If possible pick out a theme and start preliminary planning 6 weeks ahead of the party date. Send the invitations out 3-4 weeks early. Phone them if they don't RSVP (it's amazing how many people don't!) Having your guest list ahead of time allows you to adjust for any shortfalls.


Invitations can take many different forms with both the invitation style and method of delivery. Use your imagination for fun ways to invite your guests:

Some Examples:

Spy party: "ID cards" sent through the mail or have the birthday child drop the invite on the front door, ring the doorbell and run and hide.The recipient will see only the "secret invite" - not the deliverer... very mysterious! Send the invite in code...

Princess parties can be announced with rolled up scrolls

Cowboy party invites can be teabag-stained and charred "wanted posters".

Pirate Invites can be a "message in a bottle".

Invitation Wording

You can have a lot of fun with the invitation wording:

Your home can take on an alter ego: "Smith Cove" (Pirate Party), "Smith Spy School", or The "Smith Ranch" (Cowboy Party).

You can have your guests RSVP to "The Royal Butler and Maid" (Princess Party), "Sheriff Smith" (Cowboy Party), "EGROEG and ARUAL" (George and Laura - spell your name backwards for Alien Space Party flare)... get creative with your invitation wording!

Party Decorations

Two of the most effective products for decorating for a birthday party are Balloons and Streamers!


Streamers can be used in many ways:

Green streamers can be ripped to different lengths and then crumpled/uncrumpled and hung from the ceiling as "seaweed" (undersea/mermaid/pirate theme).

Blue streamers can be twisted and draped for "water".

Red streamers can be "fire" (fire fighter party).

Multi-coloured streamers can be rolled into "flowers" (princess/flower power party), and stuck to the wall or made into "bouquets".

Streamers can be used as "room dividers" and make makeshift "tents/walkways".

Orange/yellow streamers can be taped crisscrossed in a hallway as a "Laser beam Obstacle Course" (Spy Party).

Streamers can be used anywhere you need a splash of colour (even outside). Make streamers out of anything (coloured garbage bags, paper, fabric, etc.) Do be careful where you place them as streamers are not fireproof.


With Helium

Balloons are festive and have a lot of impact. If you buy/rent a helium tank you can really dress up your venue with balloons.

With helium balloons you can weigh them down with weights or let them float to the ceiling.

Helium Balloons - Anchored

Anchor balloons with balloon weights - or make your own. Make weights with a 1 foot square of mylar/wrapping paper/cellophane- filling with sand/candy/pebbles then bringing the 4 corners together and tying it up with ribbon.

It is very important to weigh your balloons down if you have them outside as balloons can wreak havoc with power lines (especially foil balloons). Helium Balloons can be given at the party's end as party favours attached to a slap bracelet/ balloon weight, or tied to the child.

Helium Balloons - Floating

Float your helium balloons up to the ceiling (make sure the ceiling is not a rough/textured one).

Attach a long curling ribbon to the neck of the balloon and curl the ribbon over a scissor blade.

From the end of the ribbon attach a star/fish/shape made from mylar/ shiny paper, (punch a hole in the cutout first).

Send the balloon up to the ceiling and the star will dangle suspended in mid-air.

To make the balloons float a bit longer, tie the balloon neck tightly (and tie the ribbon below the balloon neck knot).

If you want the balloons to float longer than the standard 6-12 hours ( I've seen them float for 10 days!) squirt in some "HI-FLOAT" ( a water-based polymer that seals the inside of the balloon ).

Balloons will float longer in a cooler environment with high humidity.

Air-filled Balloons

To get the "helium balloons on the ceiling" look without the cost, tape balloons to the ceiling (no one will ever know).

You don't need helium for fabulous balloon décor, Balloon "clouds" can be suspended from the ceiling with string and balloons can be wrapped around poles, wires, and tied into columns and arches.

To get the "helium balloon party favour" without the helium, use balloon "saucers and sticks". The balloon is twisted around the cup-shaped "saucer" and then the balloon and saucer can be placed on the "stick", you don't even need to tie-off the balloon!

Proper Inflating of Balloons

All balloons should be the same size and be correctly inflated. A correctly inflated balloon is shaped like a water drop - not a light bulb (overinflated) and not round (underinflated).

Avoid blowing up all the balloons yourself it will make you dizzy, and is unsanitary (especially if you have a cold).

It's best to get a balloon pump.

Party Starters

Start the party off in a fun way or with an "opening gambit", to break the ice and get the shyer children into the swing of the party.

