Most kids have their next 20 birthday parties planned out to the tiniest detail.
But just in case parents want a little guidance because their child’s idea of a dinosaur-themed party at home with a live band and a birthday cake topped with 1,000 M&Ms doesn’t scream “easy and simple birthday party” – we’ve got some suggestions from planners and kid-experts.
The first rule is to pick a theme that reflects your child’s personality and style, suggested Lindsay Pinchuk, founder and CEO of Bump Club and Beyond, a social event company based in Chicago catering to pregnant women and new moms.
“I have always chosen a theme based on what my daughter was very interested in at the time,” Pinchuk said. “For example, one year, she was really into this book: Camilla the Cupcake Fairy, so everything at the party was fairies and cupcakes. At the end of the day, I think that picking a theme based on something they love will make your child so excited about their party.”
Once you’ve gotten a theme, figure out the time of the party – because with kids, timing is everything – and the time can make or break the party. If you schedule a party during the ever-so-fragile naptime, you’ll find yourself dealing with a room full of cranky kids.
“I always think that the best time for a first birthday is 4-6 p.m.,” Pinchuk said. “This is the time of day when there is nothing to do, and generally, it doesn’t interfere with anyone’s nap schedule. For older toddlers, I would avoid that 1-3 timeframe when many are usually napping. Morning parties are great for this age.”
Next, figure out a party plan that will keep children busy and happy, said Debi Lilly, chief event planner for A Perfect Event in Chicago, who has designed parties and kid’s gifts for more than 10 years for celebrities including Oprah Winfrey and Julia Roberts.
Plan more activities and games than you had originally thought necessary, she said.
“Kids can blow through an entire hour of activities in minutes – it can get crazy,” Lilly said. “Welcome them with a scavenger hunt card, with stamps or stickers as they complete each interactive task (craft or game) at each station.”
Rather than serving a cake, try offering a cupcake cake, which looks like a cake but is actually a bunch of cupcakes pushed together and frosted – but can pull apart and is easier to serve, Lilly suggested.
In Chicago, there are plenty of options for moving pint-sized parties out of the house – so there’s no pressure to do it all yourself.
Sod Room This relatively new addition to the Chicago kid-scene is a sunny, cheerful indoor play space in the South Loop that caters to the 0 to 4-year-old crowd. Founded by a Chicago Public School teacher who has two young children of her own, this hot spot sports an eco-friendly assortment of toys (almost everything is made out of recycled or sustainably-made wood, rather than plastic), slides and climbing imaginative areas. There’s also an infant spot for non-crawlers. All parties feature the play space plus a separate party room – and you can purchase organic food and drink packages, and eco-friendly party favors and party ware (table covers, plates, ect.) for an additional cost. They offer semi-private and private parties every day of the week with various packages available. Private parties start at $399 for up to 15 children. 1454 S Michigan Ave., 2nd Floor, 312-922-3131, Sodroom.com
Diversey River Bowl Kids 4-years and up are the perfect age to enjoy a bowling party. And the best part about these types of parties? Adults will finally have some fun too. At Diversey River Bowl, it’s loud, it’s crazy and it’s exciting. In other words, it’s the perfect place for a bunch of crazy kids because they can scream and run around without anyone caring. And, it’s a lot less expensive than most of the other party places in Chicago. For $17 per child with a minimum of 10 children, their party package includes two hours of bowling, shoe rental, pizza, drinks, cake and a bowling pin for the birthday child. Throw in a pitcher of beer for the adults, and it’s a perfect party. 2211 W Diversey Ave., 773-227-5800, Drbowl.com
The Brown Cow Go back in time when kids played Pin the Tail on the Donkey (or in the case here: Pin the Cherry on the Ice-Cream Sundae) for an old-fashioned ice-cream sundae party. Best for the 3-year-old to 5-year-old set, these parties are essentially hands-off for adults. They assign two people to help with everything, and give you two party rooms: One for the adults and one for the kids. While the adults are in their own room enjoying hot apple cider, hot cocoa, coffee and other drinks, the kids are being entertained with the classics: Duck, Duck, Goose; Freeze Dance and other fun games. And then, there’s the ice-cream. It’s homemade, and you can opt for a Build Your Own Sundae Party, a Waffle Sundae Bar, an Ice-Cream Cake Party or a Tough Party (21-scoop sundae). Prices vary depending on the number of guests and the type of party, but the Build Your Own Sundae Party for 1 ½ hour with up to 10 guests is $200. 7347 W Madison St., Forest Park, 708-366-7970, Browncowicecream.com
Kids Science Labs Mad scientists-in-training should head over here to get slimy, create explosions and explore with their friends. Best for kids ages 4 to 8 - themes could include volcanoes, Harry Potter, dinosaurs, planets and even fashion science and they include a slime and bubbles party. These are totally interactive, and while they are relatively expensive when compared with other party places in the Chicago area, kids are entertained and learning about science (without even realizing that they’re learning) the entire time. Parties start at $675 for kids not enrolled in Kids Science Lab classes for up to 15 children, and this includes a 1 ½ hour party, parking for guests and tableware. 1500 N Kingsbury St., 312-846-1426;1801 S Indiana Ave., 312-225-4747, Kslchicago.com
Goldfish Swim School By weekday, this hidden paradise in Roscoe Village hosts swim classes dedicated to little ones. The colorful facility itself is built around its family friendliness – large changing rooms, kids’ bathrooms and the pool water always kept at a comfortable 90 degrees. On the weekend, you can book private birthday parties, which gives you the entire facility, including staff to help set up and clean up, plus the kids get to use all the fun floatation devices including a huge foam plane, canoe and race car. Packages are $550 and include tableware, snacks for the kids and cupcakes. 2630 W Bradley, (773) 588-7946, goldfishswimschool.comDoolin’s No, it’s not the place you host the party – but it’s the local, family-owned place you go to before the party in order to make the party extra special. They’ve got everything from birthday banners and tableware to balloons, and they’ll even blow up those balloons with helium and confetti and deliver them to you in a hurry. They’ll supply you with tables and chairs for DIY parties. 511 N Halsted St., 312-243-9424, doolins.co