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Saturday, March 15, 2014

party on kids! - invites & timing

I LOVE birthday parties!
I love any type of party, really.
And planning parties for my kids has taken my love of celebration to a whole new level.
As has, Pinterest, but that's another post.

Welcome to our next series on the blog, PARTY ON, KIDS! 
I hope the next few posts will help you tackle this party planning business for your child's next birthday or other type of party. We will feature several moms who have planned super adorable parties, too. If you have a great party you want to share, please email me at

Who? What? Where? When?
This first post is about the timing, inviting guests, and how to go about getting the word out about your party. The first thing you should do when planning a party is not only think of the theme (if you want a theme, not everyone does), but then decide the date, time and location of the party.

You can't please everyone.
The biggest thing to remember when planning your child's party is that you cannot ever please everyone involved. Some kids nap from 9-12, some from 12-3, some later than 4. You cannot possibly take into consideration all of the nap times, as nice as you may be, it's not going to work if you do that. My advice here is to do what works for YOUR child and your family. We have always scheduled parties around the time our kids wake up from nap, because they are happiest and more relaxed and easygoing at that point in their day. So are we! We use the nap time to prepare the last minute things for the party, it's a win-win.

A few easy steps to help you in this process:

  • Determine date - Some people want the party on the day of their child's real birthday. If that's midweek, some like to do it the weekend before or after. I think it's personal preference whether people like Saturday or Sunday parties. Some people don't like Saturday parties because it's their errand, gymnastics, work type of weekend day. Others don't like Sunday because it's their church, relaxation, get ready for the work week type of day. I honestly don't think it matters, do what works for you. 
  • Determine time - This is something that should work primarily for your child, then your family, then take into consideration guests. I had a friend tell me, "Can you imagine she'd plan a party from 2-4, that's crazy, that's nap time!?" I usually do my parties during that timeframe because my kids wake at 2/2:30... My opinion on this is if guests have an issue with the timing, they simply won't attend, that's OK for them to choose to do. We all have to do what's best for our kids. So choose time that works for you. Typically what I see is a two-hour timeframe. You don't have to put an end time on the invite, but sometimes it's helpful to moms in case they are running late to know how long they have to get there and enjoy the party. 
  • Make a guest list - Figuring out who you are inviting and how many people will help you to determine the location of the party. This past year we wanted to invite a few more of my son's cousins who are his buddies, but our immediate family is about 30 people so we could not invite more friends if the party was at our house. This meant we needed to start looking into someplace else to have the party. Consider who you are inviting. 
    • A note about guest lists: Do what works for you. We have always only invited immediate family... with both my husband being from large families, we each have three siblings, they have families and kids, and then we our kids' have six grandparents and Godparents... it gets quite large! It's at least 30 people. Our house is small and we are always on a tight budget so we've typically had parties at our house. I've always felt bad not inviting our about 5 other close friends and their kids to the parties, but if we invite one of them we'd have to invite all of them... and that would be at least another 10 people... our house just would not fit them all. So instead the last few years what we've done is schedule play dates with our kids' close buddies or a pizza night out with their other cousins to celebrate. We tell them no gifts, let's just hang out for fun to celebrate. 
    • Another thing I've noticed about kids' birthday parties is that just because people were invited last year doesn't mean they have to be invited the following year. We have been invited to many parties one time and then not the following year. That is totally OK! It's normal for things to change up, or kids to be at different stages of development. It's also OK to invite guests to one of your child's parties but not the other child's party a few months later. Again, do what works for you without being worried you'll offend someone. 
  • Decide on a location - At home? At a family member's house? At a party location or church hall room? I will be sharing many great locations in another post. Think outside the box. I've found that local animal shelters do parties! How fun is that?! 
  • Send invitation - I'm a planner so I always start planning my kids' parties way in advance. I also feel like we have a very busy schedule, invited to many events, so I like to know in advance what's coming up. So I stick to the rule that we send invitations to our parties 3-4 weeks in advance. Most of my reason for this is my own excitement, it's hard to contain how excited I get about birthday parties! But honestly, being a planner, it's nice to have a heads up about what's coming, buying birthday presents, etc. 
    • The invitation sets the tone for the party sometimes. You can tie in a theme with the use of an invite, or share info you want them to know about via the invite. It's fun! Play around with it and try new things.
    • I always include on the invite what type of food we're having (snacks and dessert) or if it's a meal so parents can be prepared ahead of time. I also always include what we want them to bring if anything (make sure your kids wear socks so they can run around or dress up in a costume if you want). 
    • A few ideas for sending invitations:
      • - LOVE THIS! I use this almost every time. It's easy, free, and did I mention EASY?! You simply set up an account with your email address. Then you type in information for your party, select an already-designed image or upload a picture of your little birthday start. Then you add in your family and friends' email addresses and voila! So easy! Then you get responses when they RSVP. I've had great success with this, most people respond. 
      • Email- A regular email address, send out a note saying when the party is, super easy and simple. 
      • Facebook Event Message - I've been invited to a few parties this way. This is a great way to do it when you don't want to spend time searching for or asking for people's email addresses or mailing addresses. They're all on FB anyway, easy! The only thing I don't like about this is if you don't check your notifications you won't notice you were even invited to something. So if I were inviting people to a party this way I'd also send a message to them or email just to be sure they got it. 
      • Snail Mail - Oh my word, how do I LOVE getting snail mail! The kids adore it, too, they feel special getting an invitation in the mail. You can make great ones on Shutterfly or Snapfish with photographs, or you could do regular sets of invites from Dollar Tree or Target. You could also have someone hand make them for you on TONS of great ideas for invitations on there, and it's nice to support a local momma who is supporting her family by giving your party a great spin. 