Wear a costume or have some funny way to welcome your guests.

For example:

At a Spy party you could make the guests produce their ID's upon entering your home, or -by whispering through the door-direct them to enter the back door/basement door.

At a Royal Party someone could announce the guests (maybe a jokester friend), with the "Royal Formula" (below).

Party Names

It's fun for the children to have an "alter ego"/special name at the party.

For Example:

At a spy party - children can be called by the last 4 digits of their phone number.

Children at a space party can be called by their actual name backwards (try it with your name - it usually sounds Alien ).

Children at a princess/royal party can be called by the "Royal Formula" which is: "Lord/Lady (Child's name)(Grandparent's first name)(Pet name double-barrelled with a Child's Street name).Lady Sarah Gladys Fluffy-Granville.

Sheet

Set up a Sign-in sheet which has the name of the child, followed by their "party name", followed by the child's address, (if needed for thank you notes), email address (for emailing photos), contact phone numbers (if there's a need to call a parent for a hurt/nervous child), and lastly a space on the spreadsheet for any allergies.

The Sign-In sheet is a record of the party and is great to have as a keepsake.


It can be a lifesaver to have a friend greet people at the door, get their information, and welcome the child. The mum-at-the-door is the gate-keeper, and it's her job to let the parent know if you need them to stay (and help) or not.

Some parents you will need to have stay and help (to man the game "stations"), other parents can be sent quickly "on their way" as with only 2-3 hours to run the party you do not have time for chit-chat. You can say hello! from the other side of the room, while your (good pal) is on "door detail".

Kid's Party Craft

Some children will arrive at the party right on time and some will not, arriving with a breathless parent (who may often be late!). To fill this gap of time-hopefully no more than 15-20 minutes-it's a good idea to have a craft set up. It's great when the craft the children make is used as a party decoration/prop (like a fancy hat). A craft is an excellent "party warm-up".

Some things to Consider:


Crafts often require you to fasten things:

Hot Glue and Staplers are fast (but need adult supervision).

White Glue and fabric paint can be done (messily) by the children but often require longer than the allotted party time to dry.


Certain paint can take awhile to dry. (fabric paint can take days!)

If using a messy slow-drying paint you may want to distribute the completed craft items at another time. (Handing out finished craft items after the fact can be tricky to do at school if not all the children were invited. You may want to be stealthy when handing them out).

You could always just send the wet/messy items with the parents, just give a bit of thought as to how they can be transported post-party.


Make sure that the craft doesn't take too long (pre-cut some of the shapes, pre-assemble a bit to save time). This is a pitfall that we've seen some parents fall into, with a time-consuming craft the children can get really involved in their project-and before you know-the best part of an hour has been taken up by the craft. Then you are "under the gun" trying to get through the games, activities, food, cake, presents, pinata, treasure hunt (whew!) in half the time that you need. This can be very stressful.

Birthday Cake

One of the Highlights of a Kid's Birthday Party is the Cake!

You can buy the cake but cake decorating at home can be great fun.


A few things to remember while decorating the Cake:

Secure the cake to the plate with a glob of icing.

Slightly freezing the baked cake will make it easier to ice.

Do a "crumb coat" - skim a thin coating of (thin) icing over the chilled/slightly frozen cake, ( the crumbs will be stuck to the thin coat, it will look dreadful, but it will make the real coat of icing easier to apply.) You can then pop it back in the freezer for a bit.

The most important thing about icing a cake is this:

You need to plop a large amount of medium icing (not too thin as it'll run, not too thick as it will tear up the cake) - then gently (gently!) spread/work the icing down over the surface of the cake.

As the icing steadily covers more of the cake "real estate" the thickness of the icing will become closer to the proper thickness.

The worst thing you can do is to apply little bits of icing one at a time picking up lots of surface crumbs as you work back and forth. The icing will be loaded with crumbs and won't look very attractive. Use a knife if you don't have a spatula.

Keep in mind that icing has 3 consistencies:

Thin (good for piping icing)

Medium (good for basic decorating and covering the cake)


Icing Recipe (via Wilton)

1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine softened

1 teaspoon clear vanilla

4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (approximately 1 lb.)

2 tablespoons milk

First cream shortening and butter then add vanilla and gradually add sugar one cup at a time (icing will appear dry) then add milk and beat. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator (icing will last a couple weeks - you will need to rewhip before using). You can thin out the icing (for spreading) with a couple Tablespoons of corn syrup/milk/water. If you aren't concerned about the icing being a little bit yellow (from the butter) and would like better tasting buttercream icing - substitute the above shortening for butter and use ordinary vanilla rather than trying to find the clear vanilla.

