Do you remember your eighth birthday party entertainment, the year your parents threw that lavish, over-the-top party? There were a magician and an acrobat troupe, as well as beautiful fairy princesses in their ball gowns taking pictures with your hundred or so guests. Of course, your parents hired an entire fleet of horses to give rides to all your friends, and internationally famous chef Wolfgang Puck catered the affair. The cake—a three-tiered confection with different flavors of ice cream in each layer—was made especially for the party by Belgian pastry chef S. G. Sender, who also happened to have designed Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding cake.[record scratch] Hold on a minute. None of that happened, right? Back then, the ultimate birthday party meant your parents rented a time slot at the skating rink or a Chuck E Cheese. That is if you were lucky enough to live near one.
More likely, your eighth birthday party was held in your backyard. Your dad spent the morning on the ladder hanging a few streamers and balloons. Your mom made your cake in one of her glass 9×13 pans and decorated it with candy sprinkles. You played some games like “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” and “Duck, Duck, Goose” for prizes your parents had picked up at the dollar store. Your friends brought some gifts and you thanked them with little party favor bags, and then everyone went home.
Kids Party entertainment 101
So how did the low-key birthday party entertainment of yesteryear morph into the stuff of reality TV shows? From MTV’s show “My Super Sweet 16” to the media frenzy surrounding “celebrations” (celebrity’s kids’ lavish parties… think horses wearing glitter and unicorn horns giving “unicorn rides” to the little guests), kids not only love throwing elaborate affairs, but more and more parents have gotten in on the fun.
Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to make your little one feel special on their big day without going crazy or dipping into their college funds. The end result will be a lot of fun and spark some very meaningful memories, but only if you plan ahead.
Planning The Party
The most important question to ask yourself when planning a kid’s party is, “Who is this event really for?” Hold on, there’s no shade here! That’s a serious question. If you’re throwing a birthday party for a one-year-old, the party isn’t really about the baby. After all, the baby will probably sleep through a good part of it. So while the party might be in honor of the baby’s first year, the guests will most likely be friends of the parents.
At the same time, if this party is for your teenager, it might still not be about your child, but rather all the relatives and guests you invited. Be aware that a large family get-together in honor of your older child may be a fun way to celebrate an achievement or milestone, but ultimately, it’s still not about the teen.
Matching The Entertainment
Once you’ve got a handle on the focus of the party, planning the entertainment is a breeze. One good rule of thumb will spare you a lot of unnecessary expense and headache: the entertainment needs to match the birthday child’s age in both appropriateness and time. Hiring a princess in an expensive gown—one that you have to pay to clean or replace if an accident occurs—to mingle among your guests for several hours might be two and a half hours longer than your youngster can pay attention to, for example.
Focusing On Your Child’s Interests
It’s also important that parents avoid the trap of hiring entertainment that they would have enjoyed. Clowns, magicians, even musicians might have been something you wanted at that age, but may not be your child’s cup of party punch.
Birthday Party Entertainment Ideas and Suggestions
Virtual Birthday Party
It didn’t take a global pandemic for our world to turn digital, but things like COVID-19 certainly haven’t helped kids have a happy birthday. That’s why virtual parties are becoming all the rage. But there’s a lot to be said for having a party online even if it’s not an emergency, especially if your child’s birthday happens during out of school months, during busy holiday times, or just when it’s your son’s best friend’s turn to go see his dad that weekend.
Virtual parties to the rescue! You can host it entirely online via a platform such as Zoom, or host a combination party where a computer is set up at your actual party location and anyone who couldn’t attend can see what’s happening, chat with the other guests for a while, and still feel like they didn’t miss out.
Even better, there are a lot of themes to go along with the virtual party. You might mail each guest a “party box” beforehand, one that contains the usual party hats and favors as well as a packaged-for-shipping slice of cake. If the box also contains things like the instructions for a virtual scavenger hunt, the rules for a fun group game, or some other entertainment, that would be ideal. If your birthday child enjoys online gaming, host a virtual party inside their favorite video game, and send each player instructions on how to join in.
