As the mother of two daughters, now ages 19 and 16, I have either hosted or attended with one of my daughters in tow literally a hundred variations on a girl’s birthday party. Some of them were pretty horrendous, some quite boring, some seemingly ‘flops’; what I can say with certainty is that a little girl’s birthday party can – and should – be as unique as the child herself.
Come learn from my own personal ‘flops’ and highlights!
1. For my oldest daughter’s first birthday party, we had a huge ‘family’ party. We actually have a rather small family, with myself having just one brother and sister in law, my husband now an only child, and only grandmothers still, thankfully, living. The party had over fifty guests in attendance: family friends, neighbors, our little family itself, and all of those who had seen us through three previous miscarriages, had celebrated my successful pregnancy with loving baby and mother to be showers, all those people in our lives who shared our joy at our daughter’s first birthday. Children in attendance ranged from about four other one year olds to children up to the age of twelve, with their parents and families. We had a magician, a clown, and face painting. The older children enjoyed it thoroughly, the tiny one year olds enjoyed crawling around and being with each other, a real novelty and treat for moms and babies alike. We had provided a very nice catered luncheon for the adults who attended, plus lots of ‘kid friendly’ food as well. We made sure to take lots and lots of photographs; these were the people with whom we felt the closest, with whom we shared our overwhelming joy at the first birthday of our baby girl. Goodie bags ranged in age groups from the older kids and their preference in toys to separate goodie bags for the littlest ones, with appropriate toys and snuggly items just for them. It was somewhat costly, but worth every penny to us to be home, to be with those we loved and who had seen us through both the best of times and the worst of times. It was our way of saying ‘thank you’ to those who had helped out a new mother with her newborn baby and the new little family unit ourself. This family – adults, kids, babies – party for our oldest daughter’s first birthday was probably my all time favorite birthday party; it was filled with love, remembrance and celebration. We did it! We were now a ‘real’ family with our very first baby girl!
2. As our girls entered the toddler years, some of the best parties we had for them (while in the two to five year old age group) were gym parties. You can contact your local YMCA or childrens’ gym for details and a place to hold the party. (There are also traveling ‘little gym’ programs that will bring the equipment and trained personnel to your home as well, assuming that you have the space for it.) These parties were relatively short: two hours at the most. Both boys and girls in my daughters’ age groups were invited: play date buddies, pre school friends, and of course, neighborhood children. Goodie bags for these parties had an athletic or sport theme: jump ropes, little footballs, soccer balls, basketballs, baseballs, sized for toddlers. The bags also included a book about sports and a sports-themed game (I believe I bought those plastic basketball hoops that had suction cups that stuck to a surface, with little kid-sized balls as part of the game.) The gym portion of the party was supervised by trained gym personnel, and these were not huge parties: ten kids or under, so that everyone could be well supervised. The gym portion lasted at least an hour, sometimes and hour and a half. After that, we had pizza (preordered and delivered to the gym) with juice. There was always enough pizza (and soft drinks that I brought from home) for the parents as well. The parties ended with the birthday girl opening her gifts to lots of ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaaahs’. At the end of the party, the kids were thoroughly worn out from the exercise and took early nap times. It was a lot of fun getting the kids involved in physical activities, and I held at least one of these gym parties for each of my girls.
3. Is your girl a soccer player or fan? If so, try an indoor soccer party, which was a huge hit with my younger daughter and her friends. There are indoor sports centers popping up all around major cities and suburbs. We rented one of these for an afternnon; the young guests were asked in their invitation to bring shin guards, indoor sport shoes and an appetite to play! All of the girls, some who were quite experienced players and others who had never played before, had a ball. The game was refereed by one of the indoor facility’s certified refs, and for the life of me, I don’t remember which team won, what the score was or any other particulars of the game. What I do remember is that the girls were really excited and enthusiastic about playing soccer, especially indoors, and everyone had a blast. After the ‘game’, the girls and parents enjoyed pizza, chicken fingers and other foods offered by (and paid for by us) the indoor sports center’s cafeteria. We had cake, opened presents, and the guests went home with soccer related goodie bags that also contained a book, hair ribbons, Scrunchies, lip gloss: the goodie bag wasn’t limited to just soccer related items, but gave a broader view to all of the guests. it was surprisingly inexpensive and worth every minute!
