Ready, Set, Party!

Countdown to a Stress Free Birthday Party

By Sarah Lyons

Birthday parties don’t have to be stressful or expensive. If you plan properly and strive for simplicity, your kids still can have just as much fun as they would if you had spent hundreds of dollars! Check out these tips to help make planning your child’s birthday party easy and stress-free.

Birthday Fun Zones Away From Home

While home parties can be less expensive, taking the party to a business that specializes in parties can save you so much time and energy (and maybe a few headaches). First off, you don’t have to clean your house twice (before AND after the party). Secondly, you’ll get a party host who can help run the show for you. Thirdly (and best of all), your party will have a definite end time, so kids won’t be hanging around long after the party ends. Whether it’s an indoor pool party or a bowling alley bash, there are plenty of venues that are both fun and easy on the wallet. Here are some location ideas for kids of all ages:

Art studios

Bouncy house places

Bowling alleys

Cooking schools

Craft stores

Dance studios

Family fun centers

Farms or petting zoos

Gymnastic & fitness centers

Ice cream parlors

Ice rinks

Indoor pools

Indoor soccer fields

Karaoke spots

Karate studios

Mini golf

Movie theaters


Music studios

Nail salons or spas

Nature centers

Pizza places with video games

Pony riding barns

Pottery studios

Rock climbing places

Roller skating rinks

Tea stores

Trampoline parks


CHOOSE A THEME. A themed party is a great idea. Having a focus will help you plan and execute your party without a hitch. Several months before your party date, brainstorm themes with your guest of honor. (See theme ideas here.)

PICK A DATE AND MAKE A GUEST LIST. Before setting a birthday party date, check with extra special guests to make sure they’re available. Your child won’t be happy if his/her best friend will be out of town that weekend. After selecting a date, decide with your child whether to invite the entire daycare, preschool or school class, or just a handful of his or her best buds. )

BOOK THE ENTERTAINMENT. If you want to bring in outside entertainment, such as a balloon animal expert, storybook character, the we-bring-the-petting-zoo-to-you folks or a face painter, get them while you can. Be sure to ask the entertainers about any setup requirements they may need so you’re fully prepared.

CHOOSE A VENUE. Popular party venues fill up early, so once you have your theme and know you will need a location away from home, get your reservations nailed down two to three months in advance. (See sidebar for venue ideas.)

SEND OUT INVITATIONS. Evite wins hands-down for quick and easy party invites. Just visit, select a theme, add in your guests’ e-mail addresses, and send your invitations. Two weeks notice is usually just the right amount of time. But if it’s a busy time of year, add another week or two.

KEEP DECORATIONS EASY AND SIMPLE. From banners and confetti to balloons, party favors and tableware, shop local when you can to support your local economy, but for those hard-to-locate items, don’t burn up time ad gas searching for what you can easily find online.

KEEP FOOD SIMPLE. For an easy and quick way to feed your party, pick up a pizza and a veggie/fruit tray, set up a nacho or pasta bar, let kids build their own mini pizzas or sandwiches, or ask other parents to bring a side dish and make it a potluck.

MAKE DESSERT EASY. Cakes and cupcakes can get expensive when you make them from scratch. Besides, the kids will probably like the local big-box or grocery store sheet cakes just as much as homemade. Order one week ahead for pickup up on party day for the freshest results. Or, if you have time to whip up a dozen cupcakes, do so, but don’t frost or decorate them. Instead, let the kids have fun decorating their own with icing and sprinkles at the party!

SET UP A DAY AHEAD. If you are ordering any large food deliveries like pizza, place your order a day ahead. Also tackle as much prep work as you can (decorations, food prep, activity prep, etc.). Everything will go smoother on party day if you take care of as much as you can the day before.

LET THE (SIMPLE!) GAMES BEGIN. Once guests arrive, your plan should be simple – a craft, a few games, then cake, presents and maybe another game. Do a ring-toss that “lassos” little plastic or stuffed animals, have water balloon relay races, play musical chairs or “hot potato” with a bean bag or a soccer ball. There’s no end of ways to update tried-and-true party games.

DROP THE GOODY BAG. Consider letting the party be favor enough or simply offering a small treat to guests on the way out like a lollipop or a candy necklace. Other ideas: Let the craft be the goody the kids take home; buy a bunch of mylar balloons, write each guest’s name on a balloon and tie something cute like a bracelet or a Lego mini figure to the balloon to weigh it down; or buy a pinata, hand out cellophane bags, and let the kids collect their own candy.

DOCUMENT THE DAY! Enjoy every memorable moment. Designate a party photographer, if your hands will be full to document the day.

AFTER THE PARTY. Help your child send thank-you notes. They’re the right thing to do, not matter what your child’s age. They’re a tangible act of good manners and teach children gratitude.

REFLECT ON THE EXPERIENCE. Talk with your child about what the birthday party was like. Also, make a mental note about what you personally gained from the experience and what you would do differently next time.

Bottom line. Whatever happens, know that if your child had fun, the party was a huge success.