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Birthday parties are a rite of passage in a child’s life. Whether it’s their first birthday or their sweet 16, every child deserves to be celebrated. That being said, parents and loved ones can feel pressure around planning a birthday party — perhaps a sense of overwhelm about where to begin.

Ariel Jackson, Kids Academy leader at Life Time in Garden City, N.Y., works with members who have their kids’ birthday parties at Life Time, supporting them through the planning process and day-of events. “The beauty of birthday parties is that you can make them whatever you want them to be,” says Jackson. “You can customize them to your child’s interests, so they really feel special. As a parent though, ‘whatever you want them to be’ can be an intimidating place to start. However, if you think about it, most birthday parties are comprised of a few common components. If you can cover off on those, you’ll likely be in a pretty good spot.”

These are the main elements Jackson recommends to considering when party planning:

1. Pick a theme.

Think about what your child likes: What hobbies are they into? Which TV or movie characters do they love? Are they sporty or crafty? This can help you pick the most applicable, fun theme for your child.

“I love to have parents really think about what their child’s interests are when deciding party plans so we select something we know the child will love,” says Jackson. “Does your child like messy slime? Do they love playing a certain sport? You can get as creative as you want here!”

Your theme can also help inform your location. For example, Jackson has worked with parents who’ve chosen to have a swimming-themed party and hold it at Life Time because they either don’t have a pool at home or want to be able to use it no matter the weather or season.

2. Plan games and activities.

Depending on your party’s theme, it can be fun to pick games and activities that compliment it. When choosing these, Jackson says it’s also important to take into consideration the age of the birthday kid and the attending guests.

“I always start the planning process by asking parents the age of the child because you want to gear everything toward that,” says Jackson. “For example, if the child is 2- going on 3-years-old and the family wants a gym games party, I may suggest having a bouncy house or pre-K tailored games such as playing parachute games and duck, duck, goose. If your child is slightly older but also wants gym games, we could do relay races, scooters, capture the flag, or basketball games. There’s always something for every age.”

You also want to consider the length of your party. “You don’t want to plan so many activities that kids feel rushed or like they had to miss out on something,” says Jackson. “But you also don’t want extra spare time where people are wondering what they’re supposed to be doing.”

3. Prepare food and drinks — or have it catered!

Remember to tailor the food toward the ages you are serving. “If I’m ordering a fruit platter for younger kids, for example, I always request the grapes to be cut in half to eliminate any choking hazards, and the parents are always thankful that this detail was considered,” says Jackson.

One advantage to hosting birthday parties at Life Time is that, depending on your club, the LifeCafe may be available for in-house catering. This eliminates the delivery fees of an outside caterer and the food is prepared right on property — not to mention it’s delicious!”

The most popular food selections (which vary by club) from the LifeCafe for birthday parties are the fruit platter, pizza, wrap platters available in southwest chicken, Asian tuna, turkey avocado, and chicken salad, and salads including the LifeCafe Salad, Bistro Chicken Salad, and the Mediterranean Salad.

4. Create a guest list.

Think about the size of the party you’d like to plan, and then create your guest list accordingly. If you’re planning a party for toddlers or younger children, remember to consider the parents who may also attend to accompany their children — that will affect the size of space and allotted food and drinks.

“I don’t get too much in the weeds with parents when it comes to guest-list specifics, but I do encourage families to consider how big they want to party to be,” says Jackson. “For teen parties, at the club I’m at, we like to have fun with our guest lists: We have the list of attendees at the front desk and when they arrive at the club, they’re given a wristband and escorted to the party area where they’re then greeted by the team member who will help facilitate the party. Usually this makes them feel special and like an older ‘adult’ as they enter Life Time.”

If everything on this list still feels overwhelming, enlist help. “Whether you come to us at Life Time to help you plan, hire a party planner, or recruit a friend or family member, a party is an undertaking and one you don’t have to take on alone,” says Jackson.

Callie Chase
Callie Fredrickson

Callie Fredrickson is a content editor at Life Time.

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