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5 things you need to know about planning a 1st birthday party

1st birthday party balloon decorations Derby Derbyshire by Balloon Artworks, Ripley

A first birthday is a cause for celebration in any family, but planning such a special birthday party when you’ve got a hundred other things to do can be a daunting prospect.

So how do you achieve a magical celebration enjoyed by all your friends and family without getting stressed and without going to the expense of engaging a party planner?

One way is to learn from others by avoiding some common mistakes parents and families make when organising a 1st birthday party.

I’m going to share with you the top 5 mistakes I see people make regularly.

1. Time to plan

Top of my list is time … or, more accurately, underestimating the amount of time you need to organise a first birthday party … or any party for that matter.

I’m regularly contacted by mums and dads wanting to book my services for parties two weeks hence and, more often than not, I have to let them know that I’m already booked for other events.

So, the first thing you need to do is to start to plan for your first birthday party well in advance. Ideally, you’ll start your planning 6 months in advance, but I’m a realist and I know that where first birthdays are concerned, it rarely happens … let’s face it, with a toddler on your hands you’ve got plenty on your plates already.

At the very minimum, start your planning with 3 months to go. This will ensure you don’t have to go crazy trying to pull everything together in the last month and you’ll stand at least a chance of booking some of your preferred suppliers.

2. Choice of venue

Your choice of venue will depend to a large extent on the size of your party. For any party over 12 guests, which let’s face it, is pretty much just your immediate family members, I’d look for a venue and I wouldn’t even consider holding the party at home.

Some of the best venues you’ll come across for 1st birthdays are what I call ‘community venues.’ These are village halls, community centres, church halls and halls run by faith groups. And when I say ‘best’ let me qualify what I mean.

By ‘best’ I mean, they’re often the most suitable venue for this type of party for a number of reasons:

  • Accessibility - they’re on your doorstep in your own community, so your friends and family won’t have much difficulty getting to your venue unless they live a long way away. The venue’s proximity to where you live also ensures you’ll stand the best possible chance of getting volunteers to help you set up your event on the day. Many of these venues were built in the days when high density development wasn’t the issue it is today and so they often have a car park, which usually means a safer route to your party for your guests and their children.

  • Affordability – community venues represent great value-for-money. Some charge by the hour, so if you only need the venue for a couple of hours, that’s all you pay for. Others charge a modest amount for a whole day – here in Derbyshire many of our community and village halls charge around £80-100 for a day.

  • Space – by their very nature, most village halls have plenty of space for you to hold all the activities you have in mind for a large number of people. And there’s plenty of space for children to play safely and burn off energy – parents will thank you if the children go home tired at the end of a fun party.

  • Facilities – community venues come with fully equipped kitchens, so whether you’re hiring in caterers or are organising a buffet yourself, you’ll have everything you need to cater for your guests. There’ll also be enough loos for everyone.

  • A blank canvas – often sparsely decorated, community venues are a great blank canvas ensuring you can create a unique look and atmosphere for your party. So whether you’re hiring in a professional to decorate your party venue, or you’re going to decorate it yourself, there’s usually plenty of scope for you to exercise your creative flair and bring your ideas to life.

3. Setting a budget

This is probably the most common pitfall people fall into when organising any kind of party. The costs of hosting a party can soon mount up and it’s easy to lose track of how much you’re spending.

If you’ve given yourself plenty of time to plan, then you’ll have time to research how much things like catering, entertainment, venue dressing, birthday cakes, etc are going to cost.

It’s rare for people to have an unlimited budget, so you might have to make some compromises and cut back in areas that aren’t as important to you.

It might be that you want a face painter as well as a clown to entertain your guests, but you can’t afford both. In this instance, I always advise my clients to pick one specialist entertainer and choose the best one you can afford, rather than opt for an entertainer that says they can face paint at the same time as making balloons or being the clown. I’m a great believer in that old saying about a Jack-of-all-trades ….

If you book a top class specialist entertainer, you’re guests will have a far more memorable experience that they’re likely to talk about for a long time to come, than if you book a generalist who dabbles a little bit in lots of different areas.

4. To theme or not to theme

Theming your party can work extremely well, but don’t feel obliged to have a theme if it’s not for you.

