Theme: I blame the internet for this. Pinterest, social media, blogs - all with adorable, fun ideas that make you feel like this is a necessity. It's not. I know some one who's theme for her daughter's first birthday was "Birthday Party." And you know what? There's nothing wrong with that. A theme is not a necessity. That being said, I adore themes. I love the fun element they add to a party. For Thatbaby's first birthday we used a "Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails." His second birthday was "Choo Choo, Look Who's Two!" Other parties we've attended over the past year had themes of Dr. Seuss, Hungry Caterpillar, Surfing, Legos, and Construction Trucks.
Location: Horse Whisperer and I had a big discussion about this when she was planning her daughter's birthday. There are benefits to having the party at your home, as well as benefits to having it elsewhere. So think about it - which is more important to you? Not transporting things? Not having to clean? Not worrying about set up? Not worrying about cleanup? If you have the time and the space, your home can be a fantastic option. Other great options include parks (we did this last year), museums (like we did this year), zoos, community centers, play spaces, restaurants, and local attractions.
Food: My basic rule of thumb is "3 entrees," a veggie, a fruit, and dessert! Mrs. Pirate is fantastic about providing special toddler snacks. I'm not as concerned with that. I figure kids will eat fruit, right? Although, I love having food fit with a theme. So if something like teddy grahams or goldfish crackers worked with my theme, they would surely find a place on my table. I also follow the philosophy that the food should be easy. If that means catering - then so be it (and that includes ordering pizza if that's what works). If that means making sure they fit with your little one's food allergies/intolerances, the that's what you've got to do.
Activities: Little kids are easy. The younger they are, the less you need to plan. For the under 1 crowd, all you really need is a soft space for them to lie/crawl on. For Thatbaby's second birthday, all we had was the train table. But if you're at home, the birthday child's toys are more than enough activity. And of course, you can't ever go wrong with bubbles and balls.
Timing: There's really one person you need to cater to with the time. The birthday child! For me, that means planning around their naps. I mean, it's all well and good to make it convenient for friends and family, but no one really wants to go to a party where the guest of honor spends the whole time asleep, or is a missed-nap monster. At the same time, be smart about it. Just because your child is awake at 5:30am, does not make a 7:30am party time appropriate. Even those of us with early risers don't want to have to hustle to make ourselves presentable and out of the door that early.
Who to Invite: The good news is, there is no wrong answer! Immediate family only? Sounds good. Every person your child has ever met? Why not! It's really up to your venue, budget, and comfort level. For Thatbaby's first birthday, we invited our families, the moms from my group and their kids, and our family friends with similarly aged kids. For his second, it was the same, with the addition of his daycare class.
Some of my favorite party planning sites:
Hostess with the Mostess: This is a great place for inspiration. There are so many different party themes, ideas for decor, games, etc.
Gaddie + Tood: I love this site for printables. I used it for Thatbaby's first birthday. It's got banners, toppers, hats, and invitations.
Etsy: If you do come up with a theme, etsy is the place you should turn. Because it will do everything for you. As I said, I love Gaddie and Tood, but etsy is fantastic if you don't want to do all that work. This year I just downloaded a package from NickWillJack!
Amazon: Amazon is where I go for party favors. Because whatever you can get from Oriental Trading Company, you can get from Amazon. And with free 2 day shipping through Prime, you don't have to worry about a headcount too far in advance.
Luna Bazaar: Need paper decorations like lanterns or fans? This is the place to go.
Party City: My food paper products all come from Party City. Plates, silverwear, serving utensils - it's my one stop shop.