I'm pretty sure in my other life I was a party planner. I love to throw parties, and themed ones for kids are my favorite. Every year I throw a pint-sized Halloween party. This annual tradition started when my daughter was about 9 months and this October will be our 5 year party anniversary. After throwing my own parties, not to mention attending a bazillion, I have learned a thing or two.
1) Goodie bags - take everyone into consideration.
A good hostess considers all the angles. Each guest is a delicate little snowflake. A good take home gift for a 5 year old might not work out so well in the hands of a 2 year old. When my daughter was younger I hated leaving a party for someone turning 1 finding a goodie bag full of choking hazards I had to take away from her. I try to make at least two batches of goodie bags - one for older kids and another for the younger set. Label your goodie bags so that you remember who gets what bag.
Speaking of goodie bags I like to keep them out of reach during the party. Kids know parties mean goodie bags and they want those suckers the minute they walk in the door. This means that their toys will be spread all over your house and then they will be sad when they leave and there is nothing to hand them. Last year after the party was started I placed the goodie bags on my front porch and let people grab them as they left. I gave out bookmark kits and Halloween books. Note there were board books for the wee ones and early readers for the Kindergarteners.
Always make extra goodie bags. I remember one of the first years I had my Halloween party I checked my Evite not once, but twice to count the number of RSVPs. When it comes to a party don't believe what you read. There will always be those guests that RSVP yes and never show, but on occasion there is that straggler that never bothered to RSVP at all and then shows up on your door step. Try looking that kid in the eye and explaining why you don't have a goodie bag for them. It sucks. There were tears involved. Make extra goodie bags, trust me on this one.
2) A Picture is worth a thousand words.
The best money I spend every year is on a photographer. If you are the hostess, you are never going to find the time to fill the snack bowls, wrangle your kids, enjoy yourself and take stellar photographs to document your event. Hiring a photographer is cheaper than you might think and worth every penny. Most of these beautiful pictures were taken by Jennifer M. Ramos. I am having tons of fun sharing them this year.
Have a photo-op area established at your party. I always say it didn't really happen if we can't document it on Instagram. Hell I might even create my own party hashtag this year for people to use when taking pictures at the party. Last year we used my husband's 1963 truck filled with hay and pumpkins as our party picture backdrop. Sure the photographer and guests took oodles of candid shots, but it is fun to have an established photo op area. BlogHer has tons of different backdrop suggestions.
You paid good money for those photos, now use them. I always have my Halloween photos playing as a slideshow on our flat screen TV during the party. On top of this I have a yearly collage poster printed, framed and hung. It is so cute to look back at the kids that have been coming yearly to the Halloween party and see how much they have grown. Also, remember the items on your walls and shelves are not attached with super glue. Don't be afraid to rearrange and rotate collections. I have a soft spot for seasonal picture frames and come Halloween, some might call it an addiction.
3) Hosting a children's party is much like circuit training at the gym.
I try and have several activity stations set up throughout the house during parties. In years past I have had Play-Doh with Halloween cookie cutters and Halloween-themed coloring books with matching Halloween shaped crayons. Sensory bins are a staple at my parties and are always a big hit. A bubble machine is a cheap and wise party investment. Keeping kids busy and entertained is key. Pinatas, pumpkin painting, pin the nose on the jack-o-lantern - the more for kids to do the better. Idle hands are the Devil's playthings. I for one do not want my breakables used as playthings by a house full of bored kids.
Run a tight ship. Nothing is worse than attending a birthday party where everyone is standing around whispering behind the frazzled mother's back: Are we going to do cake or what? Have fun at your party, but remember you are the hostess, the captain of this ship. Make sure things are running smoothly and in a timely fashion. If you have planned activities make a mental time line before the party and stick to it - pinatas at 1, cake at 2, Bozo the clown at 3. You get the idea.
4) Plan to feed every man, woman, child and vegan.
My son has a severe peanut allergy. Regularly we go to parties for other children and I dread the party treats. Will there be a tray full of peanut butter sandwiches (which for him might as well be a tray of loaded guns)? Consider guests with food allergies. I'm not saying make gluten free birthday cake for that one loan kid, but I am saying that if you know there is a child attending with a food allergy be aware of it and make an effort to have things they can eat. I always bring my own treats for my son, but a bowl of fruit and some cheese sticks is always nice to see.
I live in Austin, that being said I have a lot of vegetarian friends. Heck even I'm pretending to be vegan this week. If you are going to have meat treats make sure you label it. I think it is a good idea to label all your food so you are not constantly answering the what is this question. When I threw a lumberjack themed birthday party for my kids I was sure to have real candied bacon and fake candied bacon. Both were heavenly.
Have food and drinks set up in several different places to avoid a bottle neck at the buffet table. This also helps people mingle. I know you want to have your fancy table, so do I, I just like to make more than one fancy table. Maybe have a vegetarians table. A candy table. Also, have several coolers around the house with beverages. Oh and speaking of get twice as many mini water bottles as you think you are going to need. Kids take one sip, set it down and move on.
I create my menu weeks in advance. I'm slacking this year, but typically my deep freeze is starting to fill up with witch finger cookies and mini pumpkin pies by now. Save yourself some stress and headache and make ahead everything that you can. Also, when cooking just because you have 75 guests coming does not mean you need to make 75 of everything. My treats are first come, first serve. If you didn't get one of the 10 bat shaped cheese balls I made then your loss.
5) Have fun and make sure your guests have fun.
My addiction to party planning began with my wedding. I thought of my nuptials as the biggest party I was ever going to throw, and it was. People still talk about my wedding and it got shut down by the police. Long story, but it was a fun wedding. Hopefully there will be no cops at my Halloween party for children, but I want it to be just as memorable. If you are going to throw a party THROW a party. If you are going to just phone it in, don't bother doing it. Your guests will know. Throw a party because you love it. Because you love the theme. Because you love to bake. Because you love to hear small children talk about it for months afterwards. Because you like to pat yourself on the back for kicking ass and taking names at throwing parties. Oh did I type that out loud? Anyway, whatever you do have fun and make sure your guests do too.
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