Every birthday marks a special milestone in your family life, as you celebrate your child’s entry into the world and progress through it. Arranging your child’s party can be quite a feat, but it should be an enjoyable experience rather than a source of pressure and anxiety.
Party trend-watchers report a more relaxed approach to parties. Parents are looking for simple, thoughtful touches and a creative take on activities. Guest lists are often smaller, particularly as children get older. We’re seeing a more personalised approach (for instance, using the names and even sometimes the pictures of the birthday child and guests in invitations, décor and so on). The thank you note might come with a picture taken of the guest at the party.
The less-is-more approach to birthdays is in line with a pared-down, environmentally aware approach to life, and is being seen internationally. A recent report in the New York Times pointed towards a developing trend of birthdays without the pomp, circumstance and gift-giving frenzy.
Parents are starting to agree on price limits for gifts, and we’ve even seen parties where guests are asked to bring a donation to charity rather than a gift for the birthday child.
Some parents are lessening the load by outsourcing different aspects of the party to party organisers, caterers and entertainers. According to Yusuf Mansoor of Laceys, their “party in a box” is popular with parents seeking a simple party. He says, “It’s convenient for parents to purchase a full party in a box which includes plates, cups, balloons, and loads of other goodies to get a party going, instead of going to different stores trying to match up all the items.”
Amongst other families, there’s a resurgence of the “do it yourself” approach – keeping the menu small and the games simple, these parents are doing the party planning, games and catering. This also gives the kids a chance to get involved in the preparations – icing cakes, making the piñata or designing invitations – which adds to the fun of the event.
Ask each child to bring a book to donate to an impoverished school, or something warm for a winter collection for a charity.
Top party themes
Use the 2010 soccer or the Olympic Games for inspiration and host your own sports event, or employ a party organiser who specialises in games. Either way, your guests will experience good fun and burn off plenty of energy.
Little Champs Academy offers two hours of soccer and cricket games. Says Silas Mashava, “Boys as young as 5 love our soccer and cricket party, where children get a chance to become sports stars.”
Dance parties are huge. For younger kids, the dancing parties incorporate games like musical statues, or hula hoop competitions. For older kids, they are often themed.
Elizabeth Robinson, The Dance Company says, “Following on the success of High School Musical, kids are keen to learn choreographed dances. We teach them specific dances which they perform in groups or as a solo.”
TV series parties
Parties based on popular TV series are always in fashion, says Andrew Law of Andy’s Action Parties. High School Musical, Amazing Race and Survivor are the favourites of the moment.
Hawaiian parties are popular at the moment and are perfect for our SA climate, says Leigh van Gool from Sillybilly’s.
Pamper parties are a trend that is coming our way from the States where they’re wildly popular with the teen and preteen set. Salons and spas are even offering kids’ birthday packages.
For a small crowd, you can easily get this together yourself. Provide gentle face packs. Put on some
soothing background music and let the girls paint each others’ toenails. If you’re hiring in, consider an airbrush tattoo artist.
Crafty parties are still popular, and your guests can make anything from candles to chocolates to jewellery. Arrange and supervise it yourself, or hire someone to do it for you.
While older kids want to be new and original in their themes and activities, littlies are often happiest with the perennially popular themes like dinosaurs, pirates and fairies.
Games and entertainment
Create a rope maze by planting stakes in the ground and looping coloured ropes around them. You can also loop the ropes through old tyres, through boxes, over and under hessian sacks staked to the ground and so on.
Children need to remove their shoes and take a coloured rope. Attach the rope to the child using mountain climbing clasps in the same colour. Kids will then need to find their way through the tangle of ropes to get to the end, climbing over and under the other ropes.
Ten pin bowling
Ten pin bowling is particularly enjoyable for younger kids. Create lanes in the driveway, separating them with lengths of wood, or simply draw lanes in chalk on the driveway. Make your own pins from two-litre cooldrink bottles with a little sand in the bottom for stability. A soccer ball or similar can be used to knock them down.
A balloon pop combines a game with party packs. You will need a selection of small prizes, wrapped, one for each child. Number them individually. Blow up the same number of balloons, and in each one, place a piece of paper with a number on it. Each child gets the chance to pop a balloon with a pin, read the number, and take the prize with the corresponding number.
Kids love the balloon stomping game. Give each child a balloon attached to a length of string or ribbon and tell them to attach the string to the ankle of either foot. When you give the go ahead, the kids try to stomp on each others’ balloons, while keeping their own balloon away from other stomping feet!
Airbots is the latest must-have party-pleaser for older kids. An entertainer will come to the
party to set up Airbots, an infl atable wrestling entertainment set. Kids get suited up in sumosized inflatable attire and then have a go in the inflatable ring. You need an area of 10x10 metres for the ring. From R2 900 for two hours from Smilemakers.
Piñatas are hollow paper maché fi gures filled with sweets or trinkets. They are very hot and very popular. The children take turns to bash at the piñata with a bat or stick, while blindfolded (keep everyone at a safe distance!). When the piñata breaks, sweets and treats come tumbling out. Make your own piñata by covering a balloon with layers of paper mache, or buy pre-made piñatas.
Hire a Scalectrix track. Their package includes the use of the track for the entire day, two 4-wheel-drive racing cars, three custom-made tables, which fit perfectly into most vehicles (made specifically for children’s height) and an extension cord. Boys and girls will love making the cars fly around the track!
Facilitators can be sent to assist with the racing for an additional fee. Available from Sillybilly’s. There are similar options available where race tracks are erected on the ground.
Give the old classics new life by adapting them to your party theme. Use theme-appropriate music
for the musical ones; theme the treasure hunt clues around a prehistoric dig for your dino party; or pin the nose on the clown for your circus party!
- Musical chairs or statues
- Face painting
- Treasure hunts
- Scavenger hunts
- Sack races
- Three-legged races
The main trend in terms of party food is a move towards healthier snacks which are lower in sugar, salt and transfats. Sure, you’ll still find sweets and chips at most kids’ parties, but there’s a balance between them and healthier options like fruit, dried fruit, sandwiches, pretzels and biltong.
Jenny Morris, The Giggling Gourmet, says that mini burgers, hot dogs and pizzas, wraps and popcorn are savoury favourites. She offers ideas to make healthy food exciting: “Create stick figures from fruit and skewers, for instance pineapple faces, raspberry eyes, grape bodies, arms and legs and so on.”
One of Jenny’s party favourites is a homemade train and coaches filled with healthy snacks. Use empty butter tubs as carriages. Poke holes into the tubs, glue themed wrapping paper onto them and tie together with ribbon. Create wheels from round biscuits. Fill each tub with chips, nuts and other goodies.
Lianne Vinnello-Lippert of Kids in the Kitchen says that prepacking food and goodie bags saves on wastage and minimises cleaning up, and is becoming increasingly popular. There’s no big party table full of sweets and chips – rather, each child gets a box or bag of goodies, including a small juice, a packet of chips and so on, to enjoy at the party and take home whatever’s left.
Adapt the society party caterers' trend to your kids' party. Serve "real food" like sausage and mash or spaghetti bolognaise in small attractive containers like little bowls, tea cups, tin mugs and little clay flowerpots