The Village - Birthday parties 101

Helping to raise parents with our own blend of parenting stories, advice and cool finds.
The village: helping raise parents with our own blend of parenting stories, advice, hacks and cool finds
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Birthday parties 101

By Melissa Thibodeau

Kids’ birthday parties are always so much fun, aren’t they? The excitement, the laughter, the smiles, the fun… I love every aspect of bearing witness to them. This being said, in the past I too have sometimes bitten off more than I could chew when it came to planning “the perfect” party but now that I have 7 years of birthday-party-planning experience under my belt (excluding the last 2 years where there have been no parties at all) it’s become plainly obvious to me that kids don’t need nearly as much as we think to have a blast at their own party. So, my best advice when it comes to planning parties is to keep it simple and the older your kids are, the simpler still it should be. As far as I can tell, birthday party planning success can be broken down into the following six parts. I also placed them in the order of what the kids in my life still remember and talk about the most, long after the shindig is over.

The theme

I know. The dreaded theme. I often wondered if a theme was always necessary too and I’ve come to the conclusion that they are. The theme is a terrific jumping off point for the rest of the party. A well-chosen theme helps you figure out which activities or games you’ll want to do. How you’ll decorate the cake or cupcakes, what sort of party favours you’ll want to offer, if any. My daughters for example have both expressed interest in wanting to do a pajama party for their next birthdays. Now that’s a theme I can work with. I can already imagine a guest list of 3 or 4 friends, sleeping bags, lots of cozy pillows, twinkle lights and matching pjs as a party favour (I'm a huge fan of these ones!)

The activities

How will you entertain the kids? Will they be playing on their own or will you have specific activities? Again, this goes back to the theme. The theme for my daughter’s 3rd birthday was Peppa Pig and we played “Pass the parcel” which was a huge hit for this age group. Will there be a special guest, like a dance instructor, a mad scientist, a potion-making wizard, a beloved super hero or favourite princess popping by for an hour? I also find that we often underestimate how much kids love arts and crafts. Would your group of kids be into a special craft project they can then use at home? I have found that having one central activity is more than enough (especially true when they’re under 5 years old). The rest of the time they will be playing. One of my best friends just threw a glow-in-the-dark dance party for her 7-year-old. The kids received neon t-shirts as a party favour to wear right away and the activities were getting their faces painted with neon colours and then dancing and playing in the dark with a black light on. So simple right? And it was a sensation.

The cake

I used to put so much pressure on myself about the cake. Why do we do this to ourselves? 🤣 I kept wanting to outdo my last cake until I overbaked one and it turned out super dry so the kids only licked the icing off and left the cake. Lesson learned. So now, depending on the birthday child’s cake request, I’ve learned to relax and do one of two things (which I highly recommend). 1. Buy a fresh cake or cupcakes from the supermarket bakery. They always have chocolate and they always have vanilla and they can be personalized at home with something that relates back to the theme, like sprinkles in the right colours or special toppers like figurines (animals, cars, cartoon characters, etc). 2. If you have time and feel up to the challenge, definitely try your hand at baking a cake from scratch, it’s actually great fun, but know this: 10 times out of 10, a cake-from-a-box will be devoured every time too 😉. The kids really won’t notice a thing. The point is, the cake should be a source of fun and creativity, not stress. Choose the formula that works for you, based on the time you have or the skills you may or may not possess -or wish to develop.

The party favours

When kids are little, they have this expectation of loot bags, whether they are the ones gifting their friends or on the receiving end, as guests. But I have found that this expectation diminishes as they get older. I personally don’t see anything wrong with (paper) loot bags but I do carefully consider what I am giving. I tend to forego the cheapo trinkets and instead opt for things they’ll use. Tattoos, stickers, washi tape, pens, pencils, erasers, hair elastics, candy or chocolates are all safe bets. For the mermaid pool-party we once threw, the party favours were water-resistant mermaid scales tattoos all the kids wanted applied around their forearms and they each got to take home the torpedo dive toys they played with in the pool.

