Inside: A break down of tips, tricks, thoughts, and soap box statements about hosting kid birthday parties.
The Kid Birthday Party Post with a Little of Everything
Kid birthday parties. It’s a shocking conundrum in parenting that no one really prepares you for. If there was a chapter in “What to Expect” about celebrating a fifth birthday and the etiquette for such an event, then clearly I missed it.
Let’s start this post with a good old fashioned table of contents. In this post, I’m going to walk you through:
- My daughter’s very simple 5th birthday
- Birthday budget breakdowns
- A soapbox on today’s birthday party system
- Some FAQs, trips, tricks, etc that hopefully can help your party planning
A quick thought about kid birthday parties
In my humble opinion, kid birthday parties have been one of the great casualties of the Social Media Parenting Era. Where simple parties with minimal decor used to reign supreme instead elaborate, crafty, Pinterest-fueled, “will look so good in pictures,” parties have taken over.
This is largely due – as I said before – to social media. Big lavish parties have been normalized.
If you love a giant party, can afford them, and truly enjoy it for your children: AWESOME! I’m so happy for you. But if giant parties and big budgets isn’t working for your family, I hope this post helps.
The beauty of the simple home birthday party
I love a simple party at home for children. Think 1990s style. A few friends, some easy decor, endless free play, and cupcakes.
Let me walk you through my daughter’s 5th birthday.
Theme: Pajamas and Pancakes
Time: 9:30 am to 11:30 am
We made breakfast for our wee guests and all the kids came in pajamas. A morning party is great for my daughter who gets very nervous for events. Early morning meant she didn’t have much time to stew on things.
The Guest List:
We had 10 kids at the party: 6 from preschool, 1 neighbor best friend, 2 brothers, and 1 birthday girl. We do not invite our extended family to birthdays. We did for each child’s first and from then on, it was about the child, their birthday, and their friends. It’s helped to simply things.
We also stated on the invite that parents were free to stay or drop off. All parents dropped off, except for one (whose child was only 3.5 years old). We had a 10:3 kid to parent ratio and it was great.
Here’s a quick look at the set up:
My daughter, whose Mom runs Busy Toddler, wanted Rainbow Rice at her party. Sold. We made up a few extra bins for the guests to play with to go along with the bin that we pretty much always have sitting out.
Here are the quick and easy directions for Rainbow Rice.
Normally, I don’t do favors. Not my style to give out candy and tiny toys, and they’re expensive. I didn’t even do favors at my wedding. BUT, my daughter wondered if each kid could make a jar of rainbow rice to take home.
The idea was too cute, too sweet, and frankly, too on brand to pass up. Sold.
During the party, I pulled each kid aside and helped them put together their own, personalized jar. It was also a fun way for me to meet each child since I only ever saw them at preschool drop off.
Going with the pancake theme, we made up mini homemade pancakes for the guests, scrambled eggs, and a fruit salad. We also had juice boxes because we are fancy like that. I kept the eggs warm in the oven and my husband made the pancakes in record time.
Here’s my favorite tip: Make mini cupcakes. One recipe (I always use this one) will make 72 mini cupcakes. I let each kid have two and I look like a hero.
What did the kids do?
Play. They played. We opened the house to free play and our little birthday girl bloomed. What a gorgeous moment for her to share her toys, house, and life with her friends.
A breakdown of the timeline:
9:30-10:15 The kids played for about 45 minutes throughout the house.
10:15 – 10:30 Breakfast
10:30 – 10:45 More playing
10:45 – 11:15 Cupcakes and opening presents
11:15 – 11:30 (Guess what?) More playing until pick up
It went by FAST!!!
A breakdown of the cost:
A few notes: My MIL sends up $20 for each kid’s birthday party because that’s her way of helping out and being a part of the fun. We use that money for decorations.
I absolutely could have skipped the rainbow rice party favors and if I had, this party would have cost under $50.
