October 14, 2013

{Simple Hospitality, Day 10} 8 Ways to Simplify Kid's Birthday Parties



Am I the only one who thinks that birthday parties have gotten a little out of control?

Most of our mothers knew how to throw a simple birthday party.  There was cake, balloons, and presents, and dollar store pin-the-tail-on-the donkey.  We wore our best dresses and played musical chairs and didn't even notice the apparently tragic lack of ponies and bouncy castles, centerpieces and tiered cakes.

someecards.com - When I was a kid there were only 2 birthday party themes: Dollar Store Kitsch and Shut up and Eat your Cake.


Here are 8 tips for hosting a simple, meaningful birthday party for your kids.

1. Don't even consult pinterest.  Seriously, don't do it!

2. Keep the cake simple.  Pick it up from the grocery store bakery or bake some cupcakes at home.  Cake from a box is okay.

3. Keep the guest list small.  More people does not necessarily make for a better shindig.


4. Invite the parents of each guest too.  We invite whole families to our children's parties, that way we get to spend some time with the parents of our children's friends, siblings don't feel left out, and there are plenty of adult hands around to help the party run smoothly. 

5. Make your child's favourite meal. Generally this will be something easy, cheap and kid friendly.  And the birthday boy likely won't have a  dinnertime meltdown at his own party.

6. Consider a colour scheme instead of a theme.  It's often much easier to get a bunch of pink and gold decorations than to find princess emblazoned everything.


7. Consider saving parties for every second year.  I have a wise friend who throws birthday bashes for her kids every second year and does something as a family in the in between years. 

8. Skip the party favoursPretty pleeeeeease.  Nobody needs a bag full of trinkets and candy sent home with their kid and you can save yourself a little bit of time, money, and stress.  The fun time with friends is reward enough for attending.

What did I miss?  How do you keep birthday parties simple?

This is day 10 in a series about simple hospitality.  Click here to see more.


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28 comments:

  1. I wish I had read this 4 yrs ago when I started having birthday parties for my then-1-yr old son. My husband and I have a large amount of "immediate" family between our siblings, so by inviting just them and their kids, plus 2 very close friends of the family.. one of which is a family of 9.. our "little- close-knit" family has grown to almost 40 people every year. My son and daughter's birthdays are only 13 days apart in the summer, so we have a big pool party in the big yard with the family. I'm starting to get sucked into the guilt-trap that while we had large, full-blown theme parties for his first 4 years, she's kind of gotten sucked into the same theme because it was easier. I wish there were an easier way to do this without everyone feeling left out!!
    Oh yeah.. it may be beneficial, if you have a large crowd with LOTS AND LOTS of little people, to wait until AFTER the party to have the birthday boy/girl open their gifts. With so many people, its pure chaos and can take a long time, and many times all the little partygoers are practically sitting on top of the birthday child trying to "help" open the gifts. In our case last year, they even started taking over the gift opening FOR my kids who were getting so overwhelmed they ended up bursting into tears not even halfway through.

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    1. Maybe it's just me, but I don't like going to a party where the gifts are left unopened. I feel it's satisfying for me and/or my kids to see opened, what we've lovingly picked out or made. Plus, I feel it's good for kids to learn to sit and watch and appreciate some else's joy of receiving. But, I understand that it's more feasible with smaller crowds. :-)

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    2. Because we ask for no gifts we open the rogue gifts at the door as soon as they arrive to avoid disappointment. The gift is then put away until after the party.

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    3. I moved to a small town a year and half ago. There are about 60 kids at the local school and most of them are friends who hang out at the park nearly every day after school. So many of the mothers skip doing a party and just bring a cake, a couple of bags of chips or lollies and a big container of water or cordial to the park. Whoever is there gets to join in! It's such an easy, cheap, simple way to celebrate with so many people! Maybe you could do something similar with your not-so-little family :)

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    4. Catherine- I agree. I love watching kids open the gifts... but last year especially with the little little ones, it was just too much after a full afternoon of party. I probably won't heed my own advice- just throwing the idea out there :-)

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  2. I agree about the party favors! it is hard when the kids expect them though. I try to give one thing to each kid - like at one party we gave a bucket and shovel that I labeled with the kids' names. something that is not junk. it's hard though!