However you plan it, let creativity drive the fun. And don’t forget that all of your child’s guests might not have the same access to the internet, so take into account the kids who will need to participate from a mobile device or smartphone.
Twins and Multiples
One of the more difficult aspects of planning your child’s birthday party entertainment occurs when there’s more than one birthday boy or girl. You might have twins or triplets, or as in the case of some unusual families, you might have two or more children of different ages who share a birthdate or birth month. It’s fine to plan the big joint get-together when your kids are younger, but remember that your kids are individuals. They happen to have emerged into the world on the same or close enough dates, but that doesn’t mean one celebration will suffice.
But there are a lot of fun ways to make the birthday kids feel unique and special on their big days. Some families have gotten creative with the dates, such as a two-day sleepover event that celebrates both children, one on each day. Other families have utilized the same party venue but with a small gap in between to allow for a different decorating theme.
Again, it’s very important to ask your birthday kids how they wish to be honored and celebrated. They might adore the idea of a joint party with their mutual friends, or they might not. Feel free to get creative with dates, times, guest lists, and even locations if it means your birthday kids feel special.
One mom who sought help with her kids’ birthday parties pointed out a strange dynamic: both of her kids had “off-time” birthdays. One was born in late June when school was out and families were busy with vacations, summer camps, and sports. The other was born only two days after Christmas, after the big holiday letdown and when friends’ families were hard to get a hold of since school had been out for over a week.
Introducing, the half birthday!
Anytime you’re celebrating a child whose birthday isn’t exactly (sorry, parents!) convenient, you can always opt for the fun of a half birthday. This celebration takes on a comical life of its own, but even better, your child gets to help pick the date! NOTE: This is also an excellent way to commemorate a birthday that now falls on an unfortunate or painful date, such as the day of a grandparent, parent, or sibling’s death, the date of September 11th, or any other date that doesn’t feel very festive to your family.
Party Entertainment Ideas for 1st Birthdays
If you’re planning a first birthday, there’s a good chance you’re already a little overwhelmed, overworked, and exhausted. Just as your child has finally reached the age where they’re probably sleeping through the night, they’ve also begun to move independently. Walking children are frightening, especially for new parents, as it brings the childproofing to a whole new level. So don’t make yourself crazy with a party that your child will literally not remember
Photographs and Themed storybooks
The important thing about a first birthday party isn’t the fun or the entertainment, it’s the memories and the photographs. Instant cameras do an amazing job of creating photo gifts and memories. Especially, If you combine the photos with a birthday theme book. Check these ideas from caseyschaos.com for inspiration. Your child won’t remember the party but they will see the pictures years later, so make sure Mom and Dad are smiling on the big day instead of running around like crazy.
Sign The Tablecloth
The guests for most first birthday parties include family members and the parents’ friends, so be sure to include snacks and drinks for a variety of ages. One mother’s tip was to also buy a fairly sturdy white tablecloth and invite the guests to sign the tablecloth at the party; then, with each birthday, the tablecloth comes out again and the guests sign it again. It becomes a special birthday keepsake and a timeline of the important people in your child’s life.
The Smash Cake
There’s one very important part of any first birthday: the smash cake! For the uninitiated, this is a smaller version of the child’s birthday cake, one that the baby can have to themselves. For many babies, this is their first experience with pure, unadulterated sugar, and the reactions to touching and tasting this small cake are priceless. Be sure to have your camera ready and plenty of paper towels for cleaning up!
Birthday Party Entertainment For Toddlers
Depending on your toddler’s stage of development, the same rules for the first birthday tend to apply here. The entire experience can be very overwhelming and overstimulating, so don’t plan for your child to attend the entire event. The guests will still mostly be the parents’ friends and relatives, along with some of the children your child interacts with.
