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’ll want to celebrate this milestone. Keep reading for our take on throwing the most epic birthday party for three-year-olds ever.
To Theme or Not to 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 three, and he was more excited about the decorations than he was about his presents. He still has his banner—his name in Japanese surrounded by ninja images—hanging in his room.
How Many Kids Should I Invite to a Birthday Party for Three-Year-Olds?
By three, your daughter probably has her people. She knows what she likes, who shares toys well, and who doesn’t. However, you’re still 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 three, 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 on Monday to share with the whole class and the boys.
Should I Limit Gifts?
This is a hot topic that fans somefeelings, so go with your gut. If you know your kid 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 three-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 three, 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 a Birthday Party for Three-Year-Olds 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 car seat. This is when things could get hairy. A pack of balloons will work woners, because all you have to do is blow up a few by mouth, throw them to the c,rowd and tell them to keep those bad boys from touching the ground. Then, start saying yourthank-yous and goodbyes.
What Time of Day Works Best for a 3-Year-Old Birthday Party?
Since many three-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 any of your guests are the 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 still nap 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 We Have It?
Pandemic partying has its own set of constraints, but your main consideration here will be safe. While everyone has their comfort level with who, where, and how you interact with those outside your regular circle, a three-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 three-year-old parties. However, a playground or a backyard works 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 Bake a Cake?
Bake it or fake it, this isn’t going to be a three-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 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 three, so they’ll be psyched no matter how much you spend on it.
Do I Feed People at a Birthday Party for Three-Year-Olds?
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 cupcake). Rookie move. Not a sprinkle was left on the table, and the guests spent the last hour growling at one another. Be sure you keep an eye on the sugar, is all I’m saying.
What about Favors for a 3-Year-Old Birthday Party?
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 good. 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 it looks 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 three-year-old are going to need to chillax. Save the after-party for another day.