The decorations

This is tricky because party decorations tend to be disposable and we should be sacrificing the convenience they bring to instead do our part in eliminating single-use items from our lives and homes. Pinterest and social media are also guilty of making it seem like we’re bad parents if we don’t pull out all the stops with party décor. My bit of advice? RESIST. Go back to your theme and in many cases, you’ll find that decorations aren’t even necessary beyond how the table is set up for food and cake. But if you want to decorate, try making them! Now hear me out, I know I said to keep it simple, but decorating can be as simple as sticking well chosen colouring sheets that relate back to the theme on the walls. As the party gets underway, some kids will inevitably take some down and have a colouring session. One of our first parties was a polka dot theme so I cut circles in different colours and sizes from construction paper and stuck them all over the walls and table. Nothing needs to be too elaborate or complicated. If you do end up going the ready-made decorations route, try to reuse them for another party or give them to another mom (I’ve been seeing a lot of “looking for decorations” messages on Facebook mom groups).

The food

If you’ve mastered the art of zero waste school lunches for your kiddos, then you’ll easily be able to rethink your party menu to make it as zero waste as possible too. It’s as easy as planning a “finger foods” menu: red pizza is always a hit, even among picky eaters. Chicken nuggets, cut up veggies and dip, fruits on reusable skewers are all winning combinations, regardless of age. Definitely nix the water bottles and juice boxes to instead have pitchers of juice and water at the ready with paper cups – or better still, offer refillable cups the kids can take home (we still use the Secret Life of Pets cups we gave as a party favour 5 years ago).

Like all parents, I want nothing but the best for my kids too and if I’m being honest, I really enjoy planning big parties for them. But as my girls got older, I noticed more and more what got them super excited about what I planned for them and what didn’t, what they remember most, years later and what was never mentioned and I readjusted my efforts accordingly because in the end, parties are to celebrate the birthdays of super awesome kids, not the parents’ party-planning skills (haha).

About the author: Our senior copywriter, Melissa Thibodeau is a creative at heart, not just with words. Crafting, baking, home decor and DIYs are her passions. When Melissa isn’t making something with her daughters, you can find her in the garden
or biking in the woods.

CREATE

Birthday parties 101

By Melissa Thibodeau

Kids’ birthday parties are always so much fun, aren’t they? The excitement, the laughter, the smiles, the fun… I love every aspect of bearing witness to them. This being said, in the past I too have sometimes bitten off more than I could chew when it came to planning “the perfect” party but now that I have 7 years of birthday-party-planning experience under my belt (excluding the last 2 years where there have been no parties at all) it’s become plainly obvious to me that kids don’t need nearly as much as we think to have a blast at their own party. So, my best advice when it comes to planning parties is to keep it simple and the older your kids are, the simpler still it should be. As far as I can tell, birthday party planning success can be broken down into the following six parts. I also placed them in the order of what the kids in my life still remember and talk about the most, long after the shindig is over.

The theme

I know. The dreaded theme. I often wondered if a theme was always necessary too and I’ve come to the conclusion that they are. The theme is a terrific jumping off point for the rest of the party. A well-chosen theme helps you figure out which activities or games you’ll want to do. How you’ll decorate the cake or cupcakes, what sort of party favours you’ll want to offer, if any. My daughters for example have both expressed interest in wanting to do a pajama party for their next birthdays. Now that’s a theme I can work with. I can already imagine a guest list of 3 or 4 friends, sleeping bags, lots of cozy pillows, twinkle lights and matching pjs as a party favour (I'm a huge fan of these ones!)

The activities

How will you entertain the kids? Will they be playing on their own or will you have specific activities? Again, this goes back to the theme. The theme for my daughter’s 3rd birthday was Peppa Pig and we played “Pass the parcel” which was a huge hit for this age group. Will there be a special guest, like a dance instructor, a mad scientist, a potion-making wizard, a beloved super hero or favourite princess popping by for an hour? I also find that we often underestimate how much kids love arts and crafts. Would your group of kids be into a special craft project they can then use at home? I have found that having one central activity is more than enough (especially true when they’re under 5 years old). The rest of the time they will be playing. One of my best friends just threw a glow-in-the-dark dance party for her 7-year-old. The kids received neon t-shirts as a party favour to wear right away and the activities were getting their faces painted with neon colours and then dancing and playing in the dark with a black light on. So simple right? And it was a sensation.

