Yesterday I talked about how to start planning your child's at home birthday party…. how to set your party date and a theme and considerations for creating a guest list……. so now it's time to get going on preparing the party supplies!
Invitations and Thank You Notes
Obviously the first thing that you need to do is to get the word out about your party….. so you need to decide how you are going to send your invitation. Most of the party invitations we receive at our house now come through email, usually via Evite. And you would think given that I am addicted to email, work to do the right thing by the environment, and try to be frugal- that I too would go with the online invite…….. but so far- I haven't. Maybe it is the scrapbooking side of me that likes to design a cute card to mail out and save later in my child's scrapbook, and partly it's because I love to hang the invitation for our upcoming party on our kitchen bulletin board so the birthday child can look at it during the weeks leading up to his or her party and get excited about it….. but I have always created a paper invitation.
These days I create my invites using PicMonkey- and you can check out my full tutorial on How to Create Birthday Party Invitations Using PicMonkey here. I print them on my color printer, and mail them out using envelopes leftover from holiday cards. And while I am creating the invitation, I spend a few extra minutes and create a matching thank you note at the same time. I am a big fan of the “fill in the blank” type of note for the under-8 set. While this sounds a little time-consuming, I try not to spend more than an hour on designing and printing the invites and thank you notes- because I know that other than the one that I will keep for my child, the rest are destined for the recycling bin following the party! I have also purchased personalized invitations and thank you notes from www.birthdayinabox.com in the past (when I was feeling time-crunched and less frugal), and they have done a very nice job and shipped very quickly.
To round out my stationery work…… for my “larger parties” (8 or more guests where I may not know all of the children very well), I create name tag stickers for the kids to wear. I use basic Avery labels for these, and I usually pull in a piece of the free clipart that I used on the invitation to make it fun. I also create a small tag that I can attach to the goodie bag that says “thank you for coming to my party”.
Paper goods and Decorations
I have found that the least-expensive place to purchase paper goods- the party plates, napkins, forks and so on is at our local party supply store- Party City. You can usually find some good deals on marked-down items, and they carry a line of solid-colored party ware that is very inexpensive (I have used the pale pink plates and napkins for several of my girlie-parties). I buy those large plastic table rolls to cover my party tables rather than paper tablecloths. The plastic rolls are long, and have enough product to last me for several parties- and if a party guest spills their drink on the table, it is easy to mop up quickly rather than having it soak through a paper tablecloth.
To decorate the party room (which is usually our basement or occasionally our kitchen) I usually order 1 or 2 dozen helium balloons that I pick up the morning of the party- I place a small bunch on our mailbox so that arriving guests can be certain that they have found the right house, and I group the others into bunches on the party tables using balloon weights to secure them. Sometimes Steve or I will create a big “Happy Birthday” banner for the birthday girl or boy and hang it up on the wall, but overall we tend to keep the decorations rather simple. And of course, once the kids are older and we have moved on to sleepover parties with small groups of friends- we do not buy any paper goods or make any decorations.
Truthfully, I am not such a huge fan of the birthday party goodie bag….. the last thing that my kids need after running around like little crazy people for an hour and a half and consuming waaaayyyyy too much juice and birthday cake, is a plastic bag stuffed full of more candy that they will beg me to allow them to eat the whole way home from the party. So I try to keep that in mind when coming up with ideas for our own party goodie bags, and I prefer to fill them with something small that the recipient can actually use (and not necessarily eat) and does not just create random useless clutter for his or her parents! Ideas I have used in the past- baseball or soccer cards for sports-themed parties. A small plush animal for our Safari parties. I place the item in a small cellophane bag, wrap it with ribbon and add the little printed card that says “Thank you for coming to my party!”.
The Birthday Cake
I take so much pleasure in baking my children's birthday cake- and they love to pick out the design. But by the time I get to decorating it, I am somewhat less enthusiastic, so I am trying to be more careful to select a cake idea that looks great, but won't take me hours to pipe icing on using 6 different colors and 9 different decorating tips. Last year, I discovered the Make-A-Cake Series on one of my favorite blogs: Make It and Love It. Brittany, the guest author of this series wrote an excellent post on how to make homemade fondant to cover a birthday cake, and I now use it regularly to create my party cakes. Brittany also provides tips on baking and preparing the cakes for decorating, as well as in-depth ideas on how to create flowers, characters and other cool decorations using fondant…. but thus far I haven't taken the time to try these. I prefer to make my cakes from scratch, but will sometimes use a cake mix, but the icing and the fondant is always homemade. I think a homemade cake tastes so much better than anything I have ever tasted from a bakery….. and I love this old-fashioned homemade touch to our parties.
The Party Food
I put out some salty snack food (pretzels, chips, goldfish crackers) in big bowls on the table that they guests can munch on during the party (although I do not do this when we are holding a Safari party and the guests are petting the ferrets and snakes!). For lunch I will sometimes make homemade pizza (if the entertainment is being provided by someone we hired and I will have time to manage the oven while the party is going on) or I will order in some pizza. I have also made sandwiches (I baked some pink sandwich rolls for last summer's Pinkalicious party), and I served hot dogs at our baseball-themed parties. I like to put out a nice salad for the Moms who stayed with their children at the party, and a big bowl of fresh fruit for the kids (in a hopeless attempt to feed them more than just party-food!) I think the food should be fairly simple and easy to serve, but enjoyable for you and for the guests. And of course it should be something that the birthday child loves to eat!
What's a party without some fun party music? We typically create a playlist of some of the birthday child's favroite dance songs (that kind-of fits the theme) to play as background music for when the guests first arrive, and during the transition from entertainment to eating. It certainly makes the party more festive!