How to Turn a Theme Day into a Birthday Party
My kids have always loved themed Birthday parties at home. They are especially fun to have with younger kids (up until about age 10) and offer a different experience than the usual “destination” birthday parties.
A lot of parents I’ve talked to are a bit frightened by the work that’s involved in hosting a birthday party at home, but it doesn’t have to be a daunting task. I was even able to do it without any adult help a few times when my husband was out of town (but other parental help like grandparents and aunts are definitely nice to have). Yes, there is planning involved, but hopefully by using these tips and one of my Theme Days you can come up with a great home party for your kids as well.
Print out the Family Theme Day Party Planner and decide which activities you’d like to do and in what order.
I. PICK A THEME DAY:
What interests your son or daughter? Whatever that is you can make a Themed party out of it. Have your child decide and go from there.
I have over a hundred Family Theme Days, maybe one of them might appeal.
Here are some Themed parties my sons’ have had: Snowman, Jungle Animals, Construction, Dinosaur, Airplane, Space, Spies and Detectives, Pirates, Monsters, Superheroes, Wizards (Harry Potter). All of these have also been Theme Days.
II. MAKE THE INVITATIONS:
Once you've chosen the date for the party and the theme you can make the invitations. Of course, you could always buy invitations but making them can be easy and cheaper.
If you have crafty kids this will be one of their favourite parts. If your kids hate making crafts and so do you, never fear, a standard invitation is pretty easy to whip up.
I like to include the theme in the invite so puns are great to head them. Then I put the date, time, location and RSVP info. I like to have morning parties from about 11:30 to 1:30 (or 2:30 if there are lots of activities planned and the weather is nice to go outside). When my Eldest was older we often had pizza and a movie parties and those would be in the evening. Choose a time that works for your family and schedule.
I’ve posted some sample general invitations to the right. You can also print out a copy of them: Basic Party Invitation Ideas.
Invites can be as easy as typing up the info on your computer and printing it out. Your child can then decorate the paper with themed stickers .
You can also be very creative with the invitations and present them in different ways to best suit the theme. Check out some of our Family Theme Days for ideas:
For instance, the pirate invitation can be crumpled and dyed with a tea bag or in some strong coffee to look like the “Treasure Map” craft we posted from our Pirate Theme Day. I did this for our Harry Potter Birthday party as well. Just follow the instructions for the “Spell Scroll” craft from our Wizard Theme Day (see photo).
For the Monster Themed Birthday I printed the invites in a smaller font and we made the “Monster Card” craft from the Monster Theme Day.(See Photo)
III. MAKE A BASIC PARTY PLAN:
My basic Party Plan generally follows the same pattern:
A. Craft Table:
While we wait for all the kids to arrive I have them make a simple themed craft and also leave colouring pages for those who finish early.
Choose your own craft or use one of my Family Theme Day ideas or buy easy craft kits from the Dollar Store or a craft Store.
Here are some ideas: Paint animal or superhero masks (see photo), make UFOS out of paper bowls, decorate and help the kids fold paper airplanes, create a collage picture with cut out coloured shapes to create a snowman or a space ship or a castle, make magic wands, decorate foam visors or door signs, make paper bag puppets etc..
I usually have something for the children to colour for the “Pin-the” Game and have them write their names on each one. You can use colouring pages found online for these if my colouring pages don’t work for your theme. For instance you could cut out dinosaurs for kids to colour for “Pin the dinosaur on Dino Island” game. Or Colour a princess for Pin the Princess on the castle. Or a flame for “Pin the flame on the dragon.” Or a spider web for “Pin the Spider on the web” (good for a Halloween party or a Spider-man one). Or have kids create their own pirate flags for “Pin the Pirate Flag on the Pirate Ship” (See photo). Or draw a clue in the magnifying glass (from my Spies and Detectives Theme Day) for “Pin the Magnifying glass on the detective (see picture) .
B. Group Photo:
Once the crafts are completed the kids usually just play around until everyone is finished and then it is time for a group photo! If you want you can include costumes to give away as party favours. Sunglasses work for a spy party, a crown for a princess party, a bandana for a train party or a pirate party, a black garbage bag cape for a wizard or superhero party, decorated masks . Kids love to get goofy in costumes.
