there is no point saddling yourself with a penny pincher to the point where your guests are nibbling on a shared cheese sandwich whilst watching paint try for entertainment.
3. GUEST LIST
By three years old a lot of children will have started to make their own friends at nursery/preschool or at a child minders.
So it’s worth checking in with the nursery or school to find out who their friends are.
Another thing to consider is that from preschool until kids are around 7 or 8 a lot of parents opt for inviting their child’s whole class to a party. It is a diplomatic way of making sure that no child is left out.
That said, it is not obligatory to do this, so if you are worried about budget or really don’t want to host more than a few kids, you really don’t have to.
Once kids are a little older the number of kids tends to go down to their immediate friendship group.
Don’t invite most of a class and just leave a few kids out, it really isn’t worth the schoolgate stress – plus it really isn’t very kind.
Don’t feel you have to invite a child just because your child went to their party, especially if that child had a large number or guests and you are planning a smaller event.
If you are just inviting a select number of kids to the party it is well worth having a quiet word with your child to explain that it is best not to talk about the party in front of children who aren’t invited.
4. SETTING THE TIME AND DATE
If you are smart you can really make the the day and time of the party work to your advantage. Here are some tips on things it is worth considering when deciding on a date and time for your child’s party.
a. CHOOSING THE DAY
- Sunday parties give more time to prepare.
- Saturday parties give you more time to recover.
- After school parties mean you get to keep your weekend.
b. SETTING THE TIME
Kids’ weekend birthday parties always started at 3pm back in the day.
But there’s now a wider scope for when to hold a party.
Morning parties can work well, especially for younger children.
The benefits to hosting a morning party include:
- Younger children aren’t so tired, so will likely be better behaved
- You can get the party done and dusted and have the afternoon to relax
- Sleepover parties work well for tweens and teens (ideally in smaller groups!)
It’s also worth going for an in-between mealtime party to escape having to provide a full meal at the party.
This tactic keeps costs down and also saves you the job of serving up food and then scraping it into the bin after a bunch of over-excited kids do nothing more than pick at it!!
c. DECIDE HOW LONG THE PARTY WILL BE
Two hours is a great amount of time for a kids party, no matter what the kids’ ages.
This gives everyone time to get to the party and time for some fun, games and serving of party food.
d. AVOID HIGH DAYS AND HOLIDAYS
Lots of families will be away or have their own plans on public holidays, special days like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and during the school breaks.
Clearly you can’t change the date of your child’s birthday, but it might be worth waiting a week or two in order to get a fuller guest list – unless having a smaller guest works to your advantage!
e. ALLOW FOR TODDLER NAPS
If you are planning a party for toddlers it is worth taking into account that some two and three year olds are still having daytime naps.
Whilst you can’t take into consideration every individual child’s nap time, having the party outside of main nap-times, means you are more likely to have a full turn out of guests and happier kids.
5. PARTY THEME
Let me remind you of the party planning tip I gave at the start of this post…
Keep it simple!
This is the only way you will keep your sanity unless you have a paid party planner.
My other tip is to only offer party theme options that you know you can deliver on. For this reason I strongly suggest you do not, I repeat, do not, ask your child ‘what theme would you like?’
Spend a little time researching theme ideas and then give your child a choice of two or three themes.
I’ve got a big list of 99 kids party theme ideas and I’ve also got an even bigger list of 390 – yes 390!!! – party theme ideas for adults, but plenty of these themes would also be great for tweens and teens.
6. CHOOSING A VENUE
There are plenty of things to consider when deciding on the venue for the party. There are advantages to hosting the party at home and advantages to booking a venue.
What works for you one year might not work another year, so take the time to think about what you really need from a party venue.
Here are some things to take into account ahead of deciding where to host the party:
a. CHOOSE A PRACTICAL VENUE
A big way to keep stress levels down on the day of the party is to choose a venue that covers off as many practicalities as possible.
I’ve put together a post with over 50 different ideas for venues. It’s a generic list, but most cities, towns and villages will have some of the venues.
