Party Politics: Learner Mama’s guide to kids’ birthday parties

Kids’ parties involve a myriad of elements that need to be navigated. Starting from who to invite and preparing invites, deciding where to hold the party, what to buy as a gift if your child is going to a party and all the costs involved in kids’ parties today. In order to provide a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about kids’ parties Learner Mama’s guide is divided into five key sections:

Invitations

Presents

Venues

Costs

P-Day

Invitations

Invitations are a constant source of political drama for parents. If you are hosting a party for your child you will have to deal with who is to be on the invite list. It might sound simple but can get quite tricky.

Three key things that will steer you right:

1. Questioning how many can your proposed venue hold;

2. Asking if there are any policies in your child’s school about whether or not the whole class has to be invited;

3. What is your budget?

The above can significantly change an invite list.

Once the invite list is done there is the actual preparing them. You can run with a number of options:

1. You can buy a pack or pad of invites in any stationery store and fill out the details

2. If you are having the party in an outside venues some venues will provide pre-made invitations to fill out

3. You can make them yourself. There are loads of templates online and provided you have a printer they can be printed easily (best to use slightly firmer card style paper) or if you want you could get a professional print company to do it for you.

4. You can go with electronic versions such as e-mail or text. My daughter’s school encourages use of text messaging between parents and it is now the norm that invites come in via text.

Whichever method you choose there is certain key information that needs to be on it:

Date and Time

Kids’ parties tend to be a 2 hour affair. 2.5 hours at a push. I have found morning parties good for me as I often then have family over later in the day. Parents have also commented on how its great to still have the rest of the day free to do something. I am fond of a 11am to 1pm slot which allows some fun party time and then some food/cake at about 12.30pm which is lunchtime anyway so not disrupting any meals.

One thing to remember about kids’ parties is that a 1pm kick off means 1pm. This is no adult dinner party where from 8pm is really 8.30/9pm. Punctuality is key.

Same goes for collecting your child. If the party ends at 3pm be there at 3pm. In fact be there at 2.55pm.

Same goes regarding punctuality if you are hosting a party. Keep things on schedule. No harm if you are just finishing a cake as parents arrive but don’t have them waiting to collect their child.

Location (and direction details if required)

Obviously there needs to be the location of where the party will take place. If the venue is somewhere external or not easy to find then it can be useful to include some instructions on how to get there.

Child’s Age

It can be useful to include the age your child is going to be. I have made the mistake of assuming a child is going to be one age when they are in fact a year older and of course the card has a big fat wrong age on it.

RSVP

Part of the invitation politics is RSVP’s. They never cease to amaze me. You will experience everything from those who RSVP immediately on getting the invitation to those who don’t RSVP at all and it’s a guessing game if they will appear or not.

There are a number of options to include on a party invitation for RSVP:

1. None – not requiring an RSVP is fine. It does allow parents the flexibility to go or not at the last minute but leaves you not knowing how many will turn up.

2. Regret or confirm only: This means that you should only hear from people who can’t make it in case of regrets only or those who will be there only in the case of confirm only. It seems to be becoming a popular option. That said I have had confirm only parties to have a few arrive who didn’t contact me (and I had assumed were regrets) and there will be parties with regret only for someone to not turn up who never made contact.

3. Standard RSVP means you expect to hear either way. I have yet to have a standard RSVP and actually hear from everyone.

The best method for RSVP is by including your mobile phone number and getting people to text. For my first invitation I called the mobile number as I didn’t realise it was the done thing to text so now I include on the invite Text Lucy at 12345678 (not my number obviously!).

It is a fact of invitation life that you will always have people not follow the instructions for RSVP.

Once you are sitting with your pile of pretty invitations it is just a case of issuing them.

princess party
Image: http://kidspartyinvites.blogspot.ie/

Some schools have policies that they can’t be given out in class which means trying to figure out whose parent is who. Of course after a few years it becomes easy but in Junior Infants when you hardly know the kids let alone the parents it can take days to hand out invitations.

It is important to give yourself plenty of time to give them out. Having them ready 10-14 days before the party prevents any stress. As a receiver of an invite I like to get it around 10 days before the party so I have time to make any necessary arrangements.

Venues

The million dollar question of where to have the party. At a basic level there are two options: in your home or at an external venue.

