This is a guest blog post written by Dani Lauren, a professional face painter, balloonist, puppeteer, and Children's entertainer and the owner of Adrenaline Entertainment.
As a children's entertainer with more than 25 years of experience, I've helped thousands of parents prepare for their child's first birthday parties. From big lavash celebrations to small intimate gatherings, I've seen it all.
And now I'd like to share with you what I've learned and the most important things to consider when planning a party in today's COVID-world. Planning a birthday during a pandemic isn't ideal, but a first birthday only comes around once in a lifetime, so let's make it count.
Choosing the date and time
First and foremost, let's start by picking a date! It may seem simple, but depending on when your baby's birthday falls, it's often easiest to choose the weekend before or after their actual birthday.
Before you decide, reach out to your close family and friends to make sure the date your thinking of choosing is good for everyone and once you solidify it, make sure your most important family or friends are saving the date so they can celebrate with you!
Watch out for naps. You want your little one to be ready to party so make sure the timing of your party is not during their nap schedule. You'll want them to be happy, well rested, and ready to partake in the fun, so choose a time that is well before a nap, or just after they wake up. Although the length of each event varies, first birthday parties are usually between 2 and 4 hours long.
All about invitations
Now let's talk invites! Are we keeping it small and only inviting immediate family and closest friends or are we making this a blowout bash and inviting the works?! Regardless, keep in mind the location and cost will be based on your guest list so its important to figure this out ahead of time so it fits within your budget. I would start with your must have list and add from there.
Remember, if you're inviting a child, consider if you're also welcoming their siblings, parents, to the party as well. At this age, you can't expect a parent to 'drop-off' their child, so naturally, their parents will also be attending. This can grow your guest list quickly (and your budget) so keep the total number of attendees in mind when planning.
During these uncertain times of COVID-19 surges and community spread, you may want to limit the guests list to those that you already have close contact with. For example, inviting those from daycare may be a safer choice than extending invites to a wider set of friends that your child doesn't see as often.
Another option? Two separate parties. Many of our clients are having a party for close family, and then a party for close friends. Ultimately, whatever you and your guests feel comfortable with is the best choice for your family.
Location, location, location
After you determine the length of your guest list, you need to pick a location. In today's new world, parties at the home have been more popular than ever! Many parents have been renting tents, play obstacles or activities for their backyard, even in the colder months.
But remember, when baby is turning one year old, the celebration is mostly for you, the parent! Your baby won't be able to enjoy activities like a jumping castle/moon walk or many other birthday festivities or games (however older siblings may love these), so focus on making sure the party feels right for you and the other parents that may be attending as well.
At this time, many parents are choosing to celebrate at local parks, beaches, and other outdoor locations to keep it more COVID-friendly for all. Although this may be ideal, keep in mind the preparation and clean up is usually more involved when hosting a party outside. If you feel comfortable, you can also choose to host your party at a catering hall, restaurant, or an indoor party place. These locations tends to be less work for you as they provide staff and clean-up, but can cost a bit more too. Either way, choose the location that feels right for you and your family.
Choosing a theme
Now that the guest list is done, it's time to pick a theme. This is my favorite part because my imagination soars! I would base your theme on what your baby shows a preference for. Do they typically watch a specific TV show or read certain books like Sesame Street, Mickey, Cocomelon, or Disney Princesses? If not, there are always fun generic themes like safari, luau, or carnival–the possibilities are endless! Start doing some research before choosing a theme by browsing the available themed decor, balloons, and desert/cake tables options. With supply-chain issues happening so often, you may need to choose your second or third choice theme in order to get everything that you need for your party!
Now its about that time to send out your invitations, and this part goes hand-in-hand with your theme. You can even have some fun with the invitation wording to match your theme ie., "Calling all Party Animals" for a Safari-themed party! On the invitation, be sure to let them know if siblings are welcome. And if you're not wanting gifts for your child, consider writing "No gifts please" to take the stress off of your friends and family trying to figure out what to buy for your little one. And lastly, make sure to put an RSVP date and contact info so you can get an accurate head account with enough notice to prepare!
Everyone wants the smash!
