Reprinted by permission from Westside Today/Santa Monica Sun

Expert Advice on Kids Party Planning, from a VIP-Style Soirée at Pacific Park to a Do-it-Yourself Bash at Home

 

In Los Angeles kid’s birthday parties can be full-on productions that can take months to plan and cost thousands of dollars to put on, even when the guest are preschoolers.  Whether you are a do-it-yourself party planner or you prefer a catered affair, you can host the perfect party, by just following a bit of expert advice to throw a party that is right for you and your child.

For those who don’t have the time and energy to plan a party, there are many children’s party venues in Los Angeles that do it all for parents, from the invitations and decorations, to the food, cake and drinks, to the all-important entertainment, and finally party favors.

Santa Monica’s Pacific Park is one favorite local venue for kid’s parties that offers a unique setting with amenities that appeal to both children and parents. The park offers built-in entertainment with thrill rides geared for little ones to adults as well as arcade games in an exciting beach-side outdoor atmosphere.  The park offers seaside cabanas for rent, and they provide a dedicated attendant for each party, so that parents can actually enjoy the party with their children instead of playing host and worrying about preparing and serving food, refreshing drinks and cutting the cake.

 

Party packages begin at $27 per child and include an hour and a half in a semi-private cabana, custom invitations, unlimited rides all day for the kids, a personal visit from the park’s octopus mascot, Inkie, a special gift for the birthday child, decorations, set-up and clean up and all the kids meals from a menu of favorite party foods with unlimited beverages.

You can add on to packages, which go up to $55 per child, to include items such as popcorn, cotton candy and ice cream treats; plush Inkie-toy party favors; ride wristbands for adults; game bucks for the arcade; group and Ferris wheel photos; themed party decorations with tablecloths, napkins, plates, party hats, blowers and cups; and to make the birthday child feel like a real VIP, your child’s name can appear in lights on the famed Santa Monica Pier Ferris wheel.  A real party helper, you can bring your own cake, and with few restrictions, you may bring in outside catering for adult attendees.  For details, go to ww.pacpark.com.

If you opt for a do-it-yourself party, you can create a fun-filled carnival atmosphere at home, using themed decorations, food, games and other festivities.  Party planning expert, Jeanne Benedict, best known for her program “Weekend Entertaining” on the Do It Yourself Network and who has offered party tips on “Live with Regis & Kelly” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” offers several ideas for a “carnival” or “boardwalk” style bash.

“If budget allows, rent or purchase a cotton candy or popcorn machine. Wrap scrapbook paper in the shape of a cone to hold these delicious treats. Another option to the popcorn machine is purchasing or making caramel popcorn balls,” says Benedict.

The Sunbeam Tabletop Popcorn Maker (in stores fall 2010, $99) is an affordable machine that brings to your countertop the excitement of theatre-style popcorn popping along with the unmistakable aroma of fresh popped popcorn.  With the flip of a switch, it’s easy to use, and you can keep popcorn hot and ready to serve in the lighted glass case with a pull-out tray.

 

For the main dishes, Benedict suggests a variety of goods for your guests.

 “Hot dogs and pizza win big with this age. Another idea is to serve peanut butter and jelly sandwiches cut out in animal shapes with a cookie cutter,” says Benedict. Don’t forget healthy options as well.  Fresh fruit or veggies such as carrots balance the sweets and keep the parents happy. Be sure to have plenty of water on hand, especially if it is a hot day.”

For decorations, Benedict says you can be creative while still keeping it simple.

 

“Think carnival tent.  Red and white stripes will definitely provide the carnival feel you’re after. Pennants made of homemade craft paper triangles on a long string also add to the carnival feel. Sticking pinwheels in the lawn to line the walkway adds to the atmosphere as well,” says Benedict.

 

Games to keep with the theme could include a bottle toss where you line up plastic bottles and use a hacky sack or sponge ball to knock them down. A bean bag toss is another option, where children throw the bean bags into a designated area, like a hula hoop. Another fun activity is mini golf. You can purchase Astro Turf at your local hardware store and rent clubs/golf balls from a local miniature golf location. Of course, a good old fashioned water balloon toss is always a favorite, especially on a hot day.

“Since children are at a sensitive age, you’ll want to keep the competition to a minimum,” advises Benedict.. There should be no “winners” and prizes should be awarded to everyone participating for effort. The same prize should be given to all children.”

When everyone leaves, they can all receive a goody bag with items like candy, a clown nose, big sunglasses or super balls.

Benedict suggests making your clean-up job easier with strategically placed trash receptacles. 

“Be smart about your trash. Providing convenient trash and recycling containers for children on-site encourages them to clean up after themselves and makes less work for you,” says Benedict, who recommends Flings Pop-Up Trash and Recycling Bins (4 for $15.99, www.flingbins.com), which feature attractive patterns designed to match the festive atmosphere.   

 

For a successful party from beginning to end, whether you plan it all yourself or let a caterer do the work, timing is a key factor.

“A party for preschool children should last two hours at most with a number of planned activities. Designate the first half hour as the arrival time, which allows the children to get acclimated to their surroundings,” says Benedict.  “The next hour should be comprised of an organized activity or entertainment. The last half hour should be when the cake is served and goody bags are handed out before the party ends.”

You should consider not just the flow of events to keep the party going, but also the day of the week and the time of day for a party for young children, who can get cranky when they are off their schedules.

“Because parents often work during the week, weekend parties allow for the majority of invitees to attend,” says Benedict.  “Another suggestion is a dinner-time party, which encourages the adults to socialize. At the preschool age, parent socialization is important and allows time to plan for future play dates. It is important to avoid 2 to 4 p.m. as that is the most common naptime among preschoolers.”

With the proper planning, your child’s party will be a celebration to remember long after the candles are blown out, and you’ll be the one who takes the cake.

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