Birthday parties

How to give your kid a special birthday while stuck at home

Your kid's birthday party doesn't need to be cancelled because of the coronavirus. Here's how to make the day special while practicing social distancing!

My family doesn’t usually go big for birthdays, but for my daughter’s third birthday this March I decided to splurge and invite 40 people to a community hall with a children’s musician and an agility course. That was, before COVID-19 had my family self-isolating in my home for the last two weeks.

Although it is just one of many disappointing cancellations, telling my daughter there would be no party almost broke my heart. As I watched her chin wobble, I vowed to find a way to make it special despite how different it will be.

As schools across the country close for an unknown period of time, my daughter will likely be one of many with a cancelled birthday party. But it is still possible to make your kid feel special, to feel known, and for loved ones to show how much they care.

Baby birthday party ideas

The youngest birthday kids thrive on serve-and-return social interactions—they love putting their little personalities into the world and feeling their loved ones respond. Video chats with friends and family are simple, but can still hold so much magic at this age.

Video conferencing apps like Zoom allow many friends and family to join in the fun, even if it’s just for a “happy birthday” sing-a-long as the cake approaches. If their birthday isn’t for a few weeks, make a custom board book with photos of their favourite people and help your little one identify who’s who. While most American companies have cut off international shipping, the Canadian company Bags of Love can help you out.

For the littlest babes, take time to work on their baby book, make prints of their hands and feet, journal about their personalities, and (finally) print out photos.

Toddler birthday party ideas

These kiddos are just figuring out that a birthday is special, but they’re still mainly motivated by family, food, and fun.

Give them the gift of choice. What’s their favourite meal? What kind of dessert would they like? Toddlers love being listened to, and when would there ever be a better time for gourmet PB & J with unicorn cake?

Say cheese! Make a family photo booth complete with silly props to create memories for years to come.

Toddlers love to be active, so buy your child their own yoga mat and find a parent-and-tot yoga class to stream—there are plenty of options out there. Or, recreate the outdoors by having a living room camp-out, complete with tent, s’mores, sleeping bags, and campfire songs.

Little kid birthday party ideas

At kids get older, they start to recognize the importance of relationships outside their family unit, so birthdays are an important way to connect with friends, however briefly.

Let friends and family know that the birthday kid will be standing outside at a certain time and get them to drive by in decorated cars with balloons and birthday signs, if this is possible for them. Your kid will barely feel the distance.

Tap into their adventurous side with a scavenger hunt around your house, backyard or even the neighbourhood, if that’s safe and available. A few days before the event, send friends a list of items to find and then have them email pictures of what they located to see who found the most! Or, give their friends clues and then have your kid call them so they can solve a mystery together.

For a little bit of silliness, host an online karaoke party with their favourites from Raffi, the Laurie Berkner Band, and Disney!

Big kid birthday party ideas

Bigger kids are developing enduring friendships and building community, which means birthdays are an important way to strengthen these bonds.

Come up with a theme for the day. For example, if your kid likes cooking, try a chef’s party. Have a friend who’s a decent cook host a “cooking show” over Zoom for your kid and their friends. Gifts could be a chef’s knife, a cooking board, and an apron.

Or, why not throw them their first (maybe only) “midnight party:” wake them up at midnight, serve dark chocolate and blackberries, and have the flash on your camera ready!

Make a playlist of your kid’s favourite songs, gift them a fabulous new outfit, and hold 2020’s most ridiculous dance party on Zoom. Record this and make it into a movie with editing software like iMovie that can be sent around to friends.

Gift them a sense of community by creating a video campaign asking for donations to a community cause that’s important to them. They’ll love to watch as the money roll in from friends and family.

Tween birthday party ideas

Older kids are seeking independence and developing a burgeoning sense of identity, so let those things shine through in whatever celebration you choose.

Put them in charge. In normal times, it might seem counterintuitive to get your kids in on making their own cake, but many young people will be feeling a need for control in these uncertain times. Let them make the biggest, brightest, most sugary dessert their imaginations can muster!

