Birthday Parties Simplified

It's time to celebrate! We've rounded up the best tips from readers who are veterans of the party circuit. Here's our main advice: Keep it simple. Good company, good cake, and as little stress as possible.
Manners & Responsibility: Kids at Parties
Manners & Responsibility: Kids at Parties

Party Planning

birthday party

Kaysh Shinn

What seems to make a party for a baby isn't the expense you go to, but the enthusiasm you muster. Blowing horns, wearing hats, and being silly will make your child feel feted.

Your first step, after picking a date, should be choosing a theme. Like decorating a nursery, party planning is easier if you have a concept to work around. Many people pick something their child loves, like trucks or fairies or a favorite character. We also heard from moms who've based parties around a color.

"For my 1-year-old, we had a red-ball party," says Mikita Watson-Burton, of Olathe, Kansas. Everyone was asked to wear red -- which made for great photos -- and we had red bouncing balls for kids to play with. Kids of all ages loved it."

Keep your party short -- an hour or two, max, unless guests traveled far to get to you. Have snacks laid out as everyone arrives, an activity or game for the kids to do, and more food. Make a big fuss over the cake, and follow this with a final activity or game.

Note: Toddlers are too young for structured games like musical chairs; try simpler things, such as playing with bubbles, freeze dancing, a dance party, or drawing with sidewalk chalk.

That's Entertainment

birthday party

Kaysh Shinn

Some moms throw a birthday party away from home. Charlotte Bellas, of Dunmore, Pennsylvania, held her child's first birthday at a favorite pizza place, and since it was close to Easter, she hired an Easter bunny. "Good food, entertainment, and we didn't have to clean up the mess!" she says.

Eve Longlade, of Montclair, New Jersey, invited a small number of friends and family to her daughter's first birthday party at American Girl Place in New York City, which has a restaurant with fanciful kids' meals. "She'll never remember it, but all the guests had a wonderful time. It really felt like a milestone," Longlade says.

Start a Tradition

birthday presents

Kaysh Shinn

There are lots of other ways to make a birthday special, beyond the party. You could start a birthday-portrait tradition, snapping your child as he wakes up on his big day or sitting in the same chair each year (you can watch him get bigger with each year's photo). We know one uncle who takes his niece on an annual "toy prowl": they go to a toy store where she's allowed to pick out one thing, and a store employee wishes her a happy birthday over the loudspeaker.

"I let my children request a cake -- whatever crazy thing they can dream up -- that I'll then bake for the family," says Mary K. Isaacs, of Houston. "When they were young, they had easy ideas like 'chocolate with pink icing.' But as they grew older, they'd challenge me with things like 'a chocolate-banana-with-coconut cake!'"

You might also tell your child the story of how he was born: where it happened, who was there, what he looked like, and how excited you were to meet him. You can flip through newborn pictures and remind him just how glad you are that he joined the family. That's what this day is really about, isn't it?

Real Moms, Genius Ideas

birthday boy

Kaysh Shinn

"We held my daughter's fourth birthday at a strawberry farm. We ate strawberry cake, then all the kids picked berries," says Diane Wenzel, of Cleveland. (In the fall, you could go to an apple orchard or pumpkin field.)

"One mom I know puts cards that thank guests for coming in favor bags. It takes some of the guilt away if, later, you never mail all of the individual thank-you cards," says Laurene Chavez, our art director.

"We had a charity party for each of my three kids' first birthday. Guests donated to charity in lieu of gifts. At 1, they don't need anything that Grammy hasn't already bought them! We always received a nice thank-you from the charity, which I saved in a scrapbook," says Michelle Bailey, of Davis, California.

"At my niece's party, there were two kid-size chairs for present opening. She sat in one and the gift giver in the other, and it really made the giver feel special," says Gail Mithoff, of Mission Viejo, California. (If your kid is too young to politely focus on presents -- or little guests are jealous -- save opening gifts for after the party.)

Copyright © 2007. Used with permission from the September 2007 issue of American Baby magazine.

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