A common trend that we are loving is baby's first cake smash. Everyone looks forward to seeing your little one dig in (or not) and the faces they'll make as they encounter this strange tradition. So get your cameras out as they touch, feel, eat, and smash their cake or cupcake. You'll love watching, cheering, and capturing this magical moment together.
Planning for food
Are you getting hungry yet? A great party is all about great food! Make sure you have options for everyone, and make sure to find out prior if anyone has food restrictions or allergies. You can even have the kids cupcakes wrapped individually if there are different ingredients for specific children.
I suggest having food that folks can help themselves to as it's less work for you so you can enjoy the fun! If there are a lot of children, I always suggest pizza, nuggets, and fries. For the adults, pizza, gyros, wraps, salads, with cheese and veggie platters. These can all be easily served with serving utensils. I also recommend personalized juice boxes or water for the kids. Have a sharpie next to the cooler so that you can write their name on it.
Consider Adding Entertainment
Depending on your group and how well the parents and children know each other, it could be a good idea to add-in some entertainment to help break the ice and keep the kids busy!
Some common ideas for a first birthday would be a puppet show, face painter, balloonist, DJ, inflatable, or character that makes an appearance. Even the adults will get a kick out of it, I promise!
Although I love to entertain at first birthdays, there's plenty of stuff you can do on your own to keep the kids entertained. Create a craft table for the kids to not only stay occupied but it's something nice for them to make a goody to bring home. Bubble wands, toys, party music, and food are also a great ways to keep the little ones busy on your own!
To favor, or not to favor
For a first birthday, the children are still young, and likely will be overwhelmed by the concept of the party–and that's okay. At this age, you can choose whether or not you'd like to give away a party favor. The children won't remember them, or know what's going on, and if you're looking for ways to lower the budget, then skip them.
Remember to keep it safe
If you do want to go ahead with a favor bag, consider a few things for this age. Many cheap toys you find online may present choking hazards for this age, so ensure the goodies you choose are age-appropriate. Avoid anything with a button battery that may cause a hazard if a child opened it unintentionally!
Some great and easy options are: bubble wands or tubes, store-bought treats like Annie's cheddar bunnies or graham cracker rabbits, or a scarf or simple musical instrument like a maraca.
And lastly, since you've gathered a bundle of tiny humans at your party, it's important to make sure the environment is safe for your guests. One of the most common ways parents decorate is with balloons and your little one will light up with curiosity if they haven't seen one before. While they are a great and easy decorative choice, it's important to ensure that balloons at your party are only used under adult supervision.
According to the CPSC "of all children's products, balloons are the leading cause of suffocation death, according to CPSC injury data. Accidents involving balloons tend to occur in two ways. Some children have sucked under-inflated balloons into their mouths, often while attempting to inflate them. The second kind of accident involves balloon pieces. Children have drawn pieces of broken balloons that they were playing with into their throats. These balloon pieces are easily sucked into the throat and lungs. Balloons mold to the throat and lungs and can completely block breathing." (CPSC Source)
While it's not the most fun part of planning a first birthday party, it is important to do everything you can to keep your guests safe at this age. "The CPSC does not believe that a completely inflated balloon presents a hazard to young children. If the balloon breaks, however, CPSC recommends that parents immediately collect the pieces of the broken balloon and dispose of them out of the reach of young children." (CPSC Source)
Remember to have some fun too!
Let us remind you. You child won't remember this party in a day, week or when they grow up, so don't stress yourself out or try and make it perfect. Even if you celebrate 3 weeks after their birthday at home as a family around the dinner table, that time together is most precious and special to them. Being present is much more important to a child than presents or tangible goods. So however grand or intimate your party becomes, remember to sit back, relax and have some fun for your child's first birthday! And congrats. You've made it to O-N-E!
Are you planning your child's first birthday party or have you celebrated a child's birthday recently? What theme did you choose and what was the best part? Leave a note in the comments below!
Dani Lauren has been entertaining and bringing smiles and fun to the young and old for over 25 years as a professional face painter, balloonist, puppeteer, and Children's entertainer. Visit her website to book if you're in the New York area.