This recipe makes about 3 cups of icing.

Other Decorating Tips:

Left-over icing freezes well

Use Ziplock bags with one corner clipped if you don't have decorator bags

If you want to get black icing... start with cocoa powder which makes it a deep brown, and then you don't have to add a lot of dye (plus it tastes nice too!)

The Wilton colours aren't as cheap as the standard grocery food dyes... but they last forever, and will dye endless bowls of icing (definitely good value!)

Cake Topper

It is hard to get just the right cake topper for your theme party... make your own from FIMO dough and make a small deep hole in the bottom so that later you can put the cake topper on a skewer.

Party Games and Activities

There are an infinite number of games that can be played and that can be altered to fit the theme.

"Duck, Duck, Goose" could be named anything like "Bug, Bug, Spider" ( bug party),and the kids love to run around in circles!

Bingo is always a great crowd pleaser, have as many themed pictures as empty spaces on the card (leave the center space as a "free" one). Make one set of pictures for each card but stick the pictures down in a different order on each card - one picture per square. They come together pretty quickly.

Guess how many _____________? in the Jar. This will work with any theme and is exciting for the children to try and guess.

Relay Races - Can suit any theme and give the children a chance to burn off a little of their energy. It's nice to pace the party so that you use high energy activities to kick the party "into high gear", and then quieter/slower activities to calm the kids down.

Dumb luck games - turn over the card/pull the stick/choose the beanie baby... and see if you found the... big fish/pot of gold/magic potion etc...

Throw the __________ in the ___________ (kids love shooting at targets - a ball in a bucket for an example).

Quiz/Educational games - This will teach them a few things and can help them to cool down if the kids are getting a little too rambunctious

Search games - always the hit of the party!

Obstacle Courses

Pin the __________ on the ____________

Game Stations

Have stations set up. Have some of the moms man the different stations

Game Station Change Alert

A "royal kazoo", a "cowboy bell" a "fire truck siren", etc are used to signal the children to change stations. This way, most of the children will be engaged in an activity at any given time and won't start fussing.

Set up Game stations with Old-fashioned games and make them fit the theme by how you refer to them.

With "Pitching Pennies" (everyone tosses their penny at a wall and the penny that lands closest to the wall is the winner and takes the other pennies) the pennies could be "royal coins" (princess party) Spanish doubloons (pirate party) or copper atoms (science party).

Some Old Fashioned Games are:

Marbles, Jacks, Pitching Cards,Tiddlywinks, Crokinole, Croquet, Darts, Bowling, Horseshoes, Bowling (use just about anything unbreakable as bowling pins)

Game Rewards

There are 2 schools of thought here, whether young children should "win" prizes, or that "everyone should be a winner". One way to do it is by having the children actually "win"... not prizes but tokens/coins/points which are redeemed at the end for prizes.

If a child is very unlucky, you can stack the odds in their favour so that they win a few points. At the end of the party, children cashing in their points will receive roughly comparable prizes for their redeemed points as a way of "evening out the playing field".

Additional Tips

Have a few of the moms (the most helpful) stay and assist. Be sure to give them a heads up beforehand so they know that you need them to stay. If you have all the moms/dads stay then you are fighting a "war on 2 fronts", trying to entertain both kids and parents (very difficult), although some families do it that way with the kids having a big play date.

Sometimes it can be fun to set up a "LIVE TV FEED" (a video camera firmly mounted on a tripod and out of the way but within view of all the activity). The kids can have fun watching themselves (before and after the party). Although this sometimes can become a distraction with the children becoming self-conscious and sitting glued to the screen ( the less screen time the better!)

Kid's Party Photo-op

It's great to get a few mementos of the day in the form of some photos, especially after putting so much effort into the party!

High school kids can be paid to run around and take pictures while you are in your role of party meister/kid wrangler. While you are running a party it is almost impossible to take pictures. With the young children, you will you need to be in control all the time organizing/wrangling.

If you have an AMWAC (Another Mother With A Camera) as a friend, ask her to take pictures for you.

Shot List Pointers

1. Take a "Pre-Party Shot" before guests arrive so that you have a permanent record of all her hard work decorating for the party.

2. Always insist of a "Group Shot", it can be a bit of a hassle, but, if you don't have it you will regret it, and will forget years later who was at the party. The group shot is extra adorable if all the guests make even a little effort to dress for the party. (Spy parties-the kids wear black, Cowboy parties - shirt and jeans, Princess party - a fancy dress, Circus party - bright clothes in clashing colours.)

