Secrets To Magical Kids’ Parties

Over the past twenty-one years, my husband and I have thrown dozens of parties for our three children. While a few of these celebrations were just okay, the majority were memorable. Some were even magical. Here are the important lessons we’ve learned along the way:

It’s all about involvement

I can totally understand the desire to throw a big bash and invite every adult friend in our address book to celebrate a child’s first birthday. The accomplishments of the first year of parenting are certainly worth celebrating!  Generally, however, I appreciate parties geared toward creating a meaningful experience for the child. I’ve found the surest way to do that is to let children take the reins as much as possible by inviting their active participation in every aspect of the event, beginning in the planning stages. Who knows our child better than she does?

This let-the-kids-do-it-whenever-possible approach is reflective of child specialist Magda Gerber’s approach to children’s play, and creative projects (and just about anything else children are involved in). Gerber suggested we trust children to be the writers, directors and lead actors of their play in order to maximize these opportunities for self-motivated learning, problem solving and creative expression. So the party hats we wear are those of a support staff: assistant producer, set designer, go-fer. We let our children do the rest (to the extent of their abilities and interests).

Naturally, the younger the child, the more she’ll need us to do, but we can keep the festivities child-centered by considering her interests and planning around them. For example, the theme for our son’s second birthday (with his stamp of approval) was one of his favorite songs, “Eensy, Weensy Spider”. He posed for the invitation, which was co-designed by his six-year old sister, and then picked out a few inexpensive spider-themed party favors from a catalogue. We invited family and a couple of his buddies, ate cake, and a spidery good time was had by all.

anotherust right eensy-weensy-spider-979x1024

On the practical side, kids seem to innately understand that less is more, so trusting their instincts has saved us time and loads of money. We’ve noticed that our kids seem to know who to invite and how to keep plans age-appropriate and far simpler than we might have. A case in point:

Parents can get carried away and take over at the drop of a (party) hat

Even though my husband and I always intended to keep plans simple and child-centered, our enthusiasm occasionally got the better of us. My most vivid memory of this was our son’s 7th birthday party. He wanted it to be at the beach near our home, and so we decided on a pirate theme. Our son loved pirates. Well, mostly he loved swords.

My husband and I dug right in, creating an elaborate beach treasure hunt with a map to the pirate’s buried treasure. Neither of us are particularly crafty, but get us started imagining stories and surprises, and we’re off. Some of our brilliant ideas had us rolling on the floor. We were quite pleased with ourselves.

So, as the young pirates set off down the beach in search of the buried treasure chest filled with candy and toys, they had to follow the map, guess clues and solve puzzles. There were twists, turns, dead-ends, and hilarious (we thought) highlights, like one involving the grave of the legendary pirate Ol’ Gasbard and a hidden remote controlled fart machine. (Really.) My husband and I were amused, the children not so much.

As an afterthought, we’d also followed our son’s suggestion to bring a football and a rope for tug-of-war.

bigger tug of war ben is 7

Guess which activities the kids enjoyed most?

What do you suppose our son said the next year when he requested another beach party?

“Let’s not do the treasure hunt pirate stuff this time.” Um, okay… We didn’t argue. It was actually a relief not to have go to all that trouble again, and I’m (almost) certain we would have eventually come to the same conclusion ourselves. tug of war ben is 8yeeha ben's party

For the next five years our son had the most fabulously rich and shockingly simple beach birthday parties that his buddies raved about and looked forward to every year.

Preparation — at least half the fun

For children, the preparations are as exciting and enriching as the party itself. Child-centered planning and preparation also help toddlers and preschoolers feel on top of the situation, fully informed rather than overwhelmed, so birthday child meltdowns are far less likely.

The more open we’ve been to our children’s “less is enough” (and, often, more) approach, the more magical surprises there have been, like the personalized invitation drawings our daughter M made for her fourth birthday. Her eight year old sister did the writing.

croppedsmaller winnie the pooh0001

Her Winnie the Pooh party, which she chose based on her love of the stories, reminds me of the book I adored and used for three hugely successful affairs: The Disney Party Handbook by Alison Boteler. I checked out the same slightly worn copy from the library each year for our Winnie the Pooh, Beauty and Beast and Peter Pan parties. 

feather duster

The book contains delightful decoration, food and game ideas that the children can choose from and help prepare. Memorable highlights for us were the Fifi the feather duster party favors made with paint stirrers, the Beast’s chocolate ice cream cake castle which looked darkly magical as it started to melt, and the dapper and durable green felt Peter Pan party hats for my oldest daughter’s sixth birthday, a simple craft that even I could make work. The Peter Pan pirate ship trampoline with sails made from white sheets adorned with skull and crossbones were to die for, too.

