Take 15 kids, add lollies, a couple of stray siblings and mix them all up in a jumpy castle and what have you got? A party, that’s what.
1. The venue
Even if the last party your child went to was waterfront and over three levels, don’t be put off having a home party. Kids have fun anywhere, so long as you provide the party staples of lots of games, lollies and prizes.
If you are restricted on space at home, head outside to a favourite local park, preferably with cover in case it rains. If the weather is bad, you can always reschedule.
Survival: Use the money you would have spent on a party venue on a party fairy, magician, Spiderman or a bouncy castle.
2. The booty
Just how much plastic tat should you send into other people’s homes, while meeting your party guests’ expectations for good party booty? This also raises questions about whether you should include presents in each pass-the-parcel layer and provide prizes for everyone in the games, not just the last standing statue.
Convention says everyone’s a winner, but you can be less democratic if you choose. Just be warned: a rabble of sugar-fuelled under-nines demanding prizes can be a scary prospect!
Survival: Rubber balls, about $3 each, are a good idea for prizes, as are bubble blowers, silly pencils, stamps, individual gel pens, small notebooks and, for the girls, hair accessories. Try stickers in the pass-the-parcel layers rather than chocolates, lollies or small toys.
3. The cake
Never does the principle of KISS (keep it simple, stupid) apply so well as in the arena of the birthday cake. It’s something we do just a handful of times a year, so practice doesn’t make perfect. For this reason, steer clear of anything involving toothpicks, tracing paper or cake tins in the shape of soccer balls.
Make a slab cake and create a theme on your rectangle canvas. Other cakes with a slightly higher degree of difficulty, but which still work, are the round swimming pool cakes filled with jelly, the Barbie or Bratz doll plunged waist-deep into a cake made from a dolly varden tin, or the donut croquembouche, made by stacking mini donuts into a pyramid shape.
Survival: Buy slabs of sponges at the supermarket, layer them up and slather in cream and crumbled flake, or decorate them with butter icing (bought, of course) and lots of lollies.
4. The games
They might be better at operating the DVD than you, but kids are old-fashioned at heart, especially where party games are concerned. Pass-the-parcel is expected at almost any age, although the three-year-olds need help with the "passing" nature of the game.
Musical statues, musical chairs, "Pin the tail on the donkey", "What’s the time, Mr Wolf?", "Simon says..." and chasing games are chaotic, but fun.
A quiz works for all ages and what kid doesn’t like trying to eat donuts on a string? Have an icebreaker that kids can join in as soon as they arrive, such as the chocolate-eating game involving a bar of chocolate, a dice, gloves and a knife and fork. Or have a craft table so that they can decorate their own lolly bags.
Survival: Head to your local park for a game of soccer or rounders.
5. The food
It's at the food table that size does matter, and for kids' parties, small is good. Go for mini-pizzas, mini-hot dogs, party pies, sausage rolls and hamburgers on tiny rolls.
For older kids, you could have pizza delivered to wherever you are or have a simple barbecue. Fairy bread and lolly bags for the under-10s are expected, and pinatas are becoming a key party event, too.
Survival: Write down which food, games and tips worked, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when you do it all again next year!