9 Tips for Creating a Birthday Party Adventure for Your Child
Tired of uninspired activities and overpriced commercial venues?
Create a party that’s an adventure, right at home.
In this article I’ll show you how to choose an imaginative theme, transform your home or yard into a birthday party wonderland and transport partygoers to another time and place, all to celebrate your awesome kid.
It’s not as hard as you may think.
Why Plan a Birthday Party Adventure?
Every day with kids is an adventure, but their birthdays are extra-special, so give them a fun day to remember with their friends.
An adventure birthday takes all of the party elements that kids know and love (cake, presents and fun times with friends) and adds something extra: It’s a story, a show, a custom-made extravaganza with your child in the starring role. Who wouldn’t love that for their birthday?
Kids grow up way too fast! So now is the time to give them the gift of an unforgettable birthday adventure!
You may be intimidated at the thought of planning a blowout birthday party.
Don’t worry! I’ll share some tips for keeping it simple, inexpensive and fun.
The first tip? Plan early!
Start thinking about your child’s next birthday party now. If you choose a birthday party theme early (months in advance), you can shop for seasonal or holiday items throughout the year.
Planning a Harry Potter party next spring? Shop the after-Halloween sales for broomsticks, a sorting hat and cauldrons. Does your child want a survival party in the middle of winter? Be sure to pick up some tiki torches and luau party gear at the family dollar store this summer.
More on choosing the perfect theme, below.
What goes into putting together a fabulous birthday adventure?
The nine elements below add up to an awesome birthday party at home, but you don’t have to use them all, and you don’t have to have your party at home.
If you’ve already booked the bowling alley or your child really wants to go to laser tag, that’s ok! Pick and choose the ideas below that fit your family and add a little extra oomph to your celebration.
Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be fun!
What’s the secret to a sensational birthday party?
Choose an adventure that you and the birthday child both love—something exciting that stretches your imaginations, so the party planning becomes part of the fun.
How do you choose a theme?
First, observe your kids year-round and try to see what makes them tick. Is there an interest that sticks for more than a few weeks? Do they love animals or a particular series or genre of books or media? Might be a good theme for a party.
Be creative and open to unusual ideas. How about a party based on a color, a food or an article of clothing, like hats? We once had a party based on the letter “B.”
Next, ask your kids what they’d like. Their immediate response will probably be whatever movie, TV show or video game is being marketed to them at the moment, but try to dig a little deeper. If they say “Transformers,” suggest something broader, like a party where you can make all kinds of robots.
Keep the theme non-commercial to expand your options and to open up kids’ own imaginations. A party based on a video game or a cartoon character limits the realm of possibility to the known universe of that character.
Suggest more general but related themes. When my boys were little, one asked for Bob the Builder. We had a construction party. The other wanted Finding Nemo. It became an ‘underwater world.’ Survivor became ‘shipwrecked on a desert island.’ Are your kids crazy for Frozen? Try a ‘winter wonderland’ or ‘everything is ice’ party.
Still stumped for a theme? Check out my favorite site for birthday party ideas.
Choose your theme long before your child’s birthday, and you can keep your eyes open for party ideas all year ’round.
#2: Story (a.k.a., the Plan)
You’ve got a fantastic theme. Now it’s time to plan your production. (Remember, you’re putting on a show with the birthday kid at center stage!)
Brainstorm with your child, search the Internet and look around the house for things that could support your theme as decorations, costumes, games or activities (more on each of these, below).
Write down all of the ideas you like and put them into a computer file. You’ll narrow it down later when you write the storyline.
Walk around the party site and figure out how it could be transformed into your theme world. Note where you have space to do different activities. Got a piñata? You’ll need a tree or patio cover with lots of room around it.
As you write your storyline, choose which games and decorations fit into your party and which don’t. Figure out the order of events. Use your site plan to decide the order and location for different activities.
Determine areas where you’ll need help. Recruit friends or relatives, parents of guests or hire a teenager from the neighborhood to give you a hand with your birthday party adventure.
Invitations are the first indication of your adventure party theme to the guests. They introduce the story and set the stage for your adventure!
Either create your own invitations or use a site like Evite that includes an area to type in your own text. Pre-printed invitations may be too limiting, since they usually only have space for date/time/place information.
Plan some time the week before your party to call guests who don’t RSVP. This is especially important if you sent the invitations with your child to distribute to friends at school. They sometimes don’t make it out of the backpack and into the parents’ hands!
Even if you get a fairly accurate guest count, it’s a good idea to prepare a couple of extra costumes, party favors, etc., just in case.
One of the easiest ways to pull each guest into the world you’re creating for your party is to put him or her into a costume and hand over some props.
Costumes can be simple and inexpensive, but they make a big impact. Extra-large men’s undershirts cut down the front become lab coats for a science party, chef’s jackets or hairdresser coats for a makeover party. Turkey roasting pans plus duct tape become shields for young knights.
