How to Have a Successful Preschool Birthday Party

For many kids, their birthday is their favorite day of the year. And why not? It is a day dedicated entirely to them—complete with cake, balloons, singing, and presents.

Although parents sometimes stress over the idea of planning a birthday party, the preschool age is actually an ideal time to throw one. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you keep your sanity while ensuring that everyone has a good time.

Think About Themes

Whether your preschooler loves trucks, princesses, Dora, or Paw Patrol, chances are you can find birthday party goodies that span the spectrum. But, it's not just about decorations. Popular characters lend themselves to other facets of the celebration, like party games, food, and crafts.

At a Dora party, for instance, you can set up an adventure course and make an animal mask. Or, for a train-themed party you could serve up sandwiches cut from train-shaped cookie cutters.

And if you are so inclined, the big finale can be when the birthday child's favorite character shows up. No matter where you hold the party, the theme is something your child is going to want to be involved with, so make sure to get their input.

Make Details Age-Appropriate

When planning a preschool birthday party—from activities to goody bag treats—make your choices with preschoolers in mind. If you have invited a wide range of ages, focus on the age of the birthday child.

As for how many kids to invite, use your child's age as a guide: one child for every year, plus two. So if your child is turning four, try to keep the guest list at six children.

Age also plays an important role in setting the theme and deciding where to have your party. Some younger children might be more comfortable at home, while others enjoy visiting a familiar, fun location, such as a children's museum or park.

Some kids enjoy active parties, like those hosted at a gym or bowling alley, while others will be more interested in a dress-up party at a local salon. The key is to make sure the venue and activities are age-appropriate and something your child would enjoy.

Organize Activities

Spontaneity is always fun, but for a preschool birthday, scheduling—with some wiggle room—is the way to go. Try planning activities over a short timespan, such as every 10 to 15 minutes. And if you have anything special planned, do it before the cake, a surefire sign that the soiree is winding down.

Remember, simple is best when you are dealing with young children with short attention spans.

If you can, avoid activities where kids have to wait for their turn, especially if there are lots of other kids at the party. Think bubbles, coloring pages, freeze dance, or even a craft station, complete with clay, paper, glue, and other assorted items that kids can create with.

Having at least one adult helper for each activity is usually a good idea, as well. You can talk to the parents of your guests about helping out or you can ask friends or family members to assist you. Even teens in the neighborhood might want to supervise some games or craft stations.

Set a Start and End Time

When using a venue for a birthday party, you usually have a set start time and end time. But it's just as important to provide guests a beginning and ending time if you are having a party at home.

Leaving the party open-ended could confuse guests and keep them from planning for the rest of the day. It also could mean that you are left trying to wrangle a group of preschoolers for longer than you intended.

Generally, parties for kids under age 5 should last about 90 minutes. The maximum time for a preschool party is about two hours, tops. If you are having parents drop their kids off at the party, make sure they know what time they need to return to get their child.

Create Invitations

An invitation should include all the basics—address, date, time, and the guest of honor's name—but there are other important nuggets of information that your guests' parents may be wondering about.

Indicate if a child should be dropped off or if you would prefer an adult to stay. Dropping off usually begins around age 5 or 6, but it's still a good idea to let your preference be known. If parents do leave their children, get a phone number where they can be reached in case there are any problems.

Also, note if you are serving food so people know if they need to feed their kids. Communicate the menu in case some of your guests have food allergies or sensitivities. Include an RSVP date, and don't feel funny about following up with a phone call if you don't hear back.

Choose the Location

If you don't have the room or the inclination to host the party at home, there are plenty of places you can go instead. But if you are not hosting your party at home, plan to book this type of party several months in advance, if possible.

Good places fill up quickly, especially those that can only host one party at a time. If you choose to avoid the pre-planned party route such as Build-A-Bear or bowling, consider a privately owned recreation or community room. Even your local daycare center can be a good choice. You may even be able to hire some staff members to help with the party.

Book the Entertainment

When hiring an entertainer for your child's party—whether you have it in your home or another location—ask key questions like how long their performance is, how much space they need, and if they will be in costume. Some companies have their performers change costumes mid-party, which can be confusing for young children.

If cost is a factor and hiring a professional doesn't fit into your budget, check at your local high school. You might find some members of the drama club who would be willing to perform or dress in costume. You also might be able to hire art students who could do some face painting.

Set the Menu

Pizza is on the menu of many preschool parties, but it certainly isn't the only option. Chicken nuggets, small sandwiches, vegetables and dip, and fruit are all kid favorites that are easy to prepare and likely to please adult guests, too. If your child and/or guests are 4 years old or under, be aware of choking hazards.

The reality is, this is probably one area you don't have to worry about spending a lot of money. Chances are your pint-sized guests won't eat that much, especially with all the excitement of the day.

Bake or Buy the Cake

Talk to your child about what they would like. A cake is a good option, but so are cupcakes, ice cream sundaes, cake pops, ice cream sandwiches, or even cookies.

You can incorporate the theme—if you have one—by baking your own cake and decorating it with small toys. Or, local bakeries, grocery stores, and many big-box retailers like Costco, Sam's Club, or BJ's can also make theme cakes to order.

You may even want to let your young guests get in on the act.​ Bake a bunch of cupcakes, put out icing, sprinkles, and other decorations, and let them get to work creating a culinary masterpiece.

Pick Out Fun Favors

Hand out goody bags at the end, as the children leave, to reduce the chance of lost items or misunderstandings. There are plenty of options for favors related to your theme, such as small toys, stickers, notepads, craft supplies, and more at all different price points.

No matter what type of party your child may be having, drink cups also are popular favors. They serve a dual purpose, because you can use them at the party and then send them home with the guests.

If you aren't thrilled with the idea of buying a bunch of small toys, consider buying one item, like a shovel and pail, a book, or a coloring book with and crayons, for each guest. Make sure whatever you choose is clearly labeled with the child's name.

Prepare for Presents

Presents can be a highlight of the special day. If you decide to open them during the festivities, you may need to coach your child a little. If your child gets a duplicate or something they do not like, make sure they understand not to announce it to the world. Toys and gifts should also stay in their boxes to avoid losing pieces.

When all is said and done, be sure to mail—not email—thank-you notes. This job will most likely fall on you, but your child can certainly practice ​good manners by drawing a picture or writing their name (if this is something they are capable of doing).

A Word From Verywell

Whether you host a party at a popular venue or organize a small, intimate gathering with only family members, it is important to plan a party that fits your child's age, interests, and temperament. Create a celebration that they will enjoy, that fits your budget, and that does not cause you undue stress.

Knowing your child's expectations ahead of time can help you put together an event that suits their personality. With thoughtful planning and a little creativity, you can host a party that is meaningful and fun for your child without putting too much pressure on yourself or your wallet.

By Amanda Rock
Amanda Rock, mom of three, has spent more than a decade of her professional career writing and editing for parents and children.