I'd like to share a few thoughts and ideas about throwing a party for very young children. I realize that a lot of people don't even start throwing parties for their kids until they're 4 or 5, while over here at our house, Espen is a two year-old with two birthday parties under his little belt. That is partially because I am a pathological party-thrower (I start collecting ideas for parties months in advance) with a need to celebrate everything, and partially because we knew that Espen would absolutely love having all of his little buddies together under one roof.
Of course, anyone who tells you that cake-wielding toddlers en masse are nothing to worry about is either insane or lying. But with a little bit of planning and forethought, it is possible to throw a party that can be enjoyable for all involved.
Here's what worked for us:
- Limit your guest list. We only invited children that Espen knows by name and enjoys playing with, and so he was delighted to see everyone. Even if you have friends with kids, if your child doesn't know them very well, their birthday party is not the time to ask them to make new friends. We also tried really hard to keep all of the kids close to the same age; the youngest was almost 1, and the oldest was 4. The rest were all two or three-ish, give or take a few birthdays.
- Choose your time wisely. And by that I mean don't schedule your party during nap time, lunch time (unless you're feeding them) or any time when kids typically struggle. We started Espen's party at 11 AM, which is when he (and most little kids his age) are awake, energetic and alert.
- Put an end time on your invitation, and aim to stick to it. And by that, I mean don't over-schedule the party, and let people leave when their kids have had enough. We put a two hour window on this year's party, and the majority of the guests headed home after about 90 minutes, which felt perfect. For Espen's first birthday, we planned for about an hour. After everyone had gone home, we sat Espen down for some real lunch (not just a mouthful of cake) and then put him down for a much needed nap.
- Keep it simple. With themed parties, it's easy to want to plan party games and crafts and fun activities, and for older kids, that is great! Toddlers, however, don't want to be told what to do, they just want to playplayplayplay! We planned activities that would give them freedom to do that, while still staying on-theme. For Espen's train party we set up train tracks on the floor and made sure we had enough trains for everyone, and had a coloring station with pictures of trains. For Espen's Very Hungry Caterpillar party last year, we read the book together at the beginning of the party and ended by blowing bubbles. Very simple, and just about right for the age group.
- Ask someone else to take photos, because you'll likely be too busy to document the day. I always forget this and always regret it!
- Don't forget to include some "real" food with your refreshments. We had cake and cookies, but balanced that with fresh fruit and 100% fruit juice boxes. Kids get grumpy when their blood sugar is all over the place. Getting them to sit still and actually eat something, well...
- Keep a big tub of baby wipes on hand.
- I discovered this by accident, but having a quiet activity area can be a really good idea. There will be tears at a party with toddlers, and having a quiet place to calm down and color a picture turned out to be a really great thing for the kids.
- Last, but not least, embrace the chaos. Just know that your house is going to be utter pandemonium for a couple of hours, expect to find chocolate cake ground into the carpet (or in our case, glitter glue!) and enjoy yourself. Just take in the looks on the little faces around you, and you should be in the party spirit in no time!
What do you think? Did I forget anything? Do you still think toddler parties are nuts, or a piece of cake?