Time To Celebrate

A blueprint for hosting a ball of a birthday.

Planning a birthday party is largely dependent on the birthday child’s interests and the parent’s budget. Time-wise, begin party planning two to four weeks in advance of sending out invitations if you want to host your child’s party on a particular day and time. If your child child’s birthday falls on or near a holiday or your date of choice is a Saturday, allot an extra few weeks for the planning. What do professional party planners say in terms of when to book a party space or entertainment? “As soon as possible,” according to the handful of experts I consulted for this article.

Here is more detailed information from Monet Clements-Dixon, president of Milestones Event Design & Consulting Services, a full-service special events agency serving Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC. And don’t worry if you are not the most organized person. These are simply general guidelines.

  • Eight to Ten Weeks Before the Party: Choose a party theme with your child, write a guest list and reserve your entertainment or party venue.
  • Six Weeks Before: Prepare and mail the invitations.
  • Four Weeks Before: Brainstorm activities and food that correspond to the party’s theme. This is especially important if the celebration is a do-it-yourself party, such as in your home. One month before the event is also a good time to order the cake.
  • Three Weeks Before: Purchase party supplies, particularly if you are ordering them online, and arrange for extra help during the party if you’d like at least another pair of hands.
  • One to Two Weeks Before: Write a timeline of party activities, and purchase remaining supplies for activities and favors for attendees. Call family members and friends who have not yet responded about attendance. This is important; perhaps not everyone received your invitation. Party venues generally don’t ask for your final RSVP count until a few days before the actual party. A parent generally pays for a minimum number of children at the time of booking, and the party place should accommodate the few extras who show up that day.
  • One to Two Days Before: Bake the cake or pick up your pre-ordered cake. Also confirm your help if you have asked someone else to give you a hand. Decorate your home or be sure you have the decorations you need for the party venue. Prepare or pick up food. 
  • One Week After the Party: Send thank-you notes.

Local Party Place or Do It Yourself?

Some of the best party ideas come from special occasions that you and your child have attended. Were there any birthdays that your child thoroughly enjoyed? I often hear from my kids after leaving another child’s party that they want theirs to be at that same location. Great! That’s one less item to tackle.

If your kids don’t offer location suggestions, explore the local options, such as by doing an “in MY NEIGHBORHOOD” search on www.parentguidenews.com. By choosing a geographic location, like your town or a larger surrounding town, and “Party Places,” you’ll see write-ups on dozens of party venues, possibly footsteps or a quick car ride from your door. Expand the search to neighboring towns for even more options.  

For further direction, indoor play spaces and gymnastics facilities work well for children who are preschool age up to roughly 8 years old. In many of these party venues, children have the freedom to run around a giant indoor jungle gym— some with gymnastics equipment or inflatables— maybe play arcade games and do one or two organized activities before having pizza and cake. Many facilities catering to all different age ranges offer specific activities. Check these out if your child likes to cook or hit baseballs in the batting cage, or harbors another particular interest.

One mom who has three boys with autumn birthdays says that party places are convenient for her because her home does not have the space to accommodate children’s many party guests, especially if her sons share a celebration. At a party place, you are typically in and out in 90 or 120 minutes. Wherever you host the party, always remember to tip the on-site party planner and the entertainment.

By the same token, plenty of families love to have parties at their homes. Hosting such a party offers the opportunity to bring your child’s friends, as well as your friends and family members, into your home. Mostly any child appreciates the audience while blowing out the candles where he or she is likely most comfortable. Plus, people can hang out for a long while or come and go as they please. 

Even if you choose to have a child’s party at your home, consider the necessary deposits and booking times. Arrange for any entertainers, such as face painters, clowns and magicians, and extras like bouncy castles and food carts, as soon as possible. Dennis, from Send In The Clowns, a tri-state area entertainment company, notes that for most times during the year, 30 days in advance is sufficient for booking these types of party requests. But do you know what you or your child yearns for regarding the entertainment or the food well in advance? Like choosing a venue, a date and time, the sooner the better is the rule of thumb for coordinating entertainment and extras.

How About Creating a Theme?

What TV shows do you DVR so your child never misses an episode? Who’s the singer or band responsible for the majority of tunes on your kid’s play-lists? Simpler yet: What’s your child’s favorite color? Take these details and integrate them into your child’s party theme. Choose a few relevant elements and use them to tie the theme together. As far as color goes, you have the added bonus of being able to use lovely seasonal colors when decorating, such as yellow, copper and red for autumnal affairs.

These days, you can find a reasonable selection of decor embellishments and goodie bag items at the local dollar store. Why not have a costume party if your child’s birthday is near Halloween? This way kids get a chance to wear their costumes twice. Fall party activities might include drawing on or carving small pumpkins, decorating pine cones, composing a collage after collecting fallen leaves and coloring goodie bags with a fall scene. Children could also dip apples in caramel or play farm-related games like a bean bag toss. To take the theme further, you could potentially book a party at a farm in the area if you are willing to host the affair outside your home. Many farms have apple picking, hayrides and other festive fare.

Search the Internet and speak to mommy friends to add to the treasure trove of wonderful ideas you can incorporate into your child’s celebration. But whatever type of party you plan, enjoy some of the festivities, take tons of photographs, visit with your guests and relish the joy of being the parent of the birthday boy or girl!