A few years ago, I took the whole kids’ party thing a bit seriously.
I planned my kids’ parties for months, sourcing the perfect decorations, invitations, activities and tableware from afar.
I spent time putting together the perfect menu and unique touches to reflect my sons’ interests. Of course there was also the endless search for the perfect cake which often resulted in a long and frustrating search for the right lollies, tin and food colouring not to mention many hours of baking, icing shenanigans and decorating the night before the party.
It was Bespoke Party Central.
And it was exhausting because I generally did this when I was pregnant or had a baby.
I look back on all that now with a sense of wonderment and disbelief. I don’t know how I found the energy to do this but I did it, and on a lot of levels, I did enjoy it. In retrospect, I think it was a form of creative expression at the time.
These days, however, I take a much simpler approach. I’m a bit older, tireder and relaxed perhaps, so I’m happy to keep things more on the down low these days.
I don’t try and re-invent the wheel anymore or achieve some very high standard I set for myself.
Now, all I want to do is throw a party that is fun and simple to host. Most of all, I want my kids to see their Mum enjoying their celebrations, not getting stressed out or slaving away in the kitchen during the party only to collapse when the guests depart.
After all, kids’ parties are about the kids, right?
I’m more than happy to make an effort and do a good job of course, but I’m not going to tip myself over in the process anymore.
For me, this means doing things my way without comparing myself to anyone else or scouring Pinterest for the latest, greatest and most stylish ways to party. I appreciate that others find a lot of inspo and DIY info from Pinterest and similar sites and if that works for you, then knock yourself out.
Likewise, if you really enjoy all the little touches and aspects of elaborate party planning and it doesn’t stress you out, then go for it. That was certainly me for a while there and I genuinely enjoyed most of it.
If however, you are looking for ways to keep your child’s next party simple, fun and stylish, here are a few tips you might like to take on board. I’m using the recent 4th birthday party we threw for our youngest as an example. I’d love to hear your tips in the comments below too.
How to Keep Things Simple
1. Keep the guest list to a size you can manage – You can’t invite everyone, that’s a given. I try to only invite as many guests as I have the room and ability to cater for.
For parties at home, (and as all our parties are inside because it’s the middle of Winter), as we have a dining table that comfortably seats ten adults, we generally invite nine guests, eleven max.
With younger children as well, factor in that the parents will generally stay for the duration of the party, so give some thought to where they’ll congregate too.
If we’re having our party at an external (paid) venue, we set a limit of guests but take advantage of the fact that we can have a few more than we could manage at home. For our older boys this is usually around 12 – 15 guests. This also factors in that they don’t have parties every year.
2. Consider having a party mid week (for pre-schoolers and toddlers) – I find the best way to avoid blowing out the numbers is to have a party mid week when older siblings (the guests’ and mine included) are at school.
While we make sure we celebrate our children’s birthdays with their siblings as well (on the day itself as well as with extended family), it’s nice for a younger child/sibling to have some time with their friends without the older kids taking over.
On the day of our party, I did save some party food and lolly bags for my older boys so we could have a special afternoon tea and present unwrapping time together (more on that below) after school.
3. Set an end time – Even for parties at home I set an end time.
For us, with parties at home which are held inside (during Winter) for preschoolers and younger kids, I’ve found an hour and a half is plenty, say 10.30am – 12 or the like. I’m happy for people to stay longer of course, but some kids (and parents) have reached their limit by then and it allows people to make a gracious exit.
The time is easily filled with some unstructured play time, eating and singing happy birthday.
I also give myself some time to prepare the house after school drop off, so I try to make sure the kick off time is never before 10.30am.
4. Pick a theme – whether it’s a simple colour scheme, interest (cars, fairies, Lego, dinosaurs) or hobby (footy, dancing). Then head to your local $2 shop, party shop, supermarket or Spotlight and pick up some party ware to suit your theme. There is a huge party section at my local Big W now too.
If you’ve chosen a licensed theme (Spiderman, Frozen etc) or interest (princesses, pirates and so on), to keep costs down, choose a couple of key things with the images and go for generic co-ordinating and complementary coloured party ware for the rest.
For example, for this party, while I used pirate themed paper plates, party hats, cutlery and lolly bags (picked up from $2 shops), everything else was a mash up of complementary spots, stripes and block colour sticking to the red, blue, black and white theme.
5. Buy partyware you can reuse – to save money in the long term, buy inexpensive but reusable plastic or melamine plates in a couple of colours which you can use year after year for all the kids. I bought a set of primary coloured plates (which I use for serving) and cups from The Reject Shop nearly ten years ago which I use every year for all the kids’ parties. They also come in handy for outdoor entertaining and picnics.
I also bought all the bits and pieces needed for a balloon topiary early on which I use for every party. I picked up mine at Lombard’s.
6. Keep the food (and the cake) simple – I’ve been more adventurous in the past but these days I stick to the basic, easy things like fairy bread, strawberries, grapes, popcorn and honey joys that are always well received (by adults and kids) and can be made or prepared before the guests arrive. With little kids, small serves of food they can help themselves to works well too.
I also made sausage rolls a couple of weeks earlier which I froze and defrosted the night before and cut into small portions. With some cocktail franks, cupcakes and birthday cake, there was plenty of food for everyone.
Bear in mind the time of day when deciding quantities too – our party was from 11.30am to 1pm so I prepared more food as it was lunchtime. I’d prepare less for morning or afternoon tea.
As far as cakes go, I’ve made some reasonably impressive cakes in my time (fire engines, trains, rockets, bowling alleys and racing tracks to name but a few) and I’m sure I’ll probably tackle some more in future.
