A beginner's guide to birthday parties


If you are good at throwing birthday parties, this probably isn't the post for you. In fact, if you're even mildly average, feel free to click back out (really do - you will just find this patronising).

If like me, your stomach churns with just a little bit of anxiety every time you think about hosting a child's birthday party - read on.

Last week we held a party for twenty-two six year olds in our tiny three-bed semi, and the world did not end. In fact, the kids had a great time and we survived - more than survived.


we were lucky - a beautiful sunny September afternoon

So this is a quick guide to hosting a stress-free(ish) birthday party for a young child (aged around four to seven) - it's not comprehensive; just some pointers to help you move from outright fear to actually looking forward to your child's party. 
OK, let's not get carried away - we'll aim for "not dreading it".

1. Have a "run-order"

This might sound over-the-top. I mean, it's not a Paris fashion show. 
BUT THIS WILL SAVE YOUR SANITY.
A very simple run-order looks like this:

2pm: Arrival and first activity such as colouring in pictures of favourite cartoon characters, cleverly printed by you in advance
2.15: Statues
2.30: Simon Says
2.45: Pass the Parcel
3.00: Pinata 
3.15: Food
3.30 Disco
3.45: Cake
4pm: Parents arrive, give out goodie bags, have large glass of wine - you're done!

We all know that kids like a bit of structure, a bit of guidance. They like to know what's happening next. They like familiar games. They all know how to play statues. And they all want to win prizes.

A run-order takes care of this, as well as ensuring reduced stress levels for the organiser. Ten minutes of work, followed by weeks of calm in the run up to the party - it's worth it. 

2. No grown-ups

You may want adults there - kids' parents who are also your friends - if so, ignore this piece.

But if it's possible and desirable, consider keeping it to kids only - entertaining and feeding small people is much, much easier than doing the same for their parents. 

Plus, running a game of Simon Says or Statues, or dancing in the disco may involve letting go of your inhibitions - this is far less embarrassing without ten pairs of parental eyes on you.

3. OK well, no food for grown-ups

If the small guests are too young to stay alone, or if you want to have adults there for any other reason, think carefully about whether or not you really want to get into preparing food for them.

Feeding grown-ups may involve homemade quiche, fancy party food from Marks & Spencer, an attempt at an authentic Italian antipasti board or salads that can only be prepared just before serving.

Feeding children can be limited to chips, sausages and buns.


decorated by birthday girl and sister

Grown-ups may need wine, or even worse, tea. Or coffee. Or beer, or Coke, or interesting juice (not just orange juice) or those Schloer type drinks.

Children are usually fine with diluted orange.

The parents probably ate at home before they came and may even do that again when they go home - you are not responsible for sustaining them from starvation for the two hours that they spend in your home. You have twenty children to look after. Nuff said.

4. Keep it simple

Kids don't need fourteen different types of cupcake or a choice of juice flavours - in fact any kind of choice will just cause procrastination, confusion and spills.

Menu suggestion: 

Chips and sausages. 
Plates of iced buns and Rice-Krispie buns. 
A big jug of diluted orange. 
Birthday cake. 
That's it.


birthday cake


You might want nuggets or sandwiches or fruit or different types of cakes - that's all fine, just don't have huge variety; keep it simple.

Other short-cuts & tips for keeping it simple:

Buy a roll of white stickers in order to put a name-badge on each child as he or she arrives - very handy if you're having the whole class and don't know all the names.

Don't fill party-bags full of plastic loot that so often ends up in the bin anyway - one or two nice presents plus some chocolate will keep any five-year-old happy.

Put names on party bags so that if kids give you their prizes to "mind" during the afternoon, you can stow them in the bags.

Wrap pass-the-parcel prizes in newspaper - kids don't mind, they just desperately want the prizes underneath.




Have the party early-ish in the day so that you have time to clean up afterwards - and two hours is plenty of time for any party duration.

Have a pinata as the last game before the food - time after time in our house, this is the one activity that draws in every child, which means hosts are free to lay out the feast.

Make sure you have one or two adult helpers (reward them with wine and cake after)

5. A fifth step would be neater than finishing on just four, but I don't really have one, so I'll leave it at that (plus episode 2 of new season Homeland is starting soon). 

Happy partying!


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