By Jamie Jarvis
Yes, taking all of your child’s classmates and their parents to an amusement park or spending a small fortune on every SpongeBob SquarePants-related food, decoration and favor you can find will make for a great party. But you can offer your child and his guests a good time without breaking your wallet. Here are 10 hints to help you pull off a successful bash without going crazy, busting your budget or taking the week off from work!
1. Involve your child. Party planning is a great opportunity to share a fun time with your child. Including your child in the process will ensure that the soiree reflects her interests.
2. Prioritize when planning. Focus on the key things that create party fun and are most important to your child. There are so many fun things you can do, buy and make for your child’s party that it can sometimes become bigger and fancier than it really needs to be, creating extra work, extra cost and probably less fun for all those involved. When in doubt, put your efforts into games and activities instead of food and decorations.
3. Budget your bash. Don’t spend more than you want or need to. Have the party at a one-stop party place, such as a kids’ gym, a museum, an indoor play center or a restaurant. Surprisingly, these package deals can be less expensive than pulling together all the pieces yourself. Or party outdoors at a park with a playground and an open field and bring your own sports equipment, flying discs or other outdoor games. Look for low-cost party favors at discount stores where you might not be able to find plates printed with SpongeBob SquarePants, but plain yellow plates work fine. You’ll also find paper cups, napkins, utensils, balloons, streamers and candy at great prices.
4. Plan sensibly. Develop a good outline and time line for the party. Keep the party short – two hours is fine. Less time means you’ll need less entertainment and less food. Limit the guest list to six or fewer of your child’s closest friends to keep costs reasonable. Schedule the party for a time of day when you aren’t expected to provide a meal, such as 10 a.m. to noon or 2 to 4 p.m. Serve drinks, cake and ice cream instead of a meal.
5. Prepare early. Do as much ahead of time as possible. Then you won’t be in a panic if you get the flu the week before the party or have a huge work project dumped in your lap. Prepare all party favors and games or activities a couple of weeks ahead. You can then spend the days before the party focusing on the things that absolutely must wait until the last minute (preparing the food and putting up the decorations).
6. Use shortcuts. Look at your planning checklist and identify the things you can purchase ready-made or pay someone else to do. Your "I’ll do it myself" list should focus on the things you have to do because they’re either not available or too expensive to purchase or things that you personally want to do such as creating personal invitations.
7. Get help. Give everyone in the family, including the party child, some responsibilities. Dad can pick up the balloons, brother can make the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and the party child can set up the obstacle course. Your artistic cousin can make a party banner or do face painting, while your gourmet cook friend helps with the food. If you don’t have a lot of time to come up with games and activities, hire an entertainer.
8. Be realistic. Don’t think everything has to be perfect – it won’t be. There will always be something that you’d do differently if you had to do it over again. Some game you thought would be a big hit will be too easy, too difficult or too slow. Help your child be sensible. Remind her that she can have a great time, even if she doesn’t win every game and doesn’t receive every toy she wants.
9. Be flexible. Don’t flip out when things don’t go as planned. Be ready to shift gears and go to plan B if a game or activity isn’t a big hit. Alternate rambunctious games with quieter ones to keep the children’s energy at reasonable levels. Switch to crafts in the garage when it starts to rain.
10. Have fun. Parties are a great opportunity to share a memorable time with your child. Keep in mind that it won’t be too long before your child thinks he is too old for parties or just wants to be dropped off at the movies with friends. Enjoy the silly games and sprinkle-covered cupcakes while you can!
Jamie Jarvis is the creator of the Kids’ Party Fun Web site, www.kidspartyfun.com.