The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Kids’ Birthday Parties


‘Tis the time of year in our household when everybody was born - Yippee… - so, naturally, there are an abundance of birthday parties to attend which meeaannnsss…. piñatas, punch, and presents! Of course this season is also filled with and followed by big, gluttonous meals, celebratory festivities, and one of the main hallmark holidays, filled to the brim with commercialized nonsense - but that’s content for another day… - In other words, after preparing for the events-to-come and the birthdays of everyone and their neighbours, I’m broke.

However, there is a silver lining to all of this money melting madness! One of the last birthdays of fall belongs to my eldest ‘little’ so I get to take the good from all the birthday parties and leave out the bad when planning my celebrations which makes for a great fun for kids and adults combined.

Aaaannnnd... Just because I’m a decent human being, I’d like to share a bit of the good, the bad, and the ugly of some of the kids birthday parties I’ve been to this year.

Timing

Are you having an afternoon gathering, an evening soirée, or an all day birthday bonanza? I’ve been to one of each this year and, to be honest, they’ve all been pretty successful for our family but there are a few important things to consider when planning your timing.

Naps:

If you are throwing a party for ‘littles’ then there may be - quite - a few who are still napping. While you can’t accommodate everyone’s sleepy time, there is usually a general rule that small humans need sleep sometime in the mid afternoon in order to keep their larger human counterparts - slightly - sane. Keeping this in mind when you’re making your guest list will make for happier patrons, both little and bigger.

Food:

There’s a question you need to ask yourself: Do you want to feed people? I mean, it’s generally socially expected that you provide some kind of sustenance for the little ones as they tear apart their general surroundings, but do you want to prepare them a meal or just snacks? Timing could limit your choices if you have the party around usual meal times. I’ll discuss this further below.

Duration:

If you’re aiming for an all-day sort of gathering make sure you have plenty for the ‘littles’ to do. A recent party was at Snyder’s Family Farm and it offered an abundance of activities that easily entertained for the day! - It also meant that the host wasn’t constantly responsible for all the kids at once, leaving that task up to their respective parents...wise-acres! - Maybe a shorter party is you’re idea of a good time. In that case, you just need to plan your event out in order to make the most of your time using some of the tips and pointers I’m giving you today.


All of these are very dependant on who you have chosen to invite to your party. Age, personality, and relation of your guests (both the kids and the adults) make a HUGE difference in how your timing works out for you.

Location

I’m a big fan of the home-grown, come-to-my-house-and-I’ll-feed-you style birthday party but I totally understand wanting to leave the messy chaos for someone else. That being said, the host has a lot to consider when choosing the out-of-home option.

Age appropriateness:

It seems as though everywhere is offering birthday party packages nowadays and while I don’t blame them for taking advantage of a great marketing ploy, some locations are more appropriate for certain age groups than others. As mentioned above, the family farm was great for all ages and enjoyed by all who attended but I have been to other parties that were lackluster and/or overwhelming due to poor location choices for the ages of the party-goers. Home-parties can definitely be a bore to older children who require more than a back yard and some toys - Bubbles! - to entertain them but, on the same note, busy and involved locations like Chuck-E-Cheese’s or Laser Quest might not be ideal for kids under six.

Distance:

How far are you expecting your guests to travel for this celebration and will it be worth it to them? I know it’s your kids birthday and all but do I really wanna drive for over an hour just because your kid loves Canada’s Wonderland or Storybook Gardens? Maybe; maybe not. Either way, it’s something to consider.

What’s provided:

Don’t pay an arm and a leg for a little room in the back of an event location. Just don’t. Get the best bang for your buck! There are a lot of places that will do, literally, all the work for you - and isn’t that the whole point of having the party out of your house? - so take advantage of it. Most bowling and movie places will provide everything but the cake: food, entertainment, goodie bags… the works! Make them clean up the mess while you gossip with your parent friends as your kids tear apart stuff that you don’t have to care about.

Whether you choose to stay at home or go to an alternate location, there are always ways to make the party go more smoothly so take advantage of all the tips and tricks - and helping hands! - that you can.

Food

As I said earlier, Do you really want to have your party during meal time or will snack foods suffice? Here’s the low-down:

Timed eating or always available:

Sure, make a meal if you want to but, I mean, that could be a lot of mouths to feed. Also, what do you feed them and when? If it’s -mostly - just family, then okay! This can be done and it can be enjoyable. You usually know the ins-and-outs of even extended family dinners by now and can make things work out pretty darned alright - been there done that; fabulously, if I do say so myself. When it comes to a typical kids-and-their-friends party though, that gets tricky. Kids are picky and you can’t always resort to the go-to’s for party food nowadays - everyone seems to have some sort of eating restriction - so you have to be careful when planning for full meals. I recently attended a party that had snacks and meal food always available for the ‘kidlettes’ throughout the entire get together. It worked out fabulously for their at-home styled celebration but it might not work out so well if the location and events don’t allow for it.

