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Party Timeline

4 weeks before

  • Mail invites. Let parents know the party's end time as well as the start time. And include an RSVP-by date-usually two weeks prior to the party. Keep the party 1 1/2 to 2 hours long.
  • Bake cake layers or cupcakes and freeze them.
  • Enlist any extra help you may need. Figure on one adult for every five kids.
  • Shop for tabletop paper goods, decorations, and goodie bags, and order any special supplies.

1 week before

  • Buy food and drinks.
  • Order cake if you're not baking your own.
  • Call any parent who hasn't responded.
  • Gather everything you'll need for all of your party activities to make sure nothing's missing.

1 day before

  • Assemble goodie bags.
  • Review party manners with your child-especially how to greet her guests and say thank you for her gifts.
  • Finish baking the cake if it's homemade.
  • Prepare any food that can be safely made ahead.
  • Decorate the house.
  • Set the table and organize activity stations.
  • Check that you have enough film and extra batteries or that your digital camera is fully charged.

Party Day

  • 15 minutes: To keep kids busy as they wait for everyone to arrive, leave out a few age-appropriate toys such as coloring books and puzzles for them to play with.
  • 15 minutes: Set up a high-energy game so the kids can burn off some of their excitement-relay race, dance-athon, or limbo.
  • 15 minutes: Do an activity such as a craft project or treasure hunt.
  • 20 minutes: Time for cake! Gather kids for dessert (and a simple meal if you're doing lunch).
  • 15 minutes: As the party winds down, entertain the kids with a mellow activity-stage a sing-along, read a story, take digital snaps with the birthday star.
  • 20 minutes: If you choose, open gifts.
  • 10 minutes: Hand out favors and say goodbyes.

Copyright © 2005. Reprinted with permission of Parents magazine May 2005 issue.