C. Activity/Game One:
Match the game to the Theme. Opt for the quieter activity to begin with. Calm things down a bit with something that requires them to line up to take turns or sit in a circle.
I will give some game ideas further down.
If you have an adult helper who cleared away the craft table you are all set. Otherwise you may need two designated areas (one for craft and one for eating). I’ve had to throw down plastic table clothes for the kids to eat on a number of times). Or simply opt for a simple snack instead of lunch (be sure to write that on your invitation). I will give more food ideas further down.
E. Activity/Game Two:
Have another Themed game to split up the party. After sitting at the table they will probably want to move around so try for something active. I usually opt for a Line-Up game for this one
F. Activity/Game Three:
Sometimes a themed based activity or a more active game will work well before they sit down again for cake and presents. OR opt for another quiet game if you have a large number or kids.
G. Activity/Game Four: Optional.
I can’t always come up with four themed activities.
H. Cake Time:
Gather around the table to sing Happy Birthday and enjoy some Cake and Ice cream.
I. Present Time:
You decide whether there is time for this or whether it’s worth it. If you have a lot of kids it may be a better idea to have your child open the presents once the guests have left. However, you can turn opening gifts into a game.
Most often we play musical pillows! I choose a song related to the theme (Mission impossible, Spider-man, Walk the Dinosaur…) and arrange pillows in a circle. Everyone plays, even the birthday boy/girl. Take away a pillow instead of a chair each time and stop the music. Kids rush to sit on a pillow. If he/she doesn’t get to sit on a pillow they get to give their gift to the birthday boy/girl who opens it!
For our pirate themed party the kids sat in a circle with my son in the middle. He spun a bottle and opened the present that the bottle pointed to.
Another great idea is to take a photo of your child with each guest and the opened present. Now your child will always remember who gave him/her what and will have a picture of that special friend.
J. Final Activity: Optional
Treat Bag search - sometimes it works for the party theme to have a treasure hunt (pirate theme) or spy hunt and then I will make the Treat Bags the Prize.
OR Outside time (unless your child happens to have a birthday in the middle of December when there is too much snow…sigh) - just letting run around and be kids at the end of the party can be the best way to end the afternoon.
OR TV time—Sometime the kids can be riled up and it often calms the kiddos down to sit on the floor and watch a show related to the party theme until parents show up.
IV. PLAN THE DETAILS:
DECIDE ON THE CRAFTS:
Look above for ideas and then write out your shopping list.
DECIDE ON THE GAMES:
Parent leader whispers a secret phrase, spy phrase, magical spell etc. and then each child whispers it to the next person. The last person in the circle says what the secret phrase is and it is usually very silly and very different from the original one. You can play a few rounds of this game. I find the kids all love to take turns leading the game.
Write out a story based on the party theme but leave blanks in it. Don’t read the story yet, but go around the circle and ask kids to give you words (colours, names, silly sounds, actions, foods) that will fit the blank and write the answers down. Now read the silly tale out loud. Check here for some Printable Mad-Libs: http://www.classroomjr.com/printable-mad-libs-for-kids/
This is best for older kids who can write. Fill a tray with themed items or random items and cover it with a cloth. Give everyone a pencil and notepad or paper with each child’s name on it (goes in the treat bags later). I did this for the Spy Birthday but it could work for any party. Remove the cloth and give the kids one minute to look at the items to try to remember them without writing them down. After the minute is through, cover the tray again and have them write. See who gets the most right. I gave out M&Ms for every correct item.
Wrapping Paper Game:
Wrap a prize for everyone (like princess or pirate necklaces or stickers or badges) in a box with one type of wrapping paper. Then wrap another layer with another type and so on and so on. This plays out like musical chairs in that you play a song (related to the theme…like the anthem from Pirates of the Caribbean movie perhaps) and pass the gift around. When the music stops whoever has the gift gets to unwrap one layer. Try to make at least one layer per kid. If the guests are particularly young try to ensure that everyone gets a chance to open a layer.
Write a number of words or characters related to your party theme or related to Birthdays in general or not thematic at all (try movie or TV or video game titles) on pieces of paper and put in a paper bag. Have kids pull out one piece of paper and cat out the word, name. phrase. This is a better game for older kids who can read.
