Planning A Kids Party

It’s that time of year again. Your child is having a birthday. Congratulations! You’ve kept them alive for another year. But now you have to plan their party. And the thought of planning a kids’ party makes you want to run. To hide. Or cry. You’re not alone. Parents all around the world share your fears.

But I’ll tell you a secret. It doesn’t have to be hard. Or complicated. Or terrifying. It is possible to throw a kids party that you get to enjoy. Yes. You. The parent. It’s all about planning. Being organised. Thinking ahead. And being prepared for absolutely anything.

I love organising parties. I love the challenge of preparing for a large group. I love the fun of decorating the house or table. I love baking. So when it came time to start throwing my kids birthday parties. Well, I was a little excited. The lead up to my son’s first birthday was a challenging time for me (a story for another time). Focusing on planning his party helped keep my mind occupied. So I planned a party.

We invited all our friends and family. Picked a great park. Had everything organised well in advance. And woke up to a rainy Melbourne morning. In December! Now, panic could have settled in. Havoc could have ensued. And it could have been a disaster. But my contingency plan was in place. So we went with that instead. I messaged every person who was coming about a change in venue and the new address. All the park setup jobs which had been delegated were scrapped. Anyone who had been roped in to setup was put on unloading duty.

Our car was more or less packed ready to go anyway, so we loaded up and headed to my parents’ house. (I am incredibly lucky and grateful that they have the perfect entertainers’ house, it’s close to the park and they don’t mind me using it!) We squashed over 100 people into their living/dining and backyard (the rain cleared up and we got outside after all!). But very little else changed. It didn’t need to. Because the planning and organisation I’d done in the lead up meant that we were clear on what needed to happen, and what I’d planned was flexible enough that the change in venue had minimal impact.

It Doesn’t Have To Be Hard

So if you’re planning a kids’ party, what can you do to make it as stress free as possible?  Here is my comprehensive rundown on the all the steps to take in the lead up to the main event. 

Two Months Before The Party

1. Set your budget

I do this upfront, before making any other decisions.  Particularly if your budget is going to be tight, this will impact every other decision you make. I also break my budget down into a few key areas:

  • Food and drink – this includes the cake, and generally makes up the majority of my budget
  • Venue/entertainment fees – you may or may not have an idea of what venue or entertainment you want to hire yet. But if you’re considering an external venue or getting an entertainer in, include an amount in your budget for their fees
  • Decorations – think about whether you’re going to pick a theme, and how much you need or want to decorate. If you’re not into decorating, this might be a smaller component of your budget. For me, this includes items like disposable plates/cups/napkins, tablecloths, party favours, games and prizes

2. Pick your date and venue

These are two separate decisions, however depending on where you are planning on having the party, the date you can choose may be limited. I recommend choosing a venue well in advance. If you do choose a venue you need to book, choosing in advance should allow you to pick the date you want.

3. Book your venue

If you have chosen an external venue that requires a booking, do this as soon as you’ve made up your mind, to avoid disappointment if you can’t get the date you want, and minimise the stress of having to pick another venue.

4. Pick a theme

This is probably my favourite part! It’s certainly not necessary, and some parties will work better without one. Consider the personality and age of your child. Your theme could be centred around a character or TV show/movie.  It could be more general, like pirates or unicorns.  Or it could be a simple colour scheme.  I ask my son what kind of cake he wants (design, not flavour!), and this determines the theme for us. And remember, you take the theme as far as you want it. It may just influence the cake design. Maybe it will be a factor in all the food choices. Or you could let it flow into everything! It’s all up to you!  

5. Put together your invite list

Decide who you’re going to invite. Depending on your child’s age, you might want to ask them who they want to invite. If you do include your child in this step, be clear up front about how many people they can invite. Remember the budget we did at the start? Now is when I’d refer back to that and do a quick check of food/drink costs per person (food and drink budget divided by number of guests invited).  

6. Design or purchase your invitations

There are many options for invitations out there: from packs from party stores to handwrite your details on to custom designed just for you. There are loads of graphic designers on line nowadays who have pre-designed layouts that you can customise with your specific event details. Or you can design your own if you’re feeling creative! I’ve used all these options at one time or another. I’ve found it depends on the design or feel I’m after, how much time and energy I have in the party lead up, and my budget.

7. Book any entertainment, photographer and décor

Once you’ve got your date and venue locked in, it’s time to book any other external people or equipment, including:

  • Entertainment for the kids that’s not included in your venue hire, like a clown, a fairy or a face-painter
  • A photographer if you want to have professional photos taken. Alternatively, you may want to hire a photo booth and have your guests take their own photos and add them to a memory book
  • Any decorations you want to have, such as balloon garlands, donut walls or table centrepieces

One Month Before The Party 

8. Send your invitations out

There are lots of different opinions about when you should get invitations out to guests. And it is entirely up to you. But I know from my own experiences receiving invitations, I’d much prefer to get them earlier so I have time to shuffle schedules or organise baby-sitting if necessary. I generally work off a standard formula for kids parties.  I set my RSVP date 7-10 days before the party date, allow 2 weeks guests to receive and reply, and 3-5 days from posting to when guests receive their invites.  Generally, I aim to get invites in the mail 4 weeks before the party date.  

9. Plan your menu

Remember to tailor it for the guests you’ve got coming. If it’s a kid only affair, fancy grazing platters with olives and blue cheese may not be the best option. If you’ve got both adults and kids, have a mix of food available to cater to both groups. It’s also super easy to include healthy options. Veggie sticks and fruit salad are healthy options which are easy to prepare. I also like to have fun with my menu, tying it into the party theme.  We had pupcorn at a Paw Patrol party, and checkerboard sandwiches for a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party!