4. My younger daughter had always been somewhat of a ‘jock’. For her seventh birthday, we decided to try something different. I hired an ‘etiquette instructor’ who served the young lady guests tea and manners! We rented a meeting room in our local community center for the afternoon. The instructor talked (briefly!) about table manners and the art and history of afternoon tea. The guests were invited to come in their best or favorite dress up outfit, which everyone did. They dined on hot tea and hot chocolate plus petit fours and other fingerfood delicacies. The instructor also led them in two crafts: making a homemade bracelet and decorating individual and personalized picture frames. The goodie bags for this party contained costume jewelry, a book, and plastic rings, hair ties, etc. This could also be done in your own home, with Mom serving as the tea instructor and overseeing the crafts. At the end of the party, we took a bunch of photos of the little girls – some of whom had absolutely hated wearing a dress but got into the spirit of it since their friends were also ‘dressed up’. It was different, not that costly, and we still treasure the photos we took. You could also take a Polaroid photo of each girl at the party’s end and make that her party favor as well. Again, this type of party could be held in your own home, and while it was not an expensive event, there are several obvious ways in which you can cut costs and still have a great time!
5. One of the best parties my girls attended was an overnight affair held at a large Philadelphia museum. The girls got an after-hours tour of the museum and then had dinner in the museum’s cafeteria (limited choices, but all kid friendly). Then then bunked out for the night in the large children’s section of the museum, which boasts a floor to ceiling tree house as well. Everyone had been asked to bring a pillow and sleeping bag, and several of us parents were asked to stay over as chaperones as well. The girls were thrilled with their private tour of the museum and even more thrilled with being able to spend the night there! No one got much sleep; in the morning, we enjoyed a light breakfast before leaving prior to the museum’s opening for the day. I’m not sure how much this museum sleepover cost the parents who hosted it. You could also check to see if your local museum, zoo or aquarium holds kids parties as well, and what the cost per child is. It was certainly a memorable birthday party, and the little guests pretty much slept the entire day following the party!
6. One of the more ‘fun’ theme parties that we’ve had and also attended over the years are the tried and true pool parties. We happen to have an inground pool ourselves. We hired not one, but two, lifeguards whose only duties were to keep an eye on the girls while swimming. Chips, dips, pretzels and soft drinks were served while the girls frolicked in the pool; towards the end of the afternoon, we had pizzas delivered. We also happen to have a large, one acre fenced backyard, and had set up a volleyball net for the girls wanting to take a break to use. Between the volleyball and the swimming, the party lasted about 2 hours. You can also hold a pool party, which we once did, in the fall and winter months as well.While you obviously have to rent an indoor pool facility, it is sometime worth the cost because you don’t have to worry about bad weather spoiling an outdoor party; plus, it’s a huge hit to be able to swim in colder weather for the kids. Indoor pools also have a base of certified lifeguards on staff as well. The parties lasted about two hours; for the indoor pool party, everyone dried off, got dressed and went upstairs to one of the building’s party rooms where they had cake, pizza (thank goodness for pizza! Almost every kid likes it and it’s a relatively healthy fast food option) and soda; the birthday girl then opened her gifts. At our outdoor party, we had pizza, chicken fingers, salads and cake for food. Gift bags included pool toys, plus a book and a variety of inexpensive favors such as costume jewelry and small stuffed animals. The biggest point to remember when hosting a pool party, whether at home or at a pool facility (contact your nearest YMCA or health club for indoor pool options), is to make sure that you hire enough trained lifeguards! This is an absolute must. Our parties ranged from ten to twelve girls at each party, and we felt comfortable having two lifeguards whose only job was to watch the kids swimming in or nearby the pool.