My Birthday Party Soap Box
I love kid birthday parties and I love that we get to throw them. What a joy to be able to do this!
I would like to make a gentle plea / reminder that you do not need to spend a mortgage to have a fabulous party.
A giant party away from home (in the city I live in) would cost well over $500. No joke: the bouncy place is $455 to rent on the weekends… and that’s without any food costs. Here’s the math: I have 3 kids so that would be $1,500 a year on birthdays. By the time my kids are ten, I could easily have spent $15,000 on birthday parties.
This doesn’t work for me.
Again, if it works for you – fantastic! My kids love going to bouncy place birthdays. Feel free to invite us.
There is nothing wrong with a giant birthday party but there is something wrong with feeling we HAVE to do this every single year.
There is something so beautiful about the intimacy of a home party. Your home doesn’t need to be fancy, large, or lavish. Home is home. Children love to show off their space.
Invite a few kids over. You do not need to invite the entire class (I’ll dive into this more in the FAQ section). My Mom said that when she was parenting in the 1980s and 1990s, the rule of thumb was to invite the same number of kids for their age. My daughter was turning 5. My Mom would have said 5 friends is plenty.
Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with these giant Pinterest-worthy parties. But we have got to change the narrative from those being the norm and expectation back to those being the exception.
The party is about the child, not the place, the decorations, the food, the guest list, or the expense. It’s about the child. All our kids want on their birthday is to feel loved and celebrated, and that can happen no matter how big or small the party is.
Some kid birthday party FAQs:
On the evite, we wrote “Drop off or stay – depending on what is best for your child.” Since we didn’t have a ton of space for extra guests or siblings, we wanted to let parents know that this could be an independent event for their child if that works for them.
Extended family adds a lot of guests and for us, this made it harder to focus on the birthday child and their friends (who are the stars of the show). We set a boundary with our family that birthday parties would be for kids and friends only.
We did invite all extended family to the first birthday party, then made this boundary before our older turned 2.
My parents live in town so they typically come over for birthday dinner on the night of the child’s actual birthday.
Cousins: We do not invite cousins to parties either. We think of it as “world’s colliding.” We try to stick with one group of friends (all the neighbor kids or school friends, for example) so it’s a harmonious group of kids who know each other.
On behalf of all teachers everywhere, please do not pass out invites at school UNLESS you are doing a birthday party with the entire class. As a teacher, I was always happy to help give out emails/contact information (with permission) for small parties.
I say this with all the love in my heart: you do not need to invite the whole class of kids (unless for some reason there is a school rule about this or you truly want to/can afford to). Most school have rules about invitations at school (see above), but not typically about the actual party.
Even ten years ago, when I was a teacher, I would only have 1-2 kids per year host a full class party. The rest had small parties with a few kids. Those kids got to learn about tact and social decency to not talk about it at school or make a big deal about it. These are necessary life skills.
It is totally up to you, your family, and your cultural norms if there are gifts or no gifts.
I, personally, like the idea of gifts (in theory) because I like making my kids have to think thoughtfully about that person, what they like, and what would be good. I also like that the gift-opener has to have great social skills as they open and are excited/gracious.
There’s a lot of lessons in social skills and manners rolled into one little present.
I do understand that obviously when you invite 30 people, that’s an overwhelming amount of gifts. But when it’s a small party, it’s a very powerful learning opportunity.
Especially for a small party, this is a 10/10, 100% yes from me. I’m big into kids having this chance.
I love letting my kids open gifts at the party. It’s so beautiful to watch the gift giver’s excited face and having a chance for the birthday child to practice being gift-receiver.
I love this moment at a party. It’s such significant learning for all kids involved.
There is always a concern about inequities in gifts between what families can afford. As a parenting team, let’s all resolve to keep things small ($10-15 is more than enough). Just like with parties, lavish gifts are not necessary.
What are your thoughts on kid birthday parties?
Leave a comment below with what’s worked for your family.