If our kids were young nowadays we’d no doubt be scouring imaginative websites like Toddler Approved (I love their Dog Party!), Tinkerlab, and Modern Parents, Messy Kids for party ideas to inspire us and our kids and make beautiful memories.

It’s not about money

There were parties we spent money on, but looking back, the parties (and aspects of parties) that stand out as memorable favorites cost us very little.  Take the slumber party we had for our middle daughter’s 10th birthday. We took the girls to “Build-a-Bear”, which can be costly, and they certainly enjoyed themselves, but the party really took off when the girls came back to our house and began their spontaneous game of “fashion show” with the large collection of random costumes and accessories we’d amassed over the years. Our older daughter videoed the girls “walking the catwalk” in their outrageous outfits—though it was almost impossible to walk steadily when they were doubled over with laughter—and then later they posed for this photo:cropped smaller esized party girls

Trust is the ticket to magical surprises

‘Trust’ is my favorite parenting word because of all the magic and joy the simple (though not always easy) practice of letting go has brought to my family over the years.

Trusting our first daughter to develop empathy and manners through our modeling rather than forcing or insisting she share or say “thanks” or “sorry” led to our big surprise on her 3rd birthday when she thanked each of her guests individually and effusively for the gifts she received.  She also surprised us year after year by always reserving the seat next to hers for her sister who’s four years younger (and is exploring her Beast fangs in the below photo).madeline fangs

Trust in our kids to do it their way has meant we seldom need to entertain. We first realized this when our oldest had her “Beauty and the Beast” party in Kindergarten. The guests had enjoyed their Beast-themed snacks, including breadstick “Lumière” candlesticks with butter “flames”, the marvelous haunted castle cake and also a piñata. (We chose the only one we could find that vaguely fit the theme—a lovely dark haired girl—not foreseeing how wrong it would feel to be pummeling her with a plastic bat!)

After the piñata was cracked, we thought we’d need to keep the party moving by leading some games, but to our surprise, our daughter and her seven guests completely took charge, playing games on the lawn they’d learned in music class at school, which entertained them for the rest of the afternoon. Well, that was easy!

We’ve since been surprised when, for example, a large group of middle school kids chose to frolic in the ocean fully dressed (we didn’t think they’d actually enter the bracing water at the end of October).

And then there was “Rainbow Wars”, the uncomplicated, yet apparently riveting game my son’s friends invented that involved throwing glow stick party favors at each other all evening in our backyard. Who needs adult-led entertainment?

One of the biggest surprises we’ve had has been at the holiday party we’ve hosted for family and neighbors for the last few years. Kids of all ages are in attendance, yet you’d never know it, because they are outdoors playing who-knows-what in the dark all evening. Granted, it doesn’t get much below 40 degrees around here, but that can still be a bit chilly when you’re barefoot, as most of them apparently are.

When children devise the plan, it’s more fun for everyone.



 Please share your stories! 


(Cover photo by Hebe Aguilera on Flickr)




Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Gorgeous and timely! We are planning our daughter’s first birthday party and had already gotten quite carried away. I am really excited to brainstorm with my husband things just for her now, instead of for the adults, which had truthfully been our focus!!

    1. I can say with all honestly, Lana, that our kids have NEVER led us wrong. Enjoy the party! And congratulations to Mum and Dad!

  2. I love throwing birthday parties for my kids-but yes, the most magical by far was the one I planned the least for! My daughter wanted to have a camping party for her 9th birthday before we moved away to a new city. My husband ended up having tot go out of town on business last minute so I ended up taking 5 8 & 9 year olds camping at a forest device campground far from cell range all by myself. It was glorious. The girls helped set up our campsite then set off exploring. I made a campfire and sat with a good book. For two days they entertained themselves with bungee cords, rope, ghost stories and exploring. Oh-and of course giggling after dark 🙂 Best time ever!

