First, read my disclaimer: here
Our summer was pretty crazy with selling and moving, etc. But somewhere in there we threw together birthday parties for our wonderful kiddos. (Full disclosure: we had M’s birthday over a month late because his birthday fell right when we were moving. But he’s three - he doesn’t care.)
Now I’m not someone who goes crazy over birthday parties. I want to do something special and fun for the child. I want the family to have fun (right now our kids only have family - grandparents, aunts, uncles and great grandparents attend. Since we have SO much family here there’s not really room for friends yet). But I’m not into killing myself over a party OR spending a ton of money OR feeling competitive over giving the best party. Let’s just state that right now.
(I always coordinate my kids’ clothes with the colour scheme or theme… is that weird?)
But as I was preparing for L’s party back in July I was thinking of Little M’s first birthday - what a hectic, harried, stressful experience that was for me! I wanted to do a million things and felt like I could barely do the basics. For Baby L’s party I was feeling much more calm. Perhaps my expectations were a bit lower, or more realistic. But I also think I’ve learned a few things. I’m no veteran, but I thought I could share some ideas in regards to decorating. With that though, I want to stress:
KNOW YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES, AND WHAT’S IMPORTANT TO YOU.
I am not a baker. And I discovered last year when making Little M’s tractor cake, that icing is not my artistic medium of choice. As I tried in vain to get the not-quite-red-enough icing gobbed all over the [second] tractor-shaped cake I’d baked, I muttered “Only DQ ice cream cakes from now on.”
And that’s OK. Why should I kill myself to make a fancy cake because that’s what I think a mom is supposed to do? This year for L’s party I made cupcakes. From a mix. And used store-bought icing that I tinted with food colouring. I jazzed them up with some rose-shaped candies. And done. They were pretty and tasty, and nobody cared about how I made them. Another year I probably will pick up an ice cream cake.
(You can see my Starburst rose tutorial here.)
Maybe to you it’s important to make a cake from scratch using organic spelt flour and agave nectar. All the power to you. Maybe you looooove all the fun icing tools and want to create a masterpiece storybook castle cake. Cool. Do it. But remember you’ll have to let go on some of the other details.
Decorating is my thing, though. I enjoy it. I have quite a bit of experience with event decorating (especially for kids) so I go for it. But I wouldn’t expect everyone else to go crazy over this too. And if it’s not your thing, then don’t think you have to go crazy just because of the insane stuff you saw on Pinterest, or at a neighbour’s party.
However, if you want a bit of help with decorating, here are some tips…
1. WORK FROM A THEME.
(I made a bunch of the paper rockets and strung some on a banner and taped up the others wherever we needed something.)
Particularly with kids, themes are great. They are a starting point for ideas. Micah’s party was very clearly Buzz Lightyear-themed (he wanted to include Dr. Gru and Minions too, but I did ask him to reign it in a bit and just stick to Buzz). Kids his age usually obsess over something, so a theme should be pretty easy to pick out. For L’s party the theme was more subtle - inspired by tea roses.
A theme can give you some direction:
- a colour scheme
- activity ideas
- menu ideas (for M’s party we had pizza, as in “Pizza Planet” from Toy Story, and for L’s we served Shirley Temple drinks, because they had all the right colours.)
- and it also gives you a search term when you’re googling or pinning party ideas.
(Tip: we ordered our pizzas from a grocery store - they made them and baked them for us in time for the party - SO easy and WAY cheaper!)
2. ASK YOURSELF: WHAT WILL MAKE THE BIGGEST IMPACT FOR THE LEAST AMOUNT OF WORK/MONEY?
This one is huge. Consider - what will people see first? What will they see most? Will this detail be covered up once a room is full of people?
(You can customize your banner by cutting the letters out of paper and using scotch tape to attach them to a ribbon or string.)
You know what a fool proof answer is? Balloons. Every time. I used to joke when I ran our weekly kids club at church that all we had to do was add balloons and the kids would consider it a party. Seriously - some years for our wind-up or Christmas party I kept the schedule for the evening exactly the same and just added a snack and balloons and kids were SO stoked about the awesome party. Hah. Just make sure you have lots of balloons and stick to a colour scheme. Generally the more balloons, the bigger the impact. Simple.
But also consider other larger decorations like a banner, or garland, etc. They take up lots of visual space, are when the room is full and can reinforce the colour scheme. A brightly coloured table cloth also takes up a lot of visual space and communicates “Hey! I decorated!” A large banner or sign that is seen right when someone walks in says “Hello! This is the party!” Consider: how much visual space will this take up? and will it be seen when this room is full of people (eye-height or higher).