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  3. This is great advice.... the key is resisting the temptation and actually following the advice! My 3 kids are all 2 years apart all born in the same week in February. We have decided that each year 1 child gets a friend party (we have very little local family), 1 child gets a date with Mommy, and 1 child gets a date with Daddy. They will be turning 7, 5, and 3 so we don't have a lot of practice, but it seems to be working well so far.

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  4. We did a small(ish) party this year but bc we had less kids I splurged on the party favours and each kid got a superhero cape with their initial on it. Found a great shop on etsy who offered them at a great price and the kids LOVED them.

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  5. yes, please, no more party favours!!! Easier said than done though! I find picking them out stressful, and it gets so expensive... UGH! Wasn't it enough to be invited to a party? Now kids expect to go home with a goodie bag! :( I think if you can keep the bag practical/useful or part of party festivities, then it's not so bad. (for instance, for my 5yr old's "monster party", the kids made their own sock monsters and they went into their bag, and for my 7yr old son's "minecraft" party, the kids had to do a search for prizes and those were their take-home bags!) Birthday parties should be a celebration of a special loved one, not a stress-filled afternoon!
    I am slowly learning not to check out pinterest for parties! I like the suggestions I find for games etc, but I easily forget that my budget or abilities is not like the ones online! :P

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    1. Here in Australia, most of the goodie bags contain sweets and a couple of party favours (cheap and nasty bracelets and hair accessories for girls, bubble pipes and boy-like toys for the young lads) and the ubiquitous balloon.
      If I do a goodie bag, its some sweets and a slice of the cake and that is it. Anything more is ridiculous, isn't it?

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  6. A friend of mine had a party for her son's fifth birthday and requested no store-bought gifts, but if guests felt they really should bring a gift, they could make something, give something from their home, or give something from a second-hand store. It was lovely to see him open gifts. There were passed on toys, homemade stuffies, dress-up clothes, books, clothes, pictures drawn. He enjoyed opening each one, and the kids who gave them were proud to have passed on something of their own that they thought he'd like.

    Thank you for this post. I think Pinterest is blocking off that part of my brain that thinks up ideas on its own... you know, my creative thought process.

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  7. Thanks for this. I'm going to be hosting my son's 4th birthday party soon (he was born 10/28). I like the reaffirmation that boxed cake mix is OK. I also like the suggestion to have a color theme rather than characters or whatever....
    The only thing I'd add is to not make a bigger deal of it than the kid wants. For his 3rd birthday I really themed it out and we had, like 30 people I guess (with parents and siblings), an expensive humongous cake... It was sort of a waste really because my son cried the whole time, ending with the wailing crescendo when everyone sang Happy Birthday.
    This year I asked what he wanted and he said streamers, balloons, and a strawberry Thomas cake. That is what he is getting, and I'm only inviting grandparents and close friends. Until he is old enough to ASK for a big party, I'll hold off.

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  8. My sister-in-law has a great way of managing the party overkill. And she is a woman who loves to throw a good party. She has three girls. Their birthdays are only celebrated with family and cake, pretty quiet stuff. Then she throws a massive Halloween party every year where they can invite loads of friends from church and school and have a big bash.
    The theme is easy (Halloween), she reuses many of the same decorations for multiple years in a row, and they all get a party with their friends without anyone feeling left out or jealous. Everybody loves the party, parents and kids alike and it keeps things much more manageable.

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  9. We make it simple because we have so many children (and we knew we would have from the get go) and live on a shoe-string budget. We celebrate the 1st bday with a cake and a balloon and send pictures along with the matching party napkin and plate to the grandparents. No almost toddler meltdowns. We celebrate the 4th with all of the grandparents and aunts/uncles/cousins that can come. Again, no meltdowns. At 7 they get to have a handful of close friends come over for a budget friendly theme -of -their -choice spend the night party. And that's it! They are negotiating for a sweet 16 but for now, we spend TONS of family time (sometimes doing "special things" for up to 2 weeks!) and sometimes they get a friend to come over.... We go to a movie, with popcorn, as a family. We go camping. We eat out. We make a cake. We use a Groupon for something unusual like a bounce house or bowling. We make it about celebrating the person NOT impressing the guests. This year, the kids got together and requested a group party while we were visiting family- they all live in the same town in another state. We met at DQ for ice cream cake. A friend they made locally asked for a goody bag ( :O!) so I went to the Dollar Store next door and got sidewalk chalk/bubbles/play-doh during the party. He was happy and it was cheap and fun and useable.

