Slight shift of focus this week, as the previous seven days have been utterly dominated by arrangements for the fifth birthday party of a certain someone. Anyway, we hired the Fielden Centre in Todmorden (which will mean nothing to 99.7% of my readership), and couldn't fault them (specifically, Bridie) for helpfulness, friendliness and downright reasonable pricing (this is not product placement, BTW).
Anyway, this was the first party we'd organised where everything was up to us; catering and entertainment. On top of this, we decided that such an occasion deserved a healthy turn-out, and invited around 30 kids, on the assumption that roughly 20 would be able to make it. As opposed to the 30 that turned up.
I learned some important lessons this weekend, and I offer them to you now, in ascending order of importance.
5. Check the facilities in your venue. Our place was kitted out with an oven, which allowed us to indulge our wildest, almost Blumenthal-esque food fantasies (ie. pizza, and fish fingers and chips). However, we weren't warned that, after being turned on, the temperature of the oven would rise by about 3 degrees every half hour.
4. Dress as a pirate. Never fails.
3. Corollary to (4). When dressing as a pirate, ensure that arriving parents are aware of your true identity (ie. father of party girl), lest they mistake you for a particularly shoddy hired entertainer (happened).
2. Check your music. I'd vaguely heard about this Glee thing that the kids were into, and thought that music from the series would make an appropriate soundtrack to a party full of 4 and 5-year-olds. Wrong. After rashly picking up two CDs without checking the tracklisting, I got them home to discover that the second track on one of them was a cheery cover of Amy Winehouse's Rehab. Cue frantic last-minute iTunes purchases. Also, check your equipment. An iPod/docking station combo that can be unbearably loud in a kitchen with quarry tile flooring will suddenly sound like a wasp trapped under a beer glass when placed in a cavernous hall full of small children hyped up on blue pop.
And the absolute, number 1 lesson I've learned from organizing a kid's party is don't be the baddy. Specifically, under no circumstances plan games that involve you making semi-arbitrary decisions about who is "out". You will never remember all of the names, and will end up looking pretty evil as you point at some quivering 4-year-old and shout across the room "You! No! Yes, you! You're out!"
I thought I'd be clever and organize a game of "Islands", which is a variant of "musical chairs", using sheets of newspaper as the islands onto which the kids must jump when the music stops. "Very clever," thought I. "Fits well with the 'Under the Sea' party theme." I was so very wrong to be in any way self-satisfied, as the game swiftly descended into Lord of the Flies-type chaos, with refusals to leave swiftly followed by the emergence of factions, and then all out war declared (mainly on me).
Pick games, like "Four corners" (from the link above), or "Pass the parcel". In that way, the decision on who is "out" is taken completely out of your hands, it's utterly unambiguous, and you can simply shrug at the tearful toddler as they shuffle sadly to the margins of the room, and say, apologetically, "Look, I don't make the rules."