by Gina Vera
Aaron Parks distinctly remembers the party thrown for his seventh birthday. The guests came in costume and it had a Halloween theme, since his birthday falls close to the holiday. Parks remembers this party because it went above and beyond the usual cake, ice cream and a piñata.
While traditional parties with cake, ice cream and piñatas are fun, putting in the effort to make a child’s birthday party unique and take it beyond the usual pays off in long-lasting memories for both parents and children.
Jennifer Wheat has planned children’s parties for five years. She started in the field of event planning as a flower shop owner and wedding planner, and then added children’s party-planning services. “I started planning the children’s parties after seeing the need.”
Make it Memorable
Wheat’s approach to children’s parties is to make them memorable and amazing by paring down the size and focusing on the details. “My parties were a lot more detailed and upscale,” she says. She looked at all the traditional aspects of a birthday party and found ways to infuse them with unique and special details.
Area mother of three, Sheryl Connor Sepulveda took the same approach to her oldest daughter’s seventh birthday party and even now, with the birthday girl in college, Sepulveda remembers it as one she is especially proud of, and her children agree that it was an event to remember.
That was the year Sepulveda threw a tea party for her oldest daughter Sophie. It was the detail with which everything was done that made the event so special, Sepulveda says. Guests came dressed in their prettiest dresses, while Sophie and her sister Sydney wore tea-party inspired pinafore dresses. As part of the entertainment, the children decorated their own party hats. Even the refreshments continued the theme. “Each of the girls received their own teacup-shaped cupcake and the “tea kettle” was a larger cake,” recalls Sepulveda.
For Sophie and Sydney the party brings back many happy memories. “What I loved the most about my tea party was the extravagance and detail of it all,” says Sophie. “Every teacup cake was perfectly frosted. My unique party dress was fashioned to match the bow in my hair, and the general vibe was that of class and sophistication at a level that every little girl dreams her tea party will have.”
“Despite the fact that I was only 5 or 6 years old at the time, it’s one of the most memorable parties we have had,” says Sydney, who begins college this fall.
The fact that the Sepulvedas have such strong memories of Sophie’s party fits Wheat’s theory. While it is more work and takes more time to go beyond a piñata and create an event filled with special details and real elements, it can be worth it. “The children recognize the difference,” says Wheat. “And it is really remarkable for a kid. Once you put the ideas into the kids’ minds they really get into it.
Pulling from her years of experience, Wheat offers several suggestions on how parents can create a party for their children. She suggests parents look for party supply items that make the event more real for the children. “Don’t use plastic when you can use the real thing. Instead of plastic cups and plastic tablecloths, use real teacups or glasses and cloth tablecloths,” says Wheat.
And definitely start early. “If you start early you can search out great things,” she says. To find these real items, Wheat suggests parents search through thrift, and dollar stores. “You can find great Victorian items at thrift stores,” she says, and inexpensive but real supplies at dollar stores.
Wheat also advises parents to search the Internet for activities, crafts and games that fit the theme of the party. And, don’t be afraid to get creative and take an idea for an activity, craft or game and adapt it to your party theme. A treasure hunt could also be a spy mission or a knight’s quest. A hunt for prizes through a bale of hay for a farm- or cowboy-themed party could turn into a hunt for prizes through a sandbox for a beach party. “You can take a concept and do it any way you want,” says Wheat.
And since all of this work, time and creativity should not go to waste at the end of the party, Wheat suggests that parents share or pass on party supplies and ideas to friends. Sharing also helps with the cost of the party.
Hiring entertainers can also be an option. They can be a way to supplement the activities and games parents have already put together. In San Antonio, parents can choose from a wide variety of entertainment including petting zoos that would work with cowboy or farm themes, clowns and magicians that could be used for circus- or entertainment-themed parties, mobile tea parties and super heroes.
Parents can develop the superhero theme by inviting all the guests to wear their own superhero costumes to the event. “There is a large demand for party entertainers, and there are a wide variety of characters to match some of the popular children’s themes,” says Luis Sepulveda, a San Antonio party entertainer.
Local party entertainer Luis Sepulveda (no relation to Sheryl Sepulveda) thinks the key to throwing a memorable party is the attention to detail and interaction. “To create a great experience, an entertainer needs to do more than show up in costume. It is important to work with parents prior to the party to get the birthday child and others involved in the appearance,” he says. The party planner says he usually performs a skit where his character has to take down one of his arch-enemies with the help of the birthday boy or girl. “In this way the attention goes back to the child,” he says.
Wheat says parents can even please their technology-loving children with a mobile gaming trailer. There are several companies in the San Antonio area that offer these services.
Wheat’s top five tips for throwing a great children’s birthday party are centered on detail and good manners.
1. Be sure to have plenty of space for children to move around.
“You have to remember that they are children and children like to run around and play,” Wheat says. Outside is usually preferable to inside, weather permitting, she advises.
2. Take time on the invitations.
Invitations should be personalized for each of the guests, fit the theme of the party and, when possible they should be three dimensional. For example, she says, a message in a bottle can be used for a beach- or a pirate-themed party. The attention to the invitation pays off in party attendance. An amazing invitation creates interest, Wheat says. Guests automatically know that the event is going to be different and want to attend.
3. Limit the number of guests to eight or 10 children.
Any more than eight or 10 and cost and time involved in creating the detail needed become too great. “The idea is quality over quantity,” Wheat says. And since you will send out a great invitation those who are invited are more likely to attend.
4. Keep the kids active and send them home with something they created.
Having the kids make something they can take with them keeps them busy and happy at the party and is a great alternative to a generic goody bag filled with candy and plastic toys.
5. Take as much time on the thank-you cards as you did on the invitations.
Gina Vera is a freelance writer and mother of one.