“When you open up your home, you’ll develop a deeper bond with your guests. When they’re invited into your space, they get to know you better,” Samuels says. Another home party perk: You can be as creative as you want. If you want to transform your backyard into a circus, there’s no one saying: “Sorry. We don’t allow actual circuses.” You can attach birthday decorations to the walls, the ceiling, and set up whenever you want. “In your home, you make your own rules,” Samuels says. Your child may be more comfortable there too. And since you don’t have to rent a space, a DIY birthday party can be easier on your budget.
To pull-off the ultimate event, being organized is key. “A well-thought-out task list at the beginning of the process will save your sanity,” Samuels says. This master schedule can help you stay on track to hosting a kid’s home birthday party that’s anything but ho-hum.
Party Planning Timeline
1 to 3 months ahead
Select a theme. A theme gives you something to anchor decoration selection and activities to. “You won’t be stabbing in the dark, doing exhaustive internet searches looking for something ‘fun’ or ‘interesting,’ which is too ambiguous,” Samuels says.
Pick a date and make a guest list. Before setting a birthday party date, check with extra special guests to make sure they’re available. Your child won’t be happy if his/her best friend will be out of town that weekend. After selecting a date, decide with your child whether to invite the entire daycare, preschool or school class, or just a handful of his or her best buds.
Book the entertainment. If you want to bring in outside entertainment, such as a storyteller, singer, balloon animal expert, storybook character, professional scavenger hunt creator (for older kids), the we-bring-the-petting-zoo-to-you folks or a face painter, get them while you can.
1 month ahead
Send invitations. Whether hand-written, ordered professionally or computer generated through Evite, an invitation should fit the party theme. For kids age 7 or older, indicate on the invitations whether parents are invited too so they won’t have to ask if the party is a drop-off. Include an RSVP date, as well as both a start time and end time, so parents know when to pick up their kids or how to plan the rest of their day.
Line up help. Enlist friends, parents, teens or relatives to help supervise activities. Consider hiring a few high school students, your baby-sitter or a professional service to help with pre-party or post-party clean up, or to supervise games, deliver, serve and replenish food, and generally take some of the weight off your shoulders. If you’ll be having a pool party, hire certified lifeguards.
Order party supplies, favors and a bakery cake (if you won’t be baking your own). Take inventory of what you already have on hand and note what you’ll need to purchase or borrow, then stock up on party supplies online or at your local party story. Include game and craft essentials, sports equipment, existing or portable tables for food and gifts, coolers for drinks, serving pieces, tablecloths, plates, cups and utensils.
Two weeks before
Confirm the final head count. Follow up with anyone who hasn’t RSVPed so you have time to make sure you have everything you need.
Make a schedule of party day activities. Plan to fill two to three hours with a mix of energetic games and calmer activities, such as crafts or storytelling. For babies and toddlers, you can’t go wrong with a ball pit that matches the age of your child and his/her guests. If the presents will be opened at the party, save it for the end. If you run out of time, you can always skip it.
Get your decorations on deck. “Nothing says fun like balloons,” says certified balloon artist, Sandi Masori, author of “The DIY Balloon Bible for All Seasons.” Air-filled balloon columns are an easy way to liven up any space and turn a (frugal) DIY kid’s birthday party into an event. Safety note: If any balloons pop, pick up the pieces immediately (radar: choking hazard).
Plan the menu. “Finger foods such as chicken fingers, fries and pizza are not only super easy for you, they are also sure to please,” Samuels says. For the adults who attend, a few add-on treats would be nice, such as fresh guacamole and chips.
3 days before
Tackle kitchen prep. If you’re doing the cooking, Samuels recommends making any foods you can in advance that can be frozen and defrosted. On the event day, set out foods early that won’t spoil, such as crudité and dip. Wrap them tightly and tear off the plastic wrap when the first doorbell rings.
Line up the music. This is a party essential, even if it’s just a playlist on your iPhone.
Make your home into a safety zone. Do a quick run through to make sure there are no dangers lurking, such as slippery floors, uncovered electrical outlets, unlocked windows and choking hazards on the floor.
A few hours before the party
Refresh the guest bathroom. Give it a welcoming feel with a fresh set of hand towels, scented soap and soap dispenser.
Set the stage. Lay out your serving dishes, glasses, cups and utensils on a table so everything is in one place. That’ll save you from running around during the party.
Role play greetings and goodbyes. Coach your child on handing out the goody bags and saying thank you at the same time. If opening gifts is on the agenda, practice polite “thank yous” with your child ahead of time.
At the party
Watch for cute moments with your camera. If you suspect you’ll be too busy to be in the moment, designate someone to be the party photographer, such as your spouse, or a friend or family member with a good eye for magical moments.
Help your guests make connections. As the host, you’ll have a lot on your plate. Still, “you have an obligation to circulate,” Stiel says. Don’t leave guests to fend for themselves. Introduce guests to each other. Parenthood is the great equalizer and kids are a natural conversation starter.
Stay calm when things don’t go exactly as planned. “Make it easy on yourself so that stress doesn’t take over and put a damper on your day,” Samuels says. “Hosting is challenging, but it shouldn’t make you miserable.” Whatever happens, know that the party was perfect just the way it was. “If your child had fun, it was a success,” Samuels says.
Sandra Gordon is an award-winning freelance writer who delivers expert advice in health, nutrition, parenting, travel and consumer issues.