Timing & Agenda
How you manage the party is based on your preference or whatever works for your child. You could decide ahead of time or let your child decide in the moment. My only advice is make sure one of you at the party IS focused on keeping things moving along. I've learned one thing with kids: They are GREAT when they are great, but when they start to get tired, hyped up on sugar and excitement, or just plain child-like, there is a window of opportunity... if you go past that, all hell could break lose!

So be proactive... try to keep things moving along, and then if there is time leftover at the end when all the celebratory activities are over, people are welcome to stand around and hang out longer, but it also gives them the choice to go if they see their individual kids melting down.

A few tips for running a smooth party:

  • Do activities and snacks first, then do opening presents while guests' children receive their treat or bag to take home, and then cake. We always do cake last because otherwise hyped up sugared up kids don't sit still while watching the present opening. Guests feel like they are opening a gift, too when you give them their treat bags during gift opening. That way they aren't bored or jealous watching the birthday girl open her gifts. 
    • However, at a party that was at a location (children's museum) we did the cake just before presents, so the kids could sit at the table eating cake while my son opened his presents. We only had a limited timeframe in that room, so we tried to do more things at once. It worked just fine, our birthday boy devoured his cake fast so he could open gifts, the others sat content eating and drinking their food and opening their treat bags instead of jealous or wanting to play with what my son opened for gifts. It worked great.
  • Opening gifts now or later? This depends on your child, how the party is going, etc. I think it's proper and nice to open gifts in front of those who gave them to your child, as a way to say thanks, see their hard work in choosing a gift paid off. But you have to keep in mind your child is a CHILD... with varying emotions, moods and abilities. At our son's second birthday party he opened two gifts, then ran off with his friends... I was mortified, but my husband just kept plugging away opening all of his gifts, thanking people and saying, "Owen will LOVE this later on, thanks!" It was fine. Nobody cares. Just make an attempt.
  • Enlist help! You need more than just you being the organized one. Someone else needs to help you with where the extra forks are or filling up juice cups or passing out cake slices. Someone else needs to write gifts down so you can focus on your child. Someone else could take pictures of the blowing out the birthday cake candles so you can be in the picture with your child, sharing in the excitement. 
  • Be overly prepared. Especially if the party is not at your house, make sure you pack extra wipes or cups, extra food and silverware. This helps avoid meltdowns. I always pack an extra treat bag, too, just in case we forgot something for a child. I always bring print-outs of free coloring pages online and some crayons just to offer kids a quiet activity if they are overstimulated or too much going on, or during the cake cutting or opening of gifts, it helps kids settle in and relax. It's a good backup activity, too.
  • Clean up later. Don't get caught up in clean up until people leave. After opening gifts, passing out treat bags, offering snacks and cake, just enjoy time with everyone, take pictures, watch your child's excitement. Cleaning up can be done later. 
Remember: it's your party and you can cry if you want to! 
Wait no, it's your child's party and you can plan it how you want to. Take into consideration what others will think or experience, but ultimately it's one day of the year for you to be all about your child. My husband told me that recently when I was worried about asking guests to drive more than 30 minutes to a party we had at a Children's Museum instead of our house. He said, "It's once a year. They adore our kid. They'll come." And they all did! Remember that, it's once a year. No big deal!


  • This one is AWESOME! Martha Stewart, of course.
    • She offers a six-week timeline, things to remember, including best times of day for parties based on your child's ages. Great resource!
    • She offers a great timeline to break things down for you:

Pre-Party Timeline (Martha Stewart)


    Choose the theme, draw up the guest list, confirm the date with your child's best friend, and reserve off-site space.


    Write out invitations; get updated class list; and decide on games, activities, and food.


    Mail invitations, purchase party goods, start homemade decorations and favors, and arrange for extra help, if needed.


    Purchase crafts supplies and favors, draw up a schedule of activities, make samples of planned crafts, and call guests who have not yet responded.


    Buy food.


    Bake the cake, decorate your home or be sure off-site supplies are gathered, and prepare make-ahead foods.

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