Oriental Trading sells inexpensive hats, neckerchiefs and accessories for lots of different themes.
Watch for opportunities to include realistic elements. My son, newly five and ready for a “big boy” haircut, was given a buzz cut at his army-themed party by his “drill sergeant” dad. The guests were shocked!
Include a check-in table at your party, where guests don costumes and drop off birthday presents. You may want to give them nametags, too. Nametags help if you’ll be dividing the kids into teams for any of the activities—mark the nametags before the party starts.
Nametags are a fun way to give kids theme-related nicknames. If any of your games require scorecards, print them on the back of the nametags.
Set up a photo booth or backdrop with some fun props and direct kids there as soon as they’re in their costumes.
Recruit one of the other parents to take a photo of each guest in costume. Be sure to get their pictures taken immediately: The costumes are bound to get lost, disheveled, or destroyed as soon as the kids start to play.
Be sure to have someone take a family photo and some pictures of the birthday kid before the festivities get started.
Let guests take home their costumes and props as party favors. It’s a great way to make the adventure last long after the party.
Decorations help create the world where your birthday party adventure takes place. The bigger, bolder and more colorful, the better.
Search Pinterest or birthday party planning sites for creative ways to set the stage.
Use real-life stuff from around the house. Have your kids search through their toys and old Halloween costumes for decorations and props.
Check out secondhand stores, dollar stores or post-holiday sales to get theme-based accessories at great prices.
#6: Games and Activities
Games and activities are what make the birthday party a true adventure. With a little thought, you and your child can turn many well-known, traditional games into part of your birthday story.
Start with a gathering activity, a game or craft for kids to do as other guests arrive. Have the birthday child or a volunteer helper lead this activity, since you’ll be busy greeting the guests and handing out costumes.
Plan 3-4 games that build upon your party’s story. Scavenger hunts are a great way to support the theme. “Train” a new group of recruits with an obstacle course. This works for many different types of parties. Piñatas can represent a foe your guests must defeat.
With a large bunch of kids, it’s helpful to separate them into groups that rotate between different activities. Recruit a volunteer to manage each station as the kids rotate through.
Be flexible about the games and activities. Some will work, some could fizzle. Some may be so popular the kids want to keep playing far beyond the time you allotted.
You may never get to some of the activities you planned. Or the kids may get through everything much faster than expected. Be sure to have a couple of extra activities ready in your pocket, just in case.
The fun is more important than the agenda.
It’s fun (but entirely optional) to choose snacks and dishes that support your party theme.
Check Pinterest for cute food art ideas.
Think outside the kitchen for creative serving ideas. How about a fishbowl full of blue Jello, a new, clean toolbox to serve chips, an artist’s palate platter or a plastic dump truck full of fruit salad?
Birthday cakes can be made for any theme you can imagine. Work with your bakery to create a fun cake or make your own. Search online for easy birthday cake ideas.
Tip: When buying party plates and napkins, just buy one package of the fancy-design ones and mix them together with much cheaper solid-color ones.
Set your party hours based on the amount of food you want to provide. It’s a lot more work and money to provide lunch or dinner than just snacks and cake. 1:00-3:00 pm or 2:00-4:00 pm work well.
Extend the adventure beyond the party with favors that fit your theme.
Bigger is better with party favors. Buy one or two larger items and a few treats instead of a bag full of little tiny gizmos. Give your guests something they’ll actually play with later on.
Include a few treats that support your theme: beef jerky for a knight or survival party, ring pops for a princess or pirate party.
The party costumes and props are the best takeaway gifts of all. Parents may tell you that their kids still dress up, weeks later. One child played with his pool noodle sword so much that his dad bought the supplies and made more for his siblings.
It’s important to teach kids to write thank-you notes. Thank-you notes help kids practice penmanship, and give them a sense of appreciation and a grateful attitude for the gifts they received.
Try this rule: You’re allowed to play with a birthday gift only after you’ve written the thank-you note to the person who gave it to you.
Use the photos of the birthday guests in their costumes as the thank-you notes. Some photo printing services have “thank-you” borders you can include on photos before they’re printed. Or create your own border with programs like PicMonkey, Canva or Photoshop. Print the pictures and have your child write personal notes right on the back.
When the party winds down and the guests have left, put the food in the fridge, grab a couple of trash bags and talk to your child about the party while you clean up together. Ask what went well and not so well and what could be done differently next time.
Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be fun!
Some Final Thoughts…
I hope your kids enjoy their birthday party adventures, make lots of memories and know that they’re very special on their birthdays and every day.
What do you think? What theme will you choose for your birthday party adventure? Have you planned a party like this before? Please tell us about it or post a picture below.
Jennifer Ballard is the associate editor for My Kids’ Adventures where her past experience as a Cubmaster, birthday party entrepreneur, marketing writer and mom of two boys fits together and finds relevance. Other posts by Jennifer Ballard »