I am not a natural hostess. I am overly fussy about things like crumbs on the floor and toilet lids left up. I over think things like food and prep, trying to make everything special and pretty. The result is a bunch of fussy food that most people don't recognize and decor that is either not as cute as I imagined or doesn't really matter anyway. Also, I get nervous and rush about trying to speak to everyone and probably do not listen as well as I should. That's probably a long enough list for now! So, with that said, children's birthday parties are a definite work in progress for me. For one thing, I have yet to find that magic hour when all children are awake, well rested, and in a good mood. Also, the thought of lots of preschoolers eating cupcakes in my house pretty much makes me want to rush for the nearest hand vac and pack of Clorox wipes. But, I think I get a little better with every party and here are some of the things I have learned:
Keep the food very, very simple. Like hot dogs, small sandwiches, fruit, things like that. Don't get overly hung up on everything being healthy or serving a "square meal." I remember researching low fat/sugar/artificial cake recipes for my oldest child's first birthday. Thank God I abandoned that idea and just ordered some cupcakes from the family bakery!
Keep the list small. That rule of number of kids equaling the age of the child? Pretty good. It's hard because you want to include everyone but it is much easier to deal with 3-4 three year olds or 1-2 one year olds than say, 15. Also, from the age of three on, you'd better ask your child who they want at their party, and respect it. Trust me, it's embarrassing calling a parent three days before a party to say "My daughter reeeaaallly wants your daughter at this party. I'm sorry I didn't think to invite her before but you see, I forget they are people with feelings and opinions of their own so I just invited the children of my friends." Or something like that.
Keep the party favors simple. I've seen some pretty cute stuff in goody bags but really, we all have snacks, candy, and small toys at home already. Instead, pick one cool toy/craft that goes with the party theme and use that as the favor. The child and parent will probably appreciate it more than a bunch of tiny stuff. I learned this tip from my birthday ninja friend. For this last birthday party, I found a bunch of giant beaker-style bubble wands on clearance at Target. I literally emptied the entire shelf into my cart! The kids had a blast running around blowing bubbles in the backyard so it was a "goody" and an activity. Of course, somehow I didn't get across that they got to take them home (bad hostess-itis) and so my yard ended up littered with bubble wands!
Move things along in a timely basis. No one wants to hang around your house for 4 hours waiting to see their gift opened. Meet and greet, activity, snack/meal, cake, presents, thank-you-for-coming.
Keep it simple. Especially for little ones. We will all get to the years when children think they must have elaborate, expensive birthday parties. So take advantage of the fact that most very young children have pretty simple needs. Try not to over-stress it and relax and have fun. I'll have to come back and re-read this myself in three months when my daughter turns 4!