The Ultimate Survival Guide to planning a Themed Kids Party

Braveheart never had to throw a kids party…

Anyone who’s ever thrown a kids birthday party knows that this is no task to take on light heartedly! This is a task for the brave with nerves of steel! Having thrown my share of kids themed parties and having worked at a daycare and kindergarten for several years, let me share with you my best survival tactics on how to throw a themed birthday party and stay sane enough to do it again the next year without throwing in the towel.

The Master Plan

The biggest favour you can do yourself is to plan ahead and then plan some more. I have been to birthday parties where the parents decided to just hang up a “Happy Birthday” sign and buy a cake and some paper plates. And there is nothing wrong with that, but I would never do that, because as the time passed and the hours trickled away, you could tell that said parents were slowly but surely going insane and felt like a slow painful death would be the kind way out of this situation.

I’m obviously joking (or am I?), but my point is, there is nothing worse (NOTHING) than a hoard of bored kids running through your house finding their own way to keep themselves entertained (usually at the expense of every item in your house that you have ever cherished).

I plan a birthday party like I planned a playgroup or a kindergarten class. Because, let’s face it, is there really a difference? 10 kids confined to one area, that you are responsible for, for about 3 to 4 hours.

I wrote down a nice guide for you to follow when you plan your next themed kids party. This way, you can use it for any theme you (or your kid) picks.

The 3 Key Areas to Manage… in a Nutshell

The decorations is what make your themed party to a themed party. This does not mean it has to be expensive or extravagant, but make sure you put just as much thought into this as the other two sections. I usually make the Buffet a big part of the decoration center. It is an easy focus point because people spend time there (where there is food there are people gathering) and you already have part of your decoration because of the food. You’ll see what I mean when I get to the food section. Also, make sure some decoration is at the door and in the entrance way. This way people will notice the theme as soon as they come up to your door. Sometimes it is enough to hang up a big cloth which fits the color theme of your party. Since it is something that is usually not there and people will immediately notice it. Also, if you have props (for example: mustaches at a mustache themed party) for your party guests to use, putting them by the entrance before they actually walk into the main “party area” will get them into the right mood and get them excited to see what awaits them next. The key with decorations is to add little decorations all around the “party area”. For a Super Mario Party I attached gold chocolate coins on a string and hung them all around the room. It made it seem like there were extravagant decorations, when really all that was decorated was the entrance, the buffet and the gold coins hung up all around the room. Simple but effective!
The food is so important because, let’s face it, we all love food. There is so much creativity you can put into food without having to be a great chef or baker. What makes simple finger foods great at a themed party is if you can figure out a way to make EVERYTHING that you serve theme related. I have to be honest at this point and admit that, at our parties, my hubby takes care of this area. And he is an absolute genious when it comes to transforming any snack into a theme attribute. For example, at a Star Wars themed party we once had breadsticks wrapped with bacon and they were labeled as “light sabers”. So simple, yet so brilliant. There are thousands of ideas out there on the internet, so don’t worry about having to come up with your own brand new idea, make your life a little easier and google it… or even better, use my all time favourite “party ideas” search engine and use Pinterest for your party research. The important thing to remember is to tie the food into the decorations by adding labels that tell your guests what this food is supposed to represent. People will get a kick out of eating little chocolate “nunchucks” at a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles party or having some “blue pond jellow” at a Rubber Ducky themed party. The labels can be as simple (with just the words) or as extravagant (with little pictures of the item and a border) as you want them to be.
If you choose to have your party during a meal time try to think of a way to integrate that into the theme too (if possible). For example, Pizza at a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles party or spinach pie at a Popeye party.
This is the part that will save your sanity at the end of the day! Activities are the backbone of your beautiful decorations and delicious and witty snacks. Activities are not essential (or wanted) at an adult party, but that is because adults like to talk and socialize. When kids “talk and socialize” in combination with excitement, fueled up with sweets and adrenaline… well, need i say more?
Just like with food, there are hundreds of ideas on almost all themes you could come up with on the internet. If you can’t find enough activities (wondering what theme you picked actually) then you can often take other activities from another theme and adjust them a little to work with your theme. The best example for this is “Pin the tail on the Donkey”. This game can be used at almost any party! We pinned the salami on the pizza during our Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles party.