Healthy:

Although you don’t necessarily want to be the parent who serves tasteless, whole-grain, dry, organic something-or-others to the attendees of your party, neither do you want to be the parent who only provides candy and - potentially - artery clogging junk foods either - who am I kidding, pizza and candy was the epitome of my childhood birthday parties but, alas, those days are long gone. Giving your food options a good mix has always turned out great at the parties I’ve attended. Let them eat a honkin’ slice of greasy pizza with a side slab of deliciously sweet cake - Costco cakes FTW - but give them the option to pop a handful of grapes and carrots into their mouths to make them feel better about it.


Allergies:

My kids don’t have any true allergies - that we know of - yet but keeping in mind that these vulnerabilities could be life-threatening, I advocate for asking the people you invite if there are any extreme allergies to be aware of and to honor their declaration to the best of your ability. If your kid really likes peanut butter and chocolate but their friend can’t be exposed to nuts, have your Reese’s cake during family time, not at the big party.

My personal favourite is timing the party to avoid meal times altogether so that you can just leave out snacks - both junky and healthy - and let people graze while enjoying the festivities.

Activities

The activities that you have at your party are largely location and duration dependent, I know, but it is still an element to consider when looking at the big picture. I mean, you have to entertain a bunch of tiny humans for a decent space of time… How does one do that?

Guided or free play:

First consider whether you even want to be involved. Location parties are great for parents who would rather stay hands-off while at home parties usually require more interaction and organization. You can still have free play at home but you have to be strategic about it. Video games are always a win for the older kids while jumpy castles, bubbles, and making toys available works well for the little ones - especially bubbles, who doesn't love bubbles.


Age Appropriateness:

If your party has a theme than you might want to make the activities follow that theme. Just make sure they are not too difficult or easy - boring. I mean, if you are planning a puppet show, make sure it’s attention grabbing; if you’re providing an obstacle course, make it doable for the kids you’ve invited. Also, kids are very reward driven. One party host asked the kids to do something that was time consuming and required a bit of patience but there was no tangible reward in it for them so, naturally the kids turned what could have been a fun activity - if there was a reward - into a chaotic - somewhat embarrassing - mess!

Too many/few activities:

In general, 2-3 activities is usually good enough for most age groups. Otherwise your party could be considered either boring or disorganized. You want to keep these kiddos entertained and occupied so that they go home happy and worn out but not wound up and agitated. When no guidance or activities are provided the kids wind up making their own fun, usually at someone/thing else’s expense - say buh-bye to your candy stash… and your previously non-sticky rug. That was unpleasant to walk through. Too many activities, if organized poorly - which, let’s be honest, with toddler-aged kids is what life’s about - can result in similar boredom as too few - believe it or not - and/or it can quickly escalate into monsoon style, overwhelming chaotic, over-sugared kids running amok throughout your festivities.

So, choose wisely and plan accordingly. Consider age, attention span, and involvement when organizing the activities for your kid’s birthday party.

Goodie Bags

There are usually two types of goodie bags that your kid brings home from a party: the old-skool, junky ones or the thoughtful, keep-the-parents-in-mind ones.

Junky:

Although I appreciate the ‘thanks for coming’ that these little baggies represent, these ones are a bit annoying, actually. They usually include a bunch of candy - that your kid wants to eat right away and throws a fit when you say no because they’ve already just eaten all the icing off of their cake and every floor candy found from the piñata - and some cheaper than the dollar store toys that are either annoyingly noisy, find their way to the bottom of the toybox - clutter central! - in no time, or get painfully stepped on, like small pieces of stagnant shrapnel, and break practically as soon as they’ve been taken out of the bag.


Thoughtful:

These baggies are the BEST! The parent has thought about what they are sending home with the kids they’ve just, likely, sugared up. The items in this bag are useful! Keepers! Entertainers! They acknowledge the fact that you probably had to wrestle with your kid all through the toy section while they have a meltdown about why you’re buying a gift for someone else. These items include: A good quality stuffed animal - that was the goodie at the end of the party, just that. It was awesome! - , Play Doh or stickers - great for quiet time and keeping their attention on something other than being the little whirlwind of chaos that kids usually are - , and/or a costume! - This one was given at the beginning of a themed party where the characters were going to be present so that all of the kids could dress up as their favourite and take home the costume for make-believe play later on too! -

Final thought on Goodie bags: If at all possible, be the thoughtful parent. The thoughtful parent gets boozey gifts during the holidays… just sayin’.

Whether you choose to have your party all day or for just a few hours, at home or out on the town, snacky, action packed, or junky, you’re celebrating the day that someone important came into this beautiful world of ours and I’m 100% sure you’ll make it great for them. So, here I am, planning a Moana themed party of my own and trying to follow my own party planning advice. Wish me luck!


And HEY, if you’ve got any more kids party planning advice or opinions of your own, please feel free to share in the comments below!

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© 2020 by Shauna Leigh VM.