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Tips for a Successful Birthday Party!

Ray Wong performing for a
birthday party, October 2001


A child's birthday party presents an opportunity to create a memory that lasts a lifetime.

What's the secret to planning the perfect birthday party? Stick to the numbers. That is, use your child's age as the basis for all other plans. If a party plan is age-appropriate, the guest of honor and her friends are pretty much assured of having a good time.

Here are a few guidelines which are based on the experience of a birthday party professional who has performed for thousands of children's parties, from intimate events to extravagant affairs.

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GUEST LIST
For four to eight-year-old parties, groups of 8 to 10 kids work best. It has been our experience that today, most parties have between 10 to 15 kids. Children may have more fun without their parents along, but be sure to enlist at least one adult helper.

Be sensitive to the emergence of peer pressure and self-esteem issues as kids get closer to middle school age (ages nine to eleven). A party with a few best friends may be more enjoyable for your child at this age than a huge blowout that doubles as a popularity contest.

TIMING
For preschool or kindergarten age children, Saturday morning is recommended as it takes advantage of their high energy levels and gives the host's parents the rest of the weekend to recover. Anywhere from 2 to 2 1/2 hours is ideal for kids this age.

For six to eight-year-olds, weekends are popular. If you can fit an after-school party into your child's extracurricular activities, it should allow plenty of time for celebrating, but not eat into the evening hours, or the even busier weekend. Avoid early evening parties, especially on weeknights. Depending on what activities you have planned, two to three hours should be plenty of time.

For nine to eleven-year-olds, Saturday and Sunday afternoons work best, while Friday is the top sleepover night. If you or your guests are regular churchgoers, avoid Saturday slumber parties.

GAMES AND ACTIVITIES
Four- and five-year olds love mastering the rules of games and you will find old favorites work well - try freeze tag, pin the tail on the donkey or even a sedate bingo game. Entertainers like magicians are popular choices for four to nine-year-old parties.

School-age children, ages six and up, will consider planning activities a major part of the fun. They love theme parties.

Kids, ages nine to eleven, like to assert their independence, planning events like a trip to the movies that involve a degree of separation from their parents. This is the prime age for sleepovers.

The ideal party schedule includes a calm arrival activity or game, entertainment, refreshments, gift opening (optional), and a farewell activity.

If you do decide to hire entertainment for your party, do that first. The best entertainers are booked far in advance. So if you send out the invitations and then call the entertainers, you may not be able to get them on the date and time you need.

Scheduling the entertainment to begin 30 minutes after the party starts should allow ample time for late arrivals and ensure that everyone will be there in time for the show. There should be adult supervision at all times with at least one adult in the room while the show is in progress.

REFRESHMENTS
For preschool or kindergarten age children, if you offer a meal, keep it simple, such as peanut butter and jelly or pizza. Of course, cake and ice cream are what count.

School-age kids (ages six and up) are less fussy about food, so if you plan a meal it can be a little more varied. Refreshments could include hot dogs, perhaps involving the children in making individual pizzas, chips, juice or pop, and again, cake and ice cream. Remember, it doesn't take them long to eat - 15 or 20 minutes is usually sufficient.

If a sleepover is planned, a most important caveat from parents: stock up on midnight snacks.

Refreshments or snacks should be served before or after but not during the entertainment. To get maximum enjoyment out of a performance, the children need to focus their attention on the entertainment without any distractions. Birthday cake and ice cream are often served right after the entertainment.

HELPFUL HINTS
Although four and five-year-olds love the games and structure of a party, they are still little children. Keep the party simple, the competitive games to a minimum, and be prepared to break up squabbles and console "losers".

For school-age children, the planning is the thrill. Keep your child as involved as possible and follow up on as many of her ideas as you can.

For children ages nine to eleven, as their friendships become more important to them, planning a party that will go over well with peers is important. Be honest about your budget and stress the value of being with good friends, not competing for the biggest extravaganza.