The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Kids Birthday Party

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You basically get 13 chances to throw your kid an amazing kids birthday party. 

I bet you never thought of it like that. 

But around 14, they still may want a party, but its not really the same at that age.

So no pressure or anything but if parties are important to you, then I can help you make a memorable one.

Because that is what parties are about right? Making memories?  Making a special day extraordinary. 

At the same time you don’t want to lose your mind.  I totally get that. There are two very easy ways for a party to go from a super special, memorable day in the life of your child to a disaster that we do not speak of ever, ever again.

  1. Mom (or dad) turns into a raving lunatic because I WORKED SO HARD ON THIS PARTY YOU WILL HAVE FUN!
  2. You spend WAY too much money on it and that ruins the enjoyment for you.

So, when I say your party is memorable, note that I don’t say perfect.  Or expensive.  

The very best parties are well planned in advance, but they also have their own unique flow to them. You gotta let the kids have fun, not make the kids to have fun.

Do you see the subtle difference there?

The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Kids Birthday Party

The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Kid's Birthday Party

The Four Steps to a Memorable Kids Birthday Party

Parties can be broken down into 4 simple categories. 

  • Food
  • Decor
  • Entertainment and games 
  • Party favors 

When you see it like that it doesn’t seem so overwhelming, does it?

We’re going to start at the very beginning and go step by step, but there are two things that you’ll want to get out of the way early in the game.

  1. Choose a theme
  2. Pick out Invitations

We’ll tackle those first and then move on to the details for the 4 categories.

How to Choose A Theme for Your Childs Birthday Party

The Ultimage Guide to Planning a Kid's Birthday Party

The first thing you need to decide is your party theme.  Of course you want to do that alongside your child.

This may be very easy to decide.  You ask one simple question.

What is your very favorite thing right at the moment ?

Hopefully it’s something awesome like Unicorns or Harry Potter

If you’ve got an awesome idea for a theme, don’t immediately start planning. Do a little bit of up front research and make sure there are ideas for Food, Decor, Entertainment and Favors that you are confident you can handle making or purchasing.

If your child chooses Baby Barn Animal theme and the best idea for entertainment is to have baby barn animals at your house and you’re not so excited about that and/or don’t want to pay for the baby barn animals to come to your house for an hour, then you should move on to a different theme.

And if your child’s favorite thing right now is more like making mud pies, then picking a theme will be a little harder. Because I don’t think you want 15 6 year olds making mud pies in your backyard.

Do you?

At that point it’s time to get some inspiration.  Pinterest is a great place to find amazing ideas for a memorable birthday party.

Take a half hour to sit with your child and create a board for birthday inspiration. 

Let him save whatever he likes and see if a theme starts to emerge. 

Is it a lot of Lego and Minecraft?

Maybe it’s all super heroes. 

Narrow it down and then make a decision. 

I have two words of caution at this point.

  1. Start planning right away because if you don’t he’s going to change his mind 17 times. 
  2. DO NOT get overwhelmed by all of the ideas on Pinterest.  You pick what you like, a few things from each of the big four categories and you get on with your life. You DO NOT do EVERYTHING you see on Pinterest.  That is where the “losing your mind” will happen. We don’t want that.

Of course if you’ve chosen a party theme that we’ve covered here at Party Plan Party, then you have no worries.  We’ve done the Pinterest research for you and selected 6 of the best ideas from each of the big 4 categories. You choose a few you like from each and you are ready to go.

Start With Your Invitations

Ultimate Guide to Planning a Kids Birthday Party

The first thing i like to choose once I have a theme picked is the invitation.

Why start here? Because I hate the whole process of invitations. There are so many decisions involved. 

  • What kind of invite? E-vite or hard copy?
  • When will the party be?
  • Where will it be?
  • Who’s invited? 
  • How long should it be?
  • And where are all the addresses? (Email or physical)

So I like to get this out of the way immediately.  

You’re going to need to figure out if you want to do electronic or physical invitations. 

They both have pros and cons. 

Electronic pros

  • Easy to do
  • Free
  • Automatic reminders

Electronic cons

  • Not as nostalgic 

Physical pros

  • They become a keepsake of the party
  • Part of the decor

Physical cons

  • They are a lot more work than electronic 
  • No built in reminders 

I do love that the physical invitation becomes part of the party decor.  You can frame it and have it out somewhere at the party and then your child can keep it as a memory.   

