A few weeks back we celebrated our daughter’s fourth birthday with a lot of her friends from school. I don’t mind saying that it was a huge success and I take basically no responsibility for that. My wife was the mastermind behind the festivities from invitations to decorations and games, but she doesn’t have a blog and I do, so I’m the one who’s going to throw down some advice.
1. Start Asking About Themes Early
Our daughter likes thinking about things WAY in advance and also changes her mind on a fairly regular basis. We learned this during Halloweens past and put that knowledge to good use once the party was in the works. Surprisingly, she wanted a Frozen Fever party pretty much from jump, so my wife had time to look for products based on the 7-minute short that ran before Cinderella. That added its own challenges because it’s a short that we haven’t even seen yet (she saw it with her grandparents), but my wife used her Google-Fu to get plenty of on-point supplies and even designed her own killer invitation.
2. Hit Up The Dollar Stores
While we were able to find some Frozen Fever-themed cups, plates and whathaveyou, we also discovered that the dollar store is a great place to find disposable plates, cups and silverware for any party. As long as you know what color scheme you’re going to have, you can usually find what you’ll need to thread in and fill out the table for short money. So, if you can find the small plates or cups with the particular character you’re going for, why not match the rest with a simple color from the dollar store and save some green?
3. Pick A Broad Theme
One of the unexpected benefits of choosing the Frozen-related theme is that it gave the parents of the kids invited someplace to start when it came to gifts. Now, we didn’t say anything about presents and it would have been perfectly fine had they not been brought, but, it’s nice to have SOME idea of what to get a kid, especially when you might now know much about them. Asking a 3 or 4 year old what the classmate they see 6 hours a week likes might not get the best results, so it’s helpful to have that theme right there on the invitation. As it turned out, we got zero repeats when it came to theme-related gifts.
4. Have Fun With A Simple Menu
Once the theme is set, start thinking about food. We decided not just on a Frozen Fever event, but an ice cream sundae party. When everyone got there we had cut-up veggies and homemade hummus (my main contribution to the party, made from Alton Brown’s recipe) plus a few kinds of chips and juice. Instead of cake, my wife made awesome looking FF cupcakes and also scooped ice cream into little cups ahead of time so we could just pop them out of the freezer chest and throw the varied toppings on the table. It was fun, the kids had a great time and the parents seemed to enjoy it too, even though we very consciously filled their kids with sugar.
Apparently some people think that having an epic, four hour party for pre-schoolers is the way to go. It is not. Remember all that sugar I mentioned? Well, you don’t want to sugar a bunch of kids up and then keep them out in the yard for the equivalent of a Lord of the Rings movie because they’ll crash like the saccharine junkies they are. We decided on a concise two hour time for the party — which was specifically on the invitation — and it worked out really well. The kids were there long enough to have fun and, this way, we only had to plan a few activities. Also, not for nothing, but it’s nice to give parents an idea of how long they’re going to stand around someone else’s backyard and make small talk (though, to be honest, I had a great time talking with some of the other parents).
6. Make A Schedule
I make lists and plans for everything from my daily work to my Thanksgiving dinner preparation. In this case, I made a detailed schedule for not just the party, but the week leading up to it. For us, this involved a lot of cleaning and house preparation ahead of time, but not nearly as much as we did for our son’s party a month or so earlier (it was a LONG winter, you guys). The schedule also helped for the party itself because, since it was just two hours, we wanted to make sure we got to the planned activities and the food. I totally understand wanting to just let a party flow naturally, but if you want to get to Pin The Nose On Olaf and the pinata befpre singing “Happy Birthday” and eating cake and ice cream all in two hours, it certainly doesn’t hurt to know when each thing should take place.
7. Keep Them Entertained
Like I said, we had a few activities: Pin The Nose On Olaf (my wife and her mom cut out carrot noses from construction paper that the kids tried putting on a poster my mom picked up) and that lame pinata (more on that below). But, the main attraction of the party was the swingset my dad and I put together a few months ago. It’s got a slide, platform, two regular swings and a baby swing, plus we have one of those turtle sandboxes nearby. The kids loved it. I also brought out just about every outside toy I could find in the garage and those were used too. This part didn’t have much organization, just getting the things out where the kids could find and play with them. It also didn’t involve much in the way of attention or action on our part (just putting things where they could find them), which I appreciate.
8. Get A Bubble Machine
This is more of a piece of life advice than anything, but if you ever find yourself in the position to buy a legit bubble machine, do it. My in-laws found a solid one a few years ago while yard sailing or flea marketing and it’s always brought a ridiculous amount of joy to any kid nearby. We just turned this thing on and the kids ran to it like bugs to a zapper. It’s just like Paul Rudd said in Knocked Up, “I wish I liked anything as much as my kids like bubbles.” Oh, also, the above YouTube clip is mildly NSFW.
9. Don’t Get A String Pinata
My wife told me that string pinatas are the way to go these days. The idea is that it’s too dangerous for a bunch of sugared up little kids to swing a stick around while unable to see. Given that Lu goes to something of a crunchy school, we weren’t sure what to do, so we went with the kind where you pull a ribbon and (supposedly) one releases all the candy. Not a single ribbon produced candy (and not just because we taped some extra on there because more kids came than we thought when we bought the stupid thing). The craziest part? All of the other parents were like, “Where’s the stick?” So, while you definitely need to be smart and safe when going the traditional route of pinata assault (like learning what not to do from this video) I think it can be done in a fun way because, trust me as someone who’s seen it, the moment that last string gets pulled and no candy comes out is like something of Village of the Damned. Luckily my dad acted quickly and broke that sucker open before their eyes turned read and heads started exploding (I might be mixing a little Scanners in there).
10. Crack Open A Beer For The After Party!
After the kids from Lu’s school headed home around the two hour mark, our friends, their kids and our parents all stuck around and just hung out for a while. My dad and I ran out for some beer while we were sitting out and enjoying the nice weather, but if I was doing this again, I’d probably buy the beer ahead of time and break them out right away. Hey, you just threw a killer party for three-and-four-year-olds, you deserve a beer or three!