1. Start early. Planning, decorating, and implementing a party will ALWAYS take longer and more effort than you plan. And if by some miracle it doesn't, then you'll have all your ducks in a row enough to bask in the gloriousness of that moment!
2. When it comes to kids' parties, consider the ages of the children involved when planning games. For my son's 6th birthday, we made sure that all of the games were non-competitive. No winners, no losers, no hurt feelings or drama. Before around age six, some kids can have a hard time with the concept of winning and losing. Now this is just my opinion, but I've learned that it's a battle not to pick for a party. It's not a lesson to be avoided by any means, but it's a lesson best learned at home with parents and siblings over board games, not at a party that is supposed to be fun. At my son's recent 7th birthday party there were still a couple of guests that struggled with this. Luckily only half of our games had a competitive component to it and there were no prizes involved when there was.
Having a hard time thinking of non-competitive games?
Do a craft or cook something together for an activity.
You can make a traditionally competitive activity, like an Easter Egg hunt, less competitive. Don't focus so much on who found the most eggs. Look collaboratively. Repeat the activity a few times, allowing everyone to have a turn hiding them for everyone else to find. Put a twist on it. Have one person look while the rest of the guests give hot and cold clues. Stuff like that.
Games like Button, Button Who's got the Button and Don't Eat Pete are a hit with kids and everyone can get a turn or several turns since they are quick to play.
If you do decide to do a competitive game, give the "losers" a designated place to go with a rewarding consolation prize. So if you play musical chairs, the kids that don't find a seat can go to a designated and decorated section of the room and get a little treat to eat while they watch the remaining guests play the game. It takes the sting out of losing and keeps the tone fun. We didn't do this recently, but you can bet I will next time.
3. When making invitations, think outside the paper square. A memorable invitation is often a unique one. For my son's recent birthday party we gave out origami fish. All the party information was listed on little paper bubbles we strung up out of it's mouth.
For a diaper shower I threw for a friend, I wrapped up the invitation in some white muslin and a little safety pin like a cloth diaper.
I have also done invites with crafty river rock magnets. The recipient gets a fun magnet for their fridge to hang the invite with, and when the party or event is over the gift remains.
First impressions set the tone for the party, and that invitation is the first impression, so make it good.
4. You know I have to include a photography tip!
Take pictures of details beforehand. You want to be able to enjoy the party, so try to get the pictures of the decor, the food and the details you spent so much time on, before the guests arrive. If you took my first bit of advice and started early, then you should have a few minutes to do this. Then during the party you can snap a few shots here and there; you know, mostly the action shots like blowing out the candles and guest interactions, and still be apart of the festivities. You won't have to stress that you didn't get a picture of the cake before it was cut into, or the carefully placed streamers before someone ripped a few down.
Or...you could designate someone to be the photographer who doesn't mind not being completely apart of the action. A teenage sibling/cousin would be great for this I would think. You could offer to pay him if he does a good job too. :)
(She's brilliant, yes? I've GOT to learn to prepare ahead and leave time for better photos... but activity and game ideas are something I've got to work on, too. Delia has more really versatile ideas in her Lego Party post.)
If you don't read googiemomma... what's wrong with you?!? Just kidding... (but no, seriously?!?) This mama can sew. Shannon can build. She can redo a room in style. She can compete. She can make you laugh out loud (while your husband stares at you from the couch wondering what the heck your problem is). And she can do it all with 5 kids. And they're cute. Amazing. Plus she's fun to talk to.