The cake

I used to put so much pressure on myself about the cake. Why do we do this to ourselves? 🤣 I kept wanting to outdo my last cake until I overbaked one and it turned out super dry so the kids only licked the icing off and left the cake. Lesson learned. So now, depending on the birthday child’s cake request, I’ve learned to relax and do one of two things (which I highly recommend). 1. Buy a fresh cake or cupcakes from the supermarket bakery. They always have chocolate and they always have vanilla and they can be personalized at home with something that relates back to the theme, like sprinkles in the right colours or special toppers like figurines (animals, cars, cartoon characters, etc). 2. If you have time and feel up to the challenge, definitely try your hand at baking a cake from scratch, it’s actually great fun, but know this: 10 times out of 10, a cake-from-a-box will be devoured every time too 😉. The kids really won’t notice a thing. The point is, the cake should be a source of fun and creativity, not stress. Choose the formula that works for you, based on the time you have or the skills you may or may not possess -or wish to develop.

The party favours

When kids are little, they have this expectation of loot bags, whether they are the ones gifting their friends or on the receiving end, as guests. But I have found that this expectation diminishes as they get older. I personally don’t see anything wrong with (paper) loot bags but I do carefully consider what I am giving. I tend to forego the cheapo trinkets and instead opt for things they’ll use. Tattoos, stickers, washi tape, pens, pencils, erasers, hair elastics, candy or chocolates are all safe bets. For the mermaid pool-party we once threw, the party favours were water-resistant mermaid scales tattoos all the kids wanted applied around their forearms and they each got to take home the torpedo dive toys they played with in the pool.

The decorations

This is tricky because party decorations tend to be disposable and we should be sacrificing the convenience they bring to instead do our part in eliminating single-use items from our lives and homes. Pinterest and social media are also guilty of making it seem like we’re bad parents if we don’t pull out all the stops with party décor. My bit of advice? RESIST. Go back to your theme and in many cases, you’ll find that decorations aren’t even necessary beyond how the table is set up for food and cake. But if you want to decorate, try making them! Now hear me out, I know I said to keep it simple, but decorating can be as simple as sticking well chosen colouring sheets that relate back to the theme on the walls. As the party gets underway, some kids will inevitably take some down and have a colouring session. One of our first parties was a polka dot theme so I cut circles in different colours and sizes from construction paper and stuck them all over the walls and table. Nothing needs to be too elaborate or complicated. If you do end up going the ready-made decorations route, try to reuse them for another party or give them to another mom (I’ve been seeing a lot of “looking for decorations” messages on Facebook mom groups).

The food

If you’ve mastered the art of zero waste school lunches for your kiddos, then you’ll easily be able to rethink your party menu to make it as zero waste as possible too. It’s as easy as planning a “finger foods” menu: red pizza is always a hit, even among picky eaters. Chicken nuggets, cut up veggies and dip, fruits on reusable skewers are all winning combinations, regardless of age. Definitely nix the water bottles and juice boxes to instead have pitchers of juice and water at the ready with paper cups – or better still, offer refillable cups the kids can take home (we still use the Secret Life of Pets cups we gave as a party favour 5 years ago).

Like all parents, I want nothing but the best for my kids too and if I’m being honest, I really enjoy planning big parties for them. But as my girls got older, I noticed more and more what got them super excited about what I planned for them and what didn’t, what they remember most, years later and what was never mentioned and I readjusted my efforts accordingly because in the end, parties are to celebrate the birthdays of super awesome kids, not the parents’ party-planning skills (haha).

About the author: Our senior copywriter, Melissa Thibodeau is a creative at heart, not just with words.Crafting, baking, home decor and DIYs are her passions. When Melissa isn’t making something with her daughters, you can find her in the garden or biking in the woods.

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