Children's birthday parties only happen once a year - thank goodness given the amount of preparation they can involve. But, as parents, we do want such occasions to be memorable for our offspring. With this in mind, we've done some of the legwork for you - unearthing some of the best party products around, from the invitations right through to the goody bags.
Aliroo coaster invites, £3.99 for 8, www.notonthehighstreet.com
Not On The High Street have tons of fab invitations with all sorts of themes suitable for first birthdays through to grown-up dos. Some can be personalised, all are sure to set the tone for a brilliant birthday bash. Shown here are the 'spaceman' coaster versions, £3.99 for eight (but other designs include spacemen, princesses, monkeys and cupcakes).
2. ON THE TABLE
Ladybird Football range, £3 for eight paper plates, www.amazon.co.uk (search for ' talking tables').
All those miniature sausage rolls and sandwich triangles need something to be dished up on and although we know disposables aren't very eco-friendly, for larger parties they're definitely the easiest option.
These retro plates are ideal for boy (and girl) football fanatics and are part of a matching range encompassing serviettes, invitations and thank you cards, funky football badges for the party bags and more. Search on 'Talking Tables' on Amazon for other themed offerings from the same company - the Very Hungry Caterpillar and Charlie and Lola lines are especially lovely.
3. ON THE TABLE
Truly Scrumptious Essential Party Kit, £10.76, www.partypieces.co.uk
Traditional tea parties are very much in fashion and make a relatively civilised yet cost-effective way for children to celebrate with a smaller group of friends. Involve them in making the cupcakes, or at least decorating them as part of the festivities, organise some party games and perhaps a little face painting (see below) and you're pretty much sorted.
Once they've worked up a hunger, arrange the cakes on a pretty layered stand, amid a table dotted with frilly doilies and the like. Party Pieces (Kate Middleton's parents' company if it sounds familiar), have a good selection of tea party gear in their 'Truly Scrumptious' range.
Buy separately or go with the 'essentials kit' as a starting point, with plates, plastic cups, and napkins for 12, plus a table cover, and all for the very unregal sum of £10.76.
4. PARTY GAMES
Snazaroo Face Painting Stencils, £4.99, www.snazaroo.com
Alongside your main focus - be it a children's entertainer or some good old-fashioned games - face painting is a perennial party favourite. If you don't want to go to the expense of hiring a professional but are worried your own artistic skills aren't up to scratch, these stencils could be the solution. They're washable and re-usable and limit the chances of you hearing comments such as "are you sure that's a butterfly? It looks like a penguin to me."
Packs of temporary 'tattoos' from the same company cost £4.99 for 50, with various designs including pirates and fairies.
5. And finally....the PARTY BAGS
Love them or loathe them, there's no escaping the fact most children expect a party bag at the end of the do these days. Whilst there are countless companies on the internet selling ready-filled versions, there's much to be said for a DIY approach.
Your starting point could be some cheap and cheerful paper bags (Amazon have them in lots of different colours) or clear cellophane ones from a craft shop (tie with cheapo ribbon and they'll look fab).
Next, for the contents, head to the stationery and small toys sections of one of the big supermarket chains, Wilkinsons, or Tiger if you've one nearby - the latter is particularly amazing for great value bits and pieces.
Here are some suggestions - generally a handful of small bits is more than enough:
For toddlers/ pre-schoolers:
Playdough (try and find their large 'value' sets of mini-pots and split them so each kid gets one or two), crayons, stickers, balloons, bubbles and some sweeties (be mindful that some parents prefer to avoid artificial colours etc. - small packs of chocolate buttons are a fairly safe bet and a crowd pleaser for little ones)
For primary schoolers:
Bouncy balls, crayons, stickers, mini writing pads, small kits for making things. Water pistols, hair slides, balloons, keyrings, yo-yos, small purses, fridge magnets, playing cards, . And sweets (of course...)
Alternatively: grab a set of books from The Book People or The Book Depository - both usually have plenty of packs of 10 for around a tenner (a £1 a book!) They'll delight most kids, although you might want to add a pack of choc buttons or two for extra appeal. And parents will appreciate something more useful than yet more plastic party bag tat.
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