But the Evite is WAY easier and has the built in reminders which is pretty awesome. 

Whichever way you decide to go, there are apps or printing companies that are very customizeable so you can totally make either one very special.

Here are our two favorite electronic invite apps that we love:

And if you’re looking for printed invites, we love these:

Plan the Big Four Categories

Ultimate Guide To Planning a Kids Birthday Party

Ok, it’s time to make some decisions. You need to figure out what you’re going to do for each of the big four categories: 

  • Food
  • Decor
  • Games/Entertainment
  • Party Favors

A note, you might be thinking about having your child’s birthday party off site.  Maybe a bowling alley, or a trampoline park or wherever. That means you’ve got the entertainment taken care of.

But, you still want to tackle the other three categories.  You’ll have a room available to you to decorate and serve your food and hand out the party favors, so take advantage of that.

Most good party spots will even help with the set up.  Just ask ahead of time.

How to Plan the Food for Your Kids Birthday Party

Ultimate Guide to Planning a Kids Birthday Party

Consider the Time

What you choose to serve for food at your party is going to depend a lot on what time you decide to plan it.

If you pick a late afternoon time, then you will plan less food because you’re not thinking about offering something that is “lunch” or “dinner”, like pizza. 

You can probably get away with just your cake or cupcakes and a few on-theme snacks.

But if your party is planned right at lunch or dinner time OR you’re planning sort of an all day affair at your house, then you’re going to need to plan accordingly with the food. 

Have a “main” prepared.  It can be as easy as pizza, jazzed up a little to stay on theme.  We’ll talk more about jazzing up your food in a minute.

In addition to that main, you’ll want something for people to “graze” on.  You know what grazing is, right? Stuff you eat mindless while you’re doing something else.  Think popcorn, pretzels… Except for your party, it’s all going to be on theme, of course.

And then you’re going to need a cake or cupcakes.  And probably some candy or other sweets. Definitely some candy or other sweets.

Jazzing Up Your Food

Ultimate Guide to Planning a Kids Birthday Party

Don’t let your food be ordinary at your party.  Remember we talked about “13 chances to throw your kid a memorable party?”

The food is one place you can put in a little extra effort and really make this memorable.

You can find great ideas on Pinterest for ways of making your party food on theme for pretty much ANY party theme.

But the main idea here is to keep it as simple as possible.  Think of the foods that you would normally eat at a party.

  • Pizza
  • Chips/Popcorn/Pretzels
  • Candy/Sweets

And then think about ways you can make those a little extra special.  One way to do that is to modify the food, just a little.

If you’re serving pizza at your Minecraft party, why not add some pepperoni in the shape of a Creeper face?

Serving popcorn at your Unicorn Party?  Jazz up that popcorn with some rainbow colored melting chocolate and some jelly beans.  

Or for your Harry Potter party, throw a bowl of Cheese Puffs out, but give them a cute little name tag that says “Hufflepuffs”. You can find free printable tags for pretty much ANY birthday party theme.

Instead of putting your Pretzels out in a community bowl (which, eww, gross anyway), find a way to serve them in individual serving sizes. This can be as simple as putting them in a paper cup and decorating the cup with your theme. 

You see where this is going? It doesn’t have to be super difficult and you don’t have to spend hours on hours in the kitchen.  It’s just little tweaks that can make things really, really special.

The Great Debate:  Cake vs. Cupcakes

The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Kids Birthday Party

I am a huge fan of cupcakes for Birthday parties.  But a Birthday cake is of course far more traditional.  

To me one of the most chaotic parts of the party is when it’s time to serve cake. It’s nearing the end of the party.

Everyone is off the wall from having had so much fun and at the same time they can sense that it is winding down.

All the parents want to help with something because at this point they can see you are exhausted and now you have a knife in your hand and plates and forks to balance.

The kids are actually sitting down, but there is this obvious tension in them that tells you “OH MY GOD if you don’t get this cake to them RIGHT NOW they may start a riot!”

10 Amazing Kids Birthday Party Themes

So you start cutting and then this crazy choreographed assembly of mothers start helping you pass it out. Plate, cake, fork, plate cake fork, plate cake fork, plate cake fork, walk, distribute, return, repeat.

