first cake

Choosing a theme or colour scheme
The theme we chose for Max’s birthday was 'Hot Air Balloon'. If a theme isn’t your thing, you could always simply choose a colour scheme for table decorations and balloons.

There are many sites you can get ideas from; try Babyology, Sweet Themes, and The Party Parlour for starters. You can also check out boys' party themes and girls' party themes on Essential Kids.

Write a guest list
Once you work out how many people you want to invite, my tip would be to type up your guest list in Excel. I like to keep a column for names, a column for adults and a column for kids so you can easily see a tally - this way you don’t go overboard with the invitations, and it comes in handy for catering as you can later add extra details (eg, any allergies).

Pick  a venue
If you don’t have suitable room at home, or would just like a change of scenery, check out your local play centre or activity centre; they'll charge per head and can arrange a menu, too.

For an inexpensive option, think about having the party at a park. Some areas may need to be booked, especially if there's a BBQ or table area. Often the local council will advise to get there very early to secure a table/area.

For any venue outdoors, have a back-up plan in case the weather turns nasty.

Plan your menu
If you have a theme, you may want to incorporate some of the treats into your menu. We used hot air balloon cookies, chocolate moulds, cupcakes and hot food.

Visit the Essential Kids party recipes section for great ideas on what to serve guests of all ages.

If you're planning a larger menu, think about food that both adults and children can eat, such as BBQ or lamb on a spit. Ring around the local butchers for the best price on meat.

And just a tip: if you're lucky enough to have someone offer to make/bring something for you, don’t be shy in saying yes!

Think decorations
You certainly don’t have to go to a lot of expense and hire costumes; you just need a little imagination.

Start with balloons, table cloths, napkins, plates, cups, cutlery, party hats and flags. Don't forget that pinatas are popular and come in all sorts of themes from your local party store or Spotlight.

Games and activities
Think of the age group of children that will be attending the party, and try and pick some activities that all ages and all genders can enjoy.

  • Games such as pass-the-parcel and treasure hunts are great fun. My tip for a past the parcel prize would be a Toys’R’Us voucher - it's perfect for all ages and both boys and girls.
  • Setting up a craft table can be lots of fun, and can keep the little ones entertained.
  • Face painting is great for the older kids also.
  • We hired a jumping castle for the smaller kids – it was a huge hit. 
  • Think of a fun way to incorporate things you already have at home, such as a jumping competition on the trampoline.
  • Check out the party games guide on Essential Kids for more inspiration.

Birthday cake
Some parents like buying pre-made cakes they can decorate thenselves, while others get the cake decorated by the experts.

Of course, many parents enjoy making their child's cakes themselves, and are (quite rightly!) proud of the finished product.

Visit the Essential Kids galleries of birthday cakes for girls and boys for inspiration. 

Invitations
Are you sending by mail, SMS, verbally or via email?

There are many fabulous online invitation sites that help you design your own invitation and email out, but if you're feeling creative you can make your own personalised invitations. Alternatively, there's a great range you can print out and send in the Essential Kids party section.

Get your invite out at least four weeks before the event to give everyone as much notice as possible.

The party and the run sheet
Working to a 'run sheet' can help make sure everything goes smoothly, and is also good reminder of what you need to do and when.

  • Start with a to-do list the week before the event: eg, shopping that has to be done, order cake, order balloons, confirm venue, etc.
  • The night before: eg, bake cupcakes, do up lolly bags, wrap up pass-the-parcel, make cookies, clean the house, etc.
  • Pre-party: eg, set up jumping castle, set up tables, put up decorations, pick up balloons, get ice, get bread and make fairy bread, etc.
  • Party: eg, 10am guests arrive, 10.30am first game, 11.00am second game, 11.30 lunch, 12.30 third game then free time, 1.30 cake and presents, 2pm lolly bags on departure.

The tricky part now is to stop and look at your child's face, to take in his smile and his excitement, as the day rushes past.

Enjoy your day and remember to take lots of photos - then send them in to Essential Kids to show off all your hard work!