The Ultimate Birthday Party Planning Timeline

Planning a birthday party for your child can feel overwhelming, but the key is to break it down into small tasks.

Follow this timeline for the weeks and days leading up to the party and for the party agenda itself, and the event should run smoothly.

Six to Eight Weeks Before the Party

Sit down with your child and choose a party theme. Begin brainstorming how to incorporate the theme into the decorations, cake, favors, and other party details. Set a date. Book a venue or entertainment, if desired. Order invitations or purchase the supplies needed for homemade cards.Set a budget.Write up a guest list. Begin shopping for gifts for the birthday.

Three to Five Weeks Before the Party

Buy stock invitations from a retail store for those who didn’t pre-order some. Put together, write, and send out the invitations. Be sure to include the party’s start and end time, your phone number, directions to the party location, and the party’s theme. If the child still naps, set the party time with that in mind. Toddlers, for example, often nap between 1 and 3 p.m., so hold a party for that age group either in the morning or late afternoon. Shop for party supplies, such as decorations and items needed to make the favors. Shopping early gives the shopper time to order online if he or she can’t find them locally.

Two Weeks Before the Party

Make or buy the party favors .Settle on a menu. Order the cake (allow more lead time for this if ordering from a busy bakery).For those who have a young child, consider asking a friend or relative or hiring a babysitter to watch the child on the morning of the party to give you time to focus on decorating and preparing the final details of the day. Decide what types of activities or games will be part of the party’s agenda, then buy or make any necessary supplies.

Three to Seven Days Before the Party

Call any invitees who haven’t R.S.V.P.’d. Write a rough agenda for the party. See the 2-hour agenda below for guidance. Confirm the entertainer and venue, if applicable. See if the child would be willing to donate old toys to charity. Doing so is a nice gesture, and it also makes room for the new toys that are about to arrive.

Two Days Before the Party

Shop for groceries, and do prep work on any menu items that won’t spoil. Wrap birthday gifts. For those serving pizza or something similar, place your order. Arrange to have a neighbor or friend watch pets during the party. Doing so is less stressful for the animals and helpful if any of the guests have allergies or fears. Buy any party supplies still needed, such as plates, napkins, cups, dinnerware, toothpicks, matches, or candles.

One Day Before the Party

Charge camcorder and camera batteries. Rent any movies that’ll be showing at the party. Clean the party area. Do any decorating at this time, such as hanging streamers and banners.

Set up whatever won't be disturbed between now and the party time tomorrow, such as setting the table, setting up party game props or placing buffet servers that can be filled with food just before the party. Make the cake or confirm the order with the bakery.

On the Morning of the Party

Confirm pizza delivery or other food arrangements. Finish any other food prep work. For those who choose to, drop off your child at a friend, relative or baby sitter’s house to give you time to focus on the party details. Drop off the pet at a neighbor or friend’s house, if that has been prearranged. Pick up balloons, if using, and the cake, if ordering. Complete the decorating of the party area. Set up the games or other activities. Put out the party favors. Place a sign in the yard or tie balloons to the front door to help guests find the house.

Just Before the Party Starts

Pick up the child, if she or he is still at a friend's house.Set out the food and drinks.Turn on some music. Set out the candles and matches to avoid scrambling to find them when everyone’s ready to sing “Happy Birthday.”Place your camera and camcorder in an easily accessible spot. Set out a notepad and pen to write down the gifts that were given, which will be helpful when it comes time to write thank you notes. Take some photos of the party scene and cake in case things get too busy once the guests arrive.

A Sample Two-Hour Party Agenda

0:00-0:15 Everyone arrives

0:15-0:30 Guests eat snacks or meals

0:30-0:50 Play organized games

0:50-1:10 Birthday kid opens presents

1:10-1:30 Sing Happy Birthday and eat cake

1:30-2:00 Unorganized play time.

Say goodbye.

After the Party

Clean the house or party area. Return any rented equipment. Settle any bills with entertainers or venues. Store gift bags so they can be used again.Throw away gift wrap and recycle any paper or cardboard that can be. Write and send thank you cards within two weeks of the party. Try including a photo of the child enjoying each guest’s gift.

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