Happy Birthday! Toddler party ideas for the brave (and not-so-brave)
Our son’s second birthday is coming up this month, and we’ve been trying to decide how best to celebrate. Last year he had no idea what was going on. This year, he still has no real understanding of what a birthday is, but he does know how to unwrap presents, having been given lots and lots of practice at Christmas.
We’ve got two sets of grandparents both keen to mark the occasion, as well as four unofficial (and non-religious) godparents and a whole bunch of friends (with kids from 0 to 5) with plenty of party-going expertise between them. But do we need – or want – a party?
A family day out
A trip to the local play centre maybe doesn’t strike the perfect chord of ‘we don’t do this everyday’ celebration. But an outing further afield – to the zoo or to a swimming pool with a slide – could be perfect… especially if we can get there by train (he loves trains).
Although you, like us, may be wracking your brains for the best toddler party ideas, toddlers don’t necessarily need a party to mark a special occasion. A day of fun with mummy and daddy (and grandparents too if you’d like to invite them along) will be very special for them.
Don’t try and do too much, and remember (especially if they’re still napping during the day) that a long day could become pretty stressful and exhausting for all concerned. Schedule plenty of rest opportunities and stick to just two or three complementary activities – such as a train ride, swimming and lunch out.
An adults’ party
Ok, so maybe your little one doesn’t need a party to have fun – one and two year olds don’t tend to be very social (ours certainly isn’t!), so having a lot of kids round could be asking for trouble. But perhaps you’d like to do something with a few of your friends and family to mark their birthday.
Booking a table (or a room, if there are a lot of you) in a local, child-friendly restaurant for a meal with family and/or close friends is an excellent way to bring together all your child’s favourite people – without the stress of making food, tidying your house, and clearing up afterwards. Plus, if your toddler gets tired or overwhelmed, one of you can take him/her outside for a bit of quiet time, or home for a nap, without upsetting the celebrations.
At the other extreme, you could open your doors to everyone you’ve ever met and lay on tea and coffee, cupcakes, a full buffet meal or just nibbles and drinks. Choose a time to do this that will suit your child’s normal schedule. If they have a nap in the late morning or early afternoon, you could opt to begin the party just after their usual wake up time, or you could start while they’re sleeping and introduce them gently to the melee once they’re fully awake.
A kids’ party at a hired venue
Choose your venue carefully: your child and his/her guests may not have formed particularly close ties yet and if you go to a soft play centre, for example, you could find that they scatter and spend almost no time together at all – meaning that the parents don’t get to mingle and chat, either.
Hiring a private venue allows you to keep the chaos out of your home and minimises the amount of time you’ll spend clearing up afterwards. Choose a space that’s suitable for the size of your group, and you’ll be able to spend more time socialising with the adults and playing with the kids, and less time retrieving missing children! And the children’s short attention spans could even be helpful in keeping costs down, as you won’t need to hire your hall or room for too long.
Put up a few decorations (bunches of balloons, streamers, happy birthday banners, etc), provide a toddler-friendly buffet, and crank up the music for a few party games: musical bumps always goes down a storm!
A kids’ party at home
A party at home with plenty of small guests can seem like one of the best toddler party ideas but could in fact turn out to be the most difficult option. Although it’s nice to be in your own home (and cheap, too), it does mean that not only will your child have to share their food and toys, but also there is nowhere to escape to if they become tired or cranky.
With this in mind, choose the time of day that your child is usually at his or her best: rested, relaxed, and ready to play. If most of your toddler’s guests still take an afternoon nap, a morning party – coffee and pastries for the parents; toast, fruit and party games for the little ones – could be ideal.
Phew! And finally…
Whichever route you take, all the planning and preparation that’s involved can make a task like this feel more like a job than a happy social occasion.
Ask a family member or other guest to take a few photos, so you have something to look back on (in years to come, or simply later in the evening when everyone’s gone home) and, once your guests begin to arrive, remember to relax and enjoy yourself!