However, these days, I’m trying to keep it pretty simple on the cake front. At the end of the day, the kids just want to blow out their candles, feel special and hear their birthday song. There’s been a lot of excitement about the addition of age number sparklers to the usual candles at our place this year too.
A basic cake iced with some simple decorations is still met with delight and I now spend the four hours it used to take me to make the cake doing other preparations. Like cleaning the bathroom before the guests arrive!
7. Say yes when people offer to help – I’m lucky to have a couple of girlfriends and a sister who graciously offer to help when they can. This time around, while things were relatively under control, I gratefully accepted one friend’s offer to bring some brownies for the Mums which meant one less job for me the day before.
I also like to outsource (if someone offers) the making of fairy bread as it needs to be made on the morning and can be messy. Of course, it’s important to reciprocate and return the favour when you can too.
8. Lollybags/Party Favours are a bit of fun but they don’t have to cost the earth or require major effort.
For pre-schoolers, I try to keep the lollies to a minimum and include some fun, inexpensive and gender neutral bits and bobs. I bought the notebooks, tattoos, stickers and eye patches from the $2 shop and the gold coins from the supermarket. A packet of party mix and a bag of Freddos and I was pretty much done. Funnily enough the girls in particular loved the eye patches and my kids covered themselves in the tattoos.
How to Keep Things Fun
9. Create spaces for play – I rarely, if ever, provide any group activities or games for my preschooler’s parties. I try and create areas to play (and activities) around our open plan living area for them to do but I don’t try and get everyone together for group time. I also encourage them to play outside if it’s not raining – our trampoline is always a hit.
Below is Mr 7’s toy pirate ship which he kindly let us use for the occasion plus a couple of our favourite pirate story books for inspo.
I generally have a craft/drawing corner, dress up corner, puzzles or games corner and so on too. For this party, I rummaged through the boys’ rooms and found all the pirate related games, puzzles and toys and put them all out around the room.
The only thing I bought were the pirate and princess crowns below for the craft corner, which I picked up on sale at Parenthood ages ago.
For older, primary aged children, I’d structure things more and have group activities. A special guest (paid or otherwise), an activity (craft, make your own pizza/cookie etc) or some games are a good way to keep older children amused.
10. Make it fun for the adults too – When the kids are little, most of the parents tend to stay for the duration of the party. I try to make sure the adults have somewhere to sit or congregate, something to eat and drink and a hot cup of tea or coffee.
As Mr 4’s party was held over lunchtime, in addition to having extra party food, I prepared a chicken salad for the Mums, which I served in these cute bamboo boats. For that, all I did was basically throw together a shredded roast chook I picked up from the supermarket that morning when I ran up to pick up fresh bread for the fairy bread, some sliced cherry tomatoes, avocado, spring onion and rocket. Then I drizzled the salad with garlic aioli, mixed it through and served it with a few toasted almonds on top. It was a simple gesture but one that was well received.
Afterwards, I served the brownie a kind girlfriend had made with our tea and coffee.
When we’ve hosted parties at venues (like a playcentre), we’ve run a tab at the cafe and invited everyone to have a tea or coffee on us if they’re staying.
11. To make things more manageable (and fun) for yourself, ask a girlfriend/sister/Mum to help you on the day with simple things like taking around a platter of food to the adults or taking (and making) the adults’ tea and coffee orders. I always make a point of reciprocating this at friends’ parties too.
12. Decide/discuss beforehand with the kids when the presents will be opened – Present tantrums aren’t fun. Some birthday girls and boys like to open their gifts at the party which is understandable and nice for the gift giver.
However, I find my kids can get a bit overwhelmed at the beginning of the party by the presents and the sudden arrival of all their friends at once, so our tradition is that the presents are generally all put together and opened after the guests have left and we’ve tidied up. This extends the fun (!), makes sure we can work out which card belongs with which gift so we can thank the right person, and has become a bit of a ritual we enjoy as a family.
Mr SnS and I take photos, the kids help their brother open his gifts and it’s a nice way to end the birthday celebrations. We’ve also found it helps our kids to be more focused on their party and their friends during the celebrations.
How to Keep Things Stylish
13. The Table – I love putting a party table together and while it may have some visual impact, the table below is actually pretty simple. I began with a plastic table cloth (from Spotlight or the supermarket), a table runner (I love the range at The Party Parlour) and then it’s a matter of adding co-ordinating but simple tableware in two or three colours with some spots and stripes thrown in.
14. Props – Toys and other home wares from around the house can make fun props for the party table or around the house.
Below, I’ve used a ship in a bottle (from my 7 year’s old’s room), our Typo light box, a favourite enamel tray from The General Traders and an enamel mug from Freedom to hold plastic cutlery. I didn’t go and buy them especially for the party – I just looked around the house and pantry to see what I could use.
I also used these cute retro mini milk bottles from Kmart ($6 for 6) which I had already and some straws from the supermarket for the drinks.
Other times, I’ve used little tin buckets that normally house craft/textas as receptacles – they make great bases for balloon trees or props.
Plastic tableware and inexpensive homewares from IKEA (like this napkin holder above) also come in handy.
15. Lolly bags can be part of the decor too. I had mine all ready at the end of the kitchen bench (so I wouldn’t forget them) on a big round Jamie Oliver tray I bought a few years ago. Again, a simple touch but it adds to the overall feel and look of the party and helps set the scene.
I’ve listed five of my favourite online kids’ party shops in this post too.
So they are a few tips from me – over to you. How do you keep your kids’ parties fun, simple and stylish?