Monday, 4 July 2011

how to plan a kid party in 2 days

I wrote a chapter for this book about celebrations. I said that I longed for celebrations that were special, but simple. Two things that often oppose each other. It's something I strive for, but I often get lost in the details. I do enjoy planning kids parties - give me a theme, and I'll run with it. But they can soon feel overwhelming - particularly on the day of the party.

Having one daughter's birthday in July and the other one close to Christmas means 2 holiday birthdays. So some years the planning is better than others. This year was not so stellar. On Thursday morning I realized that we need to have a party now (like in 2 days) or not again until well after the birthday, because of holiday schedules. So I decided on now. I sent out some emails, got a critical mass (4 guests), and went for it. It would be a simple, but special, 5th birthday party.

Theme: Bugs (she picked this theme in December, so I'd had half a year to collect some themed items)

This is about the 6th kid birthday party I've planned, and I'm getting better at it and growing more wise. Here are a few of the things I've learned:

1. Do not even dare to imagine the perfect party. It will be a party. Period.

2. Have high expectations of meltdowns. Expect someone to cry or throw a tantrum. If it doesn't happen, great! You're well ahead of your expectations then.

3. Make up versions of duck, duck, goose while you stand in line for groceries. Ladybug, ladybug, mosquito? Perfect.

4. Do not clean the house. It will be a mess afterward. There will be pee around the floor of the toilet, grass on the carpet, and spilled juice.

5. Don't serve juice, serve water. And candy sushi.

6. Involve the birthday girl in the planning. This is half (or most?) of the fun - the anticipation. Planning the games + crafts, making the candy kebob favours, passing out invitations - this is rich.

7. Put things on a stick: fruit kebobs, sandwich kebobs, and candy kebobs. Anything tastes better on a stick.

Fruit kebobs: chocolate dipped strawberries, pineapple, melon, grapes, other fruits...

Sandwich kebobs: cheddar cheese cubes, bocconcini balls of cheese, baguette chunks, olives, pepper chunks, cherry tomatoes

Candy kebobs: gummy candies, marshmallow candies, fruit roll-ups (for the nutritional factor), and any other candies that can be shoved onto a stick

8. No presents from friends. This has become a rule at our house, which seems quite dictatorial, I realize. They get gifts from us and from other family members, and that seems like plenty. I read somewhere that kids should be involved in the decision of whether their friends bring gifts. Well, not in this house. Remember the weird parent post? Well, here's another example of something my kids just might have to see a therapist for when they're older.

We've tried it both ways - gifts and no gifts. And after those little experiments, I'm inspired by this friend and I say, "This is how we do it in our family. If you want a party, that's the present." Then we decide on what we'll collect for - sometimes it's been hats and mitts (December birthday) and sometimes it's been soap bars or school kits.
one of the soap towers
9. Invite the age of your child (if your daughter's 5, invite 5 guests). Keeps it from being too crazy for me and too overwhelming for the birthday girl.

10. Make a kick-butt cake (or commission someone to do it). This is where simple goes out the window for me. And just for fun, I'll brag about some of my favourites that I've made:

the solar system

11. Take a deep breath. Welcome chaos.

12. Let her be a princess - if only for 2 hours.


  1. Love the cake and the crown. You'll have to impart some ideas when it comesto our December birthday. Eden looks super happy, the most important part.

  2. love the food on sticks idea. you are right...anything tastes better on a stick! also, very cool cakes!

  3. Amazing creativity, Rebecca!

  4. Oh indeed, everything DOES taste better on a stick!
    Like you, I really strive to keep parties simple, and they almost always feel special. We've done treasure hunts through the old village streets with clues tucked into the stones of the church, up in the fountain, etc. For Charlie's 7th birthday, we took the kids up to the forest behind the castle, had a cake picnic and played old-fashioned party games (sardines, egg-and-spoon races, etc.) Yes it was chaos, yes there was a meltdown or two, but everyone had a wonderful time (note to future party-planners: using uncooked eggs in the egg-and-spoon race is sure to be a hit with 7-year-olds...)
    I have really struggled with the gift part. For Anouck's first school-aged party, I requested no gifts. But alas some families didn't follow through, and so there were some kids left feeling awkward because they came empty-handed even though I assured them that was what we wanted. And I know my girls really love coming up with ideas and choosing gifts for their friends. They put a lot of thought into it. So, in an effort to keep the "stuff" to a minimum (my is house on a diet too...), we follow your same rule, but going the other way. "Your party is your present". The girls get gifts from their friends, and we give them the party. Some of my family have expressed their shock at the fact that the girls receive "nothing" from us for their birthday, but I disagree. They receive my time, my creative effort, and my undivided attention for their party. Maybe they'll be talking about me later at therapy, as you say, but for now I've never heard a complaint. When looking back on their birthdays, they always remember the parties, the time spent with friends and family, not the Polly Pocket or Little Pet Shop they received.

  5. Love it, Mara - how could a party NOT be special in a quaint village in Provence - with a real live castle - every girl's dream! I like how you've flipped the present thing - and I agree, the attention and care that you give to plan a party is a great present, and one they'll remember far longer than any Polly Pocket.

  6. Love the party is the present idea! I cannot believe that you made those cakes! What? Amazing.

  7. I am amazed by the solar system cosmic!!!

  8. I just reviewed your list here in preparation for Levi's party this afternoon. He's chosen a pirate theme, so our version of Duck, Duck, Goose will be Rrrrr, Rrrrr, Matey. We'll also play Pin the Patch on the Pirate. He enjoy helping me bake and decorate the pirate ship cake. I'd like a tutorial on fondant icing though so I can maybe try it in the future. (Do you make your own or buy it?)

  9. Love the pirate themed games. How did it go? I buy the fondant icing at bulk food stores - plus some serious dye (no wimpy food coloring for this icing). For the fish and sun, I made the colours with the dye - just using white fondant. For the ladybug I bought a bunch of red fondant, then dyed some of it to make the darker parts on the ladybug. I was inspired by a high school friend who has her own cake business now and works a lot with fondant. It's a lot of fun to play around with!