Party On

Parents control the scale of kids' parties

Published on March 30, 2010
Party On

Heather Long, mother of Rhiannon, 5, and Kaylee Peddle, 1, remembers the parties of her childhood as small, home-based events with homemade treats.

"We would go to the birthday kid's house and play some games, (like) pass the parcel, musical chairs. The food, cake and cookies were always homemade. Typically there would have been six or eight kids present."

Heather Long, mother of Rhiannon, 5, and Kaylee Peddle, 1, remembers the parties of her childhood as small, home-based events with homemade treats.

"We would go to the birthday kid's house and play some games, (like) pass the parcel, musical chairs. The food, cake and cookies were always homemade. Typically there would have been six or eight kids present."

Today, she finds the parties her children attend are more elaborate, with takeout food and store-bought cake, and more guests.

Sherri O'Halloran - mother of Chris, 10, Cody, 6, Cameron, 5, and Connor, 3, - agrees, remembering the parties she attended as mostly home-based, with the occasional McDonald's party thrown in.

She says the parties her kids attend often seem to involve a lot of competition.

"Every party has to be better than someone else's, especially as the children get older. They want the greatest loot bags, they need to have it at the greatest, most expensive place ever and they want everybody to come, no matter how much it costs."

She sees the competition originating with both the kids and the parents, but she tries not to buy into it, preferring to entertain party guests at a scale and cost that suits her family.

No matter what the scale of the party, it still requires some careful planning to provide food, entertainment - and loot bags - for the birthday child's guests.


Long says her process involves discussing the party with her partner, Ed, then getting her child's opinion, considering the costs of available activities and matching them to the age of the guests. And she has used the fact that her eldest child was born near Hallowe'en to create a party theme.

"We asked the guests to wear their Hallowe'en costumes and planned Hallowe'en activities. We've also had the last two parties at home and it's been great fun. We've planned age appropriate activities for the children and had some food, then cake, then presents."

With four kids to consider, Sherri O'Halloran and her husband Glenn have more logistical concerns than many parents. After she and her husband discuss it they take the options to the children.

"We go to the boys and ask them what do you want to do for your birthday party? Then we go through the options of what would make sense for who they want to invite and the time of year."

Cost is an important aspect of every parent's party planning, because rates can range from a per-person cost to a group fee. O'Halloran prefers the latter.

"We try to do a lump sum option, everything included for one great price and everybody has a big hee-haw and we just take it from there."

Guest list

Another difference between today's parties and those from Long's and O'Halloran's childhoods is the number of guests. Parties used to be limited to a few close friends and relatives but today's parties often include a child's entire class from school or day-care.

Long tries to find a middle ground to keep things at a reasonable size and expense for her family.

"I invite children in the family of a similar age that she knows - her cousins, then I invite some friends that she would like to have there. She has friends from our street and friends that she's met through playgroup and preschool."

O'Halloran has seen the size and nature of party guest lists change as her children get older.

"Christopher, last year he invited the whole class. This year, now that he's in Grade 4, he decided that it was only boys. No girls, just the boys, and a couple of friends that he went to school with last year at his other school."

Another consequence of bigger guest lists is that you no longer know all of the families of the children you've invited, so parents tend to stay at parties with their children. For some, this has led to concerns about how to occupy the parents, and what and how much to feed them. O'Halloran and Long don't worry too much about entertaining the adults.

"The children are our main priority," O'Halloran explains. "Feeding the parents is usually not my top priority on the list of how much food we need. You are more than welcome to what's there, but as long as the children are fed."

Some people are competitive and elaborate when planning children's parties but with so many choices available, parents can choose to withstand the pressure to go big and make a choice that works for their family.

And with the average party being held at bowling alleys, swimming pools or other centres, a home-based birthday could be a novel choice.

Long agrees. "I do think that in some cases, while the kids had fun at the big location party, they would have had just as much fun doing something at home that was cheaper on the parents."

Some Birthday Party Choices

Birthday party choices fall into a few categories - hiring someone to come into your house, booking a location and having entertainment come in, or booking a location with built in entertainment.
Here are a few local suggestions:
Parents can hire entertainers for home parties or for parties at a rented location.
Abracadabra Magic: 697-4242,

Hot Hoops, hula Hoop making and instruction:

Matt Sharpe, magician: 682-5925,

Magic Marker Entertainment, magician: 691-1571
Newfoundland Jungle, exotic animals (and their handlers):

Sassy Tuna, a variety of arts-based parties: e-mail
Sky High Amusements, inflatables for jumping: 773-3333
Wandering Brush, face-painting of all kinds: 579-5807,

Location parties
Aside from the standards, like bowling or swimming parties, children might like to try the activities available at the following locations:
The Fluvarium: All-in-one parties with an environmental theme. 754-FISH(3474),

Frontline Paintball/Laser Tag: Laser tag for ages 5-plus, paintball for ages 10-plus. 747-4653,

Glow-in-One Mini-golf: Mini-golf /party room. 754-4569.,

Johnson Geo Centre: Geologically themed parties. 737-7880,

Memories Forever: Bus parties (parked option for smaller kids), 790-7433,

Party Bus: A variety of options for mobile parties. 727-8928,

Parents can also look into booking local day-cares where the variety of toys will keep young children occupied.
Fitness-focused parties
The Little Gym: Call 754-7655,

Bulldog Interactive: Call 739-5437,

Home-based party ideas
If you don't want to go with the old standard Pass the Parcel or Pin the Tail on the Donkey you can do an Internet search for children's party games or children's party themes and find a huge variety of ideas.
You can keep costs low by limiting your guest list, making your own food and buying a small book, a craft kit, a take-home treat or a small musical instrument for each guest rather than providing a loot bag.
Local education or theatre students (or even high-schoolers) might be interested in running a theme-based party for you. Ask around.