10. Order your cake and other catering

If you’ve decided not to bake the cake yourself, or to get part or all of the food catered, you’ll want to get your order in nice and early.  Most cake makers require at least 2 weeks’ notice for cake orders, so get in touch with them 3 or 4 weeks before your party date.

11. Plan your party games

If you’re planning on having any party games, start thinking about which ones you’ll play and what you will need. You may need to organise extra furniture (musical chairs), a playlist of music (musical statues), blu-tack (pin the … on the …) etc. Having an idea of which games will be played will help you later when you have to write your shopping list out!

12. Select and purchase party outfits

Some parties don’t require anything special in the outfit department. Everyday jeans and a nice t-shirt may be perfect for your son for his party in your backyard. You might have a favourite summer dress for yourself for the party in the park. But some parties need something more. A costume for your daughter for her superhero party maybe? Or a brand new, special birthday outfit for you and your baby for their first birthday. Whatever the reason, if you’re needing to buy an outfit for the party, be clear on what you want early enough so you have enough time to go and find it!  

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One Week Before The Party  

13. Follow up with non-responders

By now your RSVP date should have passed. Send a follow up email or message, or make a quick phone call, to anyone who hasn’t replied to confirm if they’re attending or not.

14. Write out your shopping list

I usually separate mine into groceries – perishable and non-perishable, decorations, prizes and party favours. Once you’ve got a complete list of everything you need to buy, breakdown your shopping into individual store lists.  

15. Do your shopping

I find it easier to try and get to one store at a time, particularly if I’ve got the kids with me. Leave all the perishable shopping until the day before the party, but try and get everything else purchased earlier in the week.  

16. Put together your party running sheet

I’ve been given some strange looks over this one, particularly from my husband. But I find it invaluable, even for a low key party at our house. Your running sheet can be as detailed or brief as you need it to be, but at a minimum should list the key moments of the party, such as party games, cutting the cake or serving food, and a rough time for them to occur. Even if you don’t stick to it 100%, writing out what has to happen can help make sure you don’t forget anything and reduce your stress on the day.  

Four Days Before The Party 

17. Write out your cleaning list

If you’re having the party at your own home, you’ll most likely need to do some cleaning in preparation. I find it easier on the whole family to make a list of all the cleaning jobs that need to be done, that we tick off as we go. I write ours up on our whiteboard, and I get pretty detailed.  

18. Put together your pre-party timetable

My pre-party timetable tells me when all my party preparation tasks need to happen. I include:

  • Cleaning tasks
  • Food preparation
  • Cooking
  • Daily life activities

19. Put together your party bags or favours

Depending on what you’re putting in these, you should be able to put most of the bag together in advance. Make sure you store them up high and out of sight!

The Day Before The Party

20. Bake the cake

If you’re baking the cake yourself, try and bake it first thing in the morning, the day before the party. That way, it will have enough time to cool during the day, and you’ll be able to decorate it in the afternoon or evening.  You don’t want to have to touch the cake on the day of the party.  

21. Shopping for perishables

Leave your perishables shopping as late as you can manage, but still leave enough time to do any food preparation or cooking that needs to be done.  

22. Food preparation

Get as much of the food preparation done as you can the day before the party. Chopping fruit and vegetables, plating up biscuits and sandwiches, baking cookies or muffins. Most of this is fine to do the day before. Just store the food appropriately overnight, and make set up that much easier the next day.  

23. Finalise your cleaning

Finish off any cleaning or tidying up around your house after the kids have gone off to bed. I focus on my kitchen and the living room.

The Day Of The Party 

24. Collect the cake

If you’ve ordered your cake, make sure you’ve organised someone responsible to pick it up from the bakery and deliver it to your venue. Make sure you’re clear on the collection times, and beware that some stores are open reduced hours on the weekends.  

25. Last minute food preparation

Finish off any last minute food preparation that needs doing. Enlisting help from family or close friends for food prep on the day can be a huge help.  

26. Decorate your venue

If the party isn’t at your house, make sure you know what time you are allowed in to decorate and set up. And be prompt. If you make use of all the setup time you’ve got, you’re more likely to be ready early! If the party is at your house, some of the decorating could be done earlier in the week. And either way, enlisting help for the decorating will also help you out.    

27. Set up your tables Plate up and arrange your food and drinks on their tables. Even if they’re covered until people arrive, it’s easier to take off a covering than try and set platters up once guests are there. If you can, have all your food out on tables from the start, or minimise the amount that needs to be brought out during the party.  

28. Get yourself and the kids ready

If you have the help, ask someone to help you get your kids dressed and ready. Take a few extra moments whilst getting yourself ready to reset, to get out of planner mode and into host mode.  

29. Enjoy!

It’s easier said than done for some people. But if you’ve put in the planning, you should be able to find time to enjoy yourself, talk to other adults and even sneak in a piece of cake!  

Make It Easier

I know there’s a lot of steps here. But if you’ve made it this far, you’ll probably have realised that these are all little steps. Little parts of the whole. It’s breaking all the steps down into little, manageable pieces that makes the planning process go from stressful and complicated to smooth and, well, maybe not stress free but certainly less stressful.

I’ve also put all the steps into my Ultimate Party Planner.  The Planner includes a free, printable party planning checklist, which I use for planning all my events. There are also loads of templates for brainstorming, budgeting and scheduling in the download, all designed to help you plan your best party yet. Are you interested in making planning your next party easier?

Happy planning!

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