Feeling anxious at the thought of planning your child’s next birthday party? Does every year somehow become bigger and more elaborate? This year, why not keep it simple. Not only will this save you time and money, but it will (hopefully) cut down on the added stress of hosting and make the entire process more enjoyable for everyone!

First thing’s first, ask yourself “what is the most important thing about this party?” – probably that the birthday child has a good time and feels special! Don’t worry about impressing the other parents, this party is not about them.  As long as the kids have fun, you’re doing great!

Along these lines, figure out what is the most important thing that must get done during the party? In my experience, it’s usually bringing everyone together to sing Happy Birthday. Everything else can be flexible. By letting go of the “should’s” and “have-to’s” and focusing on the really important aspects of the party, you might even find yourself having fun too.

Some specifics to consider:

Guest List and Invitations

While you may feel trapped into inviting every student in your child’s class and more, keeping the guest list small will create a more intimate and manageable party.  If possible- set a number of how many kids can be invited and let your child choose accordingly (I know this is not always possible once they are in school).   If you have limitations to your guest count, communicate what you need from your RSVP’s and why to help get the responses you need:

“I’ll need a headcount of attendees by Friday so we order enough pizza” or “because the venue needs an accurate headcount”

Even with clear communication, there are bound to be always no-shows, last minute RSVPs, and extra siblings and parents on the day of your event.  Plan accordingly, but supply about 20% more than what you think you need.

Theme and Decoration

When there are endless directions you can go in and Pinterest projects setting ridiculous examples, sticking to a simple theme will be easy to execute and still look put together. Try sticking to 2-3 colors that match a specific themed cake plate.  This flexibility will make finding matching decorations and tableware much easier put a more pointed focus on the theme itself.  Using the same “Happy Birthday” banner every year will also cut down on purchases and create a fun tradition you and your family look forward to every year!

As an added bonus, left over supplies can be mixed and matched to effortlessly be re purposed for future gatherings.


Kids just want to run around and play with their friends, so let this time be as open-ended and unstructured as possible. No matter how cool your carefully planned activity is, kids will be kids and probably get a bigger kick out of the box.  Setting up a craft or activity table that is always available with a wide-range of materials provides options and the freedom to join in any time.  This is also a smart way to incorporate a take-home.  Skip the plastic trinkets that will be forgotten by dinnertime and provide an experience kids can take with them!  Some ideas to consider:

  • Beads and plastic lanyard thread for necklaces
  • Paper, crayons, scissors, glue sticks (very open ended and can fit any theme)
  • Bubbles or chalk (outdoors only)
  • Paper crowns/headbands with materials to decorate (puffy stickers, markers, stamps)
  • Washable watercolors and spill-proof cups for water

This activity station provides a structured alternative during the party and can be enjoyed afterwards too!


Finger foods are by far the easiest: pizza, crackers, cheese sticks, popcorn, grapes, juice boxes, etc.  If you are ordering pizza, you can even ask the vendor to cut it into smaller slices! This helps with picky eaters and cuts down on waste.  Again, keep the options minimal- 3 choices at most.  Otherwise, you will inevitably find yourself going back and forth to the kitchen or waiting a long time while each child decides.  Finally- what kids look forward to most- the dessert! While cake is the quintessential to any birthday party, I strongly recommend cupcakes.  They come “pre-cut”, are all the same size, do not require utensils, and can be easily taken on the go.

Pro-tip: supply cheap take-out containers for guests to take left-overs home!

As far as planning and executing a successful party, my biggest takeaway is to keep it simple and open-ended.  The kids will have no problem finding something to do and will enjoy some unstructured play time outside of school.  And- if you are looking for a venue to host your next birthday party, check out KidsQuest!  Our 2 hour party packages provide everything from tablecloths and tableware to a dedicated staff member available to assist with set up, clean up, and playing with the kids.

Contributed by Andi Koller