Party Tips Straight from Parents
BY NIKKI MURRY
We want the best for our children. So naturally, when their birthday rolls around and a party is on the agenda, we try to go All-out to plan the perfect birthday bash. Sometimes things go off without a hitch. Sometimes disaster strikes.
The first step to party-planning success is coming up with the plan. There are some essentials to pay extra attention to, like the wording on invitations. For example, if you want the children’s parents to attend the party, too, make sure to note that their attendance is required in writing. “I had an unexpected drop-off at my son’s 4-year birthday party,” explains Maggie Douglas of York. “It’s difficult enough to run the party; adding an extra kid to babysit isn’t easy.”
Expect the unexpected
Many times, trouble pops up unexpectedly, as area moms can attest to.
Planning to include a piñata? It could result in upset children pushing each other around for their fair share (or more) of candy. That is, unless you heed this tip from Barb Tallon Cavanaugh of Mechanicsburg: “Fill individual baggies with identical numbers and kinds of candy, and after the piñata breaks, let each child have one,” she says.
Did you bake or buy a beautiful cake? You might want to hide it from the birthday boy or girl. “When my son was 3, he saw his cake with Sesame Street on it and climbed his way to the top of the refrigerator and pulled it down by way of a chair, a radiator and a windowsill and was found in the middle of a pile of blue icing the morning of the 50-some people party! We cried and laughed at the same time,” shares Stephanie Messer Harley of Ephrata.
Choosing a theme
Other things to consider when party planning are more run-of-the-mill, like the theme. For the girls, you might consider a princess, tea or ladybug party. For boys, you might try a dinosaur, train or monster truck theme. Both boys and girls seem to love pirates right now. Or you might want to try something a bit more original. Jen Trautlein of Mechanicsburg set up a Superhero Training Camp for her son Ben when he turned 3.
“I don't remember how I came up with it,” she admits. “My son loves superheroes, so we knew it would be a superhero-themed party. The invitations were sent in large, brown envelopes with “Confidential” stamped on them, and the kids were asked to report for superhero training on that day and time. I made capes for the kids and gave everyone a mask to decorate. Then, they had to complete four missions around the yard to get their superhero certificate. We set up an obstacle course where they had to “Save the baby (a doll in the top of our swing set)”; they had to break through the brick wall...etc. It was fun to plan, and the kids seemed to have a great time, too!”
What to do
Activities are often key. Parents seem to agree that success usually comes when there’s a mix of planned activities and free time. “Some structured activities are good, but mostly, kids just want to be and play with their friends,” says Maureen Mansfield McHugh of Harrisburg. Aside from themed activities, there seem to be a few tried and true “to-dos,” including: face painting, hot potato, variations of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, freeze dance, blowing bubbles, crafts and water games during warm-weather months.
Where to do it
The location you select for your child’s party can vary as much as, and could be related to, the theme. You might want to avoid a rental fee and choose to have the party at your home. In this case, you could do a pool party, a backyard barbecue or even an afternoon tea. Advantages to having a home party are that you can move the event indoors or outdoors based on the weather, and the cost could be considerably lower.
If you want an off-site party, you have a lot of options. You might want to go bowling. You could still do a barbecue too, only at a local park’s picnic pavilion instead. While you will almost certainly have to rent the party facility, an away-from-home event could lessen the clean up following the party and could also allow you to invite more guests than your home might accommodate.
For Michelle LeCain White, going off-site paid off. “Using the full-size gym at our church instead of having it at home was the best decision,” she explains. “We could invite his entire class and church friends and still had plenty of room for parking and parents. We rented a bounce house, which was inside the gym. The kids loved it. We also hired a person to walk around and do balloon animals. It was simple, easy and enjoyable.”
But for Amanda Keller-Griffiths of Carlisle, the best parties have been at her family’s home. She explains, “Our best kids’ birthday parties have been the cookouts at the house. My oldest son has a late-June birthday, and we fill the kiddie pool, have water balloons, make sure I have plenty of shovels for the sandbox, food and beverages, and everyone has fun. We’ve been blessed with good weather the years we’ve done this so far.”
Neither choice is right or wrong, just a matter of preference.