Children birthday parties are like road trips: getting there is half the fun! Deciding on the theme, decorations, and activities makes the days leading up to the event seem like part of the celebration itself. It does not need to be elaborate as kids will be happy with a small party as long as they are made to feel special. Even a simple birthday party requires you to start planning and organizing early on so you have fewer details you’ll have to work out on the day itself. The birthday child will likely have ideas about the kind of party they want, so involve them in the planning. Let your child pick the theme, go with you shopping, help with decorating, and take part in baking the cake. Doing so helps spread out the anticipation; that way the focus isn’t on a couple of hours of a single day. Although it might be more efficient to do it all yourself, there’s pleasure in working with your child toward an important goal. Plus, they have the reward of enjoying with their friends the magical day they helped plan. Below is step by step on how to plan the perfect child’s birthday party. 

Pre-Party Timeline

About eight to six weeks before the party, you should choose the theme, make the guest list, confirm the date with your child’s best friend, and reserve off-site space. Then, about four weeks ahead of the celebration, you’ll want to write out invitations; make sure to have an updated class list; and decide on games, activities, and food.

You’ll mail invitations, purchase party goods, start to make any homemade decorations and favors, arrange for extra help (if needed) three weeks out. One to two weeks before is when you should purchase crafts supplies and favors, draw up a schedule of activities, make samples of planned crafts, and call guests who have not yet responded.

You’ll have to do a few things the week of, too. Three days before the party, plan to buy the food. One to two days before, you’ll want to bale the cake or cupcakes, decorate your home or be sure off-site supplies are gathered, and prepare make-ahead foods.

The Guest List

Make sure your child’s best friend is free before you set the date. When including classmates, think “all”-all the kids, all the boys, or all the girls-if you want to avoid hurt feelings. If you’re not inviting lots of classmates, the rule of thumb is to ask as many kids as your child’s age plus one. But take into account the activities you’re planning. A larger, even number of kids-at least eight or 10-may be best for teams game at a 5 year olds party, but you may want just three guests for a 7-year-old’s sleepover. 


Mail Invitations three weeks before the party. Even if your child’s school permits distribution of invitations on the premises (many don’t unless the whole class is included), it’s better not to. That way, children who aren’t invited are less likely to feel left out. Include the date, location (with directions), drop-off and pick-up times, and R.S.V.P. information. Spell out anything to bring, such as a swimsuit and towel. State if you’ll be serving lunch or dinner, and mention any specific entertainment. Ensure to call parents who have not responded the week before the party; invitations can get lost.

Enlisting Helpers

You can’t greet guests while supervising a game or cut the cake while pouring drinks, so figure on having one helper for every four to six children. Ask other parents, older sibling, or other family members ahead of time to help.

Where to Have It

At an at-home party, the birthday child’s on his own turf, and you know where to find everything. To keep kids from wandering around, define the party area with balloons and streamers, and close doors to other rooms. Parks or the backyard are great for summer birthdays- just be sure to have a backup plan in case of rain. With outdoor parties it is a good idea to mark the party’s boundaries to ensure all the children are in sight at all times. 

If your home is not an ideal place for the party consider having the party at your local community centers, YMCA, or other facilities such as movie theaters, swimming pools, and indoor amusement parks. Prices vary according to location and what is all involved with the party. Book at least six weeks in advance, and get the name of a contact person. You may only have a short time to decorate a rented space, so use portable decorations and plan for another adult or two to help you.

When to Have It

Schedule parties for young children when they will be at their best, neither too sleepy nor too hungry. After nap time works well for toddlers while lunchtime is good for preschoolers. As kids grow older, timing becomes a less important factor. For toddlers and preschoolers they do best with parties kept to an hour and a half, while school-age kids are good with two to three hours.

What to Serve

Spend time on baking and decorating your child’s birthday cake or cupcakes it is worth the effort. You can save time by choosing other foods that are easy to serve, eat, and clean up. That said, even simple food can seem special. You can cut sandwiches into cute shapes using cookie cutters; or use a knife to cut them up into pieces like a puzzle. For at home parties you can have each guest make their own pizza.

Choosing Favors

Even though dollar-store trinkets and candy are a popular, inexpensive party favor- to give your party an extra special touch be creative and match the goodies to the theme. For example you might give a teacup for a tea party or an action figure for a character party. You can also decorate with items that guests can take with them when the party is done, such as posters or pennants for a baseball party.

What to Do

Having a day of timeline is important. It’s helpful to divide the party into time increments, with a new activity for each block of time. If you have an entertainer booked plan for about 30-45 minutes for them to do their routine or kids may lose interest. If a game or craft isn’t going well, drop it and move on; if kids enjoy a particular game, let it run longer than planned. To keep the party moving, jot down the schedule on an index card, and then refer to it frequently. As kids arrive, you might usher them to do a certain activity where they can busy themselves until more guests arrive. Ensure to keep the games and activities simple for toddlers while the older kids need more stimulation: you can plan organized activities based on what your child loves to do, or consider booking an entertainer.

Hiring an Entertainer

When hiring and entertainer gather references from other parents as well as children community centers. When you call a potential entertainer, ask what age group the show is designed for before you mention your child’s age. While magicians and clowns are classic for kids’ parties, there are lots of other kid-pleasing options: such as balloon artists, mobile petting zoo’s, hairstylists or manicurists, choreographers or dance teachers, face painters, and DJs.

A Proper Good-Bye

At the end of the party have the birthday child personally say thank-you and good-bye to each guest at the door, and have them hand a party favor bag to their guests as they leave.

~Brett Ellis, Imagine Events