Friday, February 7, 2014

Preschooler Birthday Party DIY Ideas

The Secret to Hosting a Stress-Free Kids Birthday Party

5 easy tips to ensure success!

Did you know that I'm on the contributor team at Ginger Snap Crafts? So honored and excited to be in this amazing group of ladies! Last week I shared this post on her blog, and today I'm posting here at "home base," too! If you've never been to Ginger Snap Crafts, I highly suggest checking it out--it's full of amazing ideas and is sure to inspire your craftiness! I've pinned a TON of her projects--they're so cool! I'm sure you'll see some copycat posts from me soon ;)

In the meantime, let the Kids Jewelry, Art & Unicorn Party Begin!

If you were to come to our house for our daughter's 4th birthday party last month, you might have been surprised at how relaxed, calm, and cheerful I seemed. You might have wondered how I could be so composed while in the midst of entertaining 15 little ones with very limited attention spans. You might even walk away with the impression that I am an all-together calm, relaxed, laid-back person. And if that was the case, then I did my job, because I would have you fooled.

My husband, on the other hand, is not fooled. During such a party, I feel his exasperated looks, wondering how I've suddenly morphed into such a pleasant, mild-mannered woman when just hours ago I was shouting orders about paper straws and pom poms. But I think it's safe to say I haven't scared him off; after 13 years together, he's kind of getting used to my... well... processes.

Because here's the deal. Hosting a kid's birthday party is stressful. It's as stressful for me as it is for anyone else. The difference is, I've developed some key tricks that keep me in control. I thank my teaching background really, because nothing can test your patience and stamina like a classroom full of someone else's children :)

There are Lots of Party Options Out There

When I started to think about this party last fall, I considered the following general options which, I'm sure, cross the minds of most parents: (1) I could reserve a spot at one of the ever-popular all-in-one birthday places and have everything taken care of for me; (2) I could order a themed "birthday kit" online and have the party at home, needing only to take care of the cake, or (3) I could start from scratch, have the party at home, and leave all the painstaking details up to me.

Now, I'm a DIYer at heart, and although convenient, the thought of doing "packaged parties" is just not my thing. I am also an obsessive bargain hunter... so although the kiddos would certainly have been happy (and I would be peaceful) having the party outside of the home, I really couldn't bear to spend upwards of $500 to throw my 4-year old a birthday party.

So last month we hosted her party at home. We invited 12 little girls and were able to keep them safe, happy, and engaged the whole time. But it's not because we were lucky, oh no. It's because of these 5 vital party-planning secrets that I share with you today:

Secret #1: Come Up With a Fun Theme... Even If It's a Little "Out There"

As my preschooler had discovered a new-found obsession with trying on (and often commandeering) my jewelry, I thought her birthday could be a great opportunity to capitalize on that, so I suggested a jewelry-themed party. She was thrilled. Easy enough, I thought.... But then a week later, she decided it really needed to be an "Art" party, too. Okay, I could make that work. Jewelry and art... they integrate pretty easily. And then, the week before the party, she threw me a curve ball when she became compelled to incorporate unicorns in the party. Yes I know, I could have told her, "enough is enough" and it was too late to add anything new, but I have a soft spot for her birthday because it's only 10 days before Christmas and I don't want it to get lost in the shuffle. Besides, how can anyone argue with unicorns? A quick Google search told me I could get an inexpensive Unicorn Pinata shipped here in 2 days (love Amazon Prime). Perfect: two birds with one stone: we got ourselves a unicorn and another fun activity. So there you have it, a clear (sorta) theme: A Jewelry, Art & Unicorn Birthday Party. Now I had a base around which I was able to start planning everything else.

Secret #2: Prepare {As Much As You Can} Ahead Of Time

One of the most important elements to keeping your party stress-free is to do as much as possible before the guests arrive. My husband thought I was nuts when he saw me filling little jugs full of plain and chocolate milk and making sure the straws fit hours before everyone arrived, BUT can you imagine trying to fill 15 little jugs full of milk and inserting straws into them while the kids are sitting around the table with nothing to do? By the time the last child got their milk, the first one would have finished already. Instead of creating a potentially messy situation, I grabbed the tray out of the fridge and they sat down - with their choice of milk - hands - and mouths - full for a few minutes while we got their snacks in front of them. The same was true with the pinata. Before guests arrived, I wrote names on paper bags for each child; that way, when it was time for my husband to get the girls lined up and swinging (which was hugely comical, but that's a whole different story!), they had personalized bags in-hand (elimating potential confusion about whose is whose), ready to collect their treats. In the past when we've done this, I remember trying to write (and spell correctly!) each child's name before we could get started. A whole lot of antsy and excited children while you're trying to concentrate on writing their names is a recipe for disaster! While it might seem silly, having all of that organized and prepared in advance meant that the kids were occupied the whole time, which leads me to Secret #3.