3. Don't forget to break out the costume items like hats (the hat can be sent home with each party-goer).

4. Mid-party is a good time for photos, when the kids are in the groove and comfortable with each other, (but not the party end as some children might be leaving early).

5. Try to get an "individual shot" of each child.

It's also very amusing to use a giant poster with a face hole cutout like those joke carnival "put your head in the hole" attractions. To produce a large enough poster - check out the poste-razor or block poster programs. These programs (and others) let you make a huge (any size) poster out of regular white office paper. You print the poster off piecemeal on to regular white paper and then tape the pieces of paper together and cut out the hole... then you can hang the poster in a doorway. (You can also tape the final result onto posterboard making it more durable.

6. You can send the digital pictures along to the email addresses on the sign-in sheet.

For distributing photos after the party use the free "dropbox" program, load up all the pictures and label them accordingly (bug party-johnny) and send the parents the link to the dropbox. Then the parents can take a peek, and download the picture if they like it.

7. Oh... and turn off your flash for the "blow the candles out" shot... (much better that way).

Party Treasure Hunt

Stage a Treasure Hunt/Scavenger hunt/Search if at all possible.

You will find that it is usually the party highlight. If it isn't that much fun for you to have kids tearing around your home, (they will enjoy it!) try the backyard or local park.

For older children it can be fun to search around a shopping mall with pictures of things to find or getting clues from shopkeepers, (lots of shopkeepers don't mind helping out with clues, but in all fairness you should make a purchase, to thank them for their effort).

Treasure Hunt Variations

First Search clue is IN the Pinata, so after the pinata breaks... the clue sends them off searching!

The search leads TO the Pinata.

The search leads TO the Loot Bags.

The search can be to avoid PERIL ( a Spy "Bomb" is set to go "off" - use a loud kitchen timer - and the children need to find the diffusing instructions).

Making Clues

When making up clues - make them a bit on the tough side, so that the children need a hint or two. This way you can pace the search, and have a bit of control over how the search progresses.

If the clues are too easy, then the older children run around quickly leaving younger children in the dust, (and don't have to work very hard for the reward.) It can be anti-climactic if the search is over 5 minutes after it starts.

Loot Bags

You can put anything in the Lootbags. We believe it is better to have a useful thing or two than a whole bag full of "little bits of nothing". Tiny erasers never get used and are only good for collecting dust. It is depressing when the kids get things that break before being used even once.


If budget is an issue, there are things like stickers that the children will use and are inexpensive. Let your creativity shine We once received a silk pouch filled with lavender from the garden and it is still in use.

Paper Lunch bags are fun to decorate and are a good size for loot bags. If money is tight then you might want to consider putting the money into a really nice craft item, which can be turned into something really special with the child's (priceless) creativity!

We really love themed hats, because they are so much fun to wear and add to the ambiance of the party!


Piñatas can be bought inexpensively but you can easily make a really special one. The ones you buy are generally of the "cardboard-shell-covered-with-tissue-paper" type. The homemade ones are often painted/coloured tissue papered paper mache.

Homemade Paper Mache Piñata

They do not take as much time to make as you may suspect - they don't require as much hands on time as drying time. You can apply all the wet paper mache pretty quickly and then just put it away for a few days (it can take days for things to dry!) It's nice if you have a quiet area of your home to leave the piñata in peace.

Piñata Materials


You can mix the "paste" from anything: white flour and water (medium consistency - perhaps 2-1 ratio flour to water); wallpaper paste; or watered down white glue. If you decide to use the flour and water method - fill a bowl with flour and add the water to it.

If you line the bowl with a plastic bag -which can be closed-keeping the paste from drying out. Flour and water will start to ferment in a couple days.) Lining the bowl also makes cleanup a snap.

If you are making the pinata early and plan on leaving it where there are bugs (garage, barn, outdoors) you can add salt to the flour and water paste to make it less attractive to bugs (yech!)


Newsprint has a distinct "grain" tearing into strips one-way but not the other (try it and see!). You want to tear it with the grain; you'll get a much nicer result that way.

Tear your newprint into strips about 1 inch wide, dip them into the paste and then remove the excess paste from each strip and lay them onto the surface of the blown up balloon or form. Make sure to let the layer dry before adding another one (don't make the layer too thick as then it takes an eternity to dry and can get kind of funky-smelling!)

