Age -by- Age Birthday Guide: Pro secrets for planning a no-fuss birthday party

Age -by- Age  Birthday Guide: Pro secrets for planning a no-fuss birthday party

By Amy Baskin

Remember birthday parties when you were a kid? You draped streamers around the house, devoured cake with gooey icing and peeked while pinning the tail on the donkey. But now, there are even more options for birthday parties from bowling to tumbling. However, a bowling party that went so well for your six-year-old probably won’t work as well for your two-year-old. Don’t fret, the party pros are here to help you plan a fabulous fête for any age.

Choose a theme

Once you’ve got a theme, party planning is a piece of cake. Start with your kid’s interests or try these ideas:

Ages 1-2: That milestone of one year is really all about the family and the parents’ friends. Lots of pictures, singing “Happy Birthday,” and cake all over the baby’s face--such is the stuff of birthday parties for wee ones.

Ages 3–4: Bugs, butterflies and bubbles have endless possibilities. Kids can make egg-carton caterpillars, munch gummi worms and blow bubbles. 

Ages 5–8: Princess, pirate or superhero parties can’t miss. Horses, unicorns, and book and movie themes also rule. Donna Travis, owner of Party TIme in Baton Rouge, suggests, “On the invitations, you can invite the kids to wear their pajamas and bring a stuffed animal. For girls, they can have dinner, have their nails painted, watch a movie with popcorn, and it’s a success.” Donna modified the mock sleepover with her son by having a “camping” party in the backyard. Grilling hot dogs, telling ghost stories around a campfire, and playing in a tent are just a few possibilities.

Ages 9 and up: You’ll know what the kids really like now, and there are endless opportunities for themed birthday parties at home or special interests in town. Girls may want to go get pedis at a spa. Kids can go to parks, sports locations, and entertainment venues.


Spread the word

Party invitations today reflect just about every theme and interest, and let’s face it, this can make life easy and fun when you already have a lot going on with party ideas. But it’s also a thrill for kids to make invitations. Buy blank cards and glue sticks and let them go wild with stickers, foil paper or theme-related trinkets. 

Give guests a heads-up at least two weeks before the big event. Mail, email or drop invitations at kids’ houses. People may forget to RSVP, so make follow-up phone calls with parents as needed. Also consider inviting (and paying) energetic high school students to lead games and give out munchies.


Know your numbers 

Remember that old “your child’s age equals the number of guests” rule of inviting? Forget it. You need enough kids to play games and sit around a table. For preschoolers, try 8-10 guests. If your space is small, remember that some parents will remain party-side with their tots. Many school-aged kids invite all the girls or all the boys in their class. But 8-12 guests is ideal.


Time it right

Weekend bashes are recommended. Have a Christmas or summer baby? Celebrate with family on the actual birthday, and plan a friend party for a month later. As for duration, a two-hour party is perfect. Parents’ most common mistake is parties that run too long. For preschoolers, 10 a.m. to noon or 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. is ideal. Prepare in the morning and host an afternoon or evening event for older kids—they’re raring to go at any time.


Keep them busy

Avoid lapses in activities. Since kids trickle in at different times, offer simple opening activities like these:

Ages 3–5: Ease them in with Play-Doh or cornstarch goop. Then, encourage kids to circulate around play centers such as ride-on toys, bubbles, musical instruments and puppet play.

Ages 6–8: Offer three quiet activity stations based on your theme. If you have a Secret Garden party, have kids choose their “wings,” decorate them, and get their cheeks painted with a small design.


Get crafty

Be warned: Crafts captivate girls more than boys. So, try these ideas and provide an alternative for the art-averse:

Ages 3–5: Color and add stickers to cardboard party hats or foam tiaras. Ask lounging parents to help their kids.

Ages 6–8: Cover the party table with a paper tablecloth and let guests doodle or write birthday messages with crayons. For a permanent memento, use fabric markers on a fabric tablecloth. Painting wooden or ceramic figures and beading are also big hits.


Get gaming

Forget researching the latest games—kids crave the classics. Try these hits:

Musical hoops (all ages): Buy one hoop per child from a dollar store. Place them on the floor and play cool music as the kids march around, jumping in a hoop when the tunes stop. Each round, remove a hoop, but not a child. At the end, the whole group crams in the one remaining hoop—by sticking in a toe,
a foot or even a hand.

Treasure hunt: Try burying clues outdoors or upstairs and downstairs, so kids get to burn off steam. Give gold coins as treasure at the end.


Worries about winning

Stick with co-operative games like a treasure hunt where everyone helps solve the clues. Or keep playing rounds of a game until everyone wins. Award prizes like suckers, little bouncy balls or rings. Keep a paper bag labelled with each child’s name at the front door, so they can stash their prizes.

Ages 3–5: Show picture instructions of where to find the next clue (such as the blue couch).

Ages 6–8: Let guests solve limerick or poem clues.


Chow down

Seat a large group picnic-style on a vinyl tablecloth spread out on the floor. Or place a card table next to your dining room table and cover it all with one cloth. For preschooler parties, borrow a bunch of child-sized plastic picnic tables from friends.

Ages 3–5: Parents go to great lengths to put on a big spread of food, and kids don’t touch it. Offer only familiar foods: juice (drinking boxes if the kids are seated on the floor), veggies and dip, tiny cheese or peanut butter sandwiches (check for allergies), goldfish crackers, fruit kebabs and cake.

Ages 6–8: Dish out hot dogs or pizza along with veggies and dip. Make impressive pinwheels and stacked mini-sandwiches. Or make shape sandwiches with cookie cutters. With Pinterest, great DIY ideas await.


The goods on goody bags

Kids love goodies and a bag of candy from Pre-K ages on. Just keep them simple and inexpensive. Donna from Party Time says, “Candy buffets are very popular now. You can use either a child’s favorite candies or use candies that are certain colors. If the party theme is Frozen, for example, lavender and pink goodies are great. Kids can each have a little container and use little plastic scoops to select their candy for their party favor.” 

Ages 3–4: Give one main item instead of a bag of fiddly things. Try sidewalk chalk, bubbles, a hula hoop or big colored ball.

Ages 5–8: Kids always love theme-related candy, hair clips, bracelets or action figures at the dollar or party store. Crafts completed at the party, such as painted birdhouses or ceramics, also make great favors.

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03 Jun 2016

By Amy Baskin

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