Hosting a low-stress birthday for a toddler

Deciding to Host a Birthday Party

Confession: I did not want to throw a first birthday party for my son – at least, not a large one. As the time approached to begin planning, I read articles favoring both sides of the argument and discussed my thoughts with my husband. A party, if we decided to throw one, would really be for us. It would require a lot of work, and place a lot of stress on Little Dude. I wanted to host a small lunch, cake, and presents at the house with family, and save the larger parties with friends for when Little Dude could appreciate things more.

My husband reminded me that we treat our closest friends like family. If he were in their shoes, he would want to be a part of any celebration for their kids. Our friends love Little Dude, and they supported us through the growing pains of our first year as new parents. Plus, Little Dude has already had countless play dates with their children, and we want to continue fostering those friendships as they grow up. He was right: we needed to include them in the festivities.

When I started listing our closest friends and family, the number quickly shot to upwards of 50 people. Although I have hosted large parties at the house before, for this occasion I wanted to reduce the stress on my schedule as a full-time working mother who can barely keep her house presentable some weeks. Therefore, we opted to rent a pavilion at the local park down the street. The $65 rental fee was totally worth not cleaning my house before or after the party, and not having to worry about what happens when you put more than 3 or 4 children in a confined space. We planned for a mid-morning play date with friends, followed by a family lunch back at the house (with no apology for the bit of clutter at that point). I stole the brunch-time park party idea from a friend; we attended her little one’s party last year and loved just being together with friends outdoors. Everyone could come and go as they pleased, play in the park, and enjoy each other’s company.

Nearly every aspect of planning and executing Little Dude’s Park Party revolved around the K.I.S.S. principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid. If any element added undue stress for me or another family member, it did not make the final cut. The guest of honor and his closest friends being under the age of two, the odds of one or more melt-downs were high. The less fuss we put into planning, the more we could all just shrug off the mishaps and enjoy the party.

Keeping the K.I.S.S. principle in mind, I still wanted to craft a fun themed party with some memorable elements. I figured if I planned ahead and recruited the other planners in the family, I could successfully marry K.I.S.S. and creativity.

Planning a Hurricane Party

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We opted for a hurricane-themed party. We live in Florida, and Little Dude’s arrival nearly coincided with one of the big hurricanes last season.

A little imagination and carefully chosen food selections highlight the thematic element of any party. With a brunch time table, we skipped out on providing a full meal and opted for finger foods and snacks. Using some card stock and Popsicle sticks, we made “hurricane flags” to label all of our food and selected a handful of crowd-pleasers. Our menu included the following “themed” foods:

  • Tornados (Bugles)
  • Life Rafts (Dry Cheerios)
  • Hail (Powdered Sugar Donut Holes)
  • Debris (Chex Mix)
  • Rainbow Fruit (Fruit Salad)
  • Hurricane-Shaped Cookies (This was the one thing I actually baked. I probably could have found a bakery willing to make these for me, but I actually like baking, and with the rest of the menu ready-prepared, I did not mind stepping in for this one. I found a hurricane-shaped cookie cutter from CookieCutterSupply on Etsy, and the cookies looked so cute and added to the theme too!)
  • Storm Surge (Assorted cold drinks. I actually bought a water cooler – I figured that as Little Dude gets older I can use it when the kids play in the yard, or when we take day trips to the beach.)
  • Tropical Depression (Decaf), Tropical Storm (Light Roast), and Hurricane Strength (Hazelnut) Coffee (ordered from Panera)

Keeping in mind the two-hour time frame of our outdoor party, we chose a few strategic decorative elements to play up our theme without breaking the bank:

  • Disposable blue tablecloths represented the ocean, along with matching plates and napkins.
  • Red cups represented the red hurricane flag.
  • A bunch of white balloons on blue string served as our clouds and raindrops. We added some raindrop cutouts beneath the clouds. Although we opted to cut them out of cardstock, a cutting machine would expedite the process.
  • Fun swirly blue streamers (a hit with Little Dude) represented water spouts. Hanging them from the pavilion eaves proved tricky, but I had excellent help that “leapt” to the challenge!
  • Monthly forecast scrapbook pages highlighted Little Dude’s growth and personality over the past year. Again, this took some effort on my part, but because we cut corners in other places, I did not feel pressured to complete this element. Nor did I go nuts trying to make it extra fancy – basic shapes and Sharpie pens were all I needed. (Bonus: I can save the scrapbook pages for his baby book!)
  • Extra pictures strung together as a garland furnished more low-key, Little-Dude-centric decor.
  • A repurposed banner from my baby shower wished Little Dude a Happy Birthday.
  • Our party favors – red pinwheels – doubled as decoration. The kids found the pinwheels before the party was even over and enjoyed running around the playground with them.

Next to the favors, we placed a small guest book, the start of what I hope will become a family tradition with Little Dude and any other children we have. I want to encourage guests at birthday parties over the years to sign a guest book in lieu of a card. Cards often get tossed shortly after a party, but a guest book is easier to store and makes a nice keepsake to remember who came to celebrate each year. Next year, I may snap pictures with each guest to tape into the book as well.

Celebrating a Job Well Done

Looking around Little Dude’s party, I watched adults sitting under the pavilion and chatting with each other or sharing a snack with a kiddo. I watched moms and dads pushing their young ones on the swings. I watched older kids go crazy on the more complex jungle gym equipment. I watched a handful of kids go completely rogue and build a giant “castle for the ants” in the sand next to the pavilion. Everyone got to enjoy being outdoors and have some fun. And because it was only a play date at the park, I didn’t feel bad when Little Dude “crashed” and had to leave his own party early to take a nap!

Both kids and adults had fun at the park party.

Were there hiccups along the way? Absolutely! We had an amazing time, despite these trivial details:

  • Little Dude’s nap schedule changed right after I mailed the invites and naptime fell right in the middle of the party.
  • Dunkin Donuts dyed the powdered sugar orange for Halloween and our “hail” was not really hail-colored.
  • We probably should have ordered more regular coffee and less decaf.
  • Several children got bug bites, got sick, or had minor meltdowns.
  • It was a little hotter than we would have liked, because Florida.

Paying it Forward

I never could have pulled together such a fun birthday party without the help of my amazing family.

In order to make the most of my family’s willingness to help, I needed to keep us organized. When we started making plans for his party, I created a Google Docs spreadsheet and shared it with my helpers. I organized every aspect of the party – from buying supplies, to making food and decorations, to delivering and setting up food and decorations the day of the party. I assigned everything a category, and broke each detail down into manageable tasks. For example, ordering a food item and then picking it up the day of the party were two different tasks, so nothing got overlooked. Even “Get Little Dude to the park on time” got a row on the spreadsheet – and he was the guest of honor!

I included a Details and Notes column since I was “outsourcing” lots of tasks to family. I wanted them to know my thoughts, and to be able to leave notes of their own as they worked on their chosen tasks. I added Due Date and Completed By columns, along with a Claimed By column so my helpers could choose their own tasks. This column later got color coded so we could find our tasks easily. Although we talked party details several times in person, the spreadsheet allowed us to keep track of our progress without having to rely on lots of texts or calls during the week.

Birthday Spreadsheet

In honor of Little Dude’s birthday, my gift to you is a blank copy of my Google Doc spreadsheet to use when planning your next party. Select the link below to download it, or create a copy to edit via Google Docs. Happy planning!

Birthday Party Planning Spreadsheet

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