Introduction: How to Plan a Great Children’s Theme Party
In college I was an RA in charge of party and event planning. As a mom, I’ve designed dozens of theme parties for my own kids and their classrooms. As a volunteer I’ve been a programs chairperson, again in charge of events, parties, and planning. I never think of party planning as a special skill, but I guess it’s always been a part of my life. This instructable will serve as a guide for designing your own successful children’s them party based on what’s important to you.
Step 1: Choose a Theme
How important the perfect theme is depends a lot on the age of the kids who will be attending. Young kids won’t care about an overall aesthetic or cohesiveness, so that’s for the adults in the room - And the child of honor. By the time children are 7 or 8 they will notice the theme if they can relate to it. Older kids and teens will participate in the theme and get excited by it.
That being said, decide how much input your child will have.
For a toddler, you decide everything.
A preschooler may say something like, "I want trucks...and cake", or pick a favorite cartoon or superhero. The details are up to you.
Older kids care various amounts at various ages. Most will have a clear idea of the theme they want and may or may not care about the details. Usually, there are a couple of non-negotiable items, like everyone has to have witch hats and wands for a Harry Potter party, or you have to have a white poodle cake for a dog theme. Talking to the child may uncover interesting expectations like, "I don't care what we do, as long as something explodes."
Teens are another story. Teens will likely have very definite ideas of what they want. Just ask. They will probably want you to help plan, pay, shop, and set up. But when it's time for the actual party, be prepared to disappear. Make sure you plan a way to supervise the party without being a part of the party.
Step 2: Budgeting
After you've picked a theme, pick a budget. You can decide on a budget first based on what you can afford to spend, or you can figure out a few things to help you decide:
Remember the more guests you have the more you will spend. Consider whether you'll have only children or adults as well. Will parents be staying for the party? Adults don't need everything the kids get, but they will need food, drinks, cake, and a place to sit.
Do you have somewhere for the party? Home is free. Parks are free. Some condo and apartment complexes have common rooms to rent for a small fee. And yes, you can spend a lot more renting a party venue, if you want.
Is there one thing your child really wants that you have to budget in first, like a bouncy house or a pony? If so, start there and get some prices.
I would estimate my children's parties cost about $10-$15 per guest (children only, though this includes food and drinks for a handful of adults). My classroom parties cost far less. It's mostly about how elaborate you get, and how much will you make yourself. In a classroom, the kids make the decorations.
Step 3: Three Categories of Stuff
For every theme party I make, I divide the party accoutrements into 3 categories. I do this to keep the party original and to keep within my budget.
Category 1: The things you buy that are commercially available for your theme.
Category 2: The things you make from scratch.
Category 3: Things you buy that are cheap and flesh out the decorations without being theme specific. Like red and blue tableware from the dollar store for a Captain America theme, or donuts for The Simpsons.
If you're having your party at home or in a park, designate an area you'll decorate. Your theme will work much better if you keep it contained. It will also help keep the kids contained :-)
Step 4: Category 1: the Things You Buy
The most expensive, but also the easiest things to get for your theme party are the commercially produced decorations and favors that you buy online or at a party store. For a character or show theme, I usually pick a few key items that make the theme pop (and are hard to do myself). For example, this Pokemon party would have been hard to pull off without at least a few commercial Pokemon decorations. I decided on plates and cups, that were set up in advance and set the theme. I added a matching, but inexpensive table cover, streamers, balloons etc. The kids brought their own game sets and played Pokemon after cake (well, donuts :-)
Other times I've used the commercially produced tablecloths or wall decorations, or toys, if they would make the biggest impact.
Party Hack: Printed table cloths make great theme decorations when cut up and put on counter tops, taped up as wall banners, etc.
Step 5: Category 2: the Things You Make Yourself
This is my favorite part:
Deciding what I want for the party, but either it doesn't exist (yet!) or is too expensive. so I make it myself.
Making your own party decorations can be as simple as braiding streamers, to creating walls full of theme artwork. I usually go for something in the middle. I aim to make things that will have a lot of impact and/or personalize the party.
When creating my own theme decorations, I try to use things I already have around and/or recycle stuff. Remember that you only need what you make for a day or two, so empty containers and boxes, old clothing, etc. are perfect. You'll probably also need the basics of most kindergarten classrooms: colored paper, paints and brushes, tape, glue, scissors, markers, etc. Only, you'll want the grown up versions. Acrylic paints and permanent markers are a lot easier to work with. I also find a laser printer is one of my favorite party tools. I print the invitations, wall art, table decorations, and even cake toppers.
Notes on getting the most out of making theme party decorations:
Your time is best spent on big impactful art/decorations. Using posterboard or butcher paper you can hand draw, or project, an element of your theme (find images online). Draw an outline with marker. Paint in the outline and hang in a prominent place. I often put at least one big item where people walk in, to set the theme.
Color! Most themes have associated colors: Blue and yellow for Pokemon, green for dinosaurs, pink and white for tea party, Rainbow, well, for rainbow. Use colored paper to print on, make colored confetti, twist streamers in your theme colors, and get theme color balloons. Make tissue paper flowers in your theme colors. Everything you print, paint, or cover in your theme colors will add to the party without a lot of extra work.
Don't know how to make something? Google it. Websites like this one will have instructions for almost anything you want to create - or at least close enough to improvise!
Some things I've made for parties:
Birthday candles glued to an artist's palette for an art party
Table runners painted on $1/yd fabric
Evil villain piñata
Fake jars of potions
Pin the plow on the truck (game for construction party)
Volcano cake for science theme
Big paper trees
Step 6: Category 3: Cheap Things to Buy
This is where making your own decorations gets much easier. Buying the supplies you need to create theme decorations, or repurposing items from the hardware store, fabric store, or garage sales will make your theme more personalized and cost a lot less. I've created much better parties using "real" things like beach balls for a beach party, than buying commercial party "packages".
