14 tips for a first birthday party

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA A first birthday is tricky, you know, because you can't focus on the child's age. So you can't plan party games because they'll most likely be too old for some of the kids and too young for the others; but you can't have no games at all because then you'll have a lot of bored kids (and nobody wants that).

Same goes for food: you've got to cater to the adults AND the kids. You've got to plan around nap times, and factor in the limitations on your time and energy when it comes to cooking and cleaning and being the perfect host in general.

We had planned a picnic for Ralph's first birthday, and figured we'd order in pizza and have some cakes and slices made and that it would all be super easy and super fun. I intended to hang paper lanterns from the trees, and put out croquet and petanque for the adults, with bouncy balls and bubbles and - let's face it - a whole playground for the kids. Easy, right? But three days before the party, the forecast was for heavy rain and 30 kilometre winds, and we had to make an emergency dash to an indoor venue instead, so everything changed.

Here's what I learned.

1. Get creative with the invitations. If you want to do something similar to ours (above), you can buy one beautifully laid out and designed by Particular Paper. By the time I found this design it was too late to order the invitations, so I painted my own. Not as pretty, but the personal touch was there!

2. Arancini balls. Everyone loves them! The mums and dads, the babies, even the fussy toddlers! Make or order loads and loads. Ours were even more popular than the mini burgers and fries

3. If you live in Melbourne, don't plan a picnic unless you have a really good wet-weather option

And on that…

4. Before you hire out an expensive "kids' party cafe," or book a community hall months in advance only to find yourself having to lug everything there on the day and then clean up for hours after… talk to your own local cafes to find out if they have a back room or an upstairs area you can use. We moved the 'picnic' to upstairs at the Paragon, and it was a fantastic venue (plus no room hire fee, and we were packed up and out of there half an hour after the party ended)

5. Music. It doesn't really matter what because once the party gets going you won't hear it, but music makes the room feel like a party when people first start arriving

6. If you find yourself short of children's entertainment (for example if you'd planned on having the entire resources of a park at your disposal and instead found yourselves locked indoors with a bunch of sugar-hyped toddlers), face paint and balloons are a great fall-back. I called We Love Facepainting literally a day before the party, and they sent the beautiful Julia who spent the entire party making balloon animals and painting faces (plus she had a Working With Children check and public liability insurance). We had kids at our party ranging in age from 10 months to 12 years, and everyone was happy without me needing to provide any games

7. Themed parties are great, but sometimes they're more trouble than they're worth. I THOUGHT about making Very Hungry Caterpillar cupcakes and fruit and lollipops… but it all got too much for me. Instead, I chose a sunny colour scheme of orange and yellow and let that guide my decor, and that was enough to pull everything together

8. Pick one thing to create "wow factor" in the room decorations. I chose giant balloons and made tassels for them (then I failed to put enough helium inside the balloons and they kind of sat weirdly on the table instead of floating up high on long strings, which I actually thought was kind of cool), and ordered some more balloons filled with confetti, which the kids all LOVED

9. Use your fancy china plates and cake-stands for the dessert table. Give it height, give it interest. That will make things look special, and you can still make do with paper plates and cups (to save on washing up!) for the rest of the party

10. A croquembouche birthday cake may seem like a good idea at the time, but too much toffee and that baby will be impossible to dismantle and pass around. Just sayin'

11. Be prepared for a LOT of presents. A first birthday often involves a lot of adult friends, many more than are likely to come along to any subsequent birthday parties, and suddenly you'll find yourself needing a "present table" and it will look like Santa came early

12. Related to the above, consider a toy cull in the lead-up to the party. Use this as an excuse to give away or throw away all those soft toys and teething rings and rattles that your baby doesn't use any more

13. Do the whole wedding thing and make a note of who gave your baby what gifts, so you can properly thank them later.

14. Give the party an end time. Not only does that politely protect you from folks who are prone to linger (after all, you have a baby who is probably in desperate need of a nap), it also gives people a sense of what to expect and how they can plan their day without finding it dominated by your party

(Photos are mostly from before the party, just to give you an idea of our simple, picnic-adapted decorations, because I didn't want to show other people's children and almost every picture included someone else's child. It was a good party that way!)

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That's all I've got for now. Have fun!

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