People often think that planning a child’s party means filling a room with toys and snacks. That’s not a bad start, but a really memorable party will have some kind of structure. This isn’t about dampening the fun, but giving it some variety. Here’s a glimpse at what a well-planned party might look like…
Stage 1 – The arrivals
Most children arrive at a party with a gift for the birthday boy or girl – and feel a bit embarrassed about handing it over. So instead of just having a table in the corner, you could make this stage a little more fun. Why not have a colourful mail box, or a papier-mâché crocodile with its jaws open, as a creative gift drop-off? Giving everyone a little something to do when they arrive helps to make sure that all the children feel involved, right from the word "go."
Stage 2 – Free play
It’s during the first third of a party that kids will have the most energy. To encourage free play at the beginning, you might want to leave some ‘treasure chests’ (cardboard boxes) around the place, each filled with a small assortment of materials – soft balls, dress-up clothes, basic musical instruments, etc. This period can be a sort of ‘ice breaker’ for those children who don’t know one another, and can get everyone used to the space. It also lets you and your party helpers to start getting ready for stage 3…
Stage 3 – Lunch (or snacks)
If the children are five and above, they will probably be able to read their own name – so why not include personalized place cards? This might sound a bit formal, but it can really help grab everyone’s attention, and get them sitting down for 15 minutes. Encouraging the children to sit down at this stage helps to make sure that the ‘meal’ has a definite start and finish; mixing snacks and playing can very messy, and is best kept to a minimum.
Stage 4 – Structured play
After a bit of free play, and an organized sit-down, it’s now time for a combination of the two! Adults often underestimate how much children like to take part in a properly ordered game. (And if any of the party guests are having trouble joining in with others, a structured activity – with everyone joining in together – might be just what they need.) Timeless classics like pass the parcel or musical chairs are a great way of keeping the energy levels up, while making sure things don’t start getting too messy or chaotic!
Stage 5 – The cake!
Up until now, the party has really been about everyone joining in together, so the cutting of the cake is a nice opportunity for letting the birthday boy or girl take centre stage for a short while. They’ll of course blow out the candles, but why not let them help cut the cake too? (Find a metal spatula if you’re worried about blades.) They can also pass around pieces to all their friends, and will enjoy playing host for few minutes. Behind the scenes, this is also an opportune time to clear away any toys and activities, paving the way for…
Stage 6 – The departures
Depending on how old the children are, asking them to ‘sign’ (scribble in) a guest book can work really well. It’s nice for a child to feel like they’re taking part right up to the last minute, and it of course leaves you with a lovely memento. Likewise, a slightly personalised party bag makes the whole thing more memorable. If you’ve got access to a portable photo printer, you can print out photos from the day – the perfect souvenir from a wonderful (and wonderfully organised) party!
Joseph O’Brien lives in Bristol (across the pond!) with his two children - ages 12 and 5. He writes for Perfect Party UK – a leading online superstore for party supplies.