Send out some fancy virtual event invitations (Paperless post has some great options) to the birthday kid’s pals, and set up a living room spa. Prep foot soaks, fancy moisturizers, dainty chocolates, and candles—set up a Zoom call, and get ready for giggles.

Have your kid pick a movie from Netflix and turn the living room into a movie theatre. Give them a new “lounge” outfit for the occasion, and set up a watch party with pals using Netflix Party. This can also work for group video-gaming.

Many celebrities are offering personalized birthday shout-outs through the Cameo app. Log on and see if one of their favourite stars is available to wish them a happy birthday.

For all birthday celebrations

My best advice, follow the motto, “Keep calm and party on.” If you’re excited about the way you’re choosing to celebrate, chances are good that your kid will be too. It’s nice to replicate the best parts of a party (celebrating your child’s personality, including loved ones, and giving gifts), but try not to force it to look a certain way. This is a great time to focus more on intimate connection than Instagram.

Also, try to front load the experience by reminding them that they’re not the only ones this is happening to. It will also be important to remind your child, especially if they’re young, about the ways this day will look different than they might expect. Remember to follow current health guidelines for any gifts entering your home from outside.

As I write this (with my toddler on my lap), we’re re-calibrating our birthday celebrations. We’re not going to let COVID-19 dim this bright day for our newly-minted three-year-old. Instead, we’re theming the day with rainbows, and have asked loved ones to send photographs and videos of colourful birthday wishes—one even made her a custom tutu.

We splurged on a fancy Grimm’s rainbow stacker, and our friends at Bright and Beaming music will still host a group music party for everyone, which we’ll watch from the comfort of our rainbow-filled living room.

This article was originally published online in March 2020.

Birthday parties

I spent $25 on my kid's birthday party and it was the best one ever

I'm known for my epic, Pinterest-worthy birthday bashes. But this time, I was forced to go more low-key—and my view on birthday parties is changed forever.

Over my eleven years as a stay-at-home parent, I’ve thrown my share of over-the-top, Pinterest-perfect birthday parties for my three kids. Themed menus, original games and curated goodie bags have built a reserve of fun memories for my kids, and a reputation for myself as a master party planner. When it comes to celebrations, I’ve always been the hostess with the mostest.

But this year, after going back to work nearly full-time, I found myself a few days out from my oldest son’s eleventh birthday with nary a plan—or a Pinterest board—in sight. Being a working parent is a tough gig, and the load of it all had caused my former party planning gusto to fall by the wayside. As a matter of fact, I decided I wasn’t even going to throw my son a party at all, figuring this could be one of those off years when we just go out for nice dinner and call it a day. But a few days before his birthday, we suddenly found ourselves out of school (and work) for an extra week due to a teacher strike in Arizona, where we live.

It dawned on me that this temporary reprieve provided a unique opportunity. Not only did I have a couple of days to toss something together for my son’s birthday, but all the other kids from his school were also commitment-free. “Now do you think I could have a party?” asked my son. There was no way I’d be able to pull off my usual shindig of epic proportions, but swallowing my pride (and my reputation as an event planner), I said yes.

Quickly, I texted my son’s friends’ moms. Could their boys join us for a last-minute party on a weekday afternoon? Amazingly, the stars aligned: Almost every one of them accepted. Now I just needed a (simple) plan.

Though this party wouldn’t be a major spectacular, it also wouldn’t be a kid’s birthday celebration without cake. My son and I ran to the grocery store and picked up a pre-made chocolate-drizzled ice cream-covered confection he’s begged me to get for ages—for a grand total of twenty bucks. In my eyes, it didn’t quite measure up to the painstakingly created treat I would normally make, but my son was no less enthused about it.

With cake checked off the list, my thoughts turned to birthday party activities. What could we throw together on the fly that everyone would enjoy? I asked my son about everyone’s favorite game to play at school. “Kickball,” he said. “That’s all we play at recess.” Well, that couldn’t be easier, I thought. But it’s a little meh for a party. But time was of the essence, so kickball it was, with a $5 ball snagged at a local discount retailer.

