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August 19, 2022

The Stress-Free Kid’s Birthday Party Planning Checklist

As parents, you want the absolute best for your kids, and that includes throwing them some incredible birthday parties. Gone are the days of playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey, children’s parties have become elaborate events. Learn how to plan the perfect party for your child, no matter how old they are.

Checklist for Planning a Kid’s Birthday Party

You might have celebrated some of your own birthdays at a restaurant that featured animatronic animals, arcade games, or a ball pit. However, kids’ birthday parties are becoming elaborate events that feature live entertainment, customized décor, and over-the-top themes.

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Whether you’re hiring a band and setting up a bounce house or keeping it simple and ordering a grocery store sheet cake, using a party planning checklist will help you keep things organized, but here are some things to think about when putting your list together:

“Very young children may be extremely flexible about this, while older children may have a distinct opinion, given their previous attendance at other birthday parties and peer pressure.”

Two to three Months Out

When planning a party, it’s smart to get organized a few months in advance. Think about the age of your child, their interests, and the time of year. If your child has a summer birthday, you might want to think about a pool party. If your child’s birthday is during the colder months, you’ll want to consider an indoor activity. Having these broad strokes decided well in advance will make it easier for you to focus on the details.

  • Date and location. Before you can plan anything, you’ll need to decide when the party is taking place and where you’re having it. Many parents may plan to host a party on the weekends, to guarantee attendance. Where location is concerned, you should take the age of your child into consideration. Very young children may be extremely flexible about this, while older children may have a distinct opinion, given their previous attendance at other birthday parties and peer pressure. Additionally, if you’re hosting the party at a location that requires an advance reservation or deposit, the earlier you can get that on their books, the better.
  • Theme. Not all children’s birthday parties have themes. But younger children tend to be influenced by popular culture and whatever movies, TV shows, and toys are permeating their lives at any given time. Older kids may balk at choosing a theme, claiming that it is “not cool,” which is completely fine. Should you go the theme route, this may influence how you plan. If your little one is into trucks or princesses, this may affect your decorations and menu planning.
  • Budget. Set a budget before you get too deep into planning to determine if you can afford all the things you’d like to do. While every parent wants the best for their children, it’s unrealistic to throw them a birthday party that’s more than you can afford. Do your research so you don’t spend outside your means. If you’re throwing a larger birthday party or an important milestone occasion like a quinceañera, a sweet sixteenth, or a bar or bat mitzvah, you may end up spending more, depending on how elaborate an event you’d like.
  • Entertainment. For younger children, this could mean an inflatable bounce house or a magician. If you’re planning on taking a group to a movie or a water park, think about the cost and logistics of this endeavor. If you’re setting up a sensory table for a party full of toddlers, this still counts as entertainment, and you should still plan ahead for it.

One Month Out

In the month before your child’s birthday party, you should plan the details. Think about your guest list, what you’ll serve, and how you’ll decorate—if at all.

  • Invites. Put together a guest list and send out invitations. If you’re celebrating something that might necessitate printed invitations like a mitzvah or a quinceañera, you may need extra time. But even if your child is taking invitations to school and passing them out to friends, you should still take care of this at least a month in advance.
  • Menu. Think about what you’re going to serve your guests. Will you need a multi-course plated meal? A catered buffet spread? Several pizzas from a local place? Grocery store cupcakes? It will make your life easier to have this decision made well ahead of time. If you’re cooking yourself, determining a menu can help you grocery shop and prep. Most caterers need at least a few days’ notice. If your party is taking place at a banquet hall, you may need to choose between a few options for your guests.
  • Decorations. Social media may lead you to believe that no party is complete without a balloon arch and customized signage and enormous displays that spell out the theme of your party. But truly, whether you decorate or not is completely up to you. If your child is into a movie or show that is also readily available on paper plates and napkins, it may be a smart (and economical) move to get them. Remember, you know your child best and you’ll make the right call about decorations for their party.
  • Book entertainment. Whether you’re booking a band or a magician or a mobile petting zoo, remember that they may have a packed schedule. Book any kind of entertainment well in advance to ensure there are no hiccups.

Two Weeks Out

The few weeks before your child’s birthday are when you finalize the details and fill in the blanks. You’ll have the big things like date, location, and food figured out, but if there are any other aspects like favors and activities, now is the time to dial that in.

  • Finalize your guest list. Knowing how many people will be in attendance will help you order or cook the correct amount of food or purchase the correct amount of party favors. Some locations may require a final headcount, especially if a plated meal is being served.
  • Plan games or activities. Are your guests going to see a movie? Ride a rollercoaster at an amusement park? Paint pottery? Not all birthday parties have built-in activities so this step may or may not be necessary.
  • Party favors. As your child gets older, party favors may become a thing of the past. But younger children tend to love a birthday party goodie bag. They may be stuffed with stickers, little toys, candy, and more. If your party is a more formal affair, you may want a commemorative favor for your guests. Any kind of customization will require extra time.
  • Order food or cake. Caterers and bakers have busy schedules, and you’ll need to speak with them to let them know what you’d like and when you need it. An accurate guest count will keep you from ordering too much or too little. If you’re planning to make the food yourself, start detailing your menu in earnest and think about what you need to buy and prep.

Day Before

Do your best not to stress out about the party the day before. Use this time to hammer out any last-minute details.

  • Decorations and furniture. If you’re hosting the party at your home, set up any decorations the day before so that it’s one less thing you’ll need to do on the day of. If you need to set up any tables or chairs for guests, do so ahead of time. Parties hosted at other locations may not require set up, but you will want to drop off decorations.
  • Prepare any homemade food. This could be as simple as getting bowls for chips and dip, or as complicated as making a layered cake. Either way, if you’ve planned well by using a party planning checklist, you should be in good shape.
  • Confirm last minute details with any vendors. If you’re renting chairs or have arranged for a petting zoo, double check the arrival times to make sure that everything goes smoothly.

Day Of

It’s the day of the party! If you’ve taken care of everything in advance, this day should run smoothly for you and your child. All that’s left are a few things before you enjoy the festivities.

  • Pick up cake. If you’ve made party treats yourself, you can skip this step. But if you ordered any sort of treats or food for your guests, you’ll need to pick it up and bring it to the location of your party.
  • Take pictures. Commemorate your child’s birthday with a few pictures! Make sure you’re in some of the pictures. After all, you’re celebrating too.
  • Set up food and drink. If you’re setting out snacks or a buffet spread, do this before your guests arrive. If your party location is handling all the food, skip this step but make sure you bring everything you need when you arrive.
  • Party! You did it! Enjoy your child’s special day and celebrate them for growing into an amazing person.

It’s important to remember every family may choose to celebrate their children’s birthdays differently. While some parents may go all out with a curated, social-media friendly affair, others may keep it casual, and both options are completely fine. What’s important is that your child has a great time on their special day and that you, the parent, feel confident and in control while planning.

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