Let's be honest. The idea of spending a couple hundred on a playspace birthday is pretty tempting. Somebody else handles the activities, the decor is often provided, clean up is a breeze. But remember when we were kids and everyone had their birthdays at home with cakes made in our own kitchens and our favorite rooms decked out just for us? Good times. Friends, I'm here to tell you that throwing a super cute at home birthday does NOT have to be a big deal. It can be whipped together in an afternoon with the right set of cheat-cuts, supplies, and a can-do attitude of course because let's be serious, even if you drop the cake on it's face and the pizza delivery guy doesn't show...kids will still love the fact that everyone came to THEIR house to celebrate a day just for them.
(yes, that is my son)
The Food. The best part about planning a party during a major meal? Eating takes time, so you don't have to plan a zillion activities. That said, there are some hurdles.
Seating: Easiest? Blankets + pillows on the floor. Best investment? The Lack Coffee table from IKEA. I bought four and have used them for at least 7 birthday parties. Kids sit on the floor and have a proper "table" to share.
Menu: My go-to kid party food usually comes out of a box - chicken tenders, corn dogs, fish sticks, the works. Pop it all into the oven just as the party gets started and 30 minutes later, lunch is ready. Want to make them really love you? Put everything on a stick.
My girlfriends go-to is anything in the crockpot. Pulled pork, meatballs, you get the drift. That's a little too hit or miss for me with my picky kids but for a group of eaters, I'd say it's a great make-ahead call.
And if all of that is too much trouble, I'm a fan of a brown bag made cute. Cheese sandwiches, bags of chips and an apple - all made party-dorable by customizing the front of the bag with a cute stamp. The most genius mom ever in my neighborhood bought a bunch of McDonalds burgers and fries and re-packaged them in cute brown bags to fit the party theme.
The Decor. I'm a big fan of sticking with a theme. It makes things WAY easier. Easier to buy, to decorate, and easier to use what you already have on hand. Just imagine a lego cake topper made with actual legos or a superhero party table decorated with tiny superheroes climbing up the cake. A theme can be as simple as a color palette or as involved as a whole team of characters. But here are a few other broad tips for getting serious decor bang for your buck.
Balloons go a LONG way people. But I'm not talking about your standard tiny bouquet of balloons. I mean the big dogs. The 3 footers. They are a sight to see and whether you let them float around the yard on weighted strings or you tie them in big, big bundles, the 3 foot balloon is the best decor steal you will find. You basically don't need anything else at all.
Think en Masse. Don't just do a few streamers. Do a ton. More than you think possible. For a garden party, tape a ton of inexpensive fake flowers on the wall with cute, cute, cute washi tape. For a sprinkles party, douse everything you can think of in sprinkles. Go big or go home for the best possible impact.
Create a statement table or wall. It's a lot easier to create one party focal point, then it is to decorate your whole house. And it doesn't have to be a dessert table as many parties online might have you believe. It can showcase the cake, the presents, cute bottles of lemonade, the food, anything. It can even be the place where the littles are going to eat. But really make it cute. Vary levels, add whimsy and make it the first thing people see when they walk in.
The Activities. I like to think about parties in 15-30 minute increments. Arrival of all guests should take about 15. A fun activity should take about 30. Eating should take about 20. Cake and ice cream another 15. Boom, nearly an hour and a half party over and done with in a zip. For no-fail activities, remember the 3 S's...
Simple. Until kids are 7 or 8, the activities should be painfully simply. Story time. A cute puppet show. A simple craft. Even filling a bag with popcorn or trail mix and snacking on it or tossing water balloons into buckets = activities.
Staffed. There should be a grown-up making sure that kids keep moving along through the activity. And by grown-up, I really mean anyone over the age of 12.
Silly. Any amount of silly will instantly win the hearts of the kids participating. It will also draw out the shy kids and will unite everyone. And as long as you're staffed up right and the activity is simple, you'll have a gaggle of happy kids smiling at you.
The Easy-to-Forgets-but-Make-Everything-Betters. Trash cans in every room. Extra water on ice in every room. A good, kid-centric playlist. A handful of friends or family members that are assigned tasks like: food serving, food clean-up, juice box opening, bandaid applier. Outside? Bug Spray and sunscreen. Inside? On and off limit rooms that are clearly designated.
Follow these tips and you'll have an easy, home-grown party that will leave such a nice little go-mom imprint on your little one's memory. Just make sure that you have a clean up-plan in place AND that you do it right away before you fall into bed completely exhausted, glass of wine in hand, your newly minted 5 year old asleep in the cake.
* * * * * * * * *