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  10. I agree. Small and simple is much more meaningful and that's hard to do because I have a big family. For my daughter's first birthday we only invited immediate family and that still was about fifteen people. I probably hurt some people's feelings by not inviting my mother-in-law's siblings and cousins but we gently explained that we wanted to keep it small and that she would have to un-invite all of the people that she had invited with asking us first. (Yikes! Not a fun conversation.) My husband and I had fun making her cake and cupcakes for everyone and then each person brought a dish to share. We all had a good time and my daughter loved it and didn't feel overwhelmed.

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  11. Honestly, I think this depends on the child. My husband was told at the tender age of seven that he was too old for birthday parties, so he never had one again. His birthdays generally consisted of getting pizza to go and eating with his parents (which, long story short, wasn't exactly the way he wanted to celebrate his birthdays). On the other hand, my parents did whatever I wanted to for my birthday. One year we went bowling with friends, a few years in a row we did Chuck E Cheeses, sleepovers, etc. I threw a big party for my son (who turned 7) three weeks ago - it was a Super Mario themed party. Eight boys from his class game, as well as grandparents. We played Pin the Mustache on Mario, had a Yoshi Egghunt, stomped goombas, and did an obstacle course in the backyard. All the boys had a great time, and it was absolutely worth the effort and time that I put into it. The question I was asked after the fact was, "How are you going to top this next year?"

    I don't necessarily believe that all day, every day, we have to live by the "small and simple" motto. One day a year, it's okay to let loose and give our kids a party they will remember forever, and tell their kids about one day. Sometimes, it's okay to go crazy.

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  12. Birthday parties are SO stressful! My daughter will be 3 in December, and while I'm excited for her birthday, I am DREADING the party. We have large "immediate" families, and the past 2 years we have only invited them and 2 of my friends with kids my daughter's age, and we ended up with over 60 people. I can't stand to hurt people's feelings by not inviting them, though. My entire family is so close! But we do NOT do party favors. I hate it when we go to a party and get a bag of useless junk, and if each bag is not identical the kids whine about it. No thanks! I try to save money on her birthday parties by purchasing the supplies at a local dollar store. This year, I might reuse the supplies from her first birthday, because I have a ton extra. And who will ever remember them?? Hehe. The hardest part about her birthday is its so close to Christmas (the 21st). Since we have such large families, we can't have the party at our house (our house is tiny), so we have been renting the church fellowship hall, which means we have to work around church functions. Stressful!

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    1. I think it's nice that you include everyone, but don't ever be afraid to think of you and husband and your daughter as a little family and keep it at that. Tell everyone you'll have plenty of time to be together with all of the Christmas festivities and you'd like to keep it chill, just you 3:)

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  13. You speak my language! I wish we were neighbors.

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  14. Thank you for this. It's given me much to reflect upon and makes me feel better about my decision for my youngest's 2nd birthday. I just moved with my family to be nearer to my husbands'.. and he has a large family.

    My niece's birthday is two days before my daughter's and her mom always goes all out. This year she's having a professional photographer with a photo booth, a blow up/bouncy something, a face painter...and an Alice in Wonderland tea party theme. My niece is turning five, my daughter is turning two. I have four kids, not just the one. It's not even a week before Thanksgiving. I don't want to deal with the mental stress of it, as well as the financial strain (if you do for one, you do for all). Although they have fun at things such as this, I think I'll stick with my box mix "frog" colored cake, games of tic tac toad and some lilypad hopscotch for the older kids. Some green balloons. Crayons and color books for the younger ones. I just don't want family to judge me for not going "all out" as well.. it doesn't mean I don't love my kids as much, they are my *world*.

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  15. My daughter is 6. I still make part of the party schedule reading one or two picture books from the library. The girls love it and it calms them down. I serve hotdogs and apple slices and juice. She has a max of 5 friends. Favours were candy kebabs that she and I had a really nice time making together. I usually do two party games and a craft. With all of that, cake and presents, it fills a couple of hours! I bought some lovely decorations at the Dutch version of Target a couple years ago and I reuse those each year.

