Over the years, I’ve planned and hosted more birthday parties than any sane person should, and have developed a few convictions along the way, such as “Goody bags are my nemesis” and “a good party planner is a gift dropped down from Heaven.” Since it doesn’t look like kids are going to stop having birthdays any time soon, a few tips from the party experts sure can help. Below find seven great tips from some of our fave NJ party planners and venues.
1. Plan, plan, plan. But don’t stress. The overwhelming consensus is that a carefully planned party reduces stress, but an overly planned one might just put you in the loony bin. Kelly Heinze of “Music And More With Kelly” says “The biggest mistake parents make is not being organized and prepared. Forgetting necessary items, not having enough food, food arriving too late, not feeding adults…these are all common mistakes that can be avoided with proper planning and organization.” But at the same time, attending slavishly to every minor detail will kill any sense of spontaneity and defeats your purpose, which is for your kid to have a fun time. Michael Napolitano of Preschool of Rock says “There are so many variables. A parent may get torn in many directions and lose focus of what is important. The most important thing is your child!”
2. Wait… how many people are invited?? So whom to invite—just family? Just friends? The entire class? Some school classrooms have an “invite one, invite all” policy, so be aware. Jillian Schiazza of iPlay America has a trick: “Deciding how many children to invite can be tricky, but a good guideline is to invite according to ‘age plus one’ – so if your child is turning 7, the party would include 8 guests.”
3. And parents too? Whether or not parents are present frequently depends on the children’s age, distance traveled to the party, and whether or not you’ve specified “drop-off.” To be on the safe side, Rebecca Swift of Sahara Sam’s Water Oasis says, “Whether you are having the party at your house or a venue, always plan on at least one adult per child staying. While not every adult will stay, it’s better to be prepared.” Generally, this means two things: have enough space and have enough food. And even if you’ve specified that this is a “drop-off” party, Swift recommends, “Make sure that you have enough adult chaperones. It may be your child’s birthday but you still want to be able to enjoy yourself.”
4. To Goody or not to Goody, that is the question… We live in the age of the “Goody Bag” and there’s no way around it, unless you’re brave enough to just give hugs as your guests leave. Our own Jennifer Battista wrote a great article about interesting choices for goody bags; some other possibilities include Zumba instructor Caroline Panico’s idea of “Picture frames. Take a group photo at the party, then include the photo in a thank-you card once the party is over.” Swift says, “Plastic water bottles with ribbon, stickers, bubbles and thank you cards” and Heinze says “A real musical instrument is a favorite of mine.” Of course, she’s talking a kazoo or harmonica, not a guitar.
5. But they just throw the thank-you cards away! That may be true, but all the party planners are in agreement: thank-you cards are important, for many reasons. Schiazza reminds us, “No one has to give a gift, and expressing gratefulness for their consideration is the gracious thing to do”; Napolitano backs her up with “People take the time out of their very busy schedules to purchase a gift and attend your party. A thank you takes 5 minutes to write,” and Heinze goes right to the heart of the matter: “Our children learn a good lesson when required to send thank you notes.”
6. Well, isn’t that special? For special parties, such as a first birthday or a ‘tween bash, a few fundamentals apply. For your special one-year old, Napolitano says, “Let's be honest, the child is going to have fun regardless. We just need to shower them with love and family.” Shower, but don’t overwhelm, of course. If you have a child that is overstimulated easily, Heinze reassures the parent with a wish to celebrate ‘big’ that “an intimate home party with a few friends can be very comforting.” For ‘tweens, of course, there are a whole other set of ‘rules’. Swift says, “For tween parties, let the birthday child do most of the planning, within reason. They will be proud to have planned the party ‘by themselves’.” As far as the entertainment goes for this age range, “music and magic are very popular” says Napolitano, and if you have a ‘tween of the female persuasion, Panico says “A spa-themed party! You can do this at home, but there are lots of places that offer tween packages. If doing it at home, you can purchase inexpensive hair towels for the guests, have them bring their own bathrobe and slippers to cut down the cost. Purchase cucumbers for their eyes and have a parent do a facial, manicure or pedicure.”
7. The heart of the matter. When it comes down to the important things, the experts agree again. Napolitano advises, “Spend time with your child during the party!” and Swift agrees, “Take a deep breath, and make sure the birthday child is having a good time.” Keepin’ it simple, right?