Variation on this game: “Who Am I?” Have the kids ask Yes or No questions to try to guess who the person is. Parent helper could go first if that helps.
Create your own game similar to “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” but make it related to the party theme. Draw something on a poster board (it doesn’t really matter if you’re not artistic the drawing can be simple) and then find some clip art or colouring pages on the internet to cut out for the “pin-the” portion and have the kids colour these at the craft table. Try pin the princess on the castle, the flag on the pirate ship (see the photo), the eyes on the monster, the superhero in the sky, the train cars on the track, the airplane in the sky, the ghost in the haunted house, the saddle on the horse, the hat on the cowboy, the mask on the ninja…the possibilities are endless. Use a blindfold or better yet one of those beauty sleep masks as kids like to cheat and peak through the blindfold, spin each child around and have them tape the picture to the poster. I love the funny picture we usually create with this game.
We’ve done a lot of variations on this game which is simply line up and stay behind a marker and then try to throw something in something. Here are some examples: throw the bean bag in the train engine (really a shoe box decorated with paper), throw the spider on the spider web., toss the plastic dinosaur into the bucket, make the stuffed frog jump onto the lily pad (a green pillow), throw the UFO (tiny Frisbee, paper plate, paper bowl) into space (a black blanket or poster paper), throw the plastic spider (see photo) on the spider web (drawn on poster paper) etc... There are so many possibilities here and kids do love to throw things! For younger children I often reward them with stickers on their T-shirts.
More Active Games:
This requires a bit of prep work but can be fun. Come up with two matching pictures (theme related) per guest. For the Spy party I made crayon rubbings of shoes (see photo) and the kids had to search around for the match (in a different colour to make things more challenging). If you have space you can do this in another room and set it up before hand or you can set it up prior to the game when you explain it to them children. Also, you could do this outside (perhaps set rocks on the papers so they won’t fly away if its windy).
Basically it’s just keep the balloons floating in the air.
For our Wizard Party the kids coloured blank sheets of paper and then we rolled them up and taped them to be wands with a star sticker at the end. They used these for this game which was simply to keep the balloons afloat. We were lucky and had a sunny spring day with no snow so they did this outside. This would work for a Fairy party, too. Or if the kids decorate cardboard swords they could be pirates or princes who try to keep the balloons in the air.
My son once went to a Minecraft party once that had a similar game but they used those foam swords to swat the balloons.
Build it or decorate it:
With the aid of cardboard boxes or empty tissue boxes your guests could create a tower or building for a Construction or Lego Themed party.
With the help of a costume box kids can take turns decorating the Birthday girl/boy or each other or teams of kids to the theme. You could have them make a frozen scene for a photo opportunity too.
If you have the room or a backyard create an obstacle course for each child to go through. Have them go through twice to see if they can beat their previous time.
Specific Themed Based Activities:
Simple experiments can be a fun addition to say a mad scientist or wizard party. It was a lot of prep work but the looks on the faces of the kids at my son’s wizard party when each child got to make his own potion (using water with food colouring in it, glitter, vinegar, and then a spoonful of baking powder) made up for it. They were all thrilled by the overflowing mixture! We did this on plastic table cloths for easy clean up. For directions on the Magic Potion experiment check my Wizard Theme Day.
Learning Something New:
Circus feats (balancing) or passing a ball for simply juggling would work for a Circus Party.
I had my Older son lead the little wizards at our wizarding party in learning spells from Harry Potter. They used their paper wands and then repeated the magic words (printed on a poster) and performed specific actions (swish and flick).
Treasure Hunt Games:
Write out directions or simple clues (rhymed or not) to take the kids as a group to each location to find the next envelope. After opening each envelop they will be sent to a new location until finally they arrive at the hidden treat bags.
Use my Spy Code from the Spies and Detectives Theme Day and write out instructions on how to find the treat bags. I wrote out each word in large print on separate sheets of paper and the kids were in teams of two to try to translate. Then they had to work together to piece the sentence together. This works best with older kids.
DECIDE ON PARTY PROPS FOR GAMES/DECORATIONS/TREAT BAGS/FOOD:
After planning what party games and activities you will be doing (above) you will have to buy the materials or gather the materials you need.
