I grew up in Mississippi, where social events are an integral part of daily life. My mother organized many wonderful themed birthday parties for me that I, in turn, passed along to my girls. One summer, [my daughter] Emi had a Hawaiian luau for her birthday party, and we unloaded a dump truck of sand in the backyard for an instant beach. Her friends dressed up in Hawaiian skirts and leis, and we had fresh pineapple with other Hawaiian foods (minus the roasted pig). [My daughter] Mari had a Mexican fiesta with enchiladas, sombreros, ponchos, a piñata, and llama rides in the backyard. Mari loved hamsters, so one year we had a birthday party with a hamster theme, including large brown boxes for the kids to crawl around in, pretending to be hamsters. When Emi was older, we had a ladies’ luncheon with a plate of food that looked like a girl’s face, with macaroni and cheese for hair.
You do not have to spend a lot of money to have a fun and creative party that children can enjoy and feel special on their day. When you make the food yourself, you can be sure that it is healthy, and you can take the opportunity to introduce other children to healthy treats.
A baby’s first birthday is a milestone that brings a warm sense of progress and accomplishment, an excitement about reflecting on the past year, and an opportunity to look forward to future years. Between birth and his first birthday, your baby has grown physically and matured at a faster pace than he will during any single year for the rest of his life.
On his first birthday your baby will not really understand the meaning of a birthday, but he can enjoy a simple celebration that is dedicated to him. He may enjoy his own small cake that he can dig into all by himself and eat with his fingers. Some parents throw a big first birthday party for their child, inviting many family members and friends. However, if you consider your child’s point of view and what is fun for him, then a simple party with less stimulation is probably what he would enjoy best.
A first birthday party also honors parents, who are naturally proud of their child. It is a good time for parents to celebrate their own good fortune, and to congratulate themselves for their hard work over the past year. It is also a time to thank grandparents, other relatives, and caregivers who have contributed to his well-being.
Second and Third Birthdays
By the time your child celebrates his second or third birthday, he knows how to say how old he is, and he can get excited about having a party and the anticipation of presents. Before you start planning, you may want to reflect on your strategy for keeping the party focused, so that you do not get sidetracked with the excitement of planning.
This is your child’s special day and his party, and you can help him celebrate and have a good time, while creating an event for his guests to enjoy. If you keep it simple with a personal touch, your child will have a special occasion that is meaningful.
Party planning—Sharing in the planning and decision making process with your child can be part of the fun. If you give him choices as much as possible, then he will feel more empowered and excited about his party. If you take an active part in the planning and activities together, then he will feel a shared experience. Plan ahead so that you are not in a rush at the last minute.
Party Planning Stages
There are several party stages to plan:
- Arrival of guests
- Honor your child with “Happy Birthday,” cake, candles, and presents
- Wind down, give party favors, and say good-byes
- Clean up and put away gifts
Guests—A good rule of thumb for the number of guests is to invite as many children as the child’s age. A one-year-old has one guest, two for a two-year-old, and so on. Small groups make it easier to give each child the attention he needs. Make sure your child’s special friends are on the list. Children under three years old need a parent or caretaker with them during the party time.
Themes—Theme parties can be fun and a way to generate excitement. You can build a theme around a certain animal, like Mari’s hamster party, serve food that animal eats, and create activities around the animal. Colors can be a theme—your toddler chooses the color, and everyone dresses accordingly with decorations and balloons in the respective color. Mari had a pink party during the year that she would only wear pink clothes. Other simple themes for two-year-olds are stuffed animals and stories. For three-year-olds, themes can be more complex, such as magic, the beach, art, safari, baseball, decorate-a-tricycle, outer space, pirates, dress-up, ballet, swimming pool, the Olympics, and different cultures.
Get help—There are cookie cutter-type parties set up for kids, where all the details are taken care of. However, if you decide to have a party with a personal touch, it does not mean that you have to do all the work. Ask family members and friends for help. If the birthday child has an older sibling, he can get involved in helping by greeting guests or collecting and recording presents for thank-you notes.
Food—If you are planning around a theme, then you may have certain inspirations, such as “hamster food”. On special occasions, you may wish to widen the food options, while still keeping it healthy. Birthday cake (made either with maple syrup or honey) and ice cream with natural ingredients are birthday foods that can help make a fun party with special memories.
Decorations—Children love color and enjoy the special attention that decorations bring—streamers, balloons, birthday hats, plates, napkins, and cutlery help create a party mood. Music can add some auditory color.
Favors—Party favors can add to your theme, if you have one, or they can be simple inexpensive gifts, such as a box of crayons, or activities from the party. Painted T-shirts, hats, headbands, bags, or small toys make happy party favors. Here is a chance for you to get creative.
Photos—Take photos and videos for remembering your child’s special event. If you take a video, you can show it at the end of the party as the children are leaving. Or you can print photos of the children for them to take home along with a homemade picture frame.
Entertainment—Plan activities that are age-appropriate, such as simple crafts, games, or toys with markers, paper, tape, clay, origami, puzzles, blocks, or items for stacking and sorting. Music for singing, playing games, or dancing can be an energizing activity. Games that involve physical exercise outdoors can be fun in warmer weather. Plan games that regulate your children’s energy up and down so that you can adjust the party atmosphere, as needed. Some noncompetitive games are: Follow the Leader, Do the Hokey Pokey, and Simon Says.
Party time—Limit party time to one and a half to two hours for children under three years old, and make sure that the timing is not during your child’s naptime.
Be flexible and adjust to the unexpected—The important thing to remember in party planning is that the main purpose is to have fun. Even if all the plans do not come out perfectly, keeping a positive attitude can help your child feel good about his special day. Chances are, something will not go as planned, so be prepared for the unexpected with a rainy day backup plan, a first-aid kit, extra games, food, and party favors.