Human Development and Family Studies
Colorado State University Cooperative Extension
Parties are special occasions. Some of your fondest childhood memories probably involve parties. Think back over the past few years. What parties do you remember the most? Halloween get-togethers or holiday celebrations? Maybe you enjoyed it most when your friends got together to have a party for no particular reason.
While you can have a party anytime, they usually are given for a special event. Special food, games, and gifts often are important parts of parties. Sometimes guests wear costumes. All these things and sharing good times with friends make parties fun.
Because parties do not happen everyday, they need extra care
and planning. A party is not likely to be successful unless you
give it prior time and attention. Party planning involves several
steps. Some of the decisions you will need to make when planning
a party are:
1. What type of party do you want and when and where do you want to have it?
2. Who is the party for and what kind of party do they want?
3. How many children should you invite? Who are those children?
4. How many adults are needed to supervise them?
5. How will children be brought to the party and how will they get home?
6. What food do you want to serve?
7. What will the children do at the party? What activities and games will you plan? Will they be suitable for the age of the children?
8. Will costumes be worn?
9. Will gifts be brought? Will party favors be given?
10. How will you decorate for the party? Will the party have a theme?
11. Are there any other special requirements for the party? (For example; will any of the guests be in a wheelchair or have special needs?
Depending on your answers to these questions, your party may require a great deal of planning time or only a little. The information in this section will help you decide what kind of party you want to give. First of all, let's look at the ages and stages of children as they relate to parties.
Parties are for everyone, but infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children all have different needs. Understanding what behaviors to expect from children in each of these stages will help make your party more successful.
Parties for infants usually are enjoyed more by their parents,
sisters, and brothers than by the babies themselves. Parties are
less special for infants than for older children because all of
the infant's world is special! Every day infants explore and learn
new things about their world. Each new experience is different,
exciting, and fun.
Parties can be frightening for infants because they like to be in familiar surroundings. A new situation and too many new faces can scare them and make them feel insecure. Parties also can upset babies' routines and make it hard for caregivers to cope with them.
The biggest reason that infants do not enjoy parties is that they do not yet have their own friends. Their play, unlike that of older children, is mainly solitary (on their own or with adults). The older infants, however, may enjoy parties in their own ways. They often will be interested in the colorful wrapping paper and fascinated by bright lights and unusual movements.
Infants often respond with coos and babbles and are sensitive to the festive atmosphere and the feelings of joy in the family members and friends around them. They will feel warm, secure, and part of the family as they participate in their first party. Plan parties with a few, familiar guests.
Be sure parties are during a time of day when the baby is awake and alert.
After infancy, parties become increasingly important as the
desire to be with friends becomes greater. During toddlerhood,
most children learn what the words "party" and "present"
mean. Toddlers are more social than infants, but their play with
older children is limited. Toddlers usually play beside another
child (called parallel play) without talking or working together.
Parties for toddlers should be small and simple. It is a good idea to have them at someone's home instead of at a park or a restaurant. Party guests can be family members only, or the party list can include a few (two or three) friends accompanied by their parents. When you are planning a party for toddlers, consider whether or not they have had group experiences (like day care) with other children. If they have, new faces and larger crowds will not be as frightening for them.
Parties for toddlers should be limited to about 1 1/2 hours. They should have lots of adult or teenage supervision. Children at this age are just learning how to get along with others, so be prepared for a few fusses and temper tantrums mixed with the laughter and squeals of delight. The party should end when the children are still happy and not yet overexcited. Do not plan a party for toddlers during a time of day when they normally nap. Find out about the child's daily schedule before deciding on a time.
Let toddlers choose what they want to do at a party. Do not try to involve them in games and group activities. They are too young to understand game rules, and their attention spans are short. Have a variety of toys available for them. These should be toddler toys and not ones that are "too old" for them. If the weather is nice, they will enjoy outdoor play equipment like sandboxes and small slides. Again, do not forget that toddlers will need a lot of help and attention from caregivers at the party.
The preschool years are ideal times for children to enjoy giving
parties and going to them. Children at this age have a lot of
enthusiasm and energy, and they look forward to special occasions.
