Comparison may be the thief of joy, but in the era of Pinterest, custom party favors and Instagram party photos gone viral, it can be hard not to measure your birthday party planning skills against other moms. We talked with four local experts who agree the keys to throwing kids parties (parties for kids or kid parties) are keeping things simple, sticking to a budget and focusing on what brings your child the most joy.
In hopes of both inspiring creativity and encouraging parents to let go of stress to enjoy kid birthday parties themselves, the following are handy tips from local experts about themes, favors and easily-rectified parent mistakes. We thank our expert panel: Chelsey Flint of Chelsey Flint Events, Annalisa Douglass of Okie Kids Playground, Kara Chapman of Forever After Parties and Darlene Drew of Sunburst Gifts.
Top trends in birthday party themes
For little ones, fruit is, quite literally, taking the cake. Douglass has recently planned “One in a Melon,” “You’re a Peach” and “Bananas for Two” parties. Flint has also styled “Sweet as a Peach” and “Main Squeeze” parties and says she loves the simplicity and sweetness of the fruit theme, easy for anyone to pull together.
Focusing on a child’s favorite color is another popular option to simplify party trappings and decor. Douglass has seen a return in space-themed parties this fall, and Drew says scavenger hunt parties are making a comeback as well. Fairy parties and circus themes have been top requests for Flint this fall.
Character parties never go out of style, with Frozen ramping back up as the new movie comes out this month. Superheroes are always a hit, with Batman, Superman and Captain America being Chapman’s top character requests for boys, and newly added Mickey and Minnie Mouse have been a huge hit among kids and adults alike. Chapman says its the characters who evoke nostalgia for kids and adults of all ages that are most popular right now.
Girly dinosaur parties have been all the rage this year, keeping both Douglass and Flint thinking creatively as they’ve paired ferocious dinos with frilly tutus and pink pom pom hats.
For older kids karaoke parties let them live out their dreams of superstardom. As Chapman’s 11-year-old twins get older, she’s added more tween and teen party themes to her repertoire, including rockstar, cheer and dance themes with guests learning and performing routines. Chapman says she’s realized older kids often want to be at home where they can enjoy a favorite activity and then retreat to hang out with friends in their rooms.
One of Flint’s most memorable parties was Target themed for a little girl who loves the superstore, which goes to show a party can be made out of anything a child enjoys!
When it comes to cake, anything personalized, especially cakes in the shape of the birthday kid’s age or donuts that spell out his or her name or Happy Birthday are on trend, according to Drew, both of which can easily be matched to any birthday party theme.
Staying in budget
Our experts agree all party planning should begin with setting a party budget. Decide how much to spend overall, then determine how much to spend on decor, food, entertainment and favors, keeping in mind which aspects will bring the birthday child the most joy. Consider which items to splurge on and where you can save money, keeping track of expenditures as you go.
While it can be hard to pay for a venue, planner or character party in one fell swoop, parents can end up spending less than when they are purchasing items here and there, not even realizing how much they are spending all together.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, sometimes hiring party help can HELP parents stay within their budgets and even save money. Party planners or venues may come with decor or tableware included. For example, Flint brings decor and unique cake stands while Chapman’s characters and helpers come armed with games and entertainment, all included in their pricing.
Party planners often know the best places to get cost-effective party goods or receive a discount passed on to you when booking characters or other entertainment.
Douglass offers a wide range of party packages at Okie Kids to fit every family’s budget, with just as much time, energy and planning going into make each one special. Flint, too, works within a large range of party budgets, helping clients determine where to splurge and where to save, ensuring her clients stick within predetermined spending limits and passing on her expertise in minimizing expenses without compromising fun.
“Instead of a custom expensive cake, get a store-bought one and decorate it to go with the theme,” said Flint, who often adds fruit, flowers or other festive decor to personalize simple cakes.
Party favor frenzy
The era of goodie bags full of plastic trinkets is coming to a close (insert sigh of relief!). Our experts agree when parents spend money on favors they want something meaningful that won’t go straight to the trash. It’s always OK to opt for no favors at all, but if you’re shopping for trendy favors think:
- Crafty. Turn an activity at the party into a favor kids can take home. At one of Flint’s fairy parties, guests painted fairy houses to take home. At a ladybug themed soiree, kids decorated flower pots and planted flowers.
- Snacks. Douglass’ parties at Okie Kids come with edible favors. From custom cookies that match the theme to the birthday kid’s favorite snack (think: goldfish, Oreos, gummy bears), treats are a tasty way to say “thanks for coming.”
- Snuggly. Stuffed animals can be a great option for small parties. Flint designed a puppy-themed party where kids got to “adopt” stuffed puppies to take home, complete with adoption certificates.
- Glow-in-the-dark. Glow-in-the-dark anything is a hit with kids of all ages. Drew recommends getting a package of glow sticks, rings, bracelets or glasses on Amazon that kids can open, wear and have fun with at the party, and then take several home.
- Sincerely. A simple card that thanks kids for coming, with or without a treat bag, is always a nice touch.
Chapman reminds parents: “20 years from now, they won’t remember what their party favors were. What they will remember is how they felt during their party.”
Biggest mistakes parents make
- Buying too much food. Chapman recommends keeping food simple, like pizza and a fruit tray, because kids are often so busy playing they don’t take time to eat. Planners like Flint are knowledgeable about how much food to purchase based on the party size and duration, a real asset to keep from overspending or wasting food.
- Planning too many activities. Flint advises not to plan every minute of the party because kids will inevitably make up their own games and fun. Planning and budgeting for just a few activities is typically enough to fill a two-hour party.
- Working so hard they don’t get to enjoy the party. All our experts agree parents should get to truly enjoy their kids’ parties, see the joy on their faces, interact with other parents and even play with the kids. Consider that planners and venues often handle set-up and clean-up, both of which can be sanity savers. Whether delegating tasks means hiring help, or simply asking grandparents or friends to take charge of cutting the cake, opening juice boxes or passing out favors, consider ways to delegate duties up front to cut down on stress so you can fill up on fun.