You can often find the colors you need at a dollar store. Dollar stores (or the dollar bin at Target, Walmart, etc.) are perfect for finding matching tableware, streamers, confetti, props, toys, containers, and so much more. These will supplement the preprinted commercial items without sacrificing quality. You literally get so much more for your buck.
You can buy expensive preprinted dinosaur plates and table covers at a party store
you can buy green plates and table covers at the dollar store. Then add plastic toy dinos to each place setting and laser printed palm trees and lakes on the table. You just created an awesome prehistoric jungle, and bonus toy dinosaurs to give as party favors.
Repurposing dollar store items to fit your theme can feel like solving a puzzle. It's part of the fun of crafting your theme yourself.
Step 7: Case 1: Construction Party
Theme: Construction (Also could be trucks)
By using construction colors, black and yellow, and posting signs all over, the theme was set. Caution tape added to the theme and set boundaries for the party. We were able to set out large trucks we already owned for the kids to play with. Small trucks were also out and sent home as party favors.
Some games I made for the theme:
Ring toss on traffic cones
Pin the plow the truck
Toy trucks and candy
What I bought:
My best find was toy construction hats!
A truck shirt for my son to wear
Plastic traffic cones (dollar store)
Road table cover (and an extra one for the counter)
Solid color tableware ($1 per pack), except for road design cups
Yellow caution tape
What I made:
Lots of road signs - laser printed on yellow card stock
Costco cake - with added toy trucks
Step 8: Case 2: Science Party
Theme: Science (Also could The Science Guy, Space, Etc.)
We're a super geeky family, so this was one of my favorite parties to set up. We downloaded nerdy science music and decorated in flow charts and solar systems. I set out science books we already owned and got my kids combustable gases tee shirts. I made a smoking volcano cake. And we had a home grown science show.
We had some nerdy party games (magnets, operation, etc), but the big attraction was my husband doing a science "show". We set the table up in advance so that it looked like an experiment about to happen. My husband had done this before, but you can find easy, but impressive experiments online. Or rent a physicist.
What I bought:
I went to a teacher's supply store and bought loads of classroom charts, mobiles, and other science materials. They were all pretty inexpensive and made the area look like a science class. Bonus - My kids kept the learning materials and put them in their rooms. (You can never have too many periodic tables.)
I found splatter tableware at the dollar store, which read as chemical mess and worked perfectly with everything else.
Orange and yellow streamers
What I made:
Large lightening experiment wall art (and some smaller printed items)
Homemade volcano with dry ice smoke! The cake was out as one of the theme decorations until it was time for candles. Here's my instructions for the cake:
Step 9: Case 3: Sports Party
We had a big group of kids and did this at a park. I decorated a small area by the tables very well and left everything else around us alone. I didn't make as much stuff as usual for this party, and it was pretty inexpensive, but it took a lot of preplanning. Being "sports" I planned a lot of very active activities, from limbo to hula hoops.
Getting sports themed cake and supplies is very easy. It works best if you don't limit yourself to one sport. If you do, you may have to make more of the decorations.
We brought extra balls and stuff from home.
What I bought:
Hula hoops ($1 each)
Baseball piñata (brought a baseball bat from home)
Piñata filling including small bouncy balls
Tableware - everything came from a dollar store
Costco soccer cake
Hula hoops and balls I bought for the party
Step 10: Art Party
Theme: Art (This list isn't everything I did, but it should be enough to get you underway.)
The main idea behind the art party was to have loads of color and hand paint all the decorations.
What I made:
Almost everything! I painted on cheap white fabric to make colorful table runners. Cut out palettes and brushes from construction paper. Splatter painted inexpensive canvasses and hung them in the room.
Table covered with butcher paper and art supplies to create a group artwork.
Kids decorate each other with streamers, stickers, etc.
Colored sugar art (like sand art)
Any art project that you can set out for the number of kids you have
Make the birthday child a card
What I bought:
Bulk paint brushes
Colorful candies and clear plastic dishes to put it in
Flowers (or make paper flowers)
Step 11: A Note on Cakes
Want a really fun cake your kid will be excited about without going to a cake designer?
Depending on your budget, either make a box cake yourself for a few dollars, or buy a pre-made cake that's close to what you want. This will be your base. My go-to for most parties was to start with a Costco half sheet. They have a lot of themes, but I still had to buy a cake with just "Happy Birthday" on it and do the rest of the decorating myself most of the time.
Also, not every theme and child wants a cake. Piles of donuts, brownies, or cup cakes can make a great base for decorating and a perfect dessert. Just remember to leave room for candles.
Taping tiny homemade signs and decorations to toothpicks and bamboo skewers is my favorite way to enhance a cake - just remember: candles in front, decorations behind and away from the candle flames. Your laser printer and/or stickers make these super-easy to create.
Then there's gel icing and sprinkles (and other stuff in your pantry).
Spooky theme? Red gel drips.
Princess theme? Yellow and pink glitter sprinkles(this is shiny sugar & edible).
Dirt bike theme? Dust with cocoa.
I sometimes put toys on the cake in the frosting, but make sure these are large enough that they can't be eaten by mistake. Like the candles.
Think outside the box cake. This is fun!
Step 12: Party!
I hope this instructable gives you some good ideas for planning your own children's theme party. Please feel free to post your ideas and photos for everyone to enjoy!
Participated in the