Things to look out for when you’re choosing a venue include:
- Ease of reaching the venue for all guests
- Ease of access to venue
- Good parking
- Adequate toilet facilities
- Space for buggies to be left
- Whether there is a food preparation area if needed
- How far in advance you can access the venue to set up the party
- If you will have to share the venue / a section of the venue with others
b. VENUE SIZE
You should also consider the size of the venue.
Too small and you’ll have trouble fitting everyone in.
But too large and you’ll have trouble creating a party atmosphere and could have trouble wrangling the kids and keeping them focused on the party.
You also need to factor in the amount of space you will realistically need for games, sitting down and eating, plus for parents to hang out.
c. BOOK VENUES EARLY
Popular birthday party venues can get booked up a long way in advance, so make venue booking one of your first jobs.
Make sure you get a confirmation that the venue is yours.
d. ALLOW SPACE FOR PARENTS
It is usual for kids up to the age of six or seven to have a parent stay with them for the duration of a party.
Oh and be warned, some parents view a child’s birthday party as a family outing.
So a top tip is to be very clear on the invitation about who is welcome at the party. This gives parents the chance to plan for someone to look after siblings or to decide which parent will come along if space is limited.
7. PARTY ENTERTAINMENT
a. BOOK ENTERTAINER EARLY
Good entertainers get booked up incredibly early. Keep an ear to the ground for recommendations.
Plus make a note if your child is at a party with a great entertainer that you could use for your party – clearly you don’t want to just copy someone else if the guest list is the same, but this can work as a tactic.
Take a look at my post on great kids party ideas for keeping kids entertained
b. BOOK EQUIPMENT EARLY
If you’re planning on having something special at the party then make sure to book it early and BEFORE you mention it on the invites.
I’m talking about things like:
- Bubble machines
- Bouncy castles
- Karaoke machine
There are a few steps to successfully inviting all the guests! Here you go…
a. SAVE THE DATE
Once your child is at school there are likely to be several contenders for weekend party dates each month.
So send out a ‘save the date’ text or WhatsApp as soon as you know the date you want to hold your child’s party.
b. PARTY INVITATION
Follow up your save the date message with an actual invitation once you have the details confirmed.
It’s your choice whether to make this a paper invite or whether to send a group text or WhatsApp.
If you do plan on using paper invites and your child is at nursery or school it is essential to speak to your child’s teacher about handing out invites, some have strict policies on handing out invites during nursery or school hours, especially if you aren’t inviting the whole class.
As I mentioned earlier, it is good to be really clear on the invitation about who is welcome at the party. Make it super clear if the party is a drop off or whether parents are invited to stay.
This gives parents the chance to plan for someone to look after siblings or to decide which parent will come along if space is limited. Or for them to understand that the party is a drop-off.
Always include and RSVP date on the invitation and make sure that date is a week before the party.
This will give you time to give the number of kids attending to a party venue or to adjust food, party bag and entertainment quantities.
It is best to just give one RSVP contact method so that you aren’t having to check emails and your phone. I usually use my mobile phone number.
c. CHASE RSVPs
It is absolutely ok – in fact essential – that you chase up on RSVPs not received by the deadline.
There can be all manor of reasons for parents not replying, ranging from the invite never having reached them, through forgot and right up to downright lacking in manners!
Whatever the reason, you’ve been kind enough to invite their child, so it’ totally acceptable to want to know if that child will be coming along to the party.
e. CHECK FOR ALLERGIES
Make sure to add a line to the invitation asking if there are any allergies or special dietary requirements.
It’s pretty easy to cover off meat eaters, vegetarian and vegan food if you plan properly.
Ignore anyone who comes back with simple fussiness requirements!!!!! 😉
9. BIRTHDAY CAKE
There are several routes you can go down with making sure there is a birthday cake for the birthday child.
- Make it yourself
- Buy it from a supermarket – there are some brilliant ones around
- Rope a willing relative in to make it
- Order it from a baker
Things to consider when deciding which route works best for you.
- Budget – ordering from a bakery is the most expensive option, but you will likely end up with a show-stopping cake.