Now for the decorations. With two days to plan and no party theme except “general birthday,” I wasn’t about to go hog wild constructing a Millennium Falcon in my living room or a rainforest jungle in my backyard. Rather, I scrounged around in my hall closet and found some streamers and balloons leftover from a previous event. These quickly covered the available surfaces of the house, and boom! Instant party atmosphere, as far as my son was concerned. (And cost-free, as far as I was concerned.) Since I’d told all the guests that presents were optional because of the short notice, I felt no obligation to fashion incredible goodie bags. This time, the party itself was the gift to one and all.

When the day arrived, I crossed my fingers that this simple, no-prep get-together would be enough. Would my son feel let down and bored? Would his friends’ moms judge me for my lack of effort, wondering what happened to the woman they used to know as the neighbourhood celebration maven?

As it happened, any such concerns proved unfounded. For two and a half hours, eight eleven-year-old boys caroused through my house having the time of their lives. They waged war with the arsenal of Nerf guns my son already owns, played kickball in the street and raved about the deliciousness of the ice cream cake. Around the middle of the party, I suddenly found myself with nothing to do. I literally sat down and read a book.

As the party wrapped up, none of the kids wanted to leave. My son declared it one of his best birthday parties ever—and I realized I had to agree. Though I have a deep love for creating fabulous events full of memorable details, if I’m honest, planning these extravagant bashes often seriously stresses me out. In the midst of trying to fashion an environment of fun, I sometimes inadvertently create the opposite: a miserable morass of tension. I reach the point of the stereotypical mom screaming at everyone in the house to clean up like I asked you to, goshdarnit, company is coming! For once it was just so nice not to stress.

In time, I also became aware of how healthy it felt to let myself off the hook from unrealistic standards of perfection I usually buy into. Pinterest, mommy blogs and my own social circle have convinced me that a “good mom” is a super creative mom—especially when it comes to celebrating her children. But allowing my son to set the tone and make his own choices like a simple cake, a Nerf war and kickball in the street led me to explore the unflattering possibility that perhaps in the past I have foisted my own desire to appear creative on an event that’s not really about me at all. And if I consistently make over-the-top parties the norm, I’m teaching my kids to expect this level of grandeur of me—and maybe of the world at large. I hope to show them instead that it can be just as good (or better) to make their own fun as to have it served to them on a platter.

My son never said a word about being disappointed with the simplicity of his $25 birthday party. The lack of goodie bags, themed games, mountains of snacks and pre-planned activities didn’t seem to matter a bit to him or his preteen friends. But wait—should that surprise me? For my birthday, when I was a kid in the ‘80s, my parents would take me to dinner at a pizza buffet and let me invite a cousin for a sleepover—end of story—and I loved every minute. If I could be happy with such modest festivities, then time with eight friends, a game of kickball, and an ice cream cake could certainly suffice for my son. While I’m not ready to completely relinquish my epic party planning, I’m now happy to opt for a simple birthday celebration any time.

This article was originally published online in July 2018.

Birthday parties

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Birthday parties

Dear parents, why can't you just RSVP to my kid’s birthday party?

This happens every time I throw a birthday party. I write clearly on the invitation to please RSVP yes or no, yet parents still fail to respond—and I'm left wondering if I should buy extra loot bags just in case.

It was two days before my son’s fifth birthday. We’d invited 17 friends to his party at a local indoor play place, and on the invitation, I wrote in very clear, underlined, capitalized letters, “RSVP—YES OR NO!” That was my not-very-subtle way of telling parents: don’t just tell me if you’re coming—please tell me if you’re not coming, too. Répondez s’il vous plaît.

Yet there we were, two days after the RSVP date, with 48 hours to go before the party, and we had only three kids confirmed to be attending.

I was certain we’d have no problem meeting the 10-kid minimum for the play place we booked. Yet with only two days until the party, I was waiting on 13 RSVPs. Thirteen!

One of my friends suggested I get loot bags for at least some of those 13 kids in case they showed up, but I was already gearing up to pay for not making the 10-kid minimum. I didn’t want to spend more money on loot bags for kids who were likely not coming.

