Sunday, October 18, 2009

Kids Party 101

Chances are if you have children, you'll be hosting a party for kids at least once this year. Some children's birthday parties now rival weddings in scale and cost, with elaborate cakes tipping the scales at $2000 or more.

But what to do if you're more of a do-it-yourself mom or dad, or simply do not have the budget for an ostentatious affair? Children's parties are more about making memories than how much money is spent. And chances are you can pull together an event that will be memorable and fun.

1. Start with a theme. A theme is the foundation upon which all of the other components of the party will be built. Because it is the common factor, it will help make purchasing favors, deciding upon colors and selecting games that much easier. Involve your child in the process. Figure out what he or she enjoys the most and go with that theme.

"My son absolutely loves SpongeBob Squarepants," says Marie, mom to a 4 year old. "So it was a no-brainer for me what theme to use for his birthday party. From a 'Pin the Pants on SpongeBob' game to yellow favor bags, it was easy to work within the theme."

2. Select the venue. Hosting the party at home is often the least expensive option, but one that will require the most clean-up. If you have a finished basement or a big backyard, you have a versatile space for the party. Party centers may offer maximum convenience in terms of supplies, events and clean-up, however, they will likely be the most costly options per head.

3. Decide on the guest list. It's understandable to want to invite every friend and family member to a children's birthday party. However, due to space and budget constraints, this isn't often possible. One rule of courtesy to follow is that if you invite at least half of your child's school class to the party, you should respectfully invite them all in this case so no one feels left out. It's also perfectly acceptable to limit the party invites to family members with children in the same age bracket. Singletons or aunts and uncles will have to wait for another event for which to visit.

4. Time the party for the age group. Younger children who get antsy later in the day when it may be nap time could benefit from an early party, while older children may want a late-afternoon party, which could work to your advantage since you won't have to provide a meal. Also, time the party so that you give guests ample time to arrive, enjoy themselves and be on their merry way without feeling rushed or bored. For the youngest children (ages 1, 2 or 3), a rule of thumb is not to have the length of the party exceed their age otherwise you could have meltdowns and temper tantrums on your hand from tired children.

5. Food and fun are essential. Guests attend parties for the enjoyment factor and what food will be served. Certain games are tried and true birthday classics (musical chairs, etc.). However, use your imagination to fit games to the theme of your party. A superhero themed party, for example, may feature an obstacle course where the villains must go up against a team of heroes. Or base your festivities on the time of year. Summer backyard parties can have plenty of wet water fun by way of sprinklers and slippery slides. Just be sure to indicate the type of activities on the invitations so that gusts can dress accordingly.

In terms of food, pizza is definitely the ultimate standby in terms of party fare. However, changing up the menu to other finger foods, such as chicken nuggets, small sandwiches, or make-your-own creations can add something different to your event.

6. Take the cake. The popularity of documentary cake-baking shows on television could lead to cake anxiety for party throwers. It's nice to have a visually perfect cake that guests can ooh and aah over, but it's not a necessity. A home-baked cake or a sheet cake purchased from a store can be an affordable option. Use toys or your own decorating savvy to make the design of the cake fit in with your theme with minimal fuss. For an even easier time of it, individual cupcakes eliminate the need to stand, slice and serve cake to all of the guests.

7. Don't forget the favors. Enable guests to take away something from the party. Scour discount stores, online bulk retailers and more for inexpensive finds. Stores like Target, for example often have party packages with favor ideas for guests.

CAPTION: Food and fun are key components to a children's birthday party.

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