    1. Sounds heavenly, Tracey! And you’ve reminded me of my five years as a Girl Scout leader…biggest surprise of my life that I became a Girl Scout leader and loved it! The girls were great fun and there were many magic moments like those you’ve described. I wasn’t always thrilled about the giggling after dark, but in retrospect… Yup. I miss those days.

  3. Thank you for writing this Janet. My husband and I are really blessed to not feel the pressures of having great big parties for our two boys (age 5.25 and 2.75) from the start. So far my favourite one is for our youngest, whom turned 2 last year.

    We went camping and invited the boys’ 2 favourite adults (no other kids) and didn’t tell them or the kids about our birthday plans.

    When we all arrived, I handed out the balloons and everybody knew exactly what to do while I prepared fresh berry tarts (straight from the farmers market) right as they were blowing up the balloons. It was a surprise birthday party in the woods with no stress at all and everybody got to participate in the “prep”.

    The candles came out, sang the birthday song and proceeded to do camping things like going to collect wood to build a fire etc.

    Low key and relaxed but full of meaning and all of us including the adults felt deep sense of joy. Everybody wanted to do it again next year.

    I also wrote about our boys’ simple 1st birthday “parties” here:

    My first time commenting here but had been following your blog for a while now. Thank you for all that you do/write 🙂


    1. You’re so welcome, Grace! The camping party sounds delightful!

  4. This is a very timely post for me as well, since my daughter is turning 5 in 2 days (gah, where does the time go?!). This is the first year she’s really into the idea of birthday parties, and she’s generally a person who has very specific ideas of how she wants things to be, so I sat down with her to make a list of things she wanted for her party (guests, decorations, cake, activities). Most of the things she wanted are totally doable, and the list made it easier for me to buy party supplies.

    What I’m struggling with are two specific ideas of hers that are clearly outside the script of your average birthday party: She wants people to pay a coin (or a flower) to be able to attend the party, and she says she wants to “make up the rules for my party and tell everyone and then they have to leave if they don’t follow the rules.” I’m honestly not sure where she got these ideas, since they’re not things we do in our family.

    We’ve talked to her to figure out why these things are important to her (especially the ‘entrance fee’ of the coin/flower, since she also wants people to bring her a present) and also to let her know that not only is that not what usually happens at parties, but many people would consider it quite rude and may not want to come to/stay at such a party. She is unmoved and insists that how things have to happen.

    The party is in less than 2 days. Any suggestions for how to handle this?

    Thank you!

    1. The flower idea sounds quite nice, actually–you could put them all in a vase and display them throughout the party near the cake or gifts, but I would encourage the concept of having each guests take one with them when they leave. I doubt she’ll go for that, though 🙂

      As for the rules thing, rules are a very big deal to 4- and 5-year-olds. She’s probably hearing about them a lot at preschool–rules are important, we have to follow the rules, you can’t participate if you don’t follow the rules, etc.

      I would stick to your guns and make it clear that what she’s proposing is rude and ungracious and not how a good hostess manages a party, and if you see her attempting to impose martial law on her guests, countermeasures will be taken. What those are is up to you. Good luck!

      1. Sounds like she’s getting stuck in trying to control things a bit too much. I wouldn’t be judgmental of her choices, but I would say something like: “You like the idea of having all the children follow your rules. Do you think your guests would enjoy that? Would it be okay with you if all your friends decided to leave your party?”

        If she doesn’t ending up seeing the logic herself, while you OPENLY discuss this without a judgmental tone, I would tell her that you are not comfortable with her having rules at her party.

        Then, if she actually does this at her party and tells a friend she has to leave, I would say to the friend, “I know ___ has said you have to leave, but you definitely don’t have to leave.”

        To a great extent, our children have to learn social skills through natural consequences, i.e., friends might not want to include our child because of her domineering behavior. That’s the unfortunate truth… We can only protect our child so much. What we CAN do is be strong, gentle leaders for our children, so that they don’t get caught up in controlling behavior.