In the end, none of the kids whose parents hadn’t RSVP’d showed up. And somehow, with just 12 hours to spare, I managed to invite some friends’ kids to fill up the extra spaces.

You see, this isn’t the first birthday party I’ve thrown for my kids where parents haven’t bothered to RSVP to my invitations.

It has been a theme since my daughter’s first real birthday party, when she was three. I’ve come to realize that people who don’t RSVP don’t come, and that people who can’t come don’t RSVP. In fact, in all the years I’ve been doing this party thing, I have never, not once, had someone RSVP to tell me they’re not coming.

My invitations have my phone number and my email so people can call, text or email me. I give all the options! Doesn’t matter how you contact me—just do it. Heck, I would settle for a carrier pigeon at this point.

While it might not seem like a big deal to not RSVP, here’s what happens in my house when you don’t.

First, the birthday boy or girl asks daily who is coming, and you have to tell them you’re not sure yet (while avoiding eye contact because you don’t want your kid to see your internal panic). Try explaining to a seven-year-old that Jimmy’s mommy hasn’t let you know if they’re coming—with one day left before the party.

“Can you ask Jimmy to tell his mom to let me know?” I subtly ask my son. I mean, if I’m lucky, Jimmy is a kid I know and I can ask his mom myself. But my kids always invite friends I don’t know to come to their parties, and I’ve already said “RSVP yes or no,” so I don’t know how much effort I want to put into hunting Jimmy’s parents down. I still have to purchase and stuff loot bags, order the cake, pick up the decorations, including the balloon bouquet my son is expecting, and you know, somehow fit in working and keeping my house running and my family alive. Now I’m supposed to chase after parents so they can tell me if their kid is coming to my kid’s party?

Second, the numbers matter. We need to let the venue know, we need to pay for food, we need to plan for loot bags and we need to wrap our heads around hosting 17 versus six children. If you’ve ever hosted a party, you know there’s a big difference!

Third, you make us wonder if we did something wrong. Did the invitation not make it to Jimmy? Did I forget to write “RSVP” on it? Should I be the one hunting down parents to find out if we can host their kid and feed them yummy food and entertain them for two to three hours? Is this somehow my fault?

Your child is likely going to get a few invitations to birthday parties this year. If you got them last year and didn’t RSVP because you thought the host would assume you’re not coming, take it from me: we expect you to RSVP and we find it really, really, really frustrating when you don’t. It’s one of those common courtesies that should be extended to someone who wants to include your kid in their child’s special occasion.

So, please, whether or not your child will attend the next party they get an invitation for, when you get that invitation, respond, please! Yes or no.

Leslie Kennedy lives in the Greater Toronto Area and has been writing about all things parenting for the better part of a decade. She is mom to a seven-year-old and a nine-year old who provide endless inspiration. When she’s not writing, Leslie enjoys rocking out to Zumba, zenning out with yoga and relaxing in front of her latest Netflix addiction. 


11 tips for creating an awesome treasure hunt

Not a Pinterest parent? No problem. Follow these simple steps and make your party a hit!

Want to send your kids on the ultimate birthday party treasure hunt? Here’s a quick how-to and some tips for a happy hunting!

1. Plan your route
You can send the kids through a walkable neighbourhood, or have everyone meet at a local park.

2. Scout out locations
Kids’ houses, that massive cottonwood tree in the park, the slide at the playground, the hammock in someone’s backyard, a favourite neighbour who might have the kids do 10 jumping jacks before handing over the clue. Make sure the kids can get to each clue within about five minutes or so of walking.

3. Write and number the clues, and put them in numbered envelopes
I wrote some bad poetry (“This clue hides/At the bottom of a very long slide”), scrambled kids’ names and generally had fun creating little puzzles for them to solve. You’ll hand the kids the first clue, which will lead them to the next, and so on.

4. Give yourself lots of time to plan
It took me about an hour to sit down and map out a route, identify good places for clues and write out the hints for each place. Once the mental work was done, the physical prep felt much less onerous.

