This weekend we celebrated Lily's fourth birthday. And we did it with a bang. Because I really really love birthday parties. I love planning for them. I love shopping for them. I love creating them. The whole process makes me incredibly happy.
Oh. And something about making Lily happy too.
I wrote about my love of birthday parties as I prepared for my very first party as a Mom. (You can read that post here.) My obsession has only grown, and I'm starting to be known for my skills among our Mommy circle.
So here it is- Mindy's Top Ten ways to throw a successful birthday party.
1.Pick a theme and go with it.
This is pretty easy these days. A trip to Party City makes this easy. You can find party supplies for nearly every theme you can think of. (except cats, as I discovered this year...) And I think most moms have this party down pretty well.
But here's the tricky part....
2. Put the kids in the world of the theme.
Here's where my theatre background comes in handy. Rather than buying tons of party supplies with the character's pictures plastered all over, think of what your main character would have in her world. For example, cats don't eat off of plates with pictures of cats on them. But they do eat out of bowls. So I bought little plastic bowls and letter stickers. I had the children tell the adults how to spell their names (see tip #9), filled the bowls with goldfish crackers, and encouraged the kids to put their faces right in. I had them sing "Happy Birthday" as cats, and provided ears and tails. Think of how the kids can spend the time as the theme, rather than just looking at the theme.
3. Spend as little money as possible.
For our family this is just a necessity. If I want to throw a great party, I have to do it on a budget. But my need to be thrifty gets my creative brain going. And that gets me thinking like a kid. Rather than buying 20 sets of cat ears at $3.50 a piece, I bought 4 6-packs of headbands for $3 each and made the ears from pipe cleaners we already had. Rather than rent out an expensive party place, we have our parties at the park. (Granted, this is possible because Lily's birthday is in May. But there are indoor options as well. The library, for example.) I make the cupcakes myself every year. They usually come out crazy looking. And nobody cares. You do not need to spend a lot of money to make a kid happy.
4. Think of what the kids will do.
I've been to a few parties where so much care was taken with decorations and food, but little thought was given to what the kids will actually do. Make sure you have some activities and a timeline in mind. If it's at a place like the park, or a party facility, you're golden. But if it's just at your house, chances are they will find something to do. And after a while, with that many kids and that much sugar, you may not like the choices they make.
5. Don't have stuff for the sake of stuff.
Two different kids asked me on Saturday where the goody bags were. "There aren't any, but you may have your ears and tail and cat bowl" I answered. This is my own personal preference of course, and I may get nasty comments about how necessary they are. But in a world of excess, I have trouble participating in all the plastic stuff nonsense. The kids at Lily's birthday parties never go home empty-handed. But I think about what role the stuff I'm sending home might play in their lives.
6. Remember the grown-ups.
We attended a birthday party a few months ago that served wine and ended up with an after party that went until close to 10 PM. This is my kind of birthday party. Serving alcohol isn't necessary. (Although we usually do. A carefully-labeled punch for grown-ups only. It's not strong. It just lets the adults know we were thinking of them.) But keep in mind the adults want to enjoy themselves, too. Preschool parents, in particular, are getting to know each other, and forming relationships that will last the next fifteen years. Give them an environment where they can chat without constantly chasing after their kids. Because often, this is how they spend their whole weekend.
7. Follow the kids' lead.
I always have specific activities in mind. But my schedule is loose. I watch the kids to see what they want to do. This weekend, for example, I was going to have the kids run an obstacle course as cats. But you know what's really not necessary? Showing kids how to play on a playground. I also hadn't planned on having Lily open her presents while everyone was there. But several of the little girls really wanted her to. So we did. And they sat and watched politely and oo'ed and ah'ed over each gift. Have a plan. Then be willing to abandon it. (see rule #10)
Again I fall back on my theatre and education backgrounds for this one. But the kids want to see grown ups be silly. Be ready to play with them. Demonstrate how a cat might sing "Happy Birthday." Show them how to eat from the bowl without using your hands. Wear ears and a tail yourself. Get involved.
9. Find the teachable moments.
While kids don't want to sit and have a class during their birthday party, they are always learning. Think ahead of time about some things your child is working on right now. See if you can incorporate some of those things into the party. Have them help you count. Have them spell their own names on a nametag. (examples, of course, for my 4-year-old. But kids of every age are working on skills.) But more importantly, work on social skills with them. Be sure your child greets every guest and says good bye to each person who is leaving. Teach her to say thank you and to be a gracious host.
10. Let it go.
At the end of the day, it's a two-hour party. It should be a lot of fun, and yes, people will appreciate your work. But it's kids and sugar and activity and presents and really, it's pretty hard to mess that up. My Lion King cupcakes were pretty crazy-looking. And for the second year in a row the cupcakes didn't really make the trip very well. But they were still tasty. I had some things planned that got skipped because it started to rain. So we moved to the gazebo, the parents kept drinking sangria and chatting, and the kids got excited about presents. No big deal. Let it go.
It occurs to me now that I have never written about the birthday parties of the past. And this is already a pretty long post. So I'm going to make three separate posts- one for each party- and come back and link them. If you're someone who reads these the moment I post them- thank you! And know that I'll edit this whole paragraph once the individual party posts are ready. So check back in a bit :)