    2. It could be really beautiful if every child brought a flower then you can make a big boquet that represents all her friends. I’m a teacher and we actually do this in the first day back each year. Best wishes for the day

    3. Maybe provide the flowers – guests can pick one from your garden or a bucket outside the front door? Have a sign up outside the front door about it? Does it vaguely meet the theme?

      And yeah, my 5yo is the same with rules. I said it’s my house, so I am the one to make the rules and enforce them, she doesn’t need to worry about it, and if a friend is misbehaving, she can tell me and I’ll talk to the kids (didn’t actually need to do this, but as she is a similarly detail oriented kidlet, she thought up all possible situations that she’d need help with). We also preplanned the event together and had a heap of fun doing it!

    4. My four year old overheard me talking about this with their dad and said, “I have a solution! That parent can tell the kid that they can play that game with the parents, on another day. Then the party can have no rules and be fun for other people.”

  5. Sit back and get ready for mega-comment. My daughter loves planning her parties from the invitations to the food.

    Her fourth birthday party was at Fern Dell in Griffith Park. She wanted a fairy hunt with a side of toad stools. We found some statues of odd things in thrift shops (a dancer, a gnome, an owl) and hid them on the path. She and her dad named the figurines and made a Bingo card so her little friends could hunt for them and circle them when they found them. The menu: pie and yoghurt. She worked so hard on her invitations that I had to email details to a couple of friends and send the invitation after the party. She made little toadstools from Model Magic for her guests.

    When she was six she had a cake and ice cream dance party at home. She decorated the front walk with chalk drawings of ice cream cones. We played freeze dance and made ice cream sundaes with construction paper and glitter.

    When she turned seven she wanted a dinner party. We made pita pizzas, pigs-in-blankets and carrots. She had her dad make a playlist with all her favorite songs. She danced earnestly. She ate a lot.

    Birthday parties can be such a beautiful celebration of who your child is exactly in that moment. She’s never been disappointed. The planning usually starts in the summer for her birthday in October. This year we’re going camping. Tracey, you give me hope that it will be marvelous (I’m a bit nervous.)

    Wonderful post, Janet.

  6. For my oldest son’s first birthday, we planned a big bash with all our friends and their children. We rented out the clubhouse at our condo, and carefully planned all the decorations, food, and games.

    Even though it seemed everyone had a wonderful time (the bubble machine was a big hit!), after we finished the day completely exhausted and with a pile of presents bigger than our car, we scaled back for all the parties since then. My middle child’s first birthday was just a few close friends over for pizza and homemade cupcakes, and others have been simple gatherings at our home or nearby parks. They may get more elaborate in the future, but our kids right now are happy with balloons and cake, and to have their friends come celebrate with them.

  7. Bookmarking AND pinning this!

    Our most successful parties were box parties, usually something we did for an annual summer picnic. We picked up several large boxes from appliance stores along with as many other boxes we could collect. Kids used duct tape, masking tape, and rope to design whatever they choose while parents used mat knives to cut the doors and windows kids indicated. They used markers to add details. They’d turn a dozen boxes into interconnected forts, castles, and clubhouses, then play in them all day.

    We also had pig pen parties for years. Water running down the slide into a big pool of mud, shaving cream games, water balloons, and much more. This used to be for kids until all their parents got involved.

  8. For my daughter’s third birthday party she requested I did a 3 Billy Goat’s Gruff puppet show. I’m a teacher, so used to doing that kind of thing in front of children, but the thought of doing it in front of their parents too didn’t appeal! I was also worried that the other children might not be as excited by me doing a puppet show as my daughter is. But I did it anyway, and am so glad I did as it was the highlight of the party! All the children were so involved with (the barely rehearsed) show; they jumped with surprise every time the troll popped up and shouted encouragement to the goats. And the parents enjoyed it too. I had a sore throat from doing the troll’s voice for the rest of the day, but it made me realise that there’s no need to employ expensive children’s entertainers. I’m glad I trusted my daughter’s idea.

  9. This is a beautiful article, taking notes for my daughters next party, which she has been busily planning for the last six months.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    Best kid-led activity: We had planned for pumpkin bowling at a Halloween party, which went over well, but after it was done the kids wanted to smash the pumpkins (one or two had cracked during bowling) and we said why not. They had a ball smashing those things to smithereens and then tossing all the chunks into the woods to “feed the raccoons”. Not something I would have planned, but very fun.

