We know -- it's hard not to be intimated by the over-the-top, gazillion-dollar parties some kids have these days. But there's no need to spend tons of money or time to plan an amazing event. The best parties are totally personal, so think about what your child loves -- whether it's blocks, baseball, puppies, or princesses -- and go from there as you brainstorm games, cake ideas, and goody bags.
Modern: Extreme Sports
Plan It: Invite your child?s buddies to bring their skateboards and scooters (protective gear too, please!). Give them free time to practice maneuvers and compare cool tricks. Move on to quieter activities like decorating stickers for their boards. Serve up an "extreme float" made with ice cream, seltzer, and a colored sports drink.
Plan It: Host this party outdoors and have the girls decorate headbands with ribbons and artificial flowers. Face painting is a must -- use eyeliner to draw on swirly designs and body glitter for extra sparkle. Send them on a hunt through the backyard for pretty jewels, then serve fairy juice and magic cake.
Classic: Arts and Crafts
Modern: In the Garden
Plan It: Have your guests paint small terra-cotta pots as soon as they arrive, then teach them how to plant flowers in their pots (marigolds are a smart choice). Serve lemonade and cupcakes decorated with ladybugs. Send guests home with wildflower seeds along with their potted flower.
Classic: Puppet Show
Modern: Original Movie
Plan It: Make this party a full production. Have your guests make up their own script and choose props and costumes. Capture their performances on video and host a screening later on -- complete with bowls of popcorn and an awards ceremony.
Modern: Project Runway-inspired
Plan It: Give each girl a plain T-shirt, denim skirt, or beach cover-up (check eBay or thrift stores for bargains). Make sure there's plenty of fabric paint, glitter glue, rhinestones, and trim for everyone to share. When everyone's finished, have them model their designs for judging. Pass out ribbons for a job well done.
Classic: Petting Zoo
Modern: Animal Charity Event
Plan It: Instead of a traditional party, have your child and her pals do something special for abandoned pets in need. Set up a lemonade stand or a bake-sale table in the front yard. Let the guests make signs and sell for an hour or so, then serve refreshments. Donate all the profits to a local animal shelter.
Classic: Tea Party
Modern: Let Them Eat Cake (and Tea)!
Plan It: Give the old-fashioned tea party a Parisian twist. Partygoers make giant paper flower blossoms to tuck into their hair, and then pile on strands of plastic-pearl necklaces and bracelets. Hand out paper fans, then serve tea and petit fours.
Check out the deals we found at four of our favorite party sources.
Discountschoolsupply.com: A must if you're looking to buy inexpensive craft supplies in bulk. We found a pack of 50 craft-foam flowers for only $4, and a dozen plain wooden yo-yos, just waiting to be painted, for $5.
Ebayexpress.com: Grab those great deals right away -- no auctions to worry about. Where else could you find a dozen stick-on jewel earrings for only $1.25 -- including shipping?
Containerstore.com: We love the small Zig Zag pots -- only 99 cent each! They're great for holding snacks or craft supplies. If you need extra party chairs, the plastic chairs for kids are a steal at $7 a piece.
Plumparty.com: We spotted a dozen sporty key chains for $10 -- that's 84 cents each! You can pick up a pack of 10 colored takeout containers (perfect goody bags) for $8.
No need for a massive party -- keep that 1-year celebration simple by inviting a small group of family and friends. You'll want lots of pictures of this milestone, especially the classic messy moment when your kid dives into her cake. And why not start a birthday tradition you can do year after year? A few we like:
Sweet Game! Frost half of a sheet cake with yellow-green frosting. Use Starburst candies to form the path to the other half. Use various kinds of candy such as gumdrops, licorice, lollipops, and taffy to create a Candy Land-like game.
Letter Perfect: Frost half the cupcakes in chocolate and half in vanilla, then coat edges with white or brown sprinkles. Use #8 frosting tip to pipe out a birthday wish.
Birthday parties had become so expensive in New York City that when my son, Noah, turned 2, I decided to throw a big group bash with seven of my friends. We chose a local sports complex with enough activities to keep all the kids busy. In lieu of gifts, we asked guests to bring clothing and toy donations for a local children's charity.Melissa Goldstein, Chappaqua, New York
Last July, I held an outdoor luau when my daughter, Chloe, turned 1. It was one of the least expensive parties I've ever thrown. We decorated with paper lanterns, leis, and grass skirts. Food was easy -- we ordered Hawaiian-inspired pizzas topped with pineapple. Melissa Atkins, Luray, Virginia
To cut food costs down, I started having my children's birthday parties between lunch and dinner, at around 2 p.m. I keep it simple with a few snacks, cake, and ice cream, and everyone is always satisfied. Annette Terrana, Buffalo, New York
When my daughter, Meghan, turned 4 in January, we decided to bring the beach indoors. We filled her baby pool with uncooked rice and gave each guest a bucket of sand toys I had found on clearance. The kids played with their "sandbox" for hours. Jeanne McCullough, Mattapoisett, Massachusetts
Use this handy timeline to help you plan your bash.
Copyright © 2007. Reprinted with permission from the May 2007 issue of Parents magazine.