Let's Party!


From games to goodie bags, get inspired
with these creative party-planning ideas

Story by Mara Severin

Allison Biastock’s mother Jean was a gifted party-thrower. Biastock, now a mother herself, remembers every detail of her childhood birthdays – there was the Victorian-themed party where all the girls dressed-up and were treated to a tea party with fancy cups and saucers, little finger sandwiches, and petits fours.

The girls played old-fashioned party games that her mother researched at the library.

Then there was the Japanese-themed party: “All the girls dressed up in kimonos,” she recalls, “which were, for the most part, their moms’ old bathrobes with a scarf around the waist.” Her mother served Japanese food (though, says Biastock, “no sushi – this was the 80s”) including a cake decorated with cherry blossoms. The guests did origami and the room was festooned with paper lanterns and parasols. “It was so unique,” she remembers.

When it comes to planning a child’s party, all parents hope to pull off what Biastock’s mom did: magical memories that will last into adulthood. If you’re not a naturally gifted host, then you’ll have to learn from those who are.

A terrific party starts with your terrific child, says Connie Tracy of Designing Divas Event and Party Planners in Wasilla. She and partner Andrea Engbretsen always start with the guest of honor. “We ask a lot of questions,” Tracy says. “What’s your favorite color? What is your room like? What’s your favorite thing in it?” Your child’s own personality might be just the inspiration you need to spark your inner-party-planning genius.

If your child is of the tiara-wearing variety, Debbie Feiereisen of The Perfect Party in North Pole can help you take a princess party to the next level. A castle backdrop, princess dresses (and knights’ armor) as well as medieval table décor can all make a tried-and-true party theme something special.

A camping-themed party is good for both boys and girls, and if you’re like many Alaskans, you probably have everything you need in your garage. A khaki color palette, a couple of tents, and a campfire could set the mood. Activities could include a fishing game, camp songs, or a silly nature walk (think teddy bears in trees). Or make it a scout party and have children “earn” merit badges. When their sash gets filled, the child gets a prize like a compass, harmonica, bear bell or flashlight. The food? S’mores, trail-mix, and hot dogs cooked over the fire, of course!

Let the seasons inspire you and your guests. Plan a springtime flower party where kids decorate terra-cotta pots, plant them with blooming geraniums or impatiens, and bring home packets of seeds or gardening gloves. A winter party might take place on a sledding hill – then back home for cake and hot chocolate. What could be simpler?

Whatever your theme, says Tracy, make sure you have a clear timeline and enough fun activities planned. “Organization is so important,” she says. Two hours will seem like an awfully long time if you have a houseful of children who are bored or unsupervised. If you don’t have a plan, children will make one, she says. Instead of your games, they could end up playing “let’s jump on the furniture.” “Some parents frown on that,” she adds with a laugh.

A craft table will keep your first guests busy while the others are arriving. Depending on your party’s theme, guests can decorate paper crowns, straw cowboy hats, flip-flops or flower pots. Lunch bags that can later serve as goody-bags are inexpensive and fun to embellish. Crayons, glitter, and stickers require minimal supervision if your crowd is very young. Let the artistic juices flow or give simple directions to get the ball rolling – draw the birthday boy, for example, or a funny monster.

Another nice way to set the tone of the party early on is to give out a small accessory to each guest as they arrive – a bandana, a tiara, a magic wand, a sheriff’s badge, a pirate’s eye patch – these can all help your guests get into the spirit of the event and may help them begin interacting with each other.

Once guests arrive, your plan should be simple – “a craft, a few games, then cake, presents and maybe another game,” says Tracy. Do a ring-toss that “lassos” little plastic or stuffed horses or a beanbag toss into a pirate’s chest or fishing pond. Play “hot potato” with a horseshoe, or a glass slipper, or a soccer ball. There’s no end of ways to update tried-and-true party games.

Above all, know your audience. A princess party might not thrill little boy guests. Complicated games or elaborate crafts may perplex the early pre-school set. Older kids might want more independence and less planning. Anchorage mom Joann Mitchell keeps things simple. Most recently, she rented the bunker in Kincaid Park for her son’s birthday party. “Simon's party last fall was a hit. The kids brought their bikes and scooters and had a great time riding around inside. I think you can never remind yourself enough that kids really don't need much to have a good time,” she says. “And for boys, if it involves wheels, it's hard to go wrong.”

So start planning those memories with joy and confidence, with help or on your own. Sometimes the most expert party-planner is just a creative mom.