    Best parent designed activity: We filled a small room about three feet deep in blue/green/white balloons for an under the sea treasure hunt. We used a vacuum set on reverse to fill the balloons and sprinkled little glass marbles and plastic coins on the floor for them to “dive” for and they just went wild. They didn’t want to do any of the other activities, just that one over and over, and then they just “swam” in the balloons once the baubles were gone. Definitely doing that one again at some point.

  11. Thanks for sharing! I would love to see more posts like this about translating RIE practices into raising older children. Very helpful!

  12. This is VERY timely as we are starting to think about my son’s fourth birthday party. Janet, what are your thoughts on “drop-off” birthday parties for children this age? Most of the parties we’ve been to have been huge bashes with 40+ people since siblings and parents are always invited. They usually involve meeting at a park or renting out a facility. We want to do something more kid-centered in our back yard. My husband and I are having a conflict because I think that it should be small (5 or 6 kids) and should last two hours. He thinks we should invite all my son’s friends (12 kids) and it should last three hours so that the parents have time to go to a movie or something while we babysit. What should we do? Ask our son which kids he wants to invite? It just gets complicated because there is always the risk of offending our friends if they find out that their child didn’t make the cut. I’m also wondering if it is realistic to expect 3-5 year olds to attend a party without their parents. My son went to his first drop-off party six months ago and he did great, but I know that some kids aren’t as wiling to go along with a drop-off as he is.

    1. Hm I wouldn’t do a drop off at that age. I would not drop my child off for three hours. Also if he really does have twelve friends, why not do park kind of bday and invite everyone? People get very offended if only half of the good friends get invited. Know there are other perspectives, but ja. Also two vs three hours- how many people really will go watch a movie? In the day… ? There are infinite other things they can enjoy in two hours

  13. I should add that all of the kids that we are inviting to the drop-off party are the children of our very close friends. All of the kids have spent lots of time at our house and know my husband and I well. We wouldn’t attempt a drop-off party if we were inviting kids whose parents don’t know and trust us.

  14. Hi Janet 🙂 Great post indeed! I couldn’t agree more in regards to the fun of planning together, I have really enjoyed seeing my son getting very involved with preparing his party, thinking about it, about the menu, setting the tables, preparing the party favors, etc. (Although I cringed this year when I heard him set up something and say to himself ‘Perfect! It’ll be perfect.’ Mom’s perfectionism seeping through the cracks ;-)) I’ve gotten better at letting go. I look forward to following my son’s lead even more for his next parties! Trust is so liberating!!

  15. My best memories of parties was the fairy party for my daughter, we made everything, the wings, crowns, wands and their favorite, fairy dust necklaces. I have beautiful pictures of a bunch of four year old girls running through the park throwing fairy dust. I also used paper to create giant flowers all over the house and they loved it. Whatever I used for decorating the house would then be transferred to their rooms for the year, they loved it. I have so many friends who spend hundreds and sometimes a few thousand dollars on birthdays and I don’t like these parties, the parents are hovering and over correcting everyone, the kids are dressed too fance and can’t ‘get dirty’ and the gift bag items have become a competition. I’ll usually do one structured activity to start with the kids and then they are on their own to play, and they love it, and the parents get to relax and visit and not have to micromanage their children. Great post, I’ve been thinking of starting a party organizing business that specializes in low key, low cost, wonderful parties…because we all can’t afford bouncy castles and carted parties for our toddlers!

  16. I just ran across this and it made me giggle. My son’s birthday is still a few months away (February) but he’s already decided we will have a “halloween birthday” and everyone must dress up as something VERY scary and he wants me to scatter buckets of candy around the house so the kids can trick or treat – kids are just too creative!

    1. Agreed! And party planning can be a great way for them to express that creativity.

  17. This resonates with me so much – as a kid, I always had the best birthday parties – we had a huge yard and my parents let me invite all of the kids in my class, about 18. And they would just set up some sprinklers (it was July) and have a bunch of balls, etc available and just let us run wild for two hours! Some cake, a goody bag and that was it. It was the best and very simple.