5. Get helpers’ buy-in
I checked in advance with neighbours and friends to see if I could hide clues on their property. Everyone said yes. One family even gave me the password to the lock on their shed so I could hide a clue inside.

6. Set it up
The morning of the party, my kids’ grandparents took them out while I drove through the neighbourhood and distributed the clues. I brought packing tape and scissors to secure clues to tree trunks, posts, etc.

7. Prepare for contingencies
I sealed all the clues in plastic bags so they wouldn’t get soaked in the event of rain. And I printed out extra copies of each clue just in case any were lost or stolen before the kids could get to them.

8. Add in some random rewards to keep things interesting
At three or four stations along the way, clues were accompanied by candies, juice boxes (I figured they’d get thirsty) or dollar-store toys like bouncing balls.

9. Set ground rules in advance
Kids need to know to stay with the group, wait for each other before moving on to the next clue, clean up any litter and wait for an adult to cross major streets.

10. Go with them
I wasn’t prepared to let a group of excited second-graders run through the streets by themselves. In retrospect, it would have been great to have two adults with the group—one to race ahead with the speedier kids and one to bring up the rear with the dawdlers.

11. Delegate
You don’t have to do it all by yourself. My kids’ other parent was in charge of procuring the piñata. My dad set it up and barbecued while the kids were out on the hunt. My friend Stephanie took home the dog that escaped its backyard and desperately wanted to join us for the rest of the treasure hunt. As it turns out, a neighbourhood treasure hunt literally takes a village.

Have fun!

Thunder Bay, Ont., writer Susan Goldberg is a transplanted Torontonian and one of two mothers to two boys. Follow along as she shares her family’s experiences. Read more of Susan’s The other mother posts and tweet her @MamaNonGrata.

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Birthday parties

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Birthday parties

Everything you need for a fun at-home kids birthday party

From games to cake ideas, pros share their secrets for throwing a simple, no-fuss DIY birthday party at home.

little girl blowing out candles on a cake at a home birthday party

Photo: iStockphoto

Remember birthday parties when you were a kid? You draped streamers around the basement, devoured cake with gooey icing and peeked while pinning the tail on the donkey. Why not skip the pricey off-site party this year and stay at home for some old-fashioned fun? Read on for their secrets to hosting a fabulous fete.

Meet the party pros

• Michelle Gibson, owner of Par-T-Perfect Planners in Vancouver, with franchises across Canada and the United States
• Michelle Peer, owner of Hullabaloo Party Planner for Children in Kitchener, Ont
• Max Zarkov, creator of in Burnaby, BC

Choose a theme

Once you’ve got a theme, party planning is a piece of cake. Start with your kid’s interests or try these ideas:

Ages 3-5
Bugs, butterflies and bubbles have endless possibilities, says Gibson. Kids can make egg-carton caterpillars, munch gummi worms and blow bubbles.

Ages 6-8
Princess, pirate or Harry Potter parties can’t miss. Or try the ever-popular “Candy Olympics,” suggests Gibson. Bob for marshmallows in a bucket of water, pass a licorice baton, and drop Smarties in a bucket with chopsticks and run back.

Spread the word

Skip the prefab invites and get out the glue sticks with your gang. Kids are thrilled with homemade invitations, says Peer. Buy blank cards at a craft or dollar store and go wild with stickers, foil paper or theme-related trinkets. Or print an invite from your computer.

Give guests a heads-up at least two weeks before the big event. If you’re not including the entire school class (gulp!), mail, email or drop invitations at kids’ houses. “People are terrible at RSVPs,” warns Gibson. So make follow-up phone calls with parents as needed. Also consider inviting (and paying) energetic high school students to lead games and give out munchies.

Know your numbers

Remember that old “your child’s age equals the number of guests” rule of inviting? Forget it. You need enough kids to play games and sit around a table, says Gibson. For preschoolers, try eight to 10 guests. If your space is small, remember that some parents will remain party-side with their tots. Many school-aged kids invite all the girls or all the boys in their class, says Gibson. But eight to 12 guests is ideal, advises Zarkov.