Planning… Things to brainstorm and check off

… What colors represent your theme? Does the show or character of your theme have a trademark color scheme going?
…What key objects define your theme? Example: Gold coins for Super Mario or bandanas at a pirate party.
… Will there be costumes or little gadgets for each guest to wear? I make sure that the kids always have some sort of costume on at every themed party, it’s like walking decorations and just adds that little extra to the atmosphere. Costumes can be made out of a piece of fabric with a whole for the head and a rope as a belt or a piece of fabric cut into strips as Ninja headbands. The important part is the colors and not whether it’s store bought (i have never bought any of them). The kids can then take the costumes home at the end of the party.
… Will there be a buffet? I ALWAYS have a buffet at parties. It allows me (ok, fine… my hubby does this part)… It allows my hubby to prepare almost everything before the party guests arrive and therefore allows us to focus on keeping the little angels from taking our house apart… or at grown up parties to join the chatting and socializing without being stuck in the kitchen the whole time.
… What foods fit the theme and is there somewhat a balance in the type of foods being offered. Once you have done all your research for ideas, pick out a nice assortment of types of food so that there aren’t all salty or all sweet snacks on the buffet.
… Will there be a cake? Most likely this is the case at a birthday party. Remember that muffins can also be a nice substitute if you are not a big cake maker. Try being creative (if you enjoy baking). Don’t be scared off by something seeming too hard or never having made certain decorations before. It’s a kids party and it’s supposed to be creative. Who knows, maybe you have a hidden talent that you never knew about… and worst case scenario you have a funny story that is documented with pictures and can be told for years to come. Trust me, your kid (as long as their not teenagers yet) will love the cake and love the fact that you took the time to make it yourself, even if they don’t actually tell you. If you are pressed on time or just not that great of a baker then you can easily buy a plain cake at the supermarket and decorate it with some icing, food coloring and sprinkles to make it your own. Don’t think we’ve never ordered a ready made, amazing looking cake, there is nothing wrong with that. All I am saying is, have fun with it, it’s your party too!
… ACTIVITY STATIONS: I like making stations where the kids can do activities on their own. There is always a kid that gets tired or does not want to play with the others for a while and wants some down time. I look through my kids’ toys and see what I can make a station out of. If it fits the theme, all the better, but it doesn’t HAVE to. For a Lego Ninjago party I made a battle arena station where 2 kids could battle with the Lego set in the arena. This just fit perfectly because my son had these Legos in his room anyway. I have also set out a Lego building station in a quiet corner of the house for a Transformers party before. It had nothing to do with the theme, but it was a life saver because at one point when the kids got tired and wanted some down time (which they would never actually admit) they were all happy when I suggested the Lego corner and played happily for quite a while. The Legos where all set out on a mat, ready to go without being in the way of anyone having to pass through. The key for these stations is to have them set up and ready and looking attractive. It is like a store, if the product looks nicely set up and attractive you are more likely to buy it than if it is crammed in a box and you have to look through a bunch of other things to find something interesting.
… LED ACVTIVITIES: I always have a led activity or two on hand. Something that gets the kids moving and is the focus of the party. It is a great way to get the kids back onto common ground when you notice that they start getting antsy or start fighting over things. Ideally these activities are outside and allow them to run and let some energy out. For example, a treasure hunt, a foam light saber fight, three legged races and so on. Find a way to tie into this activity what the theme of the party is. We made a Egg-on-spoon race in teams at our “Angry Birds” Party.

Various things to decide:

  • Time Frame

    What time of the day does the party take place? How long is the party for? I like to plan a window of about 3 to 4 hours for a party, depending on whether the kids will be eating a meal at the party or not.

  • Weather

    Is the party mainly inside or outside? If there are key elements that take place outside, remember to have an alternative ready in case the weather is not your friend that day.

  • Goodie Bags

    What will the kids get to take home? Are there going to be goodie bags? Remember to place them somewhere where you won’t forget to give them on the way out but where the kids don’t eat them before they leave (trust me, they won’t need any more sugar while still in your house)

  • Gift station

    Where will the kids drop off the birthday gifts when they walk in? Sounds silly, but that is always good to have. If 10 kids arrive at the same time you don’t want to run around and find gifts being deposited everywhere and lying around to be stepped on.

  • Highlight of the party

    Yes, I like to make sure there is one highlight at the party. It could be the led activity or the cake eating time or anything you want to be really special. Make sure you time that event correctly. This means, do this when the kids are receptive and not overhyped so they can’t focus anymore. If you have to, make a game where they all have to run a lap around the house and then sit down in a row to power them out a bit. Little things like that can make everyone enjoy the party more and make the highlight special and remembered.

  • Invites

    Make sure you remember to make the invites theme oriented too. It’s the first step to getting them excited for the party. And I don’t mean a card with the picture of the theme… I mean, bring the theme to life. For example: Invite the kids to attend the “Ninja Training Academy” if you are throwing a “Lego Ninjago” party. Again, you will find hundreds of ideas online if you need some inspiration.

  • Keep your house in one piece

    Make sure that the areas that are not “party areas” are clearly marked with a sign. This means, private bedrooms, garage, or any other room you don’t want kids to enter. You might have taught your kid not to walk into closed rooms at a strangers house, but that doesn’t mean that other people have taught their kids this.

Last piece of advice…

After the kids have all arrived and had a few minutes to talk and so on, I always sit them all down in a circle to do the following:
  • Introduce myself (again) and the other members of the family or friends that are present.
  • Tell them where they can find the bathroom.
  • Inform them who they can turn to if they need anything.
  • Let them know roughly what the schedule is like. “We will do a couple of games together, then we’ll have cake time, then there will be the gift opening…” etc.
  • Advice them on what the rules are for the buffet. Can they just take food and drinks whenever they feel like it? Do they have a cup with their name on it? Does food and drinks have to stay in a certain area?
  • Give them the costumes if they don’t already have them.
  • Explain the Activity Stations and the rules. Is there a limited number of kids per station? Do they have to clean up? And so on.
  • Show them how the “off limits” rooms are marked.
  • And any other information that they might need to know

This beginning circle is extremely important to a smooth and fun party. Just remember, they are kids from different families and may be used to different rules. Some might be too shy to ask about certain things and others might just act completely rude in your eyes because they have a different upbringing than your kids do. This quick circle allows the kids the chance to understand what behaviour is expected of them, much like a teacher does in a class room and a councelor does at the beginning of summer camp.  You would be surprised how much the kids immediately adjust their behaviour and feel comfortable, even in a new house, when you pick them up at the beginning of the party and give them some guidance throughout.


I hope that this has helped you in planning a great day and a perfect party for you and your kids! I look forward to hearing about what themed kids parties you have done in the past and what tips and tricks have helped you keep your sanity! Please let me know in the comments below 🙂

xoxo, Ella

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About the Author


Ella is the proud mother of 3 wild boys! She lives in Switzerland where she is married to the love of her life who manages to keep up with her spur-of-the-moment ideas, her constant new projects around the house and shares her love for over-doing every party they throw! Ella faces the daily challenges of a stay-at-home mom and talks to her sister, on the other side of the globe, everyday for advice, sharing funny stories and sometimes just to stay sane!

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