Thursday, 2 February 2012


When I was a child, birthday parties took place at home: my mother kicked off with children's party games - pass the parcel, of course, pin the tail on the donkey, musical statues - you know the drill - and then we'd have tea - cheese and pineapple hedgehogs, cocktail sausages,  jelly and icecream and a home-made birthday cake. Then, at home-time, off everyone would go with a balloon and a slice of cake wrapped in a paper napkin.

Fast forward nearly forty years and this kind of party seems a rarity - clever mums play it as a retro-riff and get away with it, but once the infants are primary school age, it seems one is expected to make the kind of effort appropriate to offspring of Oligarchs, or to the launch of a new beauty product. A venue must be hired, with an entertainer - possibly two - or alternatively, one might do what a friend of Trefusis Minor does every year, which is to hire an entire cinema for a preview screening of a hot-ticket children's movie. It seems that these days the food must be kiddie-lavish too - I remember a splendid party where the children were presented with the tiniest possible smoked salmon sandwiches, vast amounts of quails eggs, and a croquembouche of LadurĂ©e macarons, but I suppose that's West London for you. Don't get me started on the awesome contents of party bags - I swear the infamously high-grade GQ Men of the Year goody bag has nothing on some of those Trefusis Minor has come home with.

Of course, these kinds parties are very lovely and the children have a marvellous time: I'm sure that if we were very well-off we'd pull out the stops too but we really can't run to that kind of opulence chez Trefusis: I do wish that someone brave would come out with a Party Non-Proliferation Treaty, and we could go back to the low-fi approach of the 1970's.

I'm old enough to know that I don't need to compete with the hiring of a cinema, or having a flower-fairy themed party with 'real fairies' in a West London garden square and until now, we've had parties at home similar to the ones i had as a child. However, if one has to invite the whole class even something very modest gets shockingly expensive - now that The TT is about to turn five and every single person she meets seems to be her 'bestest friend in the whole world', I've had trouble capping the guest list at school friends only. I can't see how I can get away without hiring the church hall and the thought of trying to keep thirty children happy for a couple of hours with me as the 'mum-tertainment' fills me with clammy-handed dread, so there will have to be someone hired in for a side-show too. I can manage the food on my own, and bugger the party bags - they can have cake and a novelty pencil - but still, it's working out at about £100 per hour. Yikes.

Does anyone have any suggestions about giving a fun children's party without busting the budget or a blood-vessel?


Dollylonglegs said...

Pizza Express pizza making party - it was about a Fiver a child, no need for entertainment as the pizza making kept them busy and the left over pizza was the party pack. And the real genuis of the venue .... someone else cleans up.

Amanda said...

Most of my friends have similar issues. The way most of them are handling it? You only get as many guests as how old you are on that birthday. So, if you are turning 5, you get 5 guests for your party (plus the birthday child). This makes it much less expensive & a lot less stressful.

Also, as I got older, I could pick a party or a fancy dinner/ event out with 1 friend. I picked the 1 friend event every year from the time I was 7. I loved fancy/expensive dinners from a young age!

Good luck!

Lisa-Marie said...

The oldest of the children I nanny has just has his fifth birthday. THe family I work for are upper middle class, but my boss (his mum) was a nursery nurse before moving up the ranks and I trained as a teacher. THere in one thing you learn and go with and that is a THEME.

He had a Knights party. This involved - us doing some decorating - a few flags, party games but with Knight theme - 'here we go round the knight's helmet', The kids painting/decorating their own shields (which i cut from card) Invitations printed of on the computer and rolled up as scrolls, a treasure hunt where the prize was just a pretend gold coin and a small bag of haribo and the offer of dressing up if they liked. ALSO instead of having themed EVERYTHING for the table, do just napkins on white paper plates, and let them draw/put sticker on their cups (Sainsburys, The Works and Tesco all do stickers for CHEAP.

A few theme decorations, some bunting, fairy lights,kids in costume and games themed where possible, and you are away.

