When it comes to throwing a birthday party for a child, I have two years of experience. However, I have picked up a few tips and tricks with my daughter's birthday parties that I think are helpful tips that make the experience go smoothly... or at least as smoothly as possible with a toddler!
To keep you in the loop, my posts contain affiliate links! This means that if you buy something through one of those links, I will make a small commission to keep the lights on at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support!
Since we are currently still in quarantine times with COVID-19, some of these tips might be a bit different with a party where you can actually have people in your home! These are tips I used for our quarantined birthday party, so if you have a child who has a birthday that will still fall under the stay-at-home orders, these will help you have a smoother experience. Either way, I find that streamlining parties is extremely satisfying and helps me have a better time as the mom who has to plan and do so much of the work.
Without further a-do, enjoy these tips for a simple birthday party for your toddler!
*Before the Day of the Party*
Make a To-Do List
The first and foremost tip that I have for anything, including birthday parties, is to make a to-do list. This will save you so much time just by writing out what needs to be done down to the eensy-ist teensy-ist thing that needs to be done.
Write your to-do list a week before your party so that throughout the week you can tackle a few lines of that to-do list everyday. By doing this you break down the work so that instead of rushing around and staying up way too late the night before trying to get things done, you will have been crossing things off throughout the week and can get some beauty sleep the night before the party!
And my pro-tip is that you should write what day of the week you want certain things done so that you have a plan for each day of the week.
This year, we had two Zoom parties for Lydia. We had one the Sunday before her birthday (for friends and extended family) and then one on her actual birthday (for immediate family and godparents). I wrote out my to-do list to accommodate what I needed to get done for the party on Sunday (bake cupcakes, make a banner, create the FB event invite) as well as items that could be done in the time between then and her actual birthday (wrap presents, make a few handmade gifts, make her birthday card).
For each item on my to-do list, I wrote out which day of the week made the most sense for that item to get done on. It saved me a lot of time and headspace to know that I already had a plan for which day each task needed to be done.
Don't Go Overboard on Presents
This is a personal choice, but I tend to not get Lydia very many presents for holidays. With her just turning two, we have made the choice that she does not need a ton of gifts. We try to be intentional and thoughtful about the gifts we do give her so that they mean something to her and us.
This year, I also opted to make a few gifts for her. I made her a simple tote bag made with fabric she picked out (pink with ladybugs, since we call her Lydi-bug, and hearts) that was so simple and fun to make. I used this tutorial from Crazy Little Projects. I also made her a set of felt fruits and vegetables from my Cricut projects through Cricut Access.
These are both gifts that I put in my to-do list, since they take time, but I wanted Lydia to have gifts that were handmade, tactile, and made with love. Did they come out perfect? No! But she has enjoyed playing with them!
Children do not thrive with too many toys (see Today's Parent article on this), so we choose to only get Lydia a few gifts ourselves since she is also getting gifts from other family members and friends.
With fewer gifts, that also means less shopping ahead of time, less wrapping, and less hassle trying to make sure you can fit all those presents somewhere in your house after the fact!
Bake Ahead of Time
As mentioned before, I had two parties for Lydia and made the decision to bake the day before the first party. So Saturday I fired up the KitchenAid and baked my cupcakes. I made a fun-fetti yellow cake (yellow cake recipe from King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion with candy confetti left over from Easter, cause quarantine life) from scratch and then made a chocolate frosting (from the fun cupcake book called Hello, Cupcake!).
Because of quarantine times here I made a full batch of both the cupcake batter and the frosting, but froze half of each. This can also be helpful if you are either throwing a birthday party during a quarantine, or if you have parties separated by a few days and want your cupcakes to be fresh.
Baking ahead of time saved me so much stress the day of the party because I had time to bake, I was not rushing around trying to get them done as soon as possible, and I could enjoy myself both while baking as well as before the party.
Store Birthday Cards
This year, since we were doing Lydia's birthday virtually, I saved cards that she got in the mail ahead of time in a spare napkin holder that I have. This way, I didn't have to scramble to find them in all different places in my house, or stuffed between other pieces of mail. They had one little home to all hang out in until her big day.