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  16. Hi Kelly
    When my eldest son turned 16, we had a birthday party where he could invite as many people as he wished. We only have big parties for milestone birthdays and we thought a boy's 'sweet 16' was special enough.
    I asked him about the desired menu and the answer was "party food!". So, he got party food!
    I baked his cake and had Mickey Mouse themed paper plates and serviettes. The cup cakes had Mickey edible decals on them. There was no fizzy, just fruit cup cordial, savaloy sausages (mini hotdogs), party pies and pasties and most importantly of all : fairy bread. The most popular item on the menu. My son only wanted his closest friends, so there was only four or five of them, plus his two brothers and his dad and me. He still refers to it as the best birthday party he ever had, and his friends absolutely loved it as well.
    They played all the fun party games - pin the tail, pass the parcel and the like. It was an absolute scream.
    Best fun for a long time. And, whenever someone is having a party, I always turn up with the fairy bread. Know what? Everyone makes a feast of it! :)

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  17. I have felt so much pressure to become a master cake decorator since I had kids and, being that I can hardly frost a sheet cake, I had to move on. Our current favorite tradition is to let the birthday girl pick a few friends and invite their families for fajitas, guacamole and cake/ice cream. Everyone can pick/choose what they want to eat and we have such a fun time mingling friends from different areas of our lives. We hang the re-usable "Happy Birthday" sign, maybe a few balloons, the kid gets to pick her candles, cake and ice cream flavors. Last year we gave a box of crayons for favors, this year we did a pinata and the kids took home their candy as a favor.

    My favorite birthday tradition that my mom did with us when I was growing up was that we got to decorate our cake. She'd bake a box cake and get a whole bunch of different frostings/candies and let us have a hay-day. It was always so ugly and entirely too overrun with frosting, but it was a blast and we kids loved it. My friend tried it with cupcakes instead of a sheet cake and said it worked much better because the kiddos could each decorate their own how they wanted.

    What a blessing a simple kid's birthday party can be!

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  18. Legit. Some of these big parties undermine what's really important and take time and attention away from the birthday child. I did do simple favors though. My daughter's party take-home was a good box of sidewalk chalk with a handwritten "thank you". Nothing complicated or fancy.

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  19. We've actually stopped doing "birthday parties" altogether--with 6 (soon 7) kids it seemed like I was always planning something, and even though we kept things small (as in cake, a bowl of punch, and a game or craft), it was too much for me, and I felt guilty inviting the same few families over and over to give another present to my abundance of kids! So the weekend of the bday, we have a "family" party (grandparents, etc, maybe one friend), and then once a year or so we have an "unbirthday" party, with lots of friends and games and food and stuff, but no presents! I, ummm, haven't actually done the unbirthday party since we started this last year, but I have plans for it next month. :)

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  20. We had our first themed party for our 4yo this year -- superheroes. We encouraged our guests to dress up as superheros if they wanted, and I made simple capes and masks and provided stuff to decorate them with. That was pretty much the extent of the theme. :-) We also invite whole families, and we keep everything pretty simple and homey. When she was three, we had it in a church gym and I provided pool noodle "bats" and balloons. The kids had a great time just running around inventing games.

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  21. We’re definitely doing a no gift policy as well for my son. He has so much stuff he now has 4 rooms full of toys. I literally have no room left and have told everyone absolutely no toys for his birthday. Thank you very much for a great post, plenty of useful info.

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  22. My daughters are triplets. Every day was a party. They were 4 when we threw their first birthday party with guests other than family. They each invited one friend. At age 5, each girl could invite two friends. A couple of their friends' older teenage sisters came to help paint nails and put makeup on the kids, and we had a laundry basket full of dress ups, lingerie, high heels, hats and boas, all from the thrift store. The kids all loved it and It was one of their most memorable parties. About age 8, the girls decided that they wanted their own individual party or activity, and from then on, they would each choose a different activity and we'd celebrate for three consecutive days. These included going to a movie, making cakes with Grandma, ice skating, bowling, sledding, etc. Mostly with family, or they invited one friend on their day. In high school, the girls began to organize their own birthday parties, which evolved into regular "Friday Night" parties with a group of kids landing at our house on Friday nights for games and movies, homemade snacks and treats, and always laughter and fun. We still feel that closeness to all of our "kids", all grown up now.

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