Whether you’re throwing a theme party or a just-plain-fun birthday bash, there are a few basic party planning ideas you can incorporate into your event to ensure that it’s a success. These basic party ideas will give you a good foundation for everything from decorations to food to activities and beyond. Just take the ideas you like best, and tailor them to fit your chosen theme by incorporating theme-related items into your decorations and by giving your party foods and games creative, theme-complementary names. (Alternatively, you can plan a complete theme party using the ideas found within our “Theme Party Guides” section.) Happy party planning!
For peace of mind, begin planning 6 – 8 weeks in advance to allow time to purchase and mail invitations, as well as to give your guests time to RSVP and make travel plans, if needed. Don’t panic if you find yourself short on time; you can still plan a great party! Planning ahead simply reduces the risk of conflicts with guests’ plans and may increase attendance.
To simplify the rest of the party planning process, check out our Party Planning Timeline, take a look at our When & Where to Have the Party page, and read the paragraphs below for information on selecting decorations, supplies, activities, and more for your child’s party.
What Do I Need For the Party?
If you plan to use paper tableware and themed party supplies, our Suggested Party Supply List may be helpful when placing an order. Please note that you may not need everything on the list; it is intended only as a guide. If you have yet to choose a party theme, you should check out our Developing a Theme page. Before the party, you may also want to go over Gift Opening Etiquette with the birthday child, depending on his or her age.
Fun Ideas To Set The Mood
- Streamers – Purchase streamers in two or three bright colors that coordinate with your other partyware. Twist the strands of streamers together, and hang the twists along the walls of the party area. You can also wrap streamers around banisters, twist them around floor lamps, use them to create curtains across the doorways leading into the main party area, or create a canopy over the party table. To do the latter, attach the streamers to a chandelier or a central point on the ceiling, and then cascade them out to the sides of the room.
- Balloons – Tie brightly-colored balloons in bunches of three, and attach the bunches to the backs of chairs or to balloon weights.
- Centerpieces – Buy or create a table centerpiece that coordinates with your theme, set it on the party table, and surround it with a sprinkling of confetti. You can make a centerpiece using materials like construction paper-covered shoeboxes, poster board, theme-related toys, hats, and other objects. For example, you could create a treasure chest for an ocean or pirate party by covering a cardboard box with brown paper and strips of gold foil, filling the box with plastic beads and gold coins, and sprinkling a few chocolate coins around the box for your guests to enjoy later.
- Placemats – Set coloring book pages on the party table in place of placemats. Let your guests color their placemats as an icebreaker activity. Laminate the colored placemats using contact paper, and then send them home with your guests as a fun keepsake. Alternatively, you can purchase one of our fun personalized placemats for each of your guests.
- Banners – Hang a birthday banner at the entrance to the party area to welcome your guests and announce your celebration.
- Party Favors – If you plan to give favor bags or boxes to your guests at the end of the party, cluster them on a table with a themed centerpiece, a stuffed animal, or a weighted bunch of balloons at the center to turn your favors into a decoration.
- Wall Decorations – Make your own wall cut-outs to complement your party theme. Draw themed designs on construction paper or poster board, cut them out, and affix them to the walls with tape or another adhesive that will allow safe and easy removal after the party.
- Graffiti Wall – Set up a graffiti wall on which your guests can write messages to the guest of honor, draw pictures, or sign their names. Just tape white or colored poster board or a sheet of craft paper to a wall, or set it on a table or the floor so the children can easily reach it. Have crayons, markers, stickers, and/or glitter glue available, and be sure to supervise!
- Window & Sidewalk Decorations – Use window markers to draw theme-related pictures or birthday messages on windows throughout the main party area. You can also use chalk to draw pictures on the driveway and/or the sidewalk leading up to the front door.
- Other Decorations – Other decorative accents may include theme-complementary party blowers, hats, Mylar balloons, pinatas, toys, or even movie or travel posters.
When it comes to food, partygoers are usually perfectly content to eat pizza or hotdogs, which is certainly much easier on the hosts! If you have the time, you can always dish up some theme-related treats, too, or just stick with these basic party noshes and nibbles:
- Pizza – Pizza is always a good choice for a party. You can order a variety of toppings, or play it safe with plain cheese. Don’t forget to look for discounts! Most pizza places will cut you a deal on larger orders, if you ask. Or, for a smaller party, just ask what specials they’re running before you place your order.
- Sandwiches – Sandwiches are another great option, and they’re easy to make! Consider making several varieties in case some of your guests have food allergies or dietary restrictions. Options may include:
- Peanut Butter & Jelly
- Ham & Cheese
- Lettuce, Tomato, Cheese, & Mayonnaise
- Cheese & Mayonnaise
- Classic BLTs (or a vegetarian version with veggie “bacon” or cheese in place of real bacon)
- Cream Cheese & Jelly
- Tomato & Mayonnaise with a Sprinkling of Salt & Pepper
- Banana, Peanut Butter & Honey
For a fun touch, use cookie cutters to cut the sandwiches into themed shapes that little fingers can manage more easily.
- Chips & Dip – Chips and dip are a quick and convenient snack to set out on the table-a perfect food for your guests to nosh on while they wait for the main course!
- Cookies – Sugar cookies are a fun snack that you can prepare in advance, and they can be made in an infinite number of shapes! You can use cookie cutters and decorations, such as icing and sprinkles, to coordinate the treats with your party theme. (Check out our Cooking & Baking section for cute cookie cutters, cookie kits and more.)
- Cake – Bake and decorate a birthday cake that goes along with your theme. Rectangular sheet cakes can easily be cut into any shape, such as a rocket or a fish, and then frosted with different colored icing. Round cakes make perfect sports balls, planets, faces, drums, wheels, pizzas, and more. You can also use almost any type of candy to complete your culinary creation.
- Colorful Drinks – For a fun beverage, freeze grape juice or a colorful Kool-Aid in ice cube trays. At the party, serve glasses of ginger ale or a clear, lemon-lime soda, and let your guests drop in some of the colored ice cubes. The children will delight in the way that their drinks magically change color!
- Other Snacks – Other easy snacks may include:
- Animal Crackers
- Apple Wedges
- Baby Carrots
- Bagel Bites
- Cheese Cubes
- Cut Veggies
- Goldfish Crackers
- Ice Cream Cups
- Juice Boxes
- Mini Cookies
- Pear Wedges
- Pigs in a Blanket
Here are a few fun party games and craft ideas that are appropriate for any children’s party, regardless of your chosen theme. (For more theme-specific games and activities, check out our “Plan a Theme Party” section.):