  18. For the first two birthdays, it was just me, hubby and our son with a simple cake and fruit salad to celebrate.

    Since then, our son decides on the guest list (usually his two older girl cousins who he adores, & a couple of neighbor friends), I put out plenty of things to nibble on and drink and…that’s it!

    The kids all play freely until late, even the little ones and us adults get to enjoy each other’s company. The rest of the year, both adults and kids rave about how much they enjoyed our son’s party, even though there was literally nothing planned, no games or activities. But the freedom for the grown ups to socialise and the kids to play as they wish in the garden is priceless.

    p.s I was a kids’ party planner before becoming a mom and I’ve NEVER seen a party where the kids like the birthday cake. They can’t wait to blow the candles and run away to keep playing. So I plan the cake according to adult tastes now leave plenty of yummy things for the children (they always choose fruit kebabs or tortilla rolls over cake and candy anyway).

    Thanks for a great post!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Michelle! Your parties sound blissful. Interesting and true about the cake.

  19. I really liked your kids’ parties. 😉 My daughter turned four just yesterday. I planned a party with her, I asked her about the theme, we made invitations together, I asked her what cake she wanted and which activities she would like to do with her friends (she said eat cake and watch cartoons and chase one another), but I prepared a few other activities just in case … They ended up playing their own games, needing (almost) no assistance. My husband said to me when everyone left: “We totally rocked this party.” And it was only because we just let the kids be, and put no pressure on other parents.

  20. Hi Janet, thank you for sharing this one… As I approach disney themed parties with my 2 year old princess and fairy fan, I was already getting myself overwhelmed with ideas… After an exhausting blow-out for my daughter’s 1st birthday, I kept her second low-key, like I remember most of my own childhood birthday parties… We made a cardboard box castle, and I got a bunch of colorful balloons that dotted the ceiling with their ribbons filling the airspace. She wore a new tiara and I made a playlist of her favorite songs. She and her cousins had a blast and I actually got to enjoy being in the moment with our company and watching her enjoy her party.

  21. My son started picking out and planning his themed parties just before he turned three. He makes the plans and I figure out how to make the happen (with his help). His themes have been: bug, Halloween (in April), swim, Lego, Skylanders, Kirby, and Secret Agent. We always have fun planning the parties together.

  22. I completly agree. Great post! I was wondering if you give some advice on how to handle opening gifts. My son is turning four and he has not had the best reactions when opening gifts. He often says “that’s not what I wanted” or “are there more gifts?” which mortifies me. He doesn’t seem to appreciate the thought that goes into a gift and easily gets upset when a gift is not what he thought it might be. Please help!

  23. Maureen Dixon says:

    My kids are grown but the party we still talk about was 8 years ago when my daughter had a 13th birthday party sleepover. It had more guests than I wanted but I thought we would cope. Shortly after the pizza arrived the power went out (and it was Feb and cold). Plans got cancelled, the kids entertained themselves in sleeping bags and the power came back at midnight. The girls asked for the same party the next year even if we faked the power failure

  24. Hi Janet, thanks for posting. So far we have only thrown one birthday party, just for family, and my som’s birthday happens to be on New Year’s Eve. I am wondering in the future if we’ll do a separate party on another day or earlier on the day, since bedtime is long before 12! I suppose we’ll wait and see what he wants. I learned the hard way that if you want to get a handful of balloons on New Years Eve to order them ahead of time! It was his favorite part of the day, playing with the balloons. this post will help me remember to keep it simple, low stress and to go with the flow.

  25. Ella turns 6 on Friday and has planned a cowgirl party. I have searched Pinterest and have heaps of ideas! But it’s not my party, it’s Ella’s so I’m going to rein it in because she has it all worked out. Ella has chosen her outfit (not what I would choose but again it’s not my party) We are going to make her cake together & plan a few games. Ella is certain she does not want hot dogs on the menu just pasta, cheese and jelly. And as much as I’d like her dad to take her out in the morning so I can decorate and go ‘surprise!’ I know that she is looking forward to that part of the party prep most of all!