It’s actually remarkable when you think about it. Like we’re hard wired to hand out cake.

Anyway, you can mitigate all of that by just serving cupcakes.

Or go with a cake and think of the “Cake Serving Dance” as part of the entertainment.  

A Word About Beverages at Your Child’s Birthday Party

I like water for a beverage at children’s birthday parties.

They are going to be consuming a TON of sugar with the candy and the cake and the cookies and whatever else you come up with for food.

You can make your water bottles on theme with printable water bottle labels.

If there’s something extra special, however, that is really on theme and would make things a little extra special, then go for it.  

Butterbeer at a Harry Potter party, for example.  Or a pink punch for a Unicorn Party. But, maybe just single serving on those and the rest of the beverages are water.

How to Choose the Decor for Your Child’s Birthday Party

Of course your theme is going to dictate what your party decor looks like.   But there are a few things to think about when choosing how exactly you want to decorate for this party.

Large Scale is Impactful

To get the most bang for your buck (and energy) you want to start with large scale decorations.

A wall plastered with free printables, a centerpiece on the food table that takes up a lot of visual space, a Photoboth area decorated with your theme will be great for decor.  

These will fill a lot of space and they also serve as conversation starters (or yelling OOOOH THAT’S SO COOL) for your party. 

Balloons are Your Best Friend

Balloons in the Ultimate Guide to Planning a Kids Birthday Party
Three little girls having fun at the birthday party – isolated on a white.

Balloons are one of my favorite party decorations.  They are cheap and they take minimal effort.

Make sure you have something besides your lungs to fill them up and then get as many blown up as possible.

Hang them from the ceiling. 

Decorate them with sharpies

String some fishing line through their knots to make a balloon garland.

There are so many fun ways to use balloons for birthday parties.

Photo Booths are Basically A Must

photo booth Ultimate Guide to Planning a Kids BIrthday Party

Kids, and ok, for the little ones, also their Moms, want to have cool pictures to plaster on their social media accounts.  

Let’s assume that they want those pictures for their social media so that they will have amazing memories to look back on of the super fun party you threw in what is essentially their digital photo book.

You want to provide them with a fun opportunity for photos, right?

“But that sounds really hard and annoying and like a lot of work.”

OH, contraire.  It doesn’t have to be any of those things.

It can be if you choose to make it so, but I’m here to not allow you to do that, so just stick with me, ok?

First of all, there’s no booth.  Get that idea out of your head. We’re talking more about a backdrop that is on theme that the kids can stand in front of while they do selfies or someone takes photos.

The backdrop can be simple.  You can make it out of balloons.  You can print a bunch of free printables and plaster them to the wall.

My personal favorite is to use a combination of balloons and plastic tablecloths.

“WHHHHAAAAT????”

I know, you never thought of repurposing the plastic tablecloth.  It’s ok, it’s why you’re here.

So, as an example, you want a Minecraft photo booth?  Top half of the wall gets a blue plastic tablecloth, bottom half gets green.  Add some white balloons for clouds and you’re practically done.

Practically.

What’s missing?  The ACCESSORIES!

Ultimate Guide to Planning a Kids Birthday Party - Photo Booth Props

The accessories are what make the photo booth, ok?

Sticking with our Minecraft theme, you could do “Steve Masks’ or “Creeper Masks”.  This is a printable on some cardstock attached to a craft stick.

Not hard, at all.  

Whatever you do, don’t just use your imagination.  Use someone else’s. That’s why Pinterest was created, right?

Don’t Forget the Small Details

Ultimate Guide to Planning a Kids Birthday Party - small decor

While large scale is a must, I do also think it’s important to have a couple of small scale decor pieces that do double duty.

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about those little things like dipping clear plastic cups in glitter so that they sparkle at the bottom for you daughters Unicorn party.

That’s memorable.

I know, because I just remembered it without googling it or anything.

On theme centerpieces, even if it’s just one for the food table, go a long way in my book, too. A centerpiece might not be right for every party, but if, for instance, you’re throwing a tea party, I say go for a centerpiece.

It could even be something as inconsequential as your utensil holders.  If you can put your utensils out in a couple of mason jars that are perfectly decorated for your theme, then you win the party game.