Preschool children still are learning to share, so be prepared
for spills, tears, and
arguments over toys. Disagreements among children should be solved quickly and simply by you as a caregiver. Read *Good Times with Guidance and Discipline* to give you some ideas on how to do this.
Preschoolers have a strong sense of ownership. Have a place for them to collect their toys and party favors. Party guests also may want to take home the gift they brought. You will need to be ready to offer explanations for why they cannot do this. As with toddlers, the party for preschoolers should not last long. The guest list should be limited to 8 or fewer children.
One way to avoid problems is to keep children busy. Remember that preschool children are expecting something special at parties. Have several interesting activities for them to choose from, but keep in mind that preschool children tire easily. Preschool children find it hard to wait and take turns. Avoid organized games, especially those that are competitive and have winners and losers. Games that are played should be short and simple.
Follow-the-leader is a good game to play outdoors. The leader can hop, take big steps, s-l-o-w steps, or side-ways steps and have the others follow. This type of game allows children to use their extra energy in a positive way, but it is not too structured. Caregivers may need to take part in the games and give directions.
School-age children like the sense of adventure that comes with having a party somewhere special. While they may still want some of the familiar parts of parties (like presents and a cake), they are no longer as fascinated by party hats and games like pin-the-tail on the donkey. For younger school-age children, a zoo, or a park are good places for parties. For older school-age children, a roller-skating or bowling party might be ideal. Favorite activities of school-age children can change. Be sure to ask them what they want to do. Children this age usually are social and like to be out in the community. A 2- to 3-hour period usually is long enough to get to and from the party place and to have a good time. If a party is planned away from home, you should invite fewer guests. Six to eight is a good size for an outing.
School-age children need less supervision and guidance than
toddlers and preschoolers, but limits still should be set for
them. It is important to have enough adults or caregivers at the
party so that everything can go smoothly. The number of caregivers
will depend on what you have planned. Extras are needed in case
of emergencies and for safety if the party is away from home.
School-age children like parties with a theme. In addition to birthdays, many occasions like Valentine's Day and Halloween are perfect for parties. School-age children also love being with their friends. Younger school-age children prefer being with friends of their own sex. As children get older, they like to have boys and girls at their parties. Be sure you pick themes that both girls and boys will like.
School-age children are able to follow directions and play organized games. Younger school-age children often like games that involve some movement, but they can sit still longer and take turns better than preschoolers. They enjoy some games they played when they were younger that have been changed to include their current interests. For example, first-graders will like "moon man, may I." In this game, the guests line up and move one at a time toward a finish line by following directions from a "moon man." Directions like "take 3 blast-offs" or "take 2 crater hops backwards" add fun and fantasy to the game. Children must remember to say "moon man, may I?" before they move. Touching the finish line turns the child into a "moon man".
School-age children of all ages like guessing games. A "count the marbles" contest can be a hit for fourth graders. Fill a glass jar with marbles. (Make sure you count them before you put them in.) Tie a ribbon around the top and put the jar where everyone will see it. As guests come in, have them guess the number of marbles. Ask them to write down their guess and sign their name next to it. At the end of the party, the jar and marbles go to the child that came closest to the right amount. Counting the marbles is part of the entertainment.
How you can help:
Remember who the party is for, and involve the children in
as many ways as possible. Ask them who they want to invite, what
type of cake they want, etc. Give them choices like, "Do
you want chocolate or strawberry ice cream?" Respect their
decisions! Let them help make the invitations, stuff envelopes
and decorate the cake. The older the children, the more they can
do. Preparing for the party is part of the fun!
When you prepare invitations, include all the necessary information like place, time, date, and the host child's name and telephone number. Ask them to let you know by a certain date if they are coming. Let them know if costumes are to be worn or if meals will be served (school-age children like cook-outs). Make it clear when they are to be picked up.
The party food you prepare should be good for you and easy to eat (see *Good Times with Snacks* and *Good Times with Meals*). Do not serve something new unless you have tried it. A flat birthday cake on the day of the party is not fun! If your party is at a zoo or park, plan for food that is easy to carry. If you are eating there, check on snack bar prices in advance, and bring enough money to pay for it. (Don't forget admission prices too.)