Eco Alternative
Recycle your kids’ artwork. Cut out party-theme-related shapes (fish, hearts, stars, etc.) from drawings and paintings and glue on to homemade invites, says Peer.

Time it right

Our pros all recommend a weekend bash. Got a Christmas or summer baby? Celebrate with family on the actual birthday, and plan a friend party for a month later, suggests Gibson. As for duration, a two-hour party (2½ hours max) is perfect. Parents’ most common mistake is parties that run too long, says Gibson. “The third hour is deadly and the fourth is ridiculous — it’s exhausting for everyone.” For preschoolers, 10 to noon or 11 to one (when kids are fresh) is ideal. Prepare in the morning and host an afternoon or evening event for older kids — they’re raring to go at any time, says Gibson.

Unleash your decorating diva

Cruise a dollar or craft store “to get the juices going” and find theme-related props, says Peer. To keep costs low, skip the “theme” gear, suggests Gibson. So, for a pirate party, buy a black plastic tablecloth instead of a Captain Hook one. Squirrel away breakables or toys your kids can’t bear to share. And send Rover or Fifi to the neighbours during the party, advises Zarkov.

Ace your space

Basements provide instant atmosphere, says Peer. Close the blinds and drape tulle (transparent floaty material) and twinkle lights on window ledges. Find lights on sale after Christmas at craft, surplus or hardware stores. For an under-the-sea party, make waves by hanging twisted streamers from the ceiling.

Conquer inflation

Spare your lips and blow up balloons with a bike pump, suggests Zarkov. To ensure helium or foil balloons stay afloat, buy them the day of the party. And beware of balloon-popping pot lights! Get creative with your balloon displays. For Princess Parties, Peer ties helium balloons to dressy shoes and sets them around the room. Swishy!

Eco Alternative
Explore your house for theme-related treasures. Jungle party? Try decorating with cute stuffed animals and silk plants.

Keep them busy

Avoid lapses in activities, advises Peer. “That’s when kids chase each other screaming, or run upstairs.” Since kids trickle in at different times, offer simple opening activities like these:

Ages 3-5
Ease them in with playdough or cornstarch goop. Then, encourage kids to circulate around play centres such as ride-on toys, bubbles, musical instruments and puppet play.


Ages 6-8
Offer three quiet activity stations based on your theme, suggests Peer. In her Secret Garden parties, kids choose their “wings,” decorate them, and get their cheeks painted with a small design.

Get crafty

Be warned: Crafts captivate girls more than boys. So, try these ideas and provide an alternative for the art-averse:

Ages 3-5
Colour and add stickers to cardboard party hats or foam tiaras (from the dollar store). Ask lounging parents to help their kids.

Ages 6-8
Cover the party table with a paper tablecloth and let guests doodle or write birthday messages with crayons, suggests Zarkov. For a permanent memento, use fabric markers on a fabric tablecloth. Painting wooden or ceramic figures (from the dollar store) and beading are also big hits.

Eco Alternative
Save tea canisters and have kids decorate them with stick-on jewels, suggests Gibson. Or check out stores, such as Urban Source in Vancouver, that sell recycled materials for craft supplies.

Games for birthday parties at home

Forget researching the latest games — kids crave the classics. “All ages love pin the tail on virtually anything,” says Peer. Zarkov uses the theme to give games a fun twist. So, at a bug party, Simon Says becomes Ladybug Says. Try these other hits:

Musical Hoops (all ages)
Buy one hoop per child from a dollar store. Place them on the floor and play cool music as the kids march around, jumping in a hoop when the tunes stop. Each round, remove a hoop, but not a child. At the end, the whole group crams in the one remaining hoop — by sticking in a toe, a foot or even a hand.

Treasure Hunt
Try burying clues outdoors or upstairs and downstairs, so kids get to burn off steam. Give gold coins as treasure at the end, suggests Peer.

Ages 3-5
Show picture instructions of where to find the next clue (such as the blue couch).

