Throwing a kids' birthday party in your own home may seem like an easy, budget-friendly idea at first, but it may be more than you bargained for. Consider the amount of time you'll invest in cleaning up before the party, setting up games and activities and prepping a space for food and cake. Then, think about the post-party cleanup. Entertaining a group of 10 six-year-olds, for instance, can be messy -- and stressful.
Hosting a birthday at a venue outside of the home may cost a little more up front, but it could end up saving you time and allow you to enjoy more of the festivities. This doesn't mean you have to rent out an entire bowling alley or shell out $50 per head for an amusement park. There are plenty of fun, affordable spots that cater to children of all ages and allow you to join in the birthday merriment without having to fret over logistics. The following five examples are just the starting point of potential places to host the perfect kids' party.
Suggesting a birthday party at a park to your 12-year-old may not elicit cries of glee. But for younger children, parks make for excellent party venues, especially in the spring and fall when the weather isn't too hot or too cold. Most parks are outfitted with picnic tables, grills and playgrounds. All you have to do is bring the cake.
Skateboarding parks and nature centers might be better options for an older crowd. Tween boys might think a skateboarding-themed birthday is cool -- and so will his friends. Nature centers may offer outdoor and craft activities that will take care of the entertainment portion of a birthday party, and older kids should have an easier time staying engaged and following directions.
Both young and old -- parents included -- can have a great time at the zoo. Better yet, many zoos sell birthday party packages that cover food, activities and admission.
The San Francisco Zoo, for example, can accommodate a party for up to 12 guests with lunch, cake and ice cream, a train ride, zoo admission, free parking and a commemorative T-shirt for the birthday boy or girl. They take care of the setup, and perhaps more importantly, the cleanup.
If you don't live in a large city with a zoo, don't worry. There are plenty of other animal-themed destinations that could fit the bill, including aquariums, nature preserves, farms and petting zoos.
Museums might sound boring to some kids, but a lot of them now incorporate children's programming to serve younger audiences. Children's museums, in particular, make for fun and educational birthday venues. Like zoos, most of them have preplanned birthday packages that can take much of hassle out of party planning. For instance, the Children's Museum of Atlanta can provide museum admission, a tour, a private room for birthday festivities, a guided activity and goodie bags for one price.
You can also tailor the venue to the birthday kid's special interests. A boy who's fascinated by dinosaurs might like a party at a natural history museum, and a star-gazing girl might enjoy an afternoon at the planetarium. Many general interest art museums have birthday options to choose from as well.
Skating rinks are classic birthday party locations! Roller skating rinks are great because parents won't have to worry about the weather outside, and it requires little activity planning since guests can just skate around to their hearts' content. Ice skating rinks are also a cool choice for winter birthdays. Some ice rinks, including the famous Rockefeller Center Ice Rink in New York, are only open seasonally while other local rinks are reserved for lessons, so make sure to call ahead.
Depending on your budget, you can usually rent out smaller rinks for an hour or two, or coordinate a party during normal business hours. Some skating rinks may not allow you to bring in outside food and drinks, but in those situations, they'll probably offer concessions or group catering onsite.
If there's one birthday party spot guaranteed to please, it's the pool. Like skating rinks, pools are excellent venues because they often provide all of the entertainment you need. Perhaps bring along some extra foam noodles or water guns, and kids and their friends can usually amuse themselves for hours in a pool.
Meanwhile, you can set up cake, ice cream and food and clean up easily once they've jumped back in the water. In case you don't have a neighborhood or public pool to go to, don't forget about water amusement parks. Granted, these will be pricier than a run-of-the-mill pool party, but kids will have a ball.
Take age into consideration before going with a water-themed party, however. First and foremost, everyone should lather up with sunscreen lotion. Also, while older boys and girls should be fine, you may want to think twice about hosting one for younger tykes.