Choose a Theme
This could be based around a current interest, favourite film, TV series or book, or a much-loved hobby. Older children can get involved in ideas for how to carry the theme through, e.g. creating a treasure hunt if your theme is pirates; planning a movie-athon; or a baking party.
Set the Scene
Make sure your invitations, food, party bags, and decor all tie in with the theme. Get the children to design their own invitations, which can then be photocopied or printed onto card and coloured in. Much nicer than a pre-printed one!
Cover party bags in old comics, maps or well-thumbed pictured books, all of which you may have at home, or can be picked up for pennies at car boot sales and the like. You could also go against the party bag trend and offer a plant to take home or a foodie treat instead.
You can use maps, comics and books for decorating too, making collages, posters and bunting. You could also make bunting or birthday banners from old greetings cards - cut out the triangles or letters with the folded part at the top, then hang over a piece of cotton. Bunting is also easily made from scraps of fabric, or even photocopied family pictures!
You can even make your own pinata, a great one to get the children involved in. Here is a guide to how to do it.
Another great idea is to have making decorations, masks or other crafty ideas part and parcel of the party, although this may be easiest if you have only a handful of guests!
No need to go overboard with this! Timing is everything, will it be snack time or will your mini guests be ravenous and after lots to eat? Think carefully too about what they will want to eat. This probably isn't the time to try out the fancy canape recipes you have pinned to the fridge!
It may be cliched and slightly retro, but sandwiches, cherry tomatoes, sausage rolls, mini sausages, mini cheeses, little bread rolls, crisps, grapes, easy-peel satsumas and the like are the most likely to get eaten. Throw in some biscuits, little cakes, and possibly a bit of jelly and ice cream and you're there!
One way to lay it out is to offer each guest a 50cm square cotton wrap with their 'loot' already stashed inside. Tie with ribbon, provide a few picnic blankets on the floor inside or outside, and the children can just get on with enjoying their feast. Minimum effort, minimum fuss!
You could also get the children involved in making their own foodie creations, from putting together ice cream sundaes, to icing and topping fairy cakes or cupcakes. just lay out bowls of toppings and/or ingredients and let them get on with it. Although see above, you may prefer to do this with only a few guests, not the whole class! (Large plastic floor coverings may help save your sanity too!)
The Birthday Cake
However old you are, The Cake is a big deal. Time-wise and price-wise, a shop bought cake may be the easiest option, but you could also buy plain cakes and then shape them into something to match your theme before icing - a great compromise.
Of course, if you do have time and willingness to bake your own, that would be marvellous, but don't over-stretch yourself and get stressed out about it. But don't stress if you want to buy in; your child would rather have a happy you and a bought cake!
Lots of planned games and activities may seem like a great idea, but to be honest most kids will be more than happy to tear around the garden, play Barbies, or kick a football about. If you do want to set some things up, make sure they are optional. There's nothing worse than a parent corralling bored and unco-operative children into game after game!
The crafty and foodie ideas above work well, as long as supervision is minimal. (You are allowed to stop icing or ice cream being smeared on your walls though!) Or try a team challenge like making robots (or something else to match your theme) from junk; or building towers with random collections of food (dried spaghetti and jelly sweets works well). The old fashioned party games like Pass the Parcel (my 3 year old is obsessed with this and will ask to play it at any opportunity!), Musical Statues etc also still go down surprisingly well.
Always state an end time on your invitations, and half an hour or so before everyone is getting picked up, put on a movie. You could even provide bean bags, duvets and popcorn! For younger children, that old classic Sleeping Lions always seems to work too!
Don't assume that you have to go all out with entertainers, venues, and catering for children to have fun. All they really need are a few other children, some fun ideas, and a bit of food. As long as the scene has been set, some decorations have gone up, and their friends have turned up, they'll be happy. Enjoy!
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