Ages 6-8
Let guests solve limerick or poem clues.

School-aged kids love food challenges, says Gibson. Place a Smartie on a plate and spray whipping cream on top. Kids run up, dunk their face in the cream to retrieve the Smartie and run back.

Chow down

Seat a large group picnic-style on a vinyl tablecloth spread out on the floor. Or place a card table next to your dining room table and cover it all with one cloth. For preschooler parties, borrow a bunch of child-sized plastic picnic tables from friends.

The Main Meal

Ages 3-5
“Parents go to great lengths to put on a big spread of food, and kids don’t touch it,” says Gibson. Offer only familiar foods: juice (drinking boxes if the kids are seated on the floor), veggies and dip, tiny cheese or peanut butter sandwiches (check for allergies), goldfish crackers, fruit kebabs and cake.

Ages 6-8
Dish out hot dogs or pizza along with veggies and dip. If you’re adventurous, order coloured bread (sliced lengthwise) from the grocery store bakery, suggests Peer. Make impressive pinwheel and stacked mini-sandwiches. Or make shape sandwiches with cookie cutters.

Sweet Surprises
Rev up the wow factor with unusual sweet treats. Rent a chocolate fountain from a party supply store ($50). Just be sure to lay down a plastic tablecloth first and give everyone an apron. Or buy a small fondue set for $5 instead. Offer mini-marshmallows, cut-up fruit and animal crackers for dipping. Or stick skewers of gummi worms, gumdrops and chewy candies in a hollowed-out pineapple for a clever centrepiece. Wrap them up for favours.

The Cake
Save time and order an un-iced cake from your grocery store bakery, suggests Peer. “Let your imagination go wild.” Having a beach party? Slap on blue-coloured icing, brown sugar for sand, and mini cocktail umbrellas. Or go for the old reliables: Kids adore ice cream cakes or air-brushed psychedelic cakes from the grocery store.

Eco Alternatives
Green up your party table with recycled or biodegradable paper plates, and a cloth tablecloth and napkins.

Great gifting

Don’t skip the gift opening. “If you do, kids feel ripped off,” says Gibson, especially the older ones. Play spin the bottle to keep the unwrapping rolling along. Decorate a bottle, spin it and when it stops, open the gift from that child.

The Goods on Goody Bags
Frantically piling stuff into Cellophane the night before? “Ask yourself if you’d want your child to bring home that garbage,” says Peer.

Ages 3-5
Give one main item instead of a bag of fiddly things. Try sidewalk chalk, bubbles, a hula hoop or big coloured ball.

Ages 6-8
Kids always love a bag of candy and goodies at this age, says Gibson. Find theme-related candy, hair clips, bracelets or action figures at the dollar store. Crafts completed at the party, such as painted birdhouses or ceramics, also make great favours.

Eco Alternatives
Some older kids choose to give rather than get on their birthday. Ask guests to bring $10 (instead of a gift) to donate to a children’s hospital or charity. (Your child can still receive gifts from parents and family. Instead of disposable goody bags, wrap loot in a bandana, wooden box, or tin pail that kids can decorate.) For a Secret Garden party, Peer gives a clay pot filled with a little bag of soil, a seed packet, candies and bubbles.

Worries about winning
“I had one little princess collapse on the floor in tears because she was out in a game of The Queen Says (like Simon Says),” says Michelle Peer of Hullabaloo Party Planner. Stick with co-operative games like a treasure hunt where everyone helps solve the clues. Or keep playing rounds of a game until everyone wins. Award prizes like suckers, little bouncy balls or rings. Keep a paper bag labelled with each child’s name at the front door, so they can stash their prizes.

DIY decorations

Flowers on the Wall
• For large base flower: Fold a large square of paper as you might a snowflake. In half, in quarters then into an eighth. At wider end of the triangle, cut a curve to create the petal shape of the flower. Open.
• For the Centre, simply make a traditional accordion pleated three-layers of tissue paper flower-Try layering different colours. Use a pipe cleaner to twist around centre. • To attach smaller flower to large, make a small hole in centre of large flower and pass the pipe cleaner ends through it.