Remember to be flexible! Plan your party well but do not feel that you cannot make changes as you go along. If a game is not working out, stop and go on to something else (but have something else planned so you won't be at a loss). Play games that fit the age of the party guests (see *Good Times at Play* and *Good Times with Toys*). If you invite party guests of the same age, it will be easier. Have games ready to go when the children arrive.
Decorate before the party. Bright colors are fun, and balloons and streamers always are popular. Decorations do not have to be fancy. Try making your own party hats and table decorations. They will cost less and it can be fun.
Once the children have all arrived, open gifts. Older children will be too excited to wait until the end of the party. Have the children sit in a circle so they can all see, and put the gifts away in a safe place afterwards. Give each child a party favor so everyone can go home with a present. Don't forget to take pictures! Children will love to look at them later and remember the special party. Last, but not least, always be aware of safety considerations. Be prepared to help children settle disputes, and give comfort when needed. Carry a small first-aid kit to handle minor scrapes and bruises if the party is away from home. Never leave children alone or with a stranger. Every child at the party is your responsibility, and it is up to you to make sure they are all safe and happy. Think ahead to what might happen, and be prepared. When you feel like you can handle anything that might happen, you will have a great time, too!
1. Make a party kit that is filled with hats, decorations,
records, cookbooks, ideas, and items needed for games. Be sure
these are well-suited to the age of the children you are planning
a party for and that they can be used over again when needed.
Include a written plan describing how each item in your kit will
be used. A time schedule of party activities also would be helpful
in your planning.
2. Ask your mother or father about a party you had when you were young. What was the occasion? How did you react to the excitement? What plans did your parent(s) make, and what activities did not work out the way they expected? You might want to write down any memories you have of this party, and draw a picture of how you remember it. Include any photographs that you have. How old were you at the time of the party? Can you remember any parties before that age?
3. Go to a card shop and look at samples of party invitations. With these ideas in mind, make your own invitations. Be creative! You might let a child you care for share this experience with you. Remember, their invitations will not look like the cards at the store, and that is fine. The fun is making them and having each one unique. However, parents of other guests must be able to read the information about the date, time, and so forth. Most older school-age children can write so that others can read it. Young school-age children are just learning to write and enjoy using this skill, but they might need your help. Older pre-schoolers can sometimes copy the names and addresses, if you write them first. Most younger preschool children have a hard time copying letters and are more interested in decorating the invitations.
4. Start a card file with party games for different age groups. Include all important information (age group, number of children needed to play the game, rules, supervision needed, required time, and materials or equipment needed).
5. Make a simple birthday cake with a special shape. It will be helpful to use a special cookbook on children's birthday cakes. Make sure you have the right size and shape pan and the necessary ingredients. Let a child you take care of help put the decorations on. Remember, your cake does not have to look exactly like the one in the book. And don't forget, start simple!
6. Plan a party for a special occasion. Set a time for each part of the pre-party planning. Ask yourself what needs to be done and set times when you need to have the job finished. Then give the party and enjoy yourself! Afterwards, judge your planning and the success of the party. What, if anything, did you overlook? What would you have done differently to make the party go smoother? And don't forget to ask the most important question, "Did everyone have a good time, including yourself?" Having a good time is the main purpose of having a party.
7. Read *Good Times with Guidance and Discipline* about your party age-group.
*Betty Crocker's Cookbook for Boys and Girls*. New York: Golden
Books, 1984. Contains easy-to-follow recipes and pictures of decorated
Food Editors of Farm Journal. *Busy Woman's Cookbook*. New York: Doubleday, 1971. See pages 148 and 291 for some delicious and nutritious recipes for birthday party foods.
Newman, Susan. *Memorable Birthdays, Now a Guide-Later a Gift*. How to give parties children will not forget.
Lewis, Shari. *The Kid's Only Club Book*. (1976) Can be obtained from J. P. Tarcher, Inc., 9110 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 99009. Great ideas for party games.