Mermaid theme balloon party decorations balloon seascape Nottingham Nottinghamshire

There are definite party theme trends – anyone remember Princess Elsa? I bet you’ve not been to a Frozen themed party for a couple of years, but depending on how old your children are, you’re bound to have attended a least one unicorn or superhero themed party in the last year.

Don’t feel obliged to shoehorn your party into a particular theme if it doesn’t feel right. I’ll let you into a secret … people get bored with attending parties with the same theme, so actually, if you throw a crocodile themed party when everyone has gone llama crazy, you’ll find it’s your party people remember and talk about.

And remember, themes can be subtle, so your theme may even be a particular colour or colour scheme.

5. Not catering for all your guests

And by catering, I’m not necessarily talking about food. Generally, people are pretty good at sorting out the food side of things as there are so many options available to them.

What I’m talking about is thinking about the range of guests you’ll be inviting and a good starting point is to think about age. Yes, you’re going to have to make some broad judgements which won’t necessarily cover every individual, but it’s at least a good starting point when planning your activities.

So, whilst this is a first birthday party, potentially you’re going to have children attending from anywhere between 0-16 years … where on earth do you start when selecting activities for such a broad age range?

Party planning tips for a broad age-range of guests

Party tips for younger children

If you’re party is going to have a lot of younger children attending, you need to think about how you’re going to make the experience fun for them. Young children will be less interested or excited by the little details and will be more focused on having fun.

Younger children will be more excited by décor that is obvious rather than subtle. So they’re the ideal age group for licensed character printed plates, cups, napkins and table decorations. This will help create a sense of excitement that’s sure to spill over into the activities.

If your party does have a theme, for younger children, I always recommend carrying the theme through into your activities.

So, if you’ve chosen a dinosaur or dragon theme for your party, a fun activity for the younger children might be helping create a dinosaur or dragon themed cake by sticking Smarties or chocolate buttons onto the cake to create the creature’s scales. This will help make the party experience magical for this age group.

This type of activity is hands-on without being too long for young children who have a relatively short attention span compared to older children. So, you’ll need to think of other activities that will break the party into smaller time slots – perhaps a sing-along, or pinning the fire on the dragon.

Great activities for young kids include building or creating simple themed arts and crafts projects, like creating a crocodile from egg boxes.

You will also want to include an active game for the kids. Games for younger children are best not involving a distinct winner or a loser. The game should be more about taking part and having fun.

Try hosting a game where children can dance to a movie soundtrack and have to dance or walk like a dragon at certain parts of the track or when the music is paused.

Party tips for older children

The age of the kids at the party will also influence the type of food your choose to serve at your party. For the younger children, you’ll need to ensure there are plenty of basic foods to ensure they can find something they like. For older children, you’ll be able to offer something slightly more adventurous and offer larger portions than for the younger children.

When you have a group of older children, you can include more subtle party decorations. These decorations can be strategically designed to create an overall theme that is grown up enough for pre-teens to enjoy. For teenagers, you’re aiming to create décor that is Pinterest-worthy.

For a group of older children, you can organise team-based games that include a competitive element, or more intellectually oriented games. You could divide the children into groups and have them create and perform their own sequel a favourite film.

If the party includes a large group of older children, you may also want to schedule an alternative activity for others to complete during this time.

Party tips – the over-looked adults

Adult guests are often overlooked at birthday parties attended by high numbers of children. And whilst fellow parents will completely understand a focus on your younger guests, a few small thoughtful gestures go a long way.

Ensure there’s plenty of suitable comfortable seating for adults where they can chat and socialize, as well as adult-sized portions of food and drink and your adult guests will be perfectly content.


Planning a first birthday party is often more involved and time-consuming that parents anticipate. If I had to give you just one piece of advice, my top tip would be to start planning as early as possible. If you do that, then everything else will fall naturally into place without causing you too much anxiety.

If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance you’re already ahead of the game, so congratulations to you – I know you’re going to organise an amazing 1st birthday party that your guests will remember for a long time.

About me

Hi, I’m Melanie Allen. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.

I’m based in Ripley in Derbyshire’s beautiful Amber Valley. As one of only 2,000 Certified Balloon Artists worldwide, I’ve decorated and attended many 1st birthday parties throughout Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

The tips included in this blog are drawn from my own experiences of working alongside my clients to help them make their parties and celebrations unique and memorable.

Love to you all and all the best for your special celebration.

Melanie x


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