Kids Party Games and Entertainment

Ok, now we’re at the really fun stuff.  Games and Entertainment.

Before we get to the fun stuff, however, I have a public service announcement.

You are a wonderful mother or father or whatever to your little child.  You are here because you want their birthday party to be the very best birthday that ever was and you want them to remember it all as the most special day of the year and you are going to do everything in your power to make it so.

Come Hell or high water.

Ok, stop, right there.  The number one thing that will kill a perfectly good party is when someone is trying to “force it”.

You’re going to plan some fun things for your kids party.  Maybe a craft, a game, a scavenger hunt, an obstacle course, a barnyard babies visit…

You need to be of the mindset heading into the games and entertainment that not everyone is going to care about how much you want them to do the things that you planned so that your child’s day is perfect.

You need to let them navigate this portion on their own terms.  Bobby doesn’t want to touch the goat that came with the barnyard animals? No biggie.  It’s not for everyone.

Sally is crying because she didn’t win Unicorn Bingo? How about moving on to a beautiful craft, Sally?  It’s not supposed to happen for another 17 minutes, but,we’re flexible. We’re go with the party flow kind of people here.

You see where I’m going with this?

Easy going. 

Don’t be that person who is blowing a whistle and making everyone line up and stand at attention so that they get to the next thing that you planned.

Whether they like it or not.

Ok, PSA over.  Back to our planning!

What are You Going to Do Games, Entertainment or Other?

So there are sort of three different categories for you to pick from here.  

Games to me are the traditional sort of party games.  Pin the tail on the donkey, but with a twist to fit your theme.  Like, Pin the Mermaid Tail on the Mermaid. I also include crafts in this category because they don’t really fit anywhere else, but I do love a craft for a party.

Entertainment is something like, Photo booth (see why the photo booth is a must?  It does double duty!), music or karaoke, a clown, a petting zoo, etc.

And other is whatever thing you might choose to do at an offsite facility.  A bowling party, a gymnastics party, a laser tag party, a movie party.

You’re first decision is really going to be are you going offsite or no?  This decision usually comes down to personal preference and budget.

I love an offsite party because a lot of the work in corralling and entertaining the kids is taken care of for you and the kids ABSOLUTELY love this type of party.  There’s no denying that.

But there is also something super special about hosting a party at home.  And that’s what we’re going to focus on in regards to games and entertainment.

Depending on the amount of time you have, you want to have 2-3 “activities” planned for the kids.

Know your audience when choosing these activities.

Are they high energy or somewhat low key (I know there’s really no such thing as low key when you’re talking about an 8 year olds birthday party and that energy levels pay no attention to gender roles, but relatively low key, ok?)?

Also remember the amount of sugar they are going to be consuming.  You may need a game that is basically running laps outside.

Kidding. 

Sort of.

I like one high energy game, something that is equal parts energy and brain power (think scavenger hunt) and maybe one small and quick craft which may end up just being a back up plan, or something that only a couple of kids do.

Which is COMPLETELY fine. 

Ultimate Guide to Planning A Kids Birthday Party - Games

High energy games are anything gross motor. If you can do these outside, awesome.  But things like, a simple obstacle course, freeze dance, relay races, balloon games or whatever else gets the kids moving and pushing that sugar through their systems!

Games that are equal part energy and brain power are things like scavenger hunts, pinatas and pin the tail on the donkey (or whatever part on whatever thing is your theme).

As for crafts, you want to have something that is very simple, very non-messy and very well planned out.

Ultimate Guide to Planning a Kids Birthday Party  Crafts

Cut out pieces of whatever you need before hand.

Don’t do a craft that requires paint. (Unless it’s an Art Party!)

Nor hot glue.

Simple. Simple. Simple.

The genius part about having a craft as part of your entertainment, however, is that it also becomes a part of your party favor.

Which is where we are going next!

Party Favors – The Lasting Impression of Your Perfect Party

I think it’s actually really funny when parents give a party favor bag at the end of the party and it’s filled with insanely sugary candy and little tiny toys that may or may not be something your kid would love to chew.

It’s pay back, I get it.

