I'm almost embarrassed to share how much time and money I spent on my daughter's first birthday. I hand-punched confetti, you guys, and we smoked a pork shoulder on our grill for eight hours and made BBQ sauce for party favors. All that hard work was worth it because we loved celebrating her with friends and family, but it made the days leading up to the party and the emotions I had about my baby turning 1 hard to manage. I can't say that her second birthday party was any less ambitious.
This month my daughter celebrated her fifth birthday, and along with her baby brother's two birthday parties, I now have seven kids' parties under my belt. I've learned a lot about what makes a fun (and easy) kids' party from planning these parties, so much so that I've developed a formula for planning that keeps me and my guests happy. It's simpler than you think.
From the Mouth of Babes
My daughter was actually the inspiration for the original formula. When I asked what she wanted for her third birthday she said, "All I need is cake, balloons, and my peoples."
I translated "peoples" to mean her friends and family and did little more than invite people to the house and provide cake and decorate with balloons. The party was mostly a huge success and I pulled things together in just a few hours before celebrating. That party led me to my formula.
The Formula for a Fun & Easy Birthday Party
Cake + Balloons + One Activity = Fun (and Easy) Kids' Party
Whether you bake from a cake mix, order the cake from a baker, mix up your favorite sheet cake or cupcakes, or rely on an ingenious grocery-store hack, a birthday celebration means cake. Serving other food is optional, but I try to plan kids' parties around 10 a.m. or 2 p.m. to avoid major mealtimes and just provide drinks and a few snacks like party mix and fruit salad. The cake is the star of the show; the kids don't care if you serve take-out pizza or hand-pulled barbecue beforehand.
I love, love, love party decorations and frequently buy and hold onto cute banners and fun props for "future use," but balloons instantly decorate a room without busting your budget. A mix of helium-filled (which can double as a favor) and a few filled balloons on the floor make for festive decor and are fun for older kids to kick around.
Bonus points if you're one activity doubles as a party favor or as cake. Your activity can be as simple as coloring pages (there are tons of free printable ones available online!) or as ambitious as painting birdhouses. Decorating cupcakes is another easy (and delicious) way to occupy kids during the party. One activity might not seem like it will fill the length of a party, but I've found young kids have just enough attention to do one organized game or activity and then they just want to play with their friends the rest of the party.
Pro tip: Try to have a quiet area for coloring or reading near the festivities too. Some kids come to parties tired, get overstimulated, or don't do well in crowds and need a place to chill out for a few minutes in all the commotion.