When we did the virtual party on her actual birthday, I had the napkin holder with the cards already on the table so that she could open them then for our family who sent her cards. This is also nice to have for in-person birthday parties, because if someone just brings a card, they can place it in the napkin holder for storage. Once all the cards are open, you can place all the cards in the napkin holder until you are ready to display them somewhere in your house.
This is also helpful if someone has included cash, a gift card, or a check in the card. Storing them neatly in the napkin holder will keep those items safely in their cards until they can be placed in a wallet or container for safe keeping.
*Day of the Party*
Space for Presents
Due to the quarantine, we got some gifts in the mail, dropped off, through Amazon, etc. for Lydia. I did store my gifts in my bedroom beforehand, but set them on top of Lydia's toy chest for her party. It was nice that there was a designated spot for presents to go so that they did not end up in a few different places.
I set up the presents so that they looked nice, that like-gifts were together, and I had them so that gifts from friends and family were nicely mingled with presents from us. It made the space look neat and meant they were not just on the floor of our small house. If you have a bigger home, there might be a good section of floor to put your gifts that makes sense for you, so long as there is one singular spot for gifts to go.
This is especially important when you do have a party with guests because five different guest might put their gifts in five different places.
Do put gifts somewhere that is easy for your child to reach when the opening of gifts occurs so that they can participate more!
Decorate the Space
To make the space where you are putting the presents feel special, add a few simple decorations! This year for Lydia's present space, I added the rainbow canopy that I made for this blog post as well as a banner I made with my Cricut Maker.
I liked the idea of having a few things out for decor to make the day feel a little more celebratory, since I usually put out a few decorations for different holidays throughout the year. The banner I made I plan on saving for future birthdays as well so that when it is someone's birthday in our household, it adds a little extra something to the day and experience.
Presents, Then Cake
One big thing that we thought of for Lydia's party this year was that it was probably a good idea to have Lydia open her presents, then enjoy her cupcake. Our reason? Toddlers are messy little people!
We did not want her to have her cake, have it all over her face and hands, then try to open her presents. Granted, if we did, we would have washed her face and hands, but it made it a lot easier to just have her open presents first.
For bigger and neater kids, this probably isn't a big deal, but parents with toddlers can attest that toddlers are not neat cupcake eaters. We appreciated not having to worry about that stray bit of frosting on her hands while she opened presents!
Before a birthday party, it is great to have a paper bag stored nearby so that when your child is opening their presents, you can be putting any ripped wrapping paper into it to reduce the mess. You can also have a disposable grocery bag tucked inside for any non-recyclable materials as well.
This is helpful because I find for myself, I get overwhelmed when I see a lot of holiday trash and then I don't enjoy the time as much because I am thinking of how I need to clean the space. Having a bag at the ready for garbage is super helpful and allows you to not have to miss out on whatever is happening after gifts because you are trying to wrangle all the garbage.
Having the bags out ahead of time allows you to clean while the present opening is happening so that your child doesn't have to wade through the trash to get to their gifts, or lose a piece of a gift in the wrapping paper. After the party, you can then throw the garbage away and recycle the paper goods, or if you're like us, burn the paper in your fire pit!
*After the Party*
Thank You Cards
Post-party, make a list of all the gifts your child received and from who so that they can send out thank you cards. You can either make an actual list, or you can always write the gift received on the back of the card from the person who gifted that particular gift.
So say Auntie and Uncle gave your child a stuffed animal, on the back of their card you would write that they gave your child that particular stuffed animal.
If someone did not give a card, then a note with the cards can mark what gift your child received from that person/people. I generally like to make lists since I find that they are better for me organization-wise, but writing gifts on the back of the cards is another great option.
I hope some of these tips were helpful to you in your party planning adventure! Planning a birthday party does not have to be complicated, but does have to be fun! Use these tips if you want to throw a great party that you can actually enjoy, too.