5 stellar ideas for the perfect at-home birthday party
Ten years ago I gave birth to my first child — and my inner event planner. And since that very first First Birthday party, I have spent hours plotting and planning, browsing and building birthday invitations, party favors, decorations, activities and themes, and I have reveled in it.
I knew that someday, my party planning train would be derailed by small fry who wanted to run their own show(s), but when my soon-to-be 10-year-old vetoed my theme suggestions for her party a few years ago, I was surprisingly offended. After all, hadn't she enjoyed her past birthdays? But, as all you party lovers know, the fun of the party begins with the planning, and starting now I'll get to watch creativity bloom and share the experience with my girl as she creates her own events.
We throw the majority of our birthdays at home simply because we like to linger, and most rental spaces shoo you in and out in two hours. Plus, it gives us more flexibility with decorations. But if you want to keep the party out of your house, check out our guide to places to party. Themed parties are a favorite because you can put in as much detail as your imagination inspires. After all, beauty is in the details. Here are some ideas from parties we have thrown in the past.
Christmas in June
I always wished for a summer birthday when I was a kid so I could have my party outside. As a January baby in the Pacific Northwest, I was doomed to disappointment. What a surprise it was to discover that my June baby wanted a holiday theme.
So, I picked out a Christmas card and wrote her invitation to the cadence of ‘Twas the Night before Christmas. Did you know that you can buy holiday stamps at USPS.com in the summer? Well, you can.
It is also the best time of year to buy artificial Christmas trees. We got a 6-foot floor-model tree on super sale, and one party activity was decorating the tree with construction paper chains and pipe cleaner candy canes. For a second activity, I baked a ton of cut-out sugar cookies (they freeze well and can be made in advance), and kids decorated them with frosting, candies and sprinkles to take home – although most of them were eaten well before the party's end.
Green frosting and green sprinkles on chocolate cupcakes were set on graduated cardboard rounds to make a Christmas tree "cake," and we convinced Santa to take a break from his summer vacation to visit. He arrived in his Santa coat and Bermuda shorts to hand out candy canes and play a few carols and the birthday song on his guitar.
The greatest part of this theme is that it is so general. Since we didn't specify an island, we felt free to incorporate ideas from lots of them. Invitations were in a clear plastic bottle filled with sand, toy palm trees and shells. These can be found online or at party stores, and while they do cost more to send, the post office will actually deliver them and they really set the tone for the party.
We hired a ukulele musician, bought plastic inflatable palm trees and borrowed a snow cone machine. Guests were encouraged to come in tropical gear, leis were passed all around and we served some awesome Cuban food. My favorite part of this party was the volcano cake, which is easy to create with graduated cake rounds and an extra layer for crumbling volcano pieces.
For my trucks and building-obsessed son, we came up with a construction theme. I created a coloring page invitation using a black and white outline of a bulldozer with my son's photo superimposed in the drivers' seats, and then we mailed it out with a few crayons.
We used large plastic dump trucks and bulldozers on the food table to hold snacks like string cheese and Pirate Booty. The kids' lunches, though, were served in the take-home gifts: plastic versions of the classic black construction lunchbox.
Besides providing plenty of large vehicles to push around, we asked our parent-toddler music teacher to come and lead the group in songs with vehicle themes.
Early last year, my son decided on a worm theme, and he never wavered, which left us scratching our heads for a good activity. We ended up creating a worm race game. Kids poked their heads through holes in large plastic bags (no arm holes) and had to squirm their way across the floor to the finish line on their bellies. It was fun, it was funny and I was thoroughly impressed with the ingenuity of some of them as they "wormed" their way through the race.
Dirt cake was served, with crushed Oreos on top and gummy creatures crawling out of it, and the take-home gifts were bait cups of night crawlers and gummy worms (in separate containers, of course.)
A few party tips
Always re-confirm anything you have ordered three to five days in advance of the party. Orders get lost and forgotten, and you don’t want to be caught without your entertainment, food or cake at the last minute.
Always have enough adults on hand to help manage the kids, the food or the activities.
Write out a party schedule with activity times to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Try to get as much done (party favors wrapped, cake made, house cleaned, etc.) as far ahead of the party as you possibly can, so you can enjoy the day as much as your birthday star. Finally, don’t forget to charge your camera battery.
Editor's Note: This updated article was originally published in April of 2011.