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5 Tips for Throwing Birthday Parties for Preschool Kids

Last weekend, as I was stressing about cupcakes and generally freaking out, Tom joked that I should be a birthday party planner because I know all the things that people will be stressing out about.

I laughed at him. Ha!

It takes a great deal of energy for me to plan, prepare for and throw a birthday party and I assumed that other people just breeze through theirs as though it’s nothing more than a regular playdate. But maybe, maybe some of you stress over birthday parties too? If so, here’s what I’ve learned after throwing a grand total of 4 birthday parties for kids and attending many, many more.

birthday cake in the rose garden

1. Ask guests to confirm that they will attend.

I learned this one after only one couple showed up to Bea’s first birthday party, several hours late. I was about to put the food away, disappointed that nobody came, and then there they were! So ask your guests to RSVP. Evite is a great tool for managing invitations and RSVPs.

2. Plan an activity, but skip the games.

Babies won’t be into crafts, but toddlers and preschoolers love to make and do. Kids love to stick stickers onto cardboard crowns, decorate t-shirts or cloth bags with fabric paint, or decorate hula hoops. Activity themed parties that are hosted at places like swimming pools, laser tag places or gymnastics clubs can work well too, although themed parties with lots of organized play can be overwhelming for little kids.

3. Avoid serving lots of sugary treats.

I know, I know, it’s a birthday party. There will be cake. But save the sweet cake for last, and serve healthy snacks through the main part of the party. People really do prefer real, whole foods and you’ll be less likely to have sugar-crashing kids on your hands.

4. Let everyone participate on their own terms.

Bea’s most recent birthday party was held at a quiet neighbourhood park, and it was great because the kids could choose to play on the playground, run in the field, talk with the adults or decorate and play with the hula hoops. Nobody had to do anything they didn’t want to do, the kids flowed freely between different kinds of play and there was no competition or compulsion to participate in games. It was a vast improvement over the year I tried to convince a bunch of 3 year olds to play duck-duck-goose in my cramped backyard.

5. If housework’s not your forte, don’t have the birthday party at your house.

I know it seems like a no-brainer, but every year I’d plan a party at our house and then STRESS like mad about the cleaning while simultaneously trying to cook food, organize games, plan activities and look after my kids as usual.  Having the party outside was awesome, although all you folks with winter babies may not have the luxury of outdoor, free of charge venues like parks, beaches or forests.  Still, community centres often rent gyms and meeting rooms for fairly reasonable rates that are cheaper than several hours with a cleaning lady or an hour with a psychologist.

The lesson I took away from this year’s birthday party related freakout is that the most important thing is for the party to be a chance for our family and friends to relax and have fun.  It is not a competition for the best housewife award, and a group of kids will make their own fun if given enough time, space and resources to do so.  Preschooler birthday parties can be simple and fun.  I promise.

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  • Cynthia @ The Hippie Housewife August 30, 2011, 9:46 am

    Great tips. I guess it’s about time for me to bite the bullet and throw a proper party for the boy’s next birthday. We’ve always just done a small dinner with one friend. Much more low-key and less stressful for me!

    (It was a great party! Loved the hula-hoop idea. But wow, my aching abs; I had no idea what a workout it is!)

    • michelle August 30, 2011, 10:39 pm

      Honestly, I’d wait until he starts asking for one. If you and he are both happy with your current birthday party celebrations, why change something that works for you? Bea is definitely an extrovert and started asking for a party when she was about to turn 3.

      Glad you had fun with your hoop! It gets easier after a while – when you’re first learning it takes a lot of effort to keep the hoop up, but after a while your body learns how to hoop more efficiently and it gets easier. :)

  • dawn August 31, 2011, 9:57 am

    I love theme parties!
    Cayden’s first party was his 3rd, and it was just low key and at home with his 3 closest friends. His 4th birthday was in our co-ops common room and I did a pirate theme. That was by far the best party. I asked family members to help with things which made the whole process much easier. There was a table where you could decorate a small wooden treasure chest. You could visit the face painting table (my mom) to get looking like a pirate, she also handed out a pirate hat and eye patch. Then we had 2 pirate stories read, and at the end of the stories I handed out maps so each child could find the chocolate coins I hid around the room. We had 4 children that year.
    Then his 5th birthday we did super hero bowling with 5 friends. It was fun too but I surely don’t like the time restraints you have when you rent a place.
    But because Cayden’s birthday is in January and we have a small place, I usually find that we want to be away from home. It will probably be easier when parents just drop off their kids, so there will just be 6 kids for his 6th birthday and no parents…we just don’t have enough space ;)
    Oh…and I learned recently that hula hooping is much easier if you have the right sized hoop for your height. I used an ‘adult one’ recently and was actually able to keep it going for quite awhile, where as Cayden’s usually flops down after 20 seconds :)

    • michelle September 4, 2011, 9:59 pm

      What great party ideas! I love the super hero theme, but Bea just isn’t into super heros at all. It can be tricky to find themes that are a good fit for parties with a mix of boys and girls who have different interests.

      I have a couple of adult hula hoops made with heavy tubing and it really does make a big difference. The added momentum makes it a bit easier to keep going for a while. :)

  • Lauren Kindle September 4, 2011, 5:27 pm

    I love this article! I’m already stressing about my daughter’s fifth birthday coming this december. It’s so hard to be creative and thrifty…and indoors. I’ll try to have a craft planned and keep it small. Thanks, I love your blog!

    • michelle September 4, 2011, 10:15 pm

      Thanks! I’ve been to several really simple parties for 4 and 5 year olds and they’ve worked out well. I hope it goes smoothly for you!

  • dawn September 4, 2011, 10:11 pm

    When we did the Superhero bowling it was a ‘come as your favorate superhero’, and you could totally make up your own up if you weren’t into Spiderman or Wonderwoman. It worked well since everyone attending was not as obsessed by SH’s as Cayden was/is.

  • Cristie September 13, 2011, 9:22 am

    My neighbor and I have started a business for just this scenario – having young kid’s birthday parties that are fun, unique, convenient and sustainable! We were just sick of all the waste, candy and plastic junk that came with each and every birthday party! We handmake our loot bag items, deliver complete party kits and pick them up with all the decor, tableware, games and instructions right to your door – and it can all be customized to your own child’s interests.

    • michelle September 14, 2011, 11:12 pm

      What a great idea!