(I made this garland by taking the flowers off of dollar store fake flowers and connecting them with dots of glue from a glue gun.)
Getting caught up on tiny things like coasters, or decorations on the back of a chair, or decorating out-of-the-way spots (like the bathroom?) can be way too much labour for not enough impact.
An exception to this is if there’s a small detail that everyone will get to experience. For example, a great cake or cupcakes will be seen and experienced by everyone. Or a small treat bag that everyone goes home with will be remembered. For M’s party I was shaking my head at myself as I cut out paper and glued them to each individual drinking cup. Surely it would be a silly, disposable detail. But everyone has a drink at a party, right? Everyone got to pick if they wanted a Buzz cup or an alien cup, and it turned out to be a pretty big hit - noticed and enjoyed by all.
(I cut the pieces out of paper and used a glue stick and tape to attach to the outside of the cup. Make sure you leave room around the top of the cup so that people can drink out of it.)
3. STICK TO A COLOUR SCHEME.
This one connects to the last point. Repetition of 1-3 colours ties the decorations together and emphasizes what you’ve done. The eye will pick up on all of the things that match and create an overall impression of what’s been done. With L’s party it was the colour of tea roses: yellow, oranges, and warm soft pinks.
(The ombre rose votives in the top righthand picture were made by covering plain glass votive holders from the dollar store with multiple petal-shaped pieces of tissue paper. Just be sure that the petals don’t go over the lip of the glass, or they’ll be singed. Or start a fire. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.)
With M’s it was Buzz Lightyear’s colours: light green, purple, and white (with navy blue as a neutral background). Just matching your plates, napkins, balloons, or table cloths will look sharp and pulled together. If you don’t have one of those things matching, just use a neutral (like white) and downplay its impact.
This takes no DIY/crafty skills whatsoever. All you gotta’ do is match stuff up, and it looks sharp.
4. CREATE A FOCAL POINT.
Just like a living room needs a fireplace, or a credenza, or a large window or piece of art to build around, so too a party needs a main focus. This helps create the centre of the party, but also it concentrates your decorating so that its not spread all over the place. Logical focal points may include a table for all of the food and drinks, or a special chair for the birthday kid, or an existing focal point in your home (like a fireplace mantel.) Place a lot of your decorations in that main place and they’ll have bigger impact together (and draw attention away from less-decorated areas).
(The candy roses took the most work, so I made sure they were on display to be enjoyed!)
5. PICK ONE BIG PROJECT.
This one’s hard for me, because I end up with so many ideas. And sometimes I end up with a couple smaller projects too. But pick one main special thing to focus attention and energy on and then make sure everything else is simple, store-bought, or already owned so that you don’t have to slave over every detail.
If you have a project that will take a while (the cups at M’s party, or the Starburst roses at L’s) start a couple weeks ahead and store it so that you don’t even need to think about it right before the party (when you’ll need to be focusing on things like food prep or cleaning your house.)
You don’t have to DIY either - like I said, balloons and streamers go a LOOONG way.
6. DECORATE FOR THE DAY
For M’s party he “helped” me decorate the morning of his party and we had so much fun. The decorations for his party became part of his excitement. I think another time it would be fun to decorate the night before so that the child wakes up to a decorated house. That way your work is appreciated for more time and is done well in advance.
(My son asked for blueberry pie for his birthday)
7. DELEGATE AND SIMPLIFY
If you can, look to people around you for help pulling together a party. Maybe you have older children who would love to help create some of the decor. Maybe you have a friend who wouldn’t mind an evening of tying ribbons while you chat and drink coffee. Maybe there’s an aunty who bakes great cupcakes. Even consider the services of stores and businesses (for example we bought our pizzas from a grocery store - WAY cheaper. AND we discovered that if we put in our order a day ahead they’d also bake them for us in their large ovens and we just had to pick them up!)
One thing I’ve done that makes life simpler is having the party off site. We had M’s party last year on my parents’ deck. L’s party was at my inlaw’s house this year. This eliminates the need to have your house clean for party time! Maybe you don’t have family close by like I do, but consider having a party in a park where everyone can meet and you don’t need to ensure your toilet is scrubbed.
Any of you have some ideas of how to simplify/organize/have fun with children’s birthday parties?