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It's Party Time!

  • Let your child help pick the theme. Involve her in the planning and preparation, too.
  • Invite a number of guests equal to your child's age, plus one or two. Try to keep the guests in the same age range, or at least provide alternate activities for any older or younger kids.
  • Write on the invitations whether parents are invited or if kids are to be dropped off. (Parents should be expected to stay with children under age 5.) If parents attend, provide a snack for them.
  • Keep the party 1 ? to 2 hours long, and indicate on the invitation at what time the party will be over.
  • Greet everyone in a special, attentive way. Make each guest feel wanted and important. Say goodbye in a similar way.
  • Kids love seeing their names in print. Writing their names on badges, place cards, or party favors makes them feel important.
  • Let kids know your ground rules early on. For example you might announce, "Just three rules, kids: no jumping on furniture, take turns, and have fun." Understanding the limitations from the beginning will save them from the humiliation of scoldings later.
  • Keep kids busy and challenged. Start with a creative activity to involve the kids as soon as they arrive. Look for icebreakers that make shy kids comfortable. Guests won't have time for self-consciousness or mischief.
  • Guide the activities. Establish a "safety zone" and explain that the game stops at its borders and anyone who wants to opt out of an activity can step into this area at any time. When establishing pairs, buddies or teams, try to match the size and energy levels of participants so that small kids won't be overwhelmed by bigger partners.
  • If the children will be making a craft project, create a sample for them to see. This will help you gauge whether the project is age-appropriate and if you'll need help.
  • Opening presents is best left out of a party for very young children. It's hard for young children to share brand-new toys, and it's hard for those who are not getting presents to sit and watch.
  • Let a child aged 6 or over open presents at the end of a party. Make sure you've rehearsed your child on gift acceptance speeches beforehand. If possible, ask another adult to record the gifts, so you can devote yourself to praising the gift, and the giver, coaxing the proper thank you's from your child if necessary, and greeting parents arriving to collect their children.

4 Weeks Before

  • Set the date.
  • Book any entertainment. (You may have to book popular acts months in advance, so check before mentioning it to your child).
  • Make or buy invitations. Fill out (including RSVP date) and mail or deliver. A month gives parents time to check schedules.

Three Weeks Before

  • Read through your party plan and make a shopping list of all supplies and groceries.
  • Shop for tabletop paper goods.
  • Order any special supplies.

Two Weeks Before

  • Start making or buying decorations. Figure out how you'll rig any that need hanging or other support.
  • Stock up on whatever supplies will be needed for craft projects.
  • Shop for goody bags and prizes.

One Week Before

  • Enlist the help of other parents or older siblings to chaperone the party.
  • Call any parent who hasn't responded.
  • Check your cameras for film and flash. Do a test run with your camcorder.

The Day Before

  • Purchase food. Bake or buy cake. Prepare any other food that can be safely made ahead.
  • Childproof the party area.
  • Run through each activity. Organize props.

Party Day

  • Make the remaining food.
  • Set up indoor decorations, blow up balloons, and step back to observe.
  • Set up outdoor activities and decorations.
  • Set up the party starters (the first arrival activities) or any necessary craft stations.
  • Make a pot of coffee for any adults who linger.
  • Chill extra juice, soda, and milk.

Barnyard Bash. Age range: 3- to 6-years old.

A farm-themed party lets everyone make hay -- rain or shine. Send out a barn-shaped invitation, decorate tables with gingham or burlap fabric, and gather up bales of hay, baskets, buckets and watering cans to set the mood. For activities, you can have hayrides in wagons, square dancing and relay races.

Wild and Wacky Field Day. Age range: 4 and up.

Everybody's a champ here. Pick games that are silly or rely on luck so everyone's on an even playing field. For safety monitoring, try to have a mature, responsible "coach" or "referee" for every four to six youngsters. Assign someone with a camcorder to be the "TV cameraperson." Decorate your yard with colorful banners or flags and put paper and crayons on the table so the kids can play games of tic-tac-toe, finger football, or dots.

Beach Bonanza. Age range: 5- to 8-years old.

Bring the beach to you and have a fun day in the sun. Set up umbrellas, beach chairs and picnic coolers in your yard. Party goers can decorate sunglasses with spangles, buttons and beads, or make sandart projects. Volleyball played with a beach ball is sure to be a hit as well as beach blanket bingo.

Happy Trails

Pitch a daytime campout in your own backyard. If you don't have a real tent, you can improvise with a blanket draped over a clothesline. Make a phony campfire from rocks, logs, and red and yellow cellophane wrap. Kids can decorate frames with items from nature and play a host of campside games such as sleeping bag races (using old pillowcases).

Adapted from The Parents Party Book: Fun and Fabulous Theme Birthday Parties for Children 2 to 8 Years Old by the Editors of Parents Magazine. Golden Books, New York