Tip No. 4: Perfect Timing

          Timing is everything at a child’s birthday party — and it is very easy to misjudge the length of time a particular craft, game or activity will take. 

          Crafts are particulary tricky time traps because children are notoriously unpredictable. One group may stick four beads on a string and call it a necklace. Another group may painstakingly craft a patterned string of beads for 20 minutes or more.  There’s really no way to know for sure exactly how long any party activity is going to take.

           One of the easiest mistakes to make when planning a child’s birthday party at home is allowing too much time for a particular activity. Children who finish quickly become bored and wander away. The party hostess struggles to encourage the slower children to finish and move on so that the group can get back on track.  

           As a general guide, keep crafts or activities very simple, and plan to allocate only 10 minutes of party time to each one. This is plenty of time for most activities. Choose many, knowing that you will likely not use all of them during the party, and be prepared to pull them out if needed.

         When you visit the craft store, you will see an enticing assortment of adorable crafts — including some really cute projects that will take longer than 10 minutes to complete. You’ll find yourself thinking along these lines: “Hmmmm. We could do 6 really cheesy little projects — or just this one really fabulous and fun project that could serve as a meaningul keepsake from the party.”

          This is the time to slap yourself and move to another aisle.  Resist this urge!

            Detailed and time-consuming projects are great for middle-schoolers and sleepover parties. If you are planning a standard two-hour party for a preschooler or young elementary school child, however, your primary party planning concern should be structuring a party that will flow well and easily with as little chaos as possible. Complex projects increase the chaos level.  Choose simple projects and offer more of them, to keep the party moving quickly, and your little partygoers will have much more fun. You’ll keep the excitement level high and the chaos level low, and the entire event will be much less stressful for you.

           As you complete one project, keep an eye on the clock. If it has taken longer than the 10 minutes allocated, mentally cross off one of the other projects from your list. Now you’re back on schedule again.

            While you will want to have some projects set up and ready for the children, avoid having all of them in sight or there will be disappointment when there is not enough time to get to that particular project. Sometimes it’s a good idea to have a box filled with everything ready to go for a particular project. For a headband project, for example, you might want to fill a small shoebox with sequins, gemstones, small silk flowers, ribbons glue and headbands.  If you need it, just pull out the box. If you don’t, the box never gets seen by your little partygoers. You can use it the following year or pull it out on a rainy afternoon when a few friends are over for a playdate.

        Present opening is another Time Trap for parents planning home birthday parties. Most people assume that the final 30 minutes of the party should be set aside for present opening — but that’s  too much time. 

         If you are serving cake and ice cream without additional food, the final 30 minutes of the party is plenty of time to serve the cake AND open presents.

            Some children rush through gift opening, tearing open 20 presents in the blink of an eye. Other children approach it in slow motion. It’s your job as the hostess to control the length of time the gift opening process takes, within the limits set by the child’s personality type. 

           The best way to do this is to place two chairs side by side, and call childen up one at a time to offer the birthday child a present and sit in the adjacent chair while the gift is opened. All other children need to be sitting on the floor at a distance during this process. 

             We’ve all seen the chaotic madness that erupts during gift opening at certain birthday parties. Please understand that it is not the children who are to blame for this frenzy; it is the adults who allow it to happen. It will happen in the blink of an eye at your party too unless you take defensive measures before present opening begins. Those measures are outlined in detail in the post titled Gift Opening in the menu on the right side of this page. 

             Don’t be afraid to step in and take charge if present opening turns into a disaster at your party. Simply stop the process. Do whatever it takes. Clap, whistle, cut the lights on and off, yell “Stop!” or gently touch children on the arms, call them by name and direct them to move back. But don’t just hang back and let chaos happen.  

        Here are the magic words to say MORE THAN ONCE during the present opening process:  “If it isn’t your turn, please do not sit beside Cindy. You need to be sitting nicely with the other children until it is your turn. We’ll let you know when it’s your turn.”

        Each time a new child goes up to sit beside the birthday child, the other children will forget and creep closer. They’ll want to see better. Before you know it, they’ll be glued like flies to butter around the gift opening process. This is why you need to say those magic words each time a new child goes up for his or her turn.    

      Young children are much like sheep. Their memories are short and they tend to do what everyone else is doing. You may feel awkward saying the same thing over and over again every few minutes, but please remember that you are not delivering a speech at a neurophysics covention; you are shepherding a group of young children who have already forgotten most of whatever you just said.     

         Finally, make sure you have one last game that can be played or activity that can be used at the end of the party if present opening does not fill those last few minutes of party time.  Parents will be arriving to pick up children, so make sure the activity is something from which a child can easily disengage. This is not the time for an art project that will need to dry!

                Some parents provide autograph books or autograph-friendly stuffed animals at this point so that each guest can sign his or her name or write a little something about the party. This kind of project creates a nice keepsake for the birthday child. 

              If the excitement level is really high at this point in your party, and the little partygoers are starting to become particularly unruly, start a game of Duck, Duck, Goose. Most young children will sit still for this.

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