As for the entertainment, many parents have enjoyed giving their toddlers their first “big” gift, such as a swing set or a riding toy. Letting your child and their friends try out their new swing, slide, or tricycle will be plenty of entertainment for the guests. Remember to plan the party around naptimes so that the guest of honor is neither missing a nap nor just waking up from one. The pictures of a birthday girl with her face in her own cake, exhausted from crying, might seem funny down the road but they don’t make for great fun that day.
Birthday Party Entertainment For Preschoolers
Preschool is when birthday parties finally get really interesting… and involved, unfortunately. This is the age where you might have guests from outside of your family or circle of friends, especially if you invite children from a preschool or daycare class. As unfair as it might seem, there’s a good rule for inviting outsiders: limit the number of guests to the age of your child.
If your little one is turning four, then four guests are about all the interaction your child can handle. Another age-related guideline is for how long the party will last. Once your child begins having friends come to their events, plan for ten minutes per year of age. That means a child turning three will really have a thirty-minute party, along with unstructured playtime for as long as everyone is still happy but for no longer than an hour of total party time.
How To Limit The Activities
How can you possibly squeeze greetings, games, cake, and presents into one sixty-minute party? The point is, you probably can’t. So limit the activities to things like a quick dance party with their favorite songs on your Bluetooth speaker, a coloring station where they can draw or color, a water-themed event for playing in the sprinkler or splash pool, or even a sidewalk paint or play dough table.
How To Handle Presents
Once everyone has had fun and cleaned up, it’s time to eat then go home. But what about presents? Yikes, that can be a problem at this age. preschoolers don’t often have the social awareness to watch another child unwrap presents without wondering why someone else got a toy and they didn’t. Instead of a group unwrapping time, it’s better to go to each individual child and their parents, hand them their party favor or gift bag, and then open the present while the other children are distracted. That way, your birthday child learns how to express their thanks and no one has a meltdown fueled by confusion or jealousy. Depending on the ages and number of guests, you might also consider letting your child unwrap their presents after the party is over.
Birthday Party entertainment For 6-year-olds and Above
This is where things get particularly tricky. Navigating school-age friendships and frenemies can dampen anyone’s birthday fun. The important thing at this age is to let your child guide the planning. While you still need to be in charge of the logistics and the budget, it’s important to really listen to your child when it comes to things like themes, entertainments, and guest lists.
This is also the age where the party stops being… well… about you. Sorry, Mom and Dad.
Fight The Urge Of Recreating
It can be hard to fight the urge to recreate some of your best birthdays or worse, attempt to make up for having some not-so-great ones when you were a kid. It’s even harder to avoid the dreaded social media “overshare,” especially without the birthday child’s permission, so make sure you’re not planning an Instagram-worthy party that is the complete opposite of your child’s wishes.
So now is the time to prepare your response. If your tenth grader really wants to bring some friends to Chuck E Cheese or your third grader wants to have a boy-girl party, figure out what you’re comfortable with and how you’ll make the celebration work. If your younger school-age child doesn’t want to have a party this year or your sixth grader would rather put that money towards a bigger present or a family trip, talk to them and listen to what it is they want. Don’t force the fun on someone who really isn’t receptive to it.
Let Your Child Drive The Planning
Having said that, come up with a list together of what would make the birthday party fun. It might be a sleepover or backyard campout, a pool party at yours or a relative’s backyard pool, or a more involved thematic party like gathering everyone and going to an escape room. Again, let your child drive the conversation and planning since they have to go to school with these peers after the party is over.
The most important thing to remember about celebrating your child’s birthday is the memories you create. Whether your child wants an over-the-top spa day party, a family trip, or just a pizza party with some of their friends, let your child be the focus. Don’t go overboard creating an event that might not be to their liking or worse, costs such an extravagant amount that you can’t repeat it every year. Celebrate the wonder of your child and their individual tastes, and make sure to take lots of pictures.