7. For our oldest daughter’s 13th birthday, we threw her a dance party. We rented the gym of our local community center for a weekend evening and hired a disc jockey. For 2 1/2 hours, both boys and girls could dance to the music while parents supervised. We had a buffet table of food for the kids to enjoy during the evening: pizza, chicken fingers, salads, cheese platters, dips, vegetable trays, soft drinks, and at the end birthday cake. We would occasionally dim the lights for ‘slow’ dances – but not too dim! We were also lucky that a substantial number of parents stayed to help chaperone. We had absolutely no problems with the kids’ behaviour, the kids were, at that age, thrilled to be invited to a real ‘dance’, and it was one of my daughter’s most memorable parties. We invited well over 60 guests for the evening; when you rent a gym for the night, you can have that many – or more – guests. For a party of this size, you really need to rent a large room. You could spin your own records/CD or have a family friend do it for you, to cut costs. Goodie bags consisted of movie theater tickets, since they worked well for both boys and girls of that age. A scaled-down version of this dance party could be held in your home, if you have a finished basement or recreation/family room large enough so that the kids can actually dance.
8. “Cultural” parties, and I use that term loosely, were always a big hit with my girls. Party ideas included taking a bunch (ten to twelve girls) to a movie, followed by dinner at a nearby restaurant or fast food chain. We once took our girls, plus four guests each, to a ‘Broadway’ play in our largest big city, Philadelphia, followed by dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant. When my youngest daughter was about five, her birthday party consisted of taking her and ten of her closest buddies to a childrens’ play produced by a local community theater group; we then ate lunch at a nearby kid-friendly restaurant. Everyone seemed to enjoy the chance to see a movie with their friends (an age-appropriate movie, of course!), or going to see a play, which was a new experience for quite a few of our guests. If you limit the number of guests, this can be not only great fun but affordable as well. Check your local newspaper or online listings for childrens’ theater productions by local theater companies for ideas; even going to see the local high school play as a group is a great idea. Feeding them afterwards can be done at a fast food or inexpensive restaurant (Italian, Chinese), which again would be a real treat for many of the guests. One of my daughters was once invited to a museum party where they enjoyed a ‘private’ tour by a guide at the museum, followed by dinner out. Use your imagination: this type of party can be fairly expensive (one of my girls was once invited to an actual Broadway play; they were driven to NYC in a chauffeured limousine!) or as simple as taking a group of girls to the local high school play or musical, followed either by dinner out or going back to your home to eat. The number of guests is limited only by your imagination and your wallet. This kind of party provides a new and fresh experience not only for the birthday girl but her friends as well.
9. Since my oldest girl has an October birthday, we’ve held both Halloween and hayride/pumpkin picking parties for her. Our local stable offers both haunted Halloween hayrides; several farms in the area hold pumpkin (or apple, blueberry, corn, cotton, etc.) picking parties as well. For the Haunted Hayride, our guest list had over thirty kids invited on two wagons; they went through the farm land while being pleasantly scared to death by witches, ghosts and goblins. (Afterwards, we went out to the local pizza party for food.) A pumpkin picking party is great fun especially for younger children; they love the idea of doing something new, and they got to keep whatever item(s) they picked as well! Goodie bags were either Halloween related or farm animal related. If your child has a birthday near any major holiday (Christmas, Easter, Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, April Fool’s Day, the Fourth of July), use your imagination to host a party tied in with that theme.