- If you are ordering a cake, make sure to do in plenty of time, ideally at least a couple of weeks before the party (or check timings with your local bakery ahead of ordering)
- Your time/skill – there is no point aiming to make a stunning birthday cake if you just won’t have time or have never successfully created more than a mess when decorating a cake
- Number of guests who will want a slice of cake – the cost goes up the more there are!
- Ease of getting the cake to the venue if you’re not having the party at home
10. PARTY DECORATIONS
Party themes may be incredibly popular but it means you’ll get almost no reuse out of any decorations you buy. However, there is a great hack for this.
Go for coloured decorations with a themed cake and a few themed add ons, then you can mix and match decorations year after year.
Do try to use eco-friendly decorations wherever possible.
Balloons – even latex ones that manufacturers claim are eco-friendly – aren’t actually that great for the environment.
One way around this is to go for paper decorations.
Paper pompoms have become super popular, in fact, using paper decorations is definitely the way to go for an eco-friendly way to decorate your party.
DECORATIONS THAT DOUBLE UP AS ACTIVITIES
A great way to keep costs down is to use decorations that double-up as activities or vice versa. Here is a couple of ideas on how to do this:
Piñatas have become really popular over the last few years.
They are a great option for adding decoration to the party and doubling up as an activity.
Do be careful about what you provide to hit the piñata with and do be ready to crowd control the kids as they go feral.
I’ve got a post that rounds up some DIY piñata tutorials that is worth a look if you want to make your own.
b. PIN THE TAIL
A great pin the tail graphic is another way to create a decoration that multi-tasks as a party game.
There are plenty of pin the tail printables online, I’ve rounded up a few here.
11. PARTY ACTIVITIES/GAMES
It is always putting some time aside to plan the party entertainment, especially if you aren’t going to have an entertainer.
a. PARTY GAMES
Not all party games are equal. Some need props, and some need music. Some come with the expectation of prizes. Plus the games need to be suitable for the main age group at the party.
Browse through some of my kids’ party games lists for inspiration.
- 58 Best kids’ party games – a big list of games and how to play each. I’ve broken the games into age groups and added details of how each game is played.
- Easy party games for kids – easy party games that take minimal prep and are super easy to play.
- The best indoor and outdoor party games for kids
- Fun party games for teens
- The best board games for teens
Music goes a long way in creating a party atmosphere. It is also essential for some party games.
Make sure that you have something suitable to play music on for party games. You may think you’re iPhone can handle it, but it’s amazing how much sound a large bunch of kids can soak up.
Musical chairs and pass the parcel just don’t work if no-one can hear the music.
If you’re hosting the party at a venue check if there is something to play music on and if there isn’t take something from home.
c. YOU DON’T NEED PRIZES FOR EVERY GAME
If you’re planning a party filled with games let the joy of winning be prize enough for some of them.
Or give out a sweet to the winner each time.
Pick up a couple of games, like pass the parcel, to have actual prizes for.
d. GET PASS THE PARCEL RIGHT!
Now this is especially relevant if you are planning to have a party with lots of guests, especially very young guests.
Back in the day you had one big present in the middle of the parcel.
These days you need to have a little something in each layer.
It can just be a sticker or a sweet, but don’t forget to add them.
It’s also worth creating two parcels to be passed around if there’s a big group of kids.
Attention spans can be very short.
e. MASKS AND PUPPETS ARE FUN
Little children (five and under) love puppets.
Work them into games to add an extra fun element.
f. CRAFT ACTIVITIES CAN DOUBLE AS PARTY FAVOURS
It’s also a great way to get the kids creating their own party favour instead of having to give out party bags.
h. HAVE A GAMES ASSISTANT
Get a willing family member to be your loyal games assistant.
They can hand out stickers and prizes whilst you lead the game.
Also prime this lovely person to be able to take over if your child or another child needs you.
Writing a quick games list to share is a great way to keep them primed.
12. PARTY BAGS AND FAVOURS
Party bags, oh the joy of the bag filled with stuff that will be discarded within minutes.
But fear not, there are options.
- If you want to create your own party bags, choose a theme and set yourself a strict budget.
