A journalist by profession, my work includes writing and editing for newspapers, not for profit organisations and businesses.
Published August 10th 2011
There are all kinds of venues and service providers that cater for birthday parties, but it's very special for a child and rewarding for parents to follow the do-it-yourself approach. Before you panic, it's really not that difficult, and it can be quite cost effective.
It does take some planning, and it's worth starting that some time in advance to try to avoid a last minute rush around trying to get everything that you need.
The first step is to choose a theme. It helps to hold things together and gives you some parameters for your planning. It can be quite a broad theme though. For example, pink for a girl's party can incorporate the fairies, hearts, princesses and so on that girls often like.
I find it useful to get a few party books and my children look through them for ideas when they have a party coming up. It's a nice way to get them involved and allows them to have some say in the party theme and activities.
Once you have an idea of the theme and what you're going to be doing at the party, it's a good time to decide on a venue. There are such wonderful parks that make great venues for parties. Just bear in mind that you'll have to take all the food and activity goodies to the venue. You don't need a huge yard if you do decide to do it at home -- it really depends on the activities that you're going to have for the children. You can choose ones that will keep them more contained. It's a little more challenging with boys, but a science party will keep the children more contained than, for example, a soccer party.
The venue and the activities are factors when deciding how many children you invite to the party. If you're organising games you might want to limit the number of children to about 12. If you are going to do an activity that involves building or creating something you might want to have fewer children.
There are a number of options for invitations -- you can buy invitation pads and simply fill in the details, or design them on a computer. They don't have to be complicated, but it's nice to incorporate your theme so the children coming to the party start to have an idea of what they're going to be doing.
For a recent pink party we bought pink paper and printed a heart shape with the party details inside. We cut out the heart shape and folded it up, sticking it down with a sticker.
We used these words: A spell has been cast on Kai… On the day of her 7th birthday,
everything she touches
will turn perfectly pink!
Come and join the fun!
The pink house: 17 Main Street, Brisbane
The pink day: Saturday, July 30
The pink time: 10am until 1pm
If you're stuck for ideas of how you can incorporate your theme into the invitation look for ideas in the party books. You can also look on the internet for ideas. Here's a website that could be useful.
The time at which you're having the party will affect what food you make. If you have the party over lunch time, you could do sausages, meatballs, hot dogs or similar savoury food.
For our recent pink party I decided to do lots of small things and we had tea on arrival followed by savoury goods near the end of the party.
My preference is to make most of the food myself. Yes, it does take time (although you can prepare some things in advance), but you can at least partially escape all the preservatives and additives that you so often find in prepared food.
A few ideas:
Tea Cup Biscuits: There are variations of these. I put plain biscuits at the bottom, stick the marshmallow on top using icing, ice half a musk lifesaver on the side of the marshmallow, top it with icing and dip in sprinkles.
Meringues: I recently made these for the first time, and they are really easy -- even though the recipe method often seems very complicated. All you need is egg whites and sugar. I also used food colouring (I use a natural kind -- click here for stockists) to tie in with the pink theme. I only used two eggs and this made more than enough small meringues for a party of 12. There's a recipe here.
Fruit cut up into cubes and put on skewers is an option for something a bit more healthy, and I recently made cute strawberry tarts, which tied in with the pink theme.
For savoury foods: Meatballs, sausage rolls, mini burgers, carrot, cucumber and celery sticks with a dip and mini cheese pies are options. The pies can made using puff pastry cut either into squares or in circles (use a cup or cookie cutter). Put a spoonful of feta and grated mozzarella cheese mixed together on top of the pastry shape, dampen the edge of the pastry and put the same shape on top, ensuring that the edge is sealed. Bake them until the pastry is brown.
Much of the food can be made ahead of time, and it's worth taking that into account when you decide on the menu. The pies, sausage rolls and meatballs can be cooked the day before and just heated when you are ready to serve them, or you can make them a week or so in advance, freeze them until the day of the party, and then just heat up to serve. Meringues will last for a few days in an airtight container.
Party and cake books can give you inspiration for the birthday cake. If you're not confident about designing a cake, then another option is a plain shaped cake that you decorated with things that tie in with the theme. Round chocolates and small figures for a soccer party, fairy ornaments, small trains and cars, and the like.
Decorations at the party venue can depend on how creative you are. Balloons are quite sufficient, or you can include streamers and other decorations that tie into your theme.
Then there are the activities to think about. I have found that kids really enjoy the 'old-fashioned' games like pass the parcel, musical chairs, musical statues, pin the tale on the donkey and the like. You can change these games to suit your theme and the age group of the children.
For the pink party we played musical hearts, instead of musical chairs, where the girls had to pick up a pink cardboard heart from the ground when the music stopped. Whoever didn't get a heart was out.
I have also found that children enjoy doing treasure hunts. You can either give them clues and as a group they have to follow the clues until the find the treasure (which could be the birthday cake or the party bags). Another option is to put shapes or pictures on to lolly sticks and hide a duplicate in the garden. Each child has to find the duplicate in order to get their treasure.
In addition to games, it's great for kids to have some activities. If you make or buy plain biscuits the children can decorate them with different colour icing and sprinkles. If you give them a paper plate or box with them name on, they can take these home if they don't eat them at the party. We made star biscuits and put them on lolly sticks (put the stick between two shapes before cooking them).
Another idea that's great for a girl's party is for the guests to decorate something like a mask or a wand. This can be a little messy, but it's a great opportunity for the girls to be creative. You would need to have the mask or wand made out of cardboard, glue and various decorations such as glitter. For the masks have pieces of ribbon that can be stapled on the edges or have sticks to tape on for the wands. Glitter, craft glue and other decorations are available at discount and department stores at reasonable prices.