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20 Tips for a Top-Notch Party

Simple ideas to help you plan an awesome shebang

As a mom of three sons, I have frequently taken on the role of party planner. I've hosted (or been involved in) every type of party imaginable, from a shindig featuring a wading pool full of bubbles to a dinosaur party complete with a stuffed animal/dinosaur parade to the tune of "Baby Elephant Walk" – and the darkest memory of all: A costume party where a naive young mother invited the entire soccer team!

Since then, I've learned a few things – the most important being, keep the focus on fun. With this in mind, here are 20 tried-and-true party planning ideas to help you stay on track when planning your next birthday event.

1. Have your child included in the party planning.

2. Pick your party date, place and time as early as you can.

3. Choosing a theme helps put a focus on the party.

4. How many guests should you invite? One more than the birthday child's age. If your child is turning six, invite seven friends!

5. Don't send the invitations to school. Unless you're planning to invite the entire kindergarten, it's better to mail invitations to the select few.

6. About a week before the big day, call those guests who haven't RSVP'd and find out if they're coming.

7. Set boundaries. Let your guests know that the "party zone" is your family room or the backyard.

8. How long is too long? Preschoolers are good for about two hours, and school-age kids can party for three to four hours. Anything longer is just asking for trouble.

9. Be flexible! It really doesn't matter if the kids eat the cake before the clown comes.

10. Don't overdo. One magician or inflatable is plenty. Too many things going on at one time is overwhelming to young children (and you, too!).

11. Be certain to ask some parents to stay. This way, you'll have extra adults to help oversee the party. Make sure you have enough cake and beverages to accommodate your adult guests. You can also consider hiring a babysitter to give you an extra hand.

12. Keep the food simple. In a recent poll, the food of choice for kids was pizza. No need to spend hours on anything more complicated.

13. If you're planning games for guests under the age of 5, stay away from games that have clear winners and losers. It's more important for the kids to have fun. Everyone can be a winner.

14. Allow about 45 minutes for opening the presents. Have a large trash bag handy to capture all the wrappings and other garbage.

15. Save time and trouble by writing the child's name on their party bag ahead of time.

16. Warn grandparents in advance that you're having a house full of kids.

17. Take it easy and enjoy. You'll be planning another party in just 364 short days!

18. Remember, kids just want to spend time together. It really doesn't matter to them how much the party costs or how much time you spent planning it.

19. Have a back-up plan, in case some of the parents are late in picking up their child. It would be great to have a DVD to pop in or some other easy activity to keep the kids busy.

20. Don't forget the thank-you notes. Photos taken of the party guest with your child make a nice remembrance. Your child can write a short note on the reverse side of the picture.

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