  26. Yes! My oldest daughter will be 6 next month, and her first “friends” party was when she turned 3. Every year since then we’ve rented a town cabin near a playground (sometimes the weather cooperates in NY for outside playing!), ordered some pizza, made cupcakes and signs for decorations, and brought a few simple things for the kids to play with – glo sticks, bouncy balls, etc. They love it! The first year we had 5 friends come, and it has grown to be a large gathering of friends and their families now that most of them have small siblings as well. I asked my daughter where she wanted her party this year, assuming now that she’s getting older she would want a more structured party somewhere, and she surprised me and said “the cabin!!!”!

  27. We just celebrated our daughters 4th birthday. I was looking around what does she likes to have a theme. Since she is 3 she has decided what theme she wants for her birthday, where she wants to celebrate it, and who she wants to invite. This year theme came as a surprise for me only because sounded like a big and mature for her age but I did what she wanted and it was magical. She told me very firmly she wanted to have a Flower Garden Birthday and that it was really important for her that I decorate with a lots pf flowers because she loves them so much (which she does ❤️) She helped a bit with the treat bags and helped to pick the decorations as I was buying everything. I always asked if she liked and so on. The cake I choose some that where close to the theme and she choose the one she liked the most. It was really fun for both of us to do everything together. I explained her that I would decorate by myself so jt could be as a surprise for her and she agreed. The first moment she walked into the area where I decorated she was in awe and so happy and excited that she started to say thank u thank u thank this is the best birthday party ever. That face and emotion ahe had made my whole day. I know she enjoyed so much her birthday that until this day she keeps talking about it. She says it was amazing, and loved planting flowers with her friends!

  28. My child recently turned 4 years old. Each birthday I have painted a picture that was themed to the birthday, or I would draw something on our large chalk wall and take a photo of it. It’s simple art, I am no artist by any means. But, my kiddo loves it and parents think its unique and special. More importantly, it’s something my kid looks forward to and appreciates so that makes me happy. I do it on the birthday eve while my kiddo is sleeping. I also decorate the house so when kiddo wakes up it’s a magical sight. The theme has always been what my child would like and we keep it fairly simple. We did a cookie monster theme one year. I made cookies instead of a cake and served milk. Another year it was super heros. Kids wore their own costumes if they chose to. Otherwise, I gave them all very simple capes. Give them balloons and they will play for hours. I think soon, we will have to move it out of the house as we have a very small home, but winter birthdays are a challenge. For now, its intimate and cozy.

  29. Coming in to our playroom to find my three year old was carefully laying out all the paper plates and napkins in a pattern all over the floor and him telling me he was getting the room ready for the party is one of my favourite memories of my son! Such care and thought had gone into it. We left them like it for the party and he loved it!

    One of tricky things in planning a party here in the UK is the unpredictable weather – being outside does make a big difference I think. My son has a July birthday and we had quite a few of us stuck in one room in the rain that year! I think the key is not having too many people so if the weather is bad it’s manageable but my son is a friendly inclusive sort so it’s tricky to limit numbers too much.

  30. My youngest daughter is about to turn 1 and I don’t know what to do for her birthday. She’s not talking and not showing a clear preference for anything yet. She is curious and loves exploring.

    My in-laws were visiting when my oldest daughter turned 1 and pretty much took over. I wasn’t happy with how the birthday party turned out. They piled all the toys in the middle of the room and they encouraged my daughter to open presents which she didn’t care about doing, while the video taped it. Then we had cake. I didn’t like the focus being placed on toys.

    For her 2nd birthday party, my daughter was totally into pouring tea. So I planned a tea party for her and her friend. It was a lot of fun. Perhaps a little to adult-`focused as there were six adults (her friend’s parents, godparents, and me and my husband) vs. three children (her friend came with her sister). I want to go waste free so for the party I made all the decorations. I made a hanging curtain the girls could run through (my daughter loves my neighbours weeping willow tree because she can run through the branches – we call it the Through Tree). We made a ton of food all with my daughters preferences in mind.

    The party was great and I think she really liked it but I should have asked her what she wanted. I’m struggling with the same thing today, with her sister’s first birthday.

    So my questions is: how do you support your non-verbal child in choosing and directing their birthday party?

    1. Hi Lindsey – I would not do a big party for child that age, because that would be overstimulating and she could not be actively involved. I would invite just close family and have a very low key, simple celebration.