Secret #3: Keep 'Em Busy

This is one of my best teaching tricks, and it's vital to being able to safely and successfully occupy a group of kids (of any age, really). Plan. Every. Minute. In fact, you need to plan for more mintutes than you may actually need, because you never know when one of your activities will turn into a "flop." In groups, kids are like vultures. They can smell out unstructured time and they're perched to pounce and create chaos as soon as they get the chance. And once they do, well, it's no fun trying to get them back. Before you start thinking I'm being too harsh, remember, I love kids. Really! I taught in the classroom for 12 years and then I gave birth to 3 of them in 4 years. Really, I love them to pieces. But I also know when they can't be trusted :)

Our party ran from 2:00-3:30pm. Here's was my "Lesson Plan," if you will: 
  • 2:00-2:15: Welcome & Bestowing of the Crowns & Amulets: This small gesture was actually one of the most important parts of the whole party, one that I equate to the "Hook & Hold" activity in the classroom. As R greeted each guest, she gave them a handmade amulet (รก la Sophia the First) and Cozy Party crown, which helped set the mood and reinforce the theme of the day.  It also provided an opportunity for her to greet and interact with the guests.  I don't know about your little ones, but my girls can be shy and get easily overwhelmed, so having this moment got all the kids feeling comfortable, welcome, and in the right frame of mind. 
  • 2:15-3:00: Hands-on Jewelry & Art Activities: For the next 45 minutes, kids rotated through 4 easy craft stations: Mini-Canvas Paintings, Fruit Loop Bracelets, Clip-on Pom Pom Earrings, and Pipe-Cleaner Jewel Rings. Adding in transition (and distraction) times, they had about 10 minutes at each activity, which was certainly adequate.
  • 3:00-3:15: Snacks, Cupcakes, and "Happy Birthday"
  • 3:15-3:30: Pinata Time! This process ended up taking a hilariously long time and basically culminated in my husband sneakily ripping the pinata's head to the point where it hung by a thread. After that, the little ladies (who apparently need to spend more time at the gym) were finally able to knock out some candy. And once it opened, they had a good 5 minutes to stuff as much candy in their mouths as they could before their parents came and told them to stop :).

Key #4: Enlist Some Allies!

A key to my success is enlisting the help of some (hopefully) willing allies.  In other words, make sure it's not just you running everything.  Transitions can be tough, and if you have someone else lined-up to help take the kids from one activity to the next, it will be MUCH easier.  For example, I put my husband in charge of organizing and executing the pinata.  That way, I knew I could focus on cleaning up cake, chatting with parents who were arriving for pick-up, and taking pics while he ran the show with that activity.  I also enlisted the help of my sister for the art projects, which allowed me to help R greet her guests and watch for any late-comers. An older sibling, friend, relative, or (reluctant) husband are all great sources of help that will make the party go more smoothly and help make it more enjoyable for you.

Key #5: Make it Memorable

Sometimes this gets lost.  We spend so much time planning (and paying) for a party that we lose sight of why we're even doing it. The most important thing is that the birthday girl (or boy) is having fun and that we can watch them enjoy their special day. By taking small steps beforehand to alleviate the stress of "party day," you can sit back and enjoy!

How else can you make it more memorable? Instead of throwing a cookie-cutter party with goodie-bag items you can buy anywhere, make your own goodies! Also, consider giving out some of the "favors" at the beginning. After the girls got their crowns and amulets, they instantly felt that they were part of the day, and they became living examples of the theme, skipping around with sparkly necklaces, clip-on earrings, and felt crowns (all super-easy and cheap to make!). At the end of the party, R gave out pretty take-out boxes with a special Gingham & Pom-Pom necklace inside, and that little touch made each girl feel extra special as they walked out the door.

The projects and goodies also made for some great pictures, and R saw what she wanted - a Jewelry, Art & Unicorn Party - come to life.  I can say, without hesitation or prejudice, that R and her guests had a GREAT and MEMORABLE day.

I hope I've helped you generate some creative ideas for your next party! While most of the activities I highlighted are easy to replicate, a few required some extra steps on my part. I'm still working on posts for all of the projects, but so far I've posted easy tutorials for the Cozy Kids Party Crowns and Crepe Paper Banners.

And, if we're not already connected, find me on Pinterest, Facebook, and Google+ so we can start sharing ideas together!


Also, I'm SO EXCITED to announce a new event on the blog in April, in honor of Earth Day: Spring Greening! We'll highlight earth-friendly tips and tricks, and have GIVEAWAYS from eco-friendly vendors! Right now I'm looking for fun, eco-conscious bloggers to join me with some cool posts! Upcycling tutorials, healty recipes, energy conservation... anything that helps our earth! Are you interested? Just fill out the form here: Spring Greening Contributors.

Linking up to:
Making the World Cuter  
Mad Skills Party 
Monday Funday  
Give Me the Goods 
Tutorials and Tips  
Time to Sparkle 
Create Link Inspire


  1. This is helpful, I am getting ready to plan my little man's b-day party at the end of the month. I think he would love a themed party...Dr Whooooo hehe. It will be a lot of fun for him now that I am getting it into my head to plan AHEAD! Ha

  2. Yay! That will be so fun! Yea, planning ahead was definitely key for me on this one! I wish I could say that I always planned ahead, but in reality, I'm much more of a procrastinator than I'd like to admit ;)


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