It’s easy to be a little overwhelmed when thinking about throwing a birthday party for your kids, especially when you see the amazing themes, cakes and favors on sites like Pinterest!  Most years, my old teacher planning habits kick in and my kids’ parties turn into events. Some years, we take a very low-key approach to their special day. Either way, parties all involve a few basic categories that require a bit of thought and effort. You can choose to go over the top, or just the basics, depending on your time, money, situation, and, let’s face it, energy levels. I’ve listed them here to help you think through what would work for your plans.

Themes:

This should be relatively obvious. Consider what your child likes best or ask them what type of party they’d like. You might have fabulous ideas but if your kid’s not sold on it, you’ll be wasting all of your effort. You can go unique or mainstream, choose something as narrow as a character or as broad as a color scheme!

Invitations:

Some would argue that the invitation, being the first thing your guests see, sets the tone for your party. If you craft or scrapbook, this might be an area where you can shine. As I am not someone who forms magical things out of paper, I generally put my energies elsewhere. People usually see the invite, write the info in their phones or on their calendars, then throw it away. This is an easy area to find short cuts like using online invitations, grabbing a pre-made pack at the store, or creating something simple to print.

Another aspect of invitations to consider is what children actually receive the invite. Many school classes have rules that your can only hand out invitation in class if everyone gets one. I like to plan ahead for a large number of guests, so there is never an awkward moment of not being able to welcome someone, especially siblings of those kids who are coming. You can’t count on RSVPs to give you accurate numbers. Most people don’t bother telling you they’re NOT coming, so you’ll never know until the moment arrives.

Decorations:

I’ll admit this is an area I focus on. I want the kids to feel like they’re surrounded by this imaginary world, whatever it is. Frequently, time and effort can trade for money when decorating. Try to think outside the store bought products and personalize things a bit. Make tissue paper flowers or paper mache a form. Buy the fancy character napkins from the store and mix them with color coordinated plates or print and cut out cardstock hangings. Higher priced party stores will generally have a selection of things with a face or logo plastered on it, but the dollar store should have colored plates and utensils, balloons, crepe paper, and other party type supplies.

Food:

Unless you want to serve lunch, it’s best to avoid anything near noon. Perhaps you are a gourmet chef and you would love nothing more than to shower scrumptious treat onto your guests. That is wonderful and you should totally do that. If you are more like me, an expert bag opener, you can rest assured that this is another area that can be left simple. Nowadays you’re pretty much expected to have some sort of snack, but it’s best to stick to basics: easy to serve and easy to eat. Also, make sure to give them plenty to drink. I always keep bottled water in a tub with ice for easy hydration of kids as well as their parents.

The cake is a separate consideration. It will be the center of attention for at least a few minutes. I’m lucky enough to have a mom that enjoys helping me create insane cake shapes, so we spend a significant amount of energy on it. Your cake doesn’t need to look fresh off of Cake Boss. If cake is really not your thing, buy one from the store and spruce it up with figurines or printed characters taped to toothpicks.

Activities:

Notice, I didn’t title this section “Games.” Outside of a piñata, the idea of making kids do what I tell them to do, when I want them to makes me cringe. Instead, we plan activities that kids can do, or not do, whenever they feel like it. This allows them to take their time or catch up if they’re late. It also gets parents off the hook for corralling children. Generally, whatever the activity is gives them something to take home as their ever-expected “goody bag.” So, it kills two birds with one stone and gets away from the cheesy “goodies” that hit the trash sooner than not.

What planning a good party comes down to is playing to your skills and interests, thinking outside the party store box, and not trying to impress anyone. The point is for everyone, most of all you birthday boy or girl, to have a fabulous time!