Butterfly Pins
• Layer two squares of tissue together and fold in half. From centre fold, draw then cut one half of a butterfly shape.
• For added 3-d effect, open one side of the wings from centre, creating a small ¼’ fold from centre, do the same on the other side of centre. When opened, there should now be a narrow valley/pleat down the centre of the body of the butterfly.
• Keeping one side of body folded, next, create a pleat folding top to bottom to create a pleat across the body.
• Punch two holes at top and thread pipe cleaner antenna and add jingle bells.
• Sparkle glue adds further decoration. Pin on.

A version of this article was originally published in March 2009.

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Birthday parties

Planning baby’s first birthday party: 7 tips to prevent complete disaster

Congratulations! Your baby is one—and you’ve all survived the first year of parenthood. It’s time to celebrate.

Don’t stress over planning a Pinterest-perfect, elaborate first birthday party. Since your little tyke isn’t old enough to demand a princess theme or Paw Patrol bash, you get to choose how to mark the occasion. (This won’t be the case in a few years, so take advantage while you still can.) Check out our ideas for easy birthday themes here, and follow these tips for making sure the day doesn’t end in tears.

1. Limit the guest list
Although a huge party sounds great in theory, you may want to keep it small and simple for a first birthday party. Consider a family-only party, especially if you have a small space or a sensitive baby who doesn’t do well in big, noisy social settings. If you decided you want to invite your entire mom’s group (and all their babies), this will take some planning. (And vigilant baby-proofing.)

2. Plan around your baby’s naptime
This may sound kind of obvious, but the most convenient times for adults to socialize are not always the best times for babies. If you’re inviting guests with infants or toddlers, it’s impossible to plan around everyone’s differing nap schedules. But generally, earlier in the day is better for most kids. Consider a brunch party or afternoon shindig instead of something in the evening, and make sure the party is only an hour or two long. You don’t want to run into the witching hours, and so much sensory stimulation and social time means the birthday girl or boy will get tired out pretty quickly.

3. Don’t pick the weekend right after her 12-month shots
Some babies can be extra cranky, under the weather or out of sorts for a few days after their well-baby appointment and one-year inoculations. Wait a week, or throw your first birthday party before the doctor’s visit, to make sure the guest of honour is at his or her best.

4. Don’t overload yourself
Similarly, if you’re returning to work around the same time, and your one-year-old is experiencing big changes to her daily routine (a new caregiver, different nap times, etc), you might want to give yourself a few weeks to settle in before plunging into party-planning mode. It can be an emotional transition for everyone.

5. Accommodate all ages
If you’re inviting lots of little ones, set out some baby-approved favourites like individually wrapped Mum-Mum cracker packets or a basket of fruit-and-veggie squeeze pouches (they’re easy to clean up and toddlers go crazy over them). Consider setting up more than one makeshift diaper-change station in your house, too. If you haven’t needed to fully baby-proof yet, at least put up safety gates at the top and bottom of the staircase. (Some of your guests may be obsessed with climbing up and down the stairs.)

6. Take pictures ahead of time
After everything is set up and the decorations are out—but before the chaos begins—take a keepsake photo with the birthday boy or girl. Once guests arrive, you’ll be busy hosting, and your baby may be overwhelmed by all the activity and commotion.

7. Set realistic expectations
On social media you’ve probably seen plenty of beautiful tablescapes and homemade cakes that look like they took days to bake. You’ve seen your mom friends upload adorable photos of their one-year-olds doing those trendy cake-smash photoshoots. But don’t obsess or overspend—it’s not a contest. You probably won’t cherish the handmade pennant or bunting you slaved over late at night, and no one will really care if your cupcakes are store-bought or not. But you will want to remember the look on your baby’s face as she “opened” her first present. Your only goals for the first birthday party that truly matter are to have fun with your family and friends, and to pat yourself on the back for raising an increasingly cute small human.

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Birthday parties

10 super-easy cake decorating ideas

From donuts to doodles, we've got some pretty sweet cake decorating ideas.

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