5 Tips for Planning the Perfect Kids' Party

Expert advice for throwing a celebration for your 3 to 5 year old

Is your little one celebrating a birthday soon? Thinking about throwing a party but nervous about picking the perfect theme, party favors, food, entertainment, and/or venue? Whether it’s your first time entertaining dozens of kids half your height for hours, or are looking for some fresh ideas and helpful tips, we’re here to help.

Planning a party for the three- to five-year-old set can be a challenge. Some kids are active and independent enough that a series of games and activities that kindergartners would love are suitable, while others are shy and still cling to their parents’ side, unsure of what to expect when facing a crowd. We recently sat down with party-planner Linda Kaye of Partymakers and “mommy blogger” Catherine McCord of Weelicious — both highly experienced when it comes to creating exciting and memorable parties for all ages — to discuss navigating the preschool party scene and what the essential components of a successful party are. 


1. Theme or No Theme?

When planning a party for kids, using a theme to inspire and guide the activities and menu is helpful — but it’s not always necessary as long enough as you have enough going on says McCord. “I love featuring activity “stations” at parties.” For example, put out cupcakes and let kids ice and decorate their own with candies. “Kids just want to have fun at a party and as long as you provide something to do or watch, they'll be thrilled.”

If you're set on a theme, Kaye advises keeping it simple for the three- to five-year-old set, like the ever-popular teddy bear picnic. “Little ones love to bring something that they’re comfortable with along them to a party,” she adds. Kids bring their bears, and all you need to do is set up a picnic table or blanket, serve teddy bear-shaped food and desserts, and have story time as a part of the party (and play the song, of course). Carnival and luau themes are also popular when the weather is warm. 


2. When Should the Party Start?

Keep the party short and sweet to ensure your youngsters don't get overstimulated (and tired). McCord finds that two hours is ideal (“take that from a mom who goes to her fair share of parties,” she adds), and Kaye agrees. “You want to plan the party around nap times and feeding schedules,” Kaye adds. “Parties are a great way to start or end the day — I’ve found that parties that run from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. or three to five p.m. are most preferable,” adds McCord.

3. Keep the Menu Simple

At this age, parents typically stay for the duration of the celebration, so be sure to offer food that will appeal to both ages. Kaye recommends fruit skewers or a watermelon boat filled with different types of fruit that are both healthy and satisfying for kids and adults. Other kid-friendly (and parent-approved) favorites include mini wraps and sandwiches, pizza, pasta salad, and a simple salad bar. Don’t bother making one thing for the kids and another for the adults, cautions McCord. “Inevitably, the kids will want what the adults are eating!” And cake isn’t the only option for dessert, either. Decorating your own sweets — be it cupcakes or cookies — or hiring a small ice cream cart to come is a surefire hit.


4. Plan Easy and Fun Activities

At this age, the best party activities are ones that include everyone — but also give the parents in attendance a timeout for wrangling and entertaining. Simple games like Duck, Duck, Goose and Freeze Dancing are great, as is a sing-a-long with a guitar player. Recently, McCord hired a Phys Ed instructor come to lead the kids in activities outside. “Well, of course it poured, so here I was with 30 kids and their parents.” But some quick thinking on the instructor’s part saved the party — he came prepared with a mattress. “The kids had the best time doing safe indoor activities, jumping on the mattress, and just being silly.”


5. The Take-Home Goodies

While there might be dissenters when it comes to providing goody bags, at the end of the day, kids still love taking home a little something at the end of a party. “It helps them wind down after the party is over,” says Kaye. She likes to choose bags — or containers — that can be used over and over again, like a tote bag, basket, or plastic sand pail. McCord tends to fill her kids’ bags with one or two great goodies that tie in with the theme rather than a big bag of stuff. “Bubbles, a gift certificate to the local ice cream store, Matchbox cards, even a notebook or a little book are all things kids this age will adore,” she adds. Just keep the children’s age in mind — make sure the contents of the bag don’t pose any choking or safety hazards. (Photo: Flickr/spatulated)

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