Guide to parties for 1 to 4 year olds

What makes a great kids’ party? Mum-of-three Rachel Blackwell takes a year-by-year approach to the first four

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One and just begun

Let’s face it, when your baby turns 1, the party’s all about the grown-ups. Of course you’ll want to celebrate, but enjoy keeping it low-key and simple – any stress you feel will transmit radar-style to your baby. Stick to your daily routine and plan the celebrations around the times when she’s usually chirpiest, and gear the food to the adults who’ll appreciate it!

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Two and nearly new

Even when your baby reaches the ripe old age of 2, she may still be clueless about birthdays and could find a big celebration stressful.

I’m three, look at me!

Most 3 year olds will really enjoy a party – the bigger the better. You don’t have to push the boat out, but hiring a hall is a great option if you want to avoid
your house being trashed! Enlist the help of other mums to do toilet duty or make tea while you concentrate on the children.

Traditional party games are perfect at this age, but keep them short. If space and helpers allow, run two games simultaneously so the ‘losers’ aren’t waiting.

Fancy-dress parties are great, but spare a thought for the mums. It’s fine if your child has the appropriate costume but otherwise it’s a real headache!
If your child insists on a theme, such as pirates or princesses, make appropriate
hats and swords for them – it’s surprisingly easy with paint, glue and cereal packets.

Four and fabulous

A two-hour party for a whole nursery or school class is more likely at this age. Ask the class teacher for a list of pupils to avoid missing anyone out – I did
this once, only weeks after my child had been to their party and I was mortified.

Professional entertainers can reduce your work-load, but they don’t come cheap. More economical is a couple of child-friendly teens, if you can find them. Four is usually the age when parents make a bid for freedom, dropping off their children at the party, but make sure you have their contact details and that there’s a decent ratio of adults to children.

You can’t beat traditional party food, but don’t feel that everything’s got to be home-cooked. Ready-made pizza and sausage rolls are quick, easy and tasty.

A big party does mean piles and piles of presents, so make a note of who brought what so you can thank them later. Put away anything inappropriate or duplicated and recycle for another party – that way no-one’s money is wasted and the toy goes to a good home.

Mums’ stories:

“We made it through”

“Last week we threw a party to celebrate the fact that we’d made it through the first year! We were the first of our friends to have a baby and they’ve been fantastically supportive, so I did a traditional afternoon tea to say thank you.”

Melissa, 29, mum to Sam, 1

“I forgot her cake”

“I got so wound up about organising Holly’s party that I forgot the cake “It was only when everyone left and Thomas asked why we hadn’t sung Happy Birthday that I realised.”

Janine, 36, mum to Timmy, 6, and Hannah, 2

“Never again!”

“When it’s time to eat, sit the little ones down on a sheet on the floor and keep party games simple, such as pass the parcel. I tried to get seven children under  3 to play musical chairs at my son’s party. Never again. It was utter carnage, with most of them in tears on the floor!”

Carly, 29, mum to Chloe, 5, and Nicky, 2

“Let them colour”

 “Cover the tea table with lining paper and leave some crayons out. It’s a good way to entertain children who’re finding the games too much and it also keeps them occupied while you’re organising the food. “

Samantha, 34, mum to Amelia, 4

“Home-made hell”

“I’ll never forget Andrew’s fourth birthday. For some bizarre reason I felt it was essential everything was home-made.  My husband couldn’t see the sense of it all. Result: huge row, floods of tears and 20 minutes before the party started I was still locked in the bathroom mumbling about a divorce. Luckily Andrew didn’t even notice!”

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Veronica, 41, mum to Kobe, 6, and Andrew, 5

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