Piñata Construction

As a form, use blown up balloons and small cardboard pieces taped together to make the rough form that you need (anything for that matter can be used). If you use balloons, it's better to use good quality balloons for the form and keep the drying piñata in an area without a dramatic temperature change as this can make the balloon pop before you have a good shell formed.

Another way to construct your pinata is to form the paper mache around a special form and then slit the "soft shell" piñata down the middle to slip it off the form and then patch the slit with more papier mache.

If you start very early then it's easy (if you start a week before then it may be super stressful).

It's best to embed the rope around the balloon - leaving a loop at the top- in the early papering stages.

When you have a shell that can support itself, pop the balloon and continue to put on new layers (the more layers the stronger the pinata). Don't forget to leave a small hole/flap in the finished piñata so that you can fill it easily.

Make sure that the top of the piñata where the hanging rope is coming out of - really thick and sturdy. If the top is super strong then the unbroken piñata will not plop on the ground (very anti-climactic!). At the same time, give the piñata a "glass jaw" making it weakest on the bottom so that it will break/open from the bottom.

For a soft piñata use 4 layers of paper or so you can make them quite a bit thicker for older children. For teenagers/baseball players, one way to do it is to make the pinata very thick and tough and then make random "stab marks" with a knife (to introduce some weak points into the piñata).

Piñata Decoration

Go over the piñata with white house paint and a big brush/roller. (the house paint is much cheaper and seals the surface and then you need surprisingly little of the fancier (more expensive) hobby paints to decorate. Try adding rhinestones, feathers, hats, googly eyes, foil accents. Fabric paint adheres like a dream and is really nice for detail work.

Piñata Use

It's nice to hang the piñata in the house and give it a name and enjoy it before it gets smashed (don't forget to take a picture). Make sure to have the piñata displayed in a prominent place at the party so that it can double as a dramatic part of the decorations! Line the children up from youngest to oldest (so the heavy-hitters go last!) If you have a tree branch you can sling the supporting rope over the branch and pull up at random times to make the piñata bob up and down (to make the piñata harder to hit).

First round, you could even use a blindfold to make it even harder to hit, to make sure that every child "gets a go". Give each kid a plastic bag with their name on it so that they can gather up all their piñata swag.

Safety Concerns

Make sure that the children line up behind you while one of the children is swinging it would be terrible for a child to end up getting hit by the stick/bat. Make the children wait quite far from where the piñata is hanging so that the children have a ways to go before the broken piñata leaks candy.

The child that breaks the piñata needs to put the weapon down before the children pounce! Make sure that there is nothing in the piñata or on the piñata that would hurt someone if it went flying through the air.

When the piñata is done make sure that the bat/stick is put away immediately because in the aftermath of the Piñata breaking some kid will invariably pick up the bat/stick and start swinging.

One Last Tip

It is nice to have the Piñata at the very very end of the party.. as the Piñata is almost always done outside and the kids are dressed in their coats and street shoes and have their bag of goodies. Then the parents are arriving to see the fun piñata breaking and the kids are all ready to head on their way instantaneously. (Sometimes at the end of a party you may be more than ready to say goodbye to the little ones!)

Party Gifts and Thank You Cards

Birthday Party Presents

We have tried asking guests to not bring presents or bring nominal small modest gifts but no one has ever listened to us, although it is a good idea to try to keep it under control ( it can be overwhelming the amount of stuff that a birthday child can receive).

In some countries presents are opened in private but it seems in North America the presents are generally opened in front of the guests.

Sometimes we have the kids spin a bottle or devise a method so that the party-opening order is random and orderly. Often some cute photos can be taken if you zoom in on the child's face while they open presents (some of the expressions can be priceless).

Keeping Track

One tip is to have one of the helpful moms (who have stayed for the party) write down the gift and the gift giver's name, this can be done on the card or a piece of paper. This is essential because sometimes (believe it or not) after the flurry of excitement and ripping gift wrap %u2026..there can be a few instances where, post party no one will remember who gave what.

It is a bit embarrassing to put on the Thank you Card"Thank you for the Lovely "Present" (without mentioning what it is.

Thank You Cards

It is always wonderful to get a Thank You card in the mail after the fact it is a lovely gesture, although it can be like pulling teeth to get a young child to fill out the cards.

Easy Thank you cards

Have the birthday child dictate a brief message to you (which you write down verbatim), and then have the child simply sign his/her name. You will have all the addresses on the sign-in sheet.

Sending Thank-you's is a very good habit to get into, we have a rule that you can't use a gift until you send out the Thank You.

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