Things just seemed simpler when we were kids. Birthday parties involved a few mates, a game of pass the parcel, some red little red sausages and a chocolate crackle or two. These days parents are hiring full-size bouncy castles, professional dancers or conjuring up fairies to entertain their darlings for 90 minutes of sugar pumped and glittery fun.
How can you host a birthday party that won't leave your kids hanging their head in shame but also won't require a professional party planner and a second mortgage?
Start 'em young. If you don't get over-zealous for their first birthday party, then they won't expect something fancy for their second. Although considering kids don't really form lasting memories before the age of three or four, maybe just skip the first few years altogether.
Involve the child. Sure, they should turn up on the day, but get them involved in the planning too. Get them to help chose a theme, a cake and some games. This way they can't complain about them later. Get them to make the invites by hand. Not only will they feel proud of their handiwork but their limited attention span means they won't have the energy or motivation to invite the whole class. Ask them to help design the menu, and then get them to help cook it.
A little friend sent this handmade mermaid invitation for a 5th birthday
Find some time-wasters. There is nothing more terrifying than a house full of bored kids hyped up on sugar, so you need to find some activities to amuse them until their parents come to take them away. My favourite birthday activity as a child was decorating cupcakes. Each child was given three or four plain cupcakes, and Mum would provide a few bowls of coloured icing and some lollies. At least half an hour would be spent making the cupcakes as beautiful as possible (and the more lollies you could squeeze on the better). Other time wasters include treasure hunts and obstacle courses. Another added bonus is that although they take a little preparation they don't have to cost much.
Crafty little devils. Recently, my daughter came home from a 4th birthday with a home-made wand. The mum had simply wrapped some ribbon around a piece of thin dowel and secured it with some sticky tape. The kids were given cardboard stars which they decorated with bucket loads of glitter and while they were playing later, the mum attached the stars to the wands. Easy, cheap and the kids loved it.
The idea of doing craft may fill some parents with fear, but you can prepare in advance, it's easy on the budget, and an excellent time waster (see above). If it fits in with the party theme even better. Google kids crafts and you will suddenly find your own time waster so here are some sites to start: Activity Village, Simple Kids Craft and Amazing Moms.
What to feed them. The best bit about kids' parties has always the kids' party food, so stick to the basics: fairy bread (white bread only), sausage rolls, red sausages and tomato sauce, cupcakes or chocolate crackles. If you must be a bit healthy try fruit kebabs, little sandwiches, mini quiche or pizzas made on English muffins. If you don't want to spend the weekend cooking, then hold the party after lunch rather than at lunchtime. Make sure they save room for the cake.
The piece de resistance. It's basically just eggs, flour and sugar so how hard does it have to be? Given the number of books and websites on the topic, decorating your kid's birthday cake now requires a how-to manual, a personal stylist, a structural engineer and about three weeks. Or you can just buy one and stick one those character plates made out of icing on the topic. Whacko. However there is a middle ground, and cupcakes might be way to go. Colour your icing in accordance with your party theme, find some cool lollies or even little toys (make sure the kids don't eat the toys) and arrange them artfully in the number the birthday kid is turning and you instantly have a fond memory. Better yet no dishes!
An edible icing disk to go on top of a cake (don't upset your little one by slicing their favourite character in half though)
Getting the kids to leave. Now that you have thrown the best party ever, how will you get the kids to leave? The rustle of lolly bags will have them lining up by the door. The lolly bags of my childhood would have a few musk sticks, a jelly snake and a yo-yo. These days almost anything goes: glow sticks, stickers, cookies cutters, hair clips, bubbles, card games, pots of glitter, toy soldiers. Oh and some lollies, if you can fit them in. If you're shopping on a budget buy in bulk at your local Red Dot or discount store. Other shops you may find unexpected goodie bag offerings include Officeworks (stationery), Bunnings (packets of seeds, mini tape measures) and Spotlight (crafty things).
Do you remember the old favourite of jelly frog in a pond, it was a dish of green jelly with a chocolate frog and a snake in it.
I see them in cares with just the frog, noooooo that's not the point, the snake was after the frog, gruesome I know, but then kids love gruesome - haha!
We had a table once where there was jewellery elastic beads and some cardboard cut into strips, the kids arrived (the table was at the front door) sat down and decorated their party hat (strip of cardboard) I also had some cheap stickers from $2 shops and redraw, we stuck them together with gaff tape and popped on their heads, they then strung up a bracelet and necklace which they either wore or popped in a named party box, lined up near the from door for them to collect when leaving.
At another table we had biscuits, melted choc and icing each with a tinfoil square per child, they decorated their biscuit, let to set and popped it in "their" box
We then used some melt and pour soap, colours and a plastic fish in a silicone muffin tray to make a soap underwater sea diorama, they used glitter and chopped up soap rolled in shimmer to look like pearls.
When set, we popped out and dropped into a plastic bag with a ribbon.
Again in their box.
They had food, cake, picked up their box filled with their treasures and left totally happy.
The party events became the prizes and take home treasures.
It w so easy, cheap and lots of fun.
The kids said it was the best ever.