If it is approaching, please feel free to email me if you want to pick my teacher/nanny brain.

jongleuse said...

DS's best was trip to the Natural History Museum with 6 friends to see Dinosaur Roar exhibition-took packed lunch for them all so well under £100 even with pretty fab gift bags. If whole class though I'd give up on trying to shell out less than £200-300 now-all gets SO expensive.
I did once hear a story about a baby elephant at a kid's party in a certain district of West London...

Waffle said...

Oh GOD, imagine being the child who had a baby elephant at your party. Adult life would just be so dreary, wouldn't it?

My most wonderful party when little was when my dad made up a treasure hunt for us across the University of York campus. It was completely brilliant. I should tell him that, actually.

Now, I swither between overblown productions (snake handler, science, erm, activities, paintball), and a half-hearted trip to nearest soft play dungeon. Children do not seem to much notice the difference, I observe, as long as there is some rubbish to eat and some plastic crap in bags.

Anonymous said...

I found this really brilliant website for party bags . They had some old retro sweets and fortune fish which I've not seen for years.

Steerforth said...

I hired a horrible church hall for £15 and got raided the cleaning cupboard half an hour before it finished. The children - all five and six-years-old were issued with a range of brooms and told to clear up. They loved it!

My golden rule is to never have it at home, limit the time to two hours and have the following time slots:

15 minutes - arriving, presents and running around

15 minutes - games

15 minutes - craft activities - pizza making/pointless glueing etc

30 minutes - tea, followed by cake

15 minutes - more craft things - colouring in

Final half hour - running around and tidying up

I can get away with this in Lewes, but I'm not sure if I'd try in an SW postcode.

I also tried my hand at being a children's entertainer, performing science experiments, but that was a bit of a fiasco.

Anyway, I think the whole thing came to under £50. Cheapskates, I know, but we dressed it up as 'retro' and 'low environmental impact'. I think the other parents were secretly grateful that the bar had been lowered.

Joanne Noragon said...

i can't tell you how happy I am this is problem belongs to my daughters. What did the world come to in the last forty year??!!

charlotteb said...

We did a few bouncy castle parties - was amazing how just bouncing for 40 mins kept them happy (though risk of concussion). My brother just did 'superheros' party on his allotment and got them all digging (child labour option...)

Unknown said...

A blogging friend of mine took her 7 year old daughter to a party in Los Angeles where they had a woman floating in a bubble in the pool. A woman in a bubble!

I went all out and made pirate cupcakes which no one ate but I hired someone because I couldn't bear 12 six year olds inside in January for 3 hours.

No suggestions, just commiseration.

Jenny Woolf said...

Always go by the rule that there are the same number of guests as the years of a child's age, plus one. Always feel that very little kids freak out if the party is too big and then you need to be stamping around keeping em in order.
But you probably feel differently. Good luck with the church hall :D

CatherineMarie said...

Various ceramic studios I've worked with in the past have offered children's pottery parties, where the kids get to make a thing, the glaze and firing fees are included...

party inflatables rental said...

Children's party doesn't need to be lavish. Budget meals and inexpensive catering and party bouncers and accessories will make a complete party.

racecentre said...

It's very nice if every birthday it has a cake which I think every children are looking for during their birthday.

Mrs. Fife said...

We always have home parties. The first of three that my children remember fondly was a summer water party. We filled kiddie pools, had a couple of water sprinklers going and of course there were water balloons, pistols and guns. All cake was eaten outside and we just served hot dogs, chips and soft drinks.
Another one we told everyone to bring their " wheels " - roller blades, skate boards, bikes, etc. . Again, we served simple lunch food and cake. The entertainment was that the children could ride their " wheels " or play at the park while the adults sat in the yard and had a nice visit.
Last September my 14 year old daughter had a birthday party. She and her friend down the street have battery operated motor bikes. They only go 30 mph. The children took turns riding those bikes up and down the street. We still hear about how much fun the kids had and how thrilling it was. Again, the adults visited and watched the children while they enjoyed the battery bikes and each others company.