So you're about to have a threenager. Congratulations! The added excitement in your life—from exuberant gestures of love to devastating reactions to anything that causes sadness—means that you are going to want to celebrate this milestone. Keep reading for our take on throwing the most epic 3-year-old bash, ever.
To Theme or Not to Theme?
Theme. Three-year-olds are passionate people, which means they love the things they love. Surround them with those things and you can practically forget the rest of your to-do list.
Real Mom Advice: I threw a ninja-themed party for my son when he turned 3, and he was more excited about the decorations than he was about his presents. He still has his banner—which was his name in Japanese surrounded by ninja images—hanging in his room.
How Many Kids Should I Invite?
By 3, your daughter probably has some people. She knows what she likes, who shares toys well and who doesn't. However, you're still solidly in the middle of preschool life, which means smaller classes and moms who volunteer together and know each other well. At this point, unless you're going to pull your invitation list from multiple places (the classroom, the neighborhood, the mommy-and-me music class), you might need to invite everyone in the class.
Real Mom Advice: I was working full-time when my daughter turned 3, and her daycare class was pretty large. I didn't have other groups to pull guests from, so to keep the numbers more manageable, I just invited the girls. We sent party favors and cupcakes to school the next Monday to share with the whole class and boys.
Should I Limit Gifts?
This is a hot topic that fans some feelings, so go with your gut. If you know your little guy is getting a billion gifts from grandparents and you want to ease off, maybe going the no-gift route is right for you. Or perhaps your party is the extent of your favorite 3-year-old's birthday celebration. In that case, gifts could be great—especially if your party guest list is on the shorter side.
Real Mom Advice: At 3, your little one's shelves might be filling up. Now's a good time to box up some of those rattles and rollers to save for the next one, or to donate.
How Long Should It Last?
Three-year-olds are not known for getting bored, so even if you go a little too long, they'll be busy. A two-hour party seems like the sweet spot, but depending on your schedule, you could go a little shorter or longer.
Real Mom Advice: Have a plan on standby for when the party's winding down but parents haven't yet packed their kiddos in the carseat. This is when things could get hairy. A pack of balloons will work wonders, because all you have to do is blow up a few by mouth, throw them to the crowd and tell them to keep those bad boys from touching the ground. Then, start saying your thank-you's and goodbye's.
What Time of Day Works Best?
Since many 3-year-olds have dropped their naps but still get a little cranky in the afternoons, planning your party for the morning—or no later than lunchtime, if you want to serve lunch—is pretty solid advice.
Real Mom Advice: If many of your guests are oldest children, go ahead and set up the pack and play and baby swing in advance of the party. Your parent guests with wee ones who do still naps in the mornings will thank you, and you won't have to leave the party to pull the equipment out of the closet.
Where Should I Have It?
Pandemic partying has its own set of constraints, but your main consideration here will obviously be safety. While everyone has their own comfort level with who, where and how you interact with those outside your regular circle, a 3-year-old party is incredibly well-suited to pandemic gatherings: They're small, they work best outside and they're relatively short.
Real Mom Advice: If you feel comfortable having a party in a jump house or trampoline park, these rock for 3-year-old parties; however, a playground or a backyard work equally well.
What Do We Do?
Three-year-olds love accomplishments, and you can harness the power of this by having a pre-planned craft, art project, obstacle course or game stations. Tie your activities into your theme and you've just #won.
Real Mom Advice: My son loves trophies, and it was easy to order a box of them on Amazon before his big day. We incorporated an awards ceremony at the end of the party and gave each guest a trophy for something they did that was awesome. Not trying to brag, but it was kind of the best party ever.
Do I Make a Cake?
Bake it or fake it, this isn't going to be a 3-year-old's first rodeo. They're going to be on the lookout for the sweet stuff.
Real Mom Advice: Tie the cake decoration into your theme, and it won't matter if it's filled with zucchini. (Don't try this—we're actually kidding.) But for real, decorate the cake and know that your local grocery store is an excellent option, too. You don't have to go specialty bakery here. They're 3, so they'll be psyched no matter how much you spend on it.
What Do I Feed People?
Three-year-old parties are generally not drop-off affairs, which means you're also going to be hosting a handful of adults. Don't go overboard with catering to the grown-ups, but it's a nice gesture to fill a cooler with more adult-type beverages—sparkling waters, sodas or beer and wine, if you're inclined—just to keep everyone hydrated. For the kids, set out bowls (or individual baggies) of their favorite fruit, veggie, or salty snacks, and juice boxes or containers of water. Steer clear of candy and sweets on the snack table, as you'll be loading them up when it's time to blow out the candles.
Real Mom Advice: At my daughter's party, which was tea party-themed, I went overboard on sugary toppings for the cupcakes (the "craft" was to allow each guest to decorate their own cupcake). Rookie move. Not a sprinkle was left on the table, and the guests spent the last hour basically growling at one another. Be sure you keep an eye on the sugar is all I'm saying.
What about Favors?
Yes, favors for the win. Don't go wild, but a festive-looking package at the exit gate will guarantee an easy send-off.
Real Mom Advice: Slap bracelets, bouncy balls, bubbles and sticker books are always winners. If you want to step it up a notch, personalized sippy cups are cute. At this stage, it's less about what's in the package than how fun the package looks to the kids when you're passing them out.
How Do I Make It Stop?
Cue the exit music, start a conga line and head toward the party favor station (and the car door).
Real Mom Advice: Putting an end time on the invitation may seem weird, but it'll make sure everyone is on the same page and it will save you from the awkward goodbye.
What about the After-Party?
Don't give in to the urge to have a private family party immediately after the party with guests ends. Shut. It. Down. Make time for maybe a book or possibly a cartoon, then nap time—if that works with your schedule. You and your 3-year-old are going to need to chillax. Save the after-party for another day.