    2. Stephanie says:

      For my son’s first birthday we took him to the zoo, just the three of us. We focused all of our attention on him and had a lovely day together. It was nice not worrying about pleasing anyone else or worrying about food or decorations since he wouldn’t care about it. We plan on doing this for our daughter’s first birthday this year. We will get a babysitter for our son and take only her. I think it’s a nice tradition to create, even if we don’t have any more kids.

      1. Aww! I love the idea of taking just the birthday-sibling out on a special day with Mom & Dad. Thanks for sharing! <3

  31. The theme we’ve had for our children’s birthday parties is “Yay! A birthday party!” – brightly colored balloons and streamers, pizza, cake, and a pinata – though we’ll often incorporate some of their current favorite things – a special cake topper, or foam airplane gliders hung from the ceiling with fishing line. Like your child, ours also took exception to their special pinatas being beaten and whacked (there were tears over a red airplane pinata that he taped and kept for a year after the party). So now we stick to generic pinatas like numbers and stars. Simple parties at home or a park with not too many people, and only people our children know and love, have always been more enjoyable for all of us than those at a venue. And no matter what games or activities we have planned, it always turns into a big, fun playdate. So we’ve learned to keep it simple! After all, it’s a party for THEM, not for ME.

  32. We recently hosted a very successful 4th birthday party following a similar principal. I did a lot of prep but during the party I only took control over the food. My son helped in advance to make salt dough bones, which were buried in the sand pit to discover multiple times (and we had a cubby house set up as a paeleontology department with brushes and tools), I had a sensory table set up for the young visitors (squishy edible beads and Dino’s) plus a table of magic sand and Dino related moulds. A bucket of Dino’s in eggs (which the kids hid and found themselves during the party) and some blow up dinos around the place and we had consecutive party’s from 9am through to 7pm with no boredom in sight. For me, the lack of schedules games made it more relaxing as an adult and gave me more time to talk to other parents at the party and keep a good eye on having the table stocked with food. He’s already planning what he wants when he turns 5 (snow theme in an Australian summer!). We all finished the day in a great mood 🙂

  33. I recently threw my son his first ever birthday party for his third birthday. We missed out on his first and second birthdays because of the pandemic. A friend of mine gave me sage advice of not over-complicating things and I’m so thankful for it. I had all these elaborate plans and themes kicking around in my head, but I asked my so. What he wanted to do and he said he wanted to play at his favorite park with his friends and drive “remote cars.” I invited a few of his friends, got store bought cupcakes and snacks, bought a piñata, and found second hand RC cars for a steal at thrift and consignment stores so that the kids could all take them home as party favors. I was relaxed, everyone had fun, and it cost less than $100. Thank goodness for mom friends that can share their experiences and keep you from making yourself crazy.

  34. I used to spend HOURS making elaborate birthday cakes, only to see them devoured in seconds. For my sons 6th birthday I had bought all the prepping’s and lollies to make a “bug cake”. My son and his friend asked if they could decorate the cake themselves and it was awesome! Perfectionism gone and all the kids loved it just the same. And my son was so proud to share his cake with his friends. No looking back

  35. I recently threw my daughter’s first birthday party at 6. I made it a surprise in case no one showed. 3 kids showed and it was the perfect amount of kids and parents! I planned a fun but short treasure hunt, a mystery in a box game, food and prizes and outdoor games like Egg on a spoon and three legged races. In the end I overspent and the kids ended up playing outside in the yard by themselves. I had so much fun, but learned less is really more. Half of the food didn’t even get eaten and I overthought every scenario.

  36. What a relief when we allow our children to lead! The weight on parents’ shoulders to “one up” every year’s birthday has me exhausted and my daughter is not-yet two. For her 1st we did a strawberry theme, because you guessed it, she was obsessed with them! Just a few minimal DIY decorations, digital invite, food, and a smash cake I baked myself. We turned some music on & let her run around and play. Then promptly put her down for her nap before she got too overstimulated. For her 2nd I’ve been saving her “paintings” and am going to cut out the # “2” from them as decor. Hoping for many more low key birthdays but with her involvement & direction!

    1. My pleasure, Madison! It was fun to write and remember. Thank you for your kind support.

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