- Buy pre-filled party bags if you just don’t have the time or will to put them together yourself
- I’ve put together a post with a selection of eco-friendly party bag filler ideas if you want to go the extra mile
- An increasingly popular idea is to have a craft activity and then the kids get their creation as a gift
- Another trend is to give a party favour gift instead of a party bag. I’ve got a post on great alternatives to party bags that will give you plenty of ideas.
13. PARTY FOOD
I’ve just put together a separate post with a checklist of all the things you need to think about to get kids’ party food right. Here’s a quick read summary:
a. DRINK CARTONS SPILL LESS THAN CUPS
Drink cartons with a little straw are far less messy than party cups for younger kids. That means less chance of accidents from kids slipping over and less chance of having to clear up a sticky mess.
b. DITCH CROCKERY AND CUTLERY
Now, this is one of the best tips I can share with you from my years of hosting kids birthday parties.
Forget about cutlery, serving platters and plates.
Use clever solutions like paper snack cones or party food boxes instead.
I’ve used both for my daughter’s birthday parties.
C. MAKE PARTY FOOD IN ADVANCE AND FREEZE
If you’re planning on making food, make it in advance and pop it in the freezer.
You will never have as much time as you think you have to make it in the 24 hours leading up to the party.
d. SANDWICHES ARE TOO MUCH HASSLE
Sandwiches can seem like a simple option, but they are a time suck to make.
Plus kids rarely do more than take a bite out of the middle and then leave most of the sandwich to focus on more exciting party food.
Pizza is a great ‘grab it and growl’ style savoury party food that is cheap to buy, easy to transport and simple to serve.
f. HAVE DRINKS FOR ADULTS
You won’t be expected to provide food for adults, but it is a good idea to offer some sort of drink.
If possible – and safe – set up a drinks station so that adults can help themselves.
It’s totally your choice whether you serve alcoholic drinks or not. Just make sure that you are allowed to serve alcohol if you’re at a venue and always serve in something that isn’t glass – but is ideally eco-friendly.
14. DAY OF PARTY CHECKLIST
a. GIVE CLEAR TASKS TO EVERYONE HELPING
It’s all very well getting family and friends along to help you with the party, but you need to give each person a clear task otherwise, the chances are that you will still end up doing most of it yourself.
Once everyone has a clear task you will be freed up to focus on actually hosting the party.
This doesn’t mean you’re being lazy, it’s just that being the host with most is a full on job.
You can’t be charm personified if you’re also gathering coats, showing people to the toilet or guarding the party food from over-eager hands.
b. CREATE A SPACE FOR COATS
There is nothing worse than everyone dumping their coats in the main party area and ruining your carefully curated party theme!
So make sure there’s a clear space for people to leave their coats.
Better still, have a family member on coat duty to do the job for the guests.
c. HAVE SPARE CLOTHES FOR YOUR CHILD
If the birthday girl or boy is five or under it is well worth making sure you have a spare set of clothes for them. Just in case they have a toilet accident due to excitement or because they are still learning.
d. REMOVE BREAKABLES
This is valid whether you’re having the party at home or at a venue.
Either way, you don’t want the cost of replacing something that’s broken.
e. STORE TOYS AWAY
This one is for parties at home.
Only put out toys that you / your child is happy for other children to play with.
This will stop squabbles, diverted attention, unnecessary damage and unnecessary clearing up.
15. BIRTHDAY GIFT ETIQUETTE
a. CREATE A GIFT STATION
Have a big empty box, bag or table where guests can put birthday gifts.
This frees you and your child up from having to take each present – oh the hardship!!
b. OPEN GIFTS AFTER THE PARTY
No matter how much pleading there might be, it is much better to open birthday gifts once the party is over.
Plus, if your party is at a venue, it’s much better to wait to open gifts back home, because…
- It’s not much fun for the guests to watch gifts being opened
- You will find it very hard to keep a track of who has given what – for thank you card purposes 😉
- The gifts are easier to transport when wrapped
- There is less mess to clear up at the party venue
Well I think that is everything covered off. There are no two ways about it, there are a lot of things to cover off when you’re planning a kids party, even if it’s a really simple party.
Good luck with planning your next party, I hope it goes brilliantly.
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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.