10. Girls’ birthday party sleepovers can either be amazing or maddening! We are lucky enough to have an entirely finished third floor, where most of the parties took place. The girls oould invite as many friends as they wanted, up to fifteen guests at each party. I would strongly suggest that you do NOT host a sleepover party until your daughter is at least nine or ten years old. Younger than that, the little ones get homesick, and you’ll end up bringing up some unhappy camper home to their own bed – and their own parents – at 2 AM. I have learned that, for a successful sleepover party, parents must do the following: Make sure that you have enough room for every guest to sleep comfortably (use spare or guest bedrooms, a finished basement or recreation room, or a finished third floor); make sure that there is bathroom access nearby! (We again have a full bath on our third floor). Someone is bound to forget their own sleeping bag; make sure that you have sleeping bags, mattresses, rollaway cots, extra blankets, pillows and sheets as well. PLAN ACTIVITIES! Otherwise, left to their own devices, the girls can become eaily bored. Rent several (not just one or two, at least four!) DVD’s or tapes that are age-appropriate, and hopefully relatively new releases. Plan games: bingo, board games, etc., that the guests can either play or watch. Give small prizes to the winners. Also plan at least one craft Supervise the making of bracelets, necklaces, rings, hair accessories yourself, or you may be in for some nasty spills on your carpet or floors! Offer food throughout the evening: chips, dips, vegetable platters and trays, fruit trays, cheese trays. Later on, you’ll want to offer the girls something more substantial. Take a vote: ask each guest what they would like to each (make your choices simple! Pizza, chicken, salads, ethnic food, etc.), and order out. Kids love, love, love to eat out, especially when someone else is doing the ordering and paying! Don’t start your sleepover too early, or you’re asking for kids who are bored out of their little minds by 8 PM. As a matter of fact, 8 PM is a great time (at least for the hosts!) to start the party. Depending upon the girls’ ages, they should have at least four good hours of crafts, movies, eating, games, etc. before they (eventually) drift off to sleep. At one of our best sleepovers, the goodie bags consisted of (inexpensive yet ‘classy’) sleep tee shirts and/or sleep shirts. As a matter of fact, one of your crafts for the evening can be decorating their own sleep shirts. (Buy large sold color tee shirts, mens’ large, for instance, so that the girls can use them as nightgowns. Other ideas can be found at craft stores: tee shirts, sweatshirts, and all kinds of decorations and paints for them.) One thing I would make certain of is that parents know IN ADVANCE what time to pick up their girls, or whether or not you will be bringing them home yourself after breakfast (since you yourself will probably be operating on three hours or less sleep, make it easy on yourself by having breakfast ready in advance: bagels, whole wheat breads, doughnuts if you must, muffins, croissants, plus cream cheeses in a variety of flavors, jellies and jams. Also be sure that you have milk and orange juice waiting in the refrigerator. If you’re really ambitious, you can always scramble up a huge serving of plain scrambled eggs, with a side platter of bacon. Whatever you’re serving for breakfast ‘the morning after’, make sure that it’s quick and easy to put together.
Other party ideas for girls are endless: shopping parties afterhours in a nice, trendy store or boutique (limit what can be purchased! Much of the fun for the girls is looking, comparing, giggling and trying things on), for those willng to pay for the experience of taking a half dozen or so girls shopping together; cooking class parties (try your local well-known kitchen supply stores to see if they have childrens’ cooking classes and party accomodations), painting parties or ceramics parties (ask at your local art supply store if they host craft, painting lessons or make and take your own ceramics kids’ parties; this can also be done at home if you have the equipment, space, time and patience), a candy-making party (one of my youjnger daughter’s favorites, held at a local mom and pop candy store, where for two hours the girls make a variety of items: lollypops, chocolates, etc.). Another wildly popular girls’ birthday party idea is that trip to the hairdressers: young ladies are treated to an afternoon of beauty, including having their nails done, makeup professionally applies, and ‘fancy’ or just wash and dry hairdos (again, this really should be done at a salon, but especially for younger girls, there’s no reason why you and a couple of your closest friends can’t treat the girls to new ‘dos, painted nails and toes, and light make up applies in your own family/recreation room/basement yourself.) The salon parties are always popular, even among the most tomboy of girls! And for many of them, it will be a first-time-ever experience, depending upon the age group. Don’t forget roller skating parties as well! There are many rinks that will rent out an entire rink (during off times especially) for your own private roller skating party. (Having the entire facility, or at least one rink, to yourself is best, trust me!) Kids love to skate – or dance on the sidelines – to the roller skating music, and for more than you would expect, it will be a first-time experience as well. After an hour or an hour and a half (maximum!), the girls (and boys, if you choose to invite them depending on the birthday girl’s wishes and age group) can enjoy a light bite right at the skating rink’s food court.
Girls’ birthday theme parties may be limited by money, time, space and availability of certain resources, such as indoor pools or indoor soccer facilities; the only true requisite is that the party is given with love, with the birthday girl’s best interests and desires at heart!