I never have a lot of decorations. I usually buy a plastic coloured table cloth (or two or three) for the craft table/lunch table/floor). I like the paper streamers to give a quick festive atmosphere. Another easy decoration is to use cupcake liners to create a fun party banner (see photo).
Treat bags can be easy and affordable. I generally use brown paper lunch bags and try to fancy them up with themed Stickers or something like the words TOP SECRET for a Spy party.
Things I usually include that need to be purchased: a nut free treat, stickers, something related to the theme (little plastic dinosaurs, a magnifying glass, a pirate patch).
I also include Printables from Family Theme Days: word search, colouring page, spy code…take a peek at the Theme Day and see what I have to offer.
These little things plus the Take-Away Craft or a printable photo make great party favors.
Is lunch or dinner being served? Are you making the food yourself. If so you will need to shop.
Making the food yourself is work but it saves money. Here are some party food ideas:
Mini-Pizzas (can be made in advanced and just pre-heated before lunch – make them on English muffins)
Build your own sandwich (perfect for picky eaters and fit our Construction theme, and was a “Mission” for our Spy party) – have bread slices and buns to choose from, as well as various cheeses and deli meats, add spreads and even cut veggies.
Hot dogs (standard kid fare)
I generally also serve a fruit platter (or just cut watermelon) and a veggie platter
Remember you don’t need to serve a meal. Just adjust the party timing a little.
I love to bake so I always make the cake but I must admit this is the hardest part of a birthday party for me. I’m not the most magnificent of decorators but I try.
Here are your choices:
Bake a cake: Make your child’s favourite type of cake from your favourite recipe. For us it is usually chocolate or vanilla. Try to decorate it yourself. Your cake can be cut to look like something from the theme and decorated that way (difficult but delightful). Your cake can also be decorated simply with a themed toy on top as a decoration (think dinosaurs, action figures, dolls etc.).
Bake cupcakes! These are often easier to make then a full cake and a lot easier to decorate. For a simple decoration make little Themed flags out of stickers and toothpicks.
Bake using a box mix! I won’t tell.
Order your cake from a bakery. Store-bought cakes save time and energy and can be gorgeous and a lot of fun.
V. PARTY ACTIONS
A WEEK BEFORE THE PARTY:
WRITE OUT YOUR SHOPPING LIST AND SHOP:
You should know how many kids by now which will help you shop.
I usually visit the Dollar Store in advance for decorations, treat bags and party props and craft materials. You can do this in advance of the party.
Buy the food closer to the date of your party.
MAKE PARTY PROPS—depending on your choices above you may need to print out colouring pages or draw a poster for the decorations or games.
ASSEMBLE TREAT BAGS
CLOSER TO THE PARTY DATE :
SHOP FOR FOOD
DAY BEFORE THE PARTY:
SET UP GAMES OR ACITVITIES
SET UP CFAFT TABLE
BAKE OR PICK UP CAKE
DAY OF THE PARTY:
GET FOOD READY
GET BIRTHDAY CANDLES AND MATCHES READY
GET YOUR CAMERA READY: If you have a friend or relative helping perhaps assign them to take photos.
GET BIRTHDAY BOY/GIRL READY! - don’t forget to take a photo of your child with the cake before the guests come.
NOW HAVE FUN!!!!
Please let us know if you host a Family Theme Day based Birthday Party! I’d love feedback on whether the party planner printable helped. You can email us at email@example.com or contact me via Facebook or Twitter (@CRKWwrites).
Craft Table Activity: Decorating Superhero masks
More Active Game: Match Up
Quieter Game: Memory Tray
Line-Up Game: Pin the Pirate Flag on the Ship
Another Simple Game: Throw Something in or on something
Turn a Pirate Map or Wizard Scroll into a Party Invite
Coded Treasure Hunt to Find the Treat Bags
Birthday Cakes! The yummiest part of the party!
Photo: C Wright
Open these Monsters’ mouths to read the Party Invite
Easy Craft Table Activity: Decorating something for a “Pin The” Game.
Simple Science Experiments make for a fun party game
Cupcake liners for a simply party banner.
Printable Party Planner