For the first couple of years (1st, 2nd and 3rd birthdays) we just had little family only tea parties in our house – finger food, nibbles, cake and a few drinks.  Even though it was only a small event there is still the task of preparing the house for the invasion.  Although always a good excuse to motivate me to clean the house properly!

The first actual birthday party we had involving non family friends was when my oldest turned 4 and to be honest it was soon enough – hold out as long as you can not getting into big group birthday parties. We went to a soft play centre in north county Dublin called PJ’s Playcentre. It is my favourite soft play centre.

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For my little man, who turned 5 recently, that was his first proper birthday party. We went to PJ’s play centre too! His choice.

There is a maximum number in many of these types of venues and so this does influence invite list as does price. They are not cheap but that said by the time you get all the bits and pieces for a home party – food, treats, banners, party bags etc you nearly spend as much. Add an entertainer in the mix and I would say it’s on a par to have it outside. And with no mess to tidy up I vote external every time. Be smart about it. Look at week day afternoons when it’s cheaper or some places offer cheaper options for non hot food or self hosted options.

There are other external options too – we had one of our parties in the local community centre – just hired the room which included a bouncy castle and got an entertainer. It worked really well. Have a look at your local area and what amenities they have – parish hall, GAA club, Golf club, hotel function rooms. Check them out and see what you can do.

Other places have party options too. The likes of the Zoo, Tayto Park, Buil- a-Bear, cinemas. The list goes on. A bit of research goes a long way.

I try to go somewhere nearby. Or at least if there is a bit of travel that there is somewhere for parents to grab a coffee if they are hanging around.

Presents

There is not a lot to worry about when it comes to presents if you are the host of the kids’ party. You can leave it up to the discretion of those attending what to buy. The only thing you may wish to consider which has grown wings in my daughter’s class is to limit the present budget. My daughter’s class invites now often come with gift instruction of a “€5 in a card” present which saves a lot of hassle.

 

Image courtesy of tiverylucky / freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy of tiverylucky / freedigitalphotos.net

If you are attending a kids party it can be hard to know what to give. In the early days I did go out shopping for a toy for the birthday child, but if it’s a child you don’t know very well it’s a minefield. Do they like Barbie dolls or not? Do they already have a particular toy. I have now moved to getting vouchers or giving cash with the card.

I also buy cards in bulk. My local Eurosaver shop does three cards for €2 which is great value compared to having to run into the local shop and spend €2 or €3 per card. Unless you are sure of the child’s age just buy plain “Happy birthday” cards. I have made the mistake of assuming a child is a certain age and bought a card with a big “5” when the child was turning 6!

How much to give or spend is always a question when new to the party scene. The average is between €10-20 so I usually pitch for €15 which I think is more than generous. That said since my son has started going to parties and I am on a career break I am opting more often for a €10 option.

Costs

On the topic of finances as you might work out from all of the above kids’ parties cost a lot. Period. The costs attack from two angles. First there is the cost of your own kids’ parties and then there is the cost of your kids attending parties.

For many it has to be selecting only to attend parties of close friends and for some letting their child attend parties is just not an option.

A standard party in a soft play centre or similar will cost anywhere from €10- €15 a head. So multiply by a class full of kids and you could have a party bill of over €300.

Doing the party at home can save on some cash but of course you will need to buy the food, drinks, treats, party bags and keep them entertained which can end up being almost as costly (with a lot of stress!).

The main thing is not to put yourself under pressure. If you can’t afford a party for your child do you own thing and don’t worry about the rest of the class. Equally there is no pressure to attend every party that your child gets invited to. Don’t get yourself into financial trouble over birthday parties. It is only a day and great memories of birthdays can be made without spending a fortune.

P-Day

Party day is always filled with great excitement for the birthday child.  For the parents there is always a little trepidation about what is about to happen.

If you do plan to have a home party my fellow Irish Parenting Blogger Office Mum has a great beginners guide to birthday parties

The one thing to do is make sure you have a contact number for a parent of each child.  Just in case! Otherwise, get stuck in and enjoy the event.  Before you know it, it will all be over.

Oh, and have a bottle of wine chilling in the fridge!

If your child is going to a party it’s one child less for a couple of hours – happy days!