New parenting wisdom from my pal Sharon Hurley Hall:

Toddlers’ parties are notoriously noisy and messy — and someone always ends up in tears, possibly even a parent. This article gives tips on planning a successful preschooler’s party while avoiding the mess and hassle.

Don’t Try This At Home — Planning the Perfect Preschooler’s Party

by Sharon Hurley Hall

They’ve been there, done that — and now they want their own. Some time around the age of two your toddlers realise there’s a social whirl out there, and they want to be a part of it. The thought of 15 toddlers and preschoolers rampaging around the living room strikes terror into every parent’s heart. So why give yourself the hassle? Follow these tips to give your offspring a good time while keeping your furniture intact.

Don’t try this at home

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The first step to having a successful party for preschoolers is to outsource. If money is no object, book a soft play centre. They often cater for children’s parties. The advantage is that there are lots of activities that children of all ages will love and all you have to do is turn up with a cake and candles. The centre will usually provide invitation cards and they’ll do all the cleaning up afterwards. If you are on a budget, however, there is another option.

Go to church

This is not about praying for strength or success, but about room hire. Many churches have rooms available for hire and they’re not usually in it for the money, so the rates can be quite reasonable. They’ll usually offer a slot that allows setup and cleanup time. If you can, choose a venue that already hosts a weekly playgroup and ask if you can have access to the toys. Most will agree, provided you’re prepared to chip in a bit to cover wear and tear. That will take care of most of the children’s entertainment.

Toy tips

If you have access to toys on site — or even if you’re bringing or borrowing some – you’ll need to choose carefully. Children over one like sit-in or ride-on cars, slides and play houses. Add a few dolls (with clothes if possible), strollers and a game involving cars, and you’ll have catered for most children. Try to have enough items so each toddler can have a toy. Young children rarely play cooperatively.


Most parties for young children follow a set format, lasting about two hours. Stick to this plan; any longer and overexcitement will soon turn to tears and tantrums. The two hour slot breaks down like this: the first hour is dedicated to play; the next half hour to food; the next five minutes to birthday cake; the next 15 minutes to a party game; and the last 10 minutes to more play and goodbyes. Trust me, this works well.

Room layout

You’ll need to have a table near the door to put the presents as people come in. You should also have a table for any grownup refreshments. Place the children’s table in a corner well away from the play area, so you can set it up at the start. A tip is to put a cheap plastic tablecloth under the table, so that come cleanup time you can gather it up and throw it away, with all the bits of food and drink inside it.

Feeding frenzy

Remember that you’re catering for small people, so make sure all the food is small enough for them to handle themselves. Keep it simple: a choice of two types of sandwiches (tuna and cheese are fairly safe bets) and two types of drinks (blackcurrant and orange) is usually enough. Cut the sandwiches into four and remember to add some low fat mayonnaise to the filling so the sandwiches will stick together — it will cut down on the mess. Some children like fruit, so a bowl of mandarins or grapes is a useful addition.

It is a party, though, so you’ll need some treats. I recommend a few crisps and some fairy cakes. Don’t serve the birthday cake at the party. It will give the children a sugar rush and make them unmanageable. Instead, pop a slice into the party bag. A good trick is to have two identical cakes. You can cut one up the morning before the party and put pieces of cake into the pre-prepared party bags.

Activity time

Most activities at a children’s party involve music. Pass the parcel is a common game, but you’ll need to organise it properly. That means taking a CD player and some music to the venue and having a list of all the children at the party. While one person handles the music, the other can make sure that everyone gets at least one turn. When preparing the parcel, make sure that the main present is wrapped in a different paper so you’ll know when the game is ending and can prime someone to take a photo. Choose your wrapping paper for the other layers very carefully. Tissue paper looks good, but small fingers can easily tear through a couple of layers and toddlers won’t say no to an extra sweet. It’s best to alternate types of wrapping paper so the individual layers are distinctive. Remember to put a treat in between each layer.

Other good activities are musical statues, where the children can run around in a frenzy, then freeze when the music stops, and for older children who can handle being left out, musical chairs.

Leave them smiling

Give your guests a party bag when they leave, so they’ll have something to remember the party by. These should be prepared in advance. The perfect party bag will contain a piece of cake (of course); something noisy (a whistle or blower); an activity (something to colour or make); something useless but fun (like a finger puppet); and something educational but fun (a book or a card game). Something sweet (chocolate buttons or a small pack of sweets or some raisins) completes the lineup. Place the party bags in box near the exit so you remember to hand them out as people are leaving. Give each child a balloon and you won’t have to cart them all back home or pop them. And remember to have a bag and balloon for your own child — that will keep him or her occupied while you’re cleaning up at the end.

Cleanup time

You’ll need to take a few essentials for cleaning up at the end. A rubbish bag and some paper towels, some baby wipes (which you’ll probably have anyway) and a dustbuster. If you’ve hired a place where a playgroup takes place, they’ll probably have a mop and bucket somewhere handy, as you never can tell when there might be a major spill.

Follow these tips and both children and parents will go away happy. Best of all, you’ll be able to go home to your nice, clean house to open all the presents.

Sharon Hurley Hall is a freelance writer, ghostwriter and editor. Sharon worked in publishing for 18 years, writing articles and editing and designing books and magazines. For more information or to contact Sharon, visit

And if you like Sharon’s sensible advice on preschool parties as much as I do, check out her article on dining out with a toddler!

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Gina

    GREAT tips for planning a child’s party. I have 4 great nephews (they are great kids to be around & are also my great nephews relative wise) and am always looking for ways to plan their “perfect stay with me” or a “perfect little party” for them. I like your idea about renting a room at a church as well as the party bags.

    I’ve been searching the web for several months on information to help me achieve my life dreams. Your tips will help me achieve my dream of being a GREAT aunt that they will always want to be around!!

    In my search I found a site by Marcia Wieder that has helped me
    tremendously and I thought it might do the same for you and your readers. is the site and if you visit you might want to sign up for a chance to win the maui dream retreat she is giving away. she helps people find their passion(s) and achieve their dreams in all areas of life.

    Again thank you for sharing and for such good info!!

    May your day be filled richly with blessings and joy!!


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