Planning a Birthday Party

This timeline will help ensure your party is a success.
By: Tracy Dingmann
birthday cake kids party

birthday cake kids party

Whether you're plotting a catered affair or an informal barbecue bash, you should start planning your child's birthday party about two months in advance, say the experts. You'll want to make major decisions about the party's theme, date, place and size, and overall budget first, then marshal the troops to help you put the plan into action.

We compiled this children's party timeline with the help of Cool Kids' Parties guest experts Kim Salisbury and Lorna Hennington of The Ultimate Planners, and Kim Hein of The Perfect Setting.

Two Months Before

  • Pick a date.
  • Decide on a theme and party games by thinking about the things, places, animals and activities your child really loves. Research the theme by visiting websites, quizzing friends and sparking your child's imagination about what he or she thinks would be really fun.
  • Decide whether to have the party at your home or somewhere else. If you are renting a location, reserve the venue.
  • Create a guest list. Remember that the number of people you invite will determine the size of your party and the activities you can do, notes Heim.
  • Create or order invitations. It's best to design and make them yourself -- and be as whimsical as possible, says Heim. "Your invitation will set the tone for your party," she says. "Truly, people will decide whether to attend your party based on your invitation."
  • Decide whether you will use paid workers or volunteer help from family and friends. If hiring vendors such as a photographer, a caterer, a disc jockey or other entertainers, prepare to sign contracts and make deposits now. If using volunteers, assign each a specific task such as serving cake, supervising an activity or cleaning up. But spread the tasks around to make sure everyone will enjoy the party.

One Month Before

  • Mail invitations, asking guests to respond at least two weeks before the party date.
  • Complete a list of activities and buy or arrange to rent the items you will need.
  • Compile a menu yourself or with your caterer.
  • Draw up an emergency plan in case of inclement weather, such as having a tent or moving the party inside.
  • Make plans to put up balloons, ribbons, a colorful sign or some other indicator of the party outside your home or at the party venue.

Two Weeks Before

  • Purchase paper goods such as plates, napkins, decorations and signs.
  • Make goodie bags.
  • Reconfirm volunteer help.
  • Call outstanding invitees.
  • If doing your own food, compile a grocery list and make arrangements for storing and preparing dishes that can be made ahead. Consider providing an alternative menu of healthy food choices for adult attendees.

One Week Before

  • Reconfirm RSVPs for a final guest count.
  • Call party vendors to confirm date.
  • Review all contracts and deposits.
  • Make an event timeline for each 10 to 15 minutes of the party.

A Few Days Before

  • Start decorating.
  • Shop for food and prepare items that can be made ahead.
  • Think about where your guests will sit and where activities will happen. You may need to rearrange your furniture so guests will be comfortable. It may mean actually moving pieces of furniture out of your home. Do it now or have a plan in place.

Two Days Before

  • Draw up and distribute a task list to party helpers.
  • Create a "shot list" for the photographer, spelling out the people and party events you don't want him or her to miss.
  • Think of special requests for the DJ, including what you don't want to hear. "If you hate the `Chicken Dance,' tell him," says Heim.
  • Make sure you have enough cash on hand to tip vendors, says Heim. The customary tip for a job well done is 10 to 20 percent.

The Day Before

  • Do as much decorating and food preparation as possible in advance. "Don't wait until the last minute or you won't get it done," warns Salisbury.
  • Create a master party checklist that includes the party timeline, task assignments, vendor contacts and a current guest list with parent cell phone numbers.
  • Prepare a list of guests to give to security guards or the front desk, if applicable.

The Day Of

  • Call or tour the venue to confirm setup.
  • Make sure all rental items have arrived.
  • Put directional signs in place.

One Hour Before

  • Make sure food is ready to serve.
  • Test microphones, cameras and other equipment.

The Party's Over...

  • Tip vendors.
  • Return rental items.
  • Review bills and claim deposits.
  • Send thank you cards.
  • Relax. You've got 10 whole months before you have to start planning again!

Learn more about Kim Hein at

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