There is also a version of this post over at chocolate and peanut butter.
I'm a research kind of gal. I love to research, its actualizing things that gives me problems. I looked at many, many books on birthday parties -- themes, games, decorating. I found two books -- one was some book by Family Fun magazine, it had a suggestion for baking cupcakes in ice cream cones (cake cones). It said you can bake them right in the cones, simply add the batter about halfway up the cone and then bake them in muffin tins to hold the cones upright. I did not attempt this feat but may at some future date.
The other book I enjoyed was by the perennial girlfriend, Vicki Iovine (with Peg Rosen, who probably did the writing). This book had lots of great tips, mainly because the authors took a very realistic approach to the whole subject. From this book, I took advice about goody bags and went with a sandpail as the container. I also added stickers, a baby sandpail (an Oriental Trading misrepresentation. Dimensions for sandpails may be up to an inch off and are measured with the handle up, apparently), and a little beachball. Vicki is anti-pinata and spoke my mind when she asked why anyone would blindfold a child, give them a bat, and send them out swinging in the middle of a pack of over-excited kids.
Our party was pretty simple. I'm an 'un' so I'm not into micromanaging things. I'll put craft stuff out, but I don't really want to tell kids what to do with the supplies, I'd rather let them decide. However, I realize this isn't always the best approach, especially at a party where kids might be a bit overwhelmed in a crowd of kids they may or may not know very well. They seemed glad for the distraction and direction. I mentioned over at choc&pb that I put out paper lunch bags, googly eyes and other materials so the kids could make puppets. I'm not sure how many of them actually did that, though I think more did than I had realized. There was also a 'bookmark-making' station where the kids could put stickers on strips of paper. Again, this gave the kids something to do, a pint-sized 'ice-breaker' if you will. I was really hoping for good weather for an outdoor party, so these were pretty lame offerings. There are plenty of craft books, magazines, and website that have cool ideas.
There was also free-play outside with bubbles and sidewalk chalk and wagon rides and an open playhouse in the backyard. We had the obligatory cake and 'frost your own' cupcakes (I ran out of time making the frosting and didn't have time to frost them). I completely forgot about ice cream -- I forgot to buy it even though I had meant to and I never even noticed until an hour after the party ended. Suzanne still hasn't noticed the absence of ice cream.
Good things about the party:
--frost your own cupcakes. This was a hit, probably because kids love being given choices (chocolate or vanilla frosting) and responsibility (I can spread that myself). And they love sugar. Note to self: have a bigger area and seating for all the kids next year. Expansion possibilities: decorate your own cupcake with decorator icing in tubes, sprinkles or other candies.
--snack bags. At Michael's, I had bought some colorful mini paper bags. I filled these with popcorn and thought this worked out well for a snack as opposed to having large bowls filled with munchies. Each child was able to grab a bag and go off wherever while still munching the snack (i.e. it got them out of my kitchen). I'll have to remember this for future parties.
--kids love crafts and flock to them, but I think they also like some direction. Next year, find a cool (time-consuming) craft and get all the supplies necessary.
--DH being the MC of games
-- DD was happy with party
Bad things about the party:
--confusion for mom -- part of this was the unpredicatable weather, was this an indoor or outdoor party? Better preparation would cut down on confusion.
--flustered mom moving furniture to make room causing 2 1/2 year old to fall and bleed. Ice fixes everything but I'm still upset.
--dead time after the cake. This would have been an ideal time for present-opening, but I can't handle the consumer frenzy and confusion. She opened her gifts after the party, quietly, enjoying each of them as long as she wanted without being urged to 'hurry up' and open more. Also, the peacefulness of the activity allowed me time to write down what gift came from whom and note anything cute Suzanne might have said that I can include in the thank-you note.
The after-cake dead time would have been a good time to play a game but the MC was still busy icing and calming the bloody 2 year-old. Also, the kids had scattered around the house. Dunno, I'm all for quiet times to sit and hang out and talk, but maybe thats not a good thing at a child's birthday party.
Ideas for next year:
--off-site party, perhaps on a cruise ship to the bahamas
--additional 'make your own' station for the parents with various kinds of alcohol, mixers, shot glasses, and those shaker things.