They just entertained your crazy sugar fueled kid for two hours.  They are going to let you see just how much work that was as you drive home with a squirming sugar monster who is trying to eat a super ball. 

I mean, it’s gotta be some kind of mean joke, right?

Let’s end that madness.  Party Favors should be two things. Memorable and Useful.

But, first, I want to talk about why this is an extremely important part of your party and why it should not be an afterthought.

Ultimate Guide to Planning a Kids BIrthday Party - Favors
Beach party favors. Buckets with each child’s name filled with candy and toys, lined up outside on a wooden rail

I’ve noticed something about kids birthday parties over the years.  The end is REALLY hard on kids.  

First of all, if it’s a party where kids are opening presents at the end, this can be challenging for certain children.

It’s like going to someone else’s house on Christmas morning and watching them open their presents and you got squat.

Not fun.  For a worn out guest who is probably in the midst of a sugar crash, this can spell disaster.  It can turn into an ugly jealousy monster.  

The other thing I’ve noticed is that some kids are thinking about the party favor from before the party even starts.  I’ll say to my son, we’re going to Kevin’s birthday party tomorrow. And he’ll say to me,

“Are they having party favors?”

Oh boy.  That’s his first question.  

So for me the party favor is so important because it eases that transition where you need to get the kids out of your house (or party venue) without having 16 melt downs.

It’s like, yes, you’re exhausted, you’ve just seen 50 million presents be opened in front of you, you don’t want all of this fun to stop.

BUT….

Here’s a party favor for you to enjoy on the way home!  WOO HOO Party saved! No meltdowns at the end.

Makes sense, right?

What Do I Give as A Party Favor then?

Excellent question, I can see you are eager to mess this up.  Good for you.

There’s a few options.

You can do a treat bag.  Decorated to fit your theme.  In the treat bag you can do a COUPLE, 2 or 3 on theme treats. 

  1. A cute and inexpensive thing they can wear, like a bracelet in your theme colors or a head band.  
  2. A couple of on theme pencils and erasers and maybe stickers.  
  3. And if you did a craft, the craft goes home in the treat bag, too.

No candy.  Unless…

I will allow candy in one instance.  That instance is when the cute factor overrides the sugar factor.  If you do Hershey bars wrapped in an on theme free printable candy bar wrapper, I’m totally fine with that.

A lot of people like to give slime as a party favor.  I have many, many feelings about slime. They all start with “I hate slime…”.

Unfortunately kids are obsessed with it.  They love it just as much as I hate it.

But it is super popular as a party favor, so I felt I had to mention it.  Just think about the drive home for the parents, though. They either have to take the slime away from the child and listen to them scream and complain .

OR

They let the child keep the slime and have to clean the disaster that will most definitely happen when a child is left unattended with slime.

My preference for a birthday party favor is something somewhat substantial, like a reusable cup with a straw that is on theme for your party.  

Yes, it might be a little more expensive (and it might not be depending on how you choose to fill those party bags) but, it’s very useful, it’s cute so the kids will love it and the parents will go home without any disasters in the back seat.

It’s a win for everyone, really.

The Worst Part of the Party

The worst part of the birthday party is after the party is over and everyone has gone home.  

You now have to write thank you notes.  I’m considering using this platform I have here on Party Plan Party to banish thank you notes for the rest of time.

But my mother would be so disappointed.

What I would suggest to make the thank you notes feel a little less like a drain on your soul is to make the Thank You notes fun.

  • Use a Picture from the birthday party as your thank you note. 
  • Try a printable form for a thank you note
  • Have your child help you with the thank you notes

Party with a Plan

That was more than 4000 words on how to plan a kids birthday party, in case you are wondering.  You are armed now to tackle every birthday that is to come with a great amount of knowledge.

Remember through each step of every party you plan for your kids, you;’ve got about 13 chances per child for Birthday memories.  Throw in the odd Kindergarten graduation and religious celebrations along the way and maybe it’s a little more.

But it’s not many.  I don’t know why I’m ending this making you think about your kids growing up so quickly.  It’s a terrible idea. You’re going to leave here crying probably.

Quick start picking out a theme and get your mind off of this, ok?  

Here’s all the awesome Kids Birthday Party themes we’ve pulled together for you already.  

Have an awesome party.

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How to Plan a Perfect Kids Birthday Party
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