Ideas for the Party Human

Archive for the ‘How to Throw a Party (without spraining something)’ Category

            The partying sector of society over twelve is probably the one most guilty of losing the art of throwing a party.  It is from this group that the image of the “party animal” originated, and yet this age-group is the one that can most benefit from partying like human beings.  Following are a few tips on giving parties for teens or adults, beyond the information discussed in my Party-Planning posts.  Later I will describe many actual parties (both Indoor and Outdoor) in detail for you to copy, or simply to use as a jumping-off point for your imagination.

 1.         When giving a party for your teenager, be cautious.  Depending on his or her personality, you don’t want to push your ideas too much.  Kids want to make sure they’re doing what they want to do and only that!  Make a few suggestions; perhaps have him look at this blog, and then ask him to make the decisions.  Give him a deadline, or he may not give you time for the necessary preparations.

2.         When your teen gives a party, take a back seat and let him or her be in charge.  You can be a shadow putting food on the table, or, if she wants, you may play a role of some sort–but never try to control the party.  A few whispered suggestions to your son or daughter when you see problems arise should be sufficient.  However, you must be there as a chaperone, in case you’re needed.  Never let a youth party take place when no adult is present.

3.         Make use of your public, school or church library when developing your theme.  It’s a wonderful resource for ideas and props.  Check books, tapes, pamphlets and magazines.

4.         Invite whom you want to your party.  Be a friend to everyone there.  If all the guests do not know each other, use mixers and icebreaker games to get everyone acquainted.

5.         For birthday parties in this age group, be sure to print on the invitation “No gifts please” or “Gag gifts or white elephants only.”  It is generally not appropriate for teens and adults to have to buy nice presents for a birthday party.

6.         You may wish to start a file or notebook of favorite party ideas.

7.         Be enthusiastic about your party and the things you have planned.  Enthusiasm is contagious.  Your guests will catch your excitement, and it will add a great deal to the success of the party.  Be confident; hesitancy foretells failure.

8.         Sometimes with teens, giving prizes to the winners of games may cause too-intense competition, loss of perspective, or other problems.  One way to get around this and keep an “all-in-fun” attitude among the guests is the old-fashioned practice of redeeming “forfeits” from losers and giving “recognitions” for winners of games.  Some ideas for forfeits might be to require the losing player to do some seemingly impossible task, such as sit on the ceiling using only a pencil and paper (the answer is to write “the ceiling” on the paper and sit on the paper); or to dramatize some action, such as catching a fly ball or painting a fence; or to act out a nursery rhyme or well-known proverb.  Some ways of recognizing the winner of a game might be to name him or her as the leader in the next game, to give the winner a round of applause, to ask the other guests to stand up and curtsy or salute to the winner, to pin a blue ribbon on the winner, or to ask the winner to be the judge to call for redemption of forfeits.


             What is it that gives parents the irresistible desire to throw birthday parties for their young children?  I think maybe there is a little bit of a wish to show off our youngster, to help him or her to be “king (or queen) of the hill,” to have his or her day in the sun.  Maybe we want to relive our childhood fun days through our child.  Whatever it is, we keep doing it, even if the little tads ruin our carpet or trample our petunias and invariably make us forget our resolve to treat our diminutive guests like adults.

          In this post, I will give some tips for making tot parties less nerve-wracking and even a little enjoyable.  In later posts, I will give some descriptions of both indoor and outdoor parties you might want to give for your child. 

                                               Parties for Your Progeny–How to Survive

             The key word in planning parties for children is anticipate.  Dream up the absolute worst that could happen and prepare for it.  (Kids were probably the inspiration for Murphy’s Law.)  If you remember to do this, the battle is half won.  Following are a few more tips that might help:

 1.        Keep it simple.  Pick a theme and plan activities that you know the children can handle.  Make sure you involve your child with these decisions as much as possible.  Don’t force him to choose something he doesn’t want.  Don’t wear yourself out on too much fanciness; the kids probably won’t notice.  (But, if your child really wants something extravagant in the way of food or decorations, maybe you can do it for her.)

2.         Be clear and specific on the invitations.  Write them to the parents as well as the children.  If you hand them out, give them to the child when the parent is present.  Request an R.S.V.P.  Be sure to state when the party begins and when it will be over.  An hour-and-a-half is good for young children, longer for older kids.  Also, if you don’t want them to bring gifts, say that clearly on the invitation.

3.         Try to invite kids that are pretty close to the same age or maturity level.  When some older kids get bored with younger children’s games, you may have warring factions on your hands, or at least some detached deserters.

4.         A guideline for young children’s parties is that the number of guests equals the child’s age plus one.

5.         Plan twice as many games as you think you’ll need.  If kids seem bored as you explain one game, switch to another.  Never play one game too long.  Use your child as a consultant.

6.         Try to have a partner.  If a spouse is not available, ask one of the parents of the guests to stay and help referee.  (This way, you can run two games at once, when some of the children say “London Bridges is dumb” and it’s your child’s favorite game!)

7.         Sometimes it’s handy to have a whistle to get the children’s attention.

8.         When teaching a new game:  Know the rules; don’t try to teach a game that you are not sure of yourself.  Have all necessary equipment ready before beginning.  Ask the children to get into position for playing the game before you explain it, and demonstrate everything as you talk.  Make sure everyone observes established rules.  And, last but not least, enjoy playing with the youngsters.  Children are quick to sense a leader’s boredom or bad attitude.

9.         Plan simple but fun food.  Don’t wear yourself out cooking.  Kids rarely distinguish between store-bought, mix and homemade.  Be aware of allergies, medications or health problems among your guests.

10.       Have the children eat outside, if possible.  At the very least, put down a tarp or sheet of plastic to catch spills.  Have plenty of napkins, simple-to-use-for-little-hands utensils and cups, and make sure it’s all disposable.  If you have ice cream, give small portions.  Fill cups of punch only half full for young children.  Save the eating part for the last, if possible.

11.       If you’re having the party outdoors, try to do so in a fenced-in area.

12.       Remember to be flexible!  This is nearly as important as anticipating!

13.       Try to have some party favor for the children to take home.  This is especially important when the guests are bringing birthday presents for your child.  Young children have a hard time understanding the concept of birthday gifts.

14.       Have large trash bags, broom and mop on hand for clean up.

15.       After the party’s over, you may want to share your fun by taking decorations down carefully and donating them to the children’s ward or playroom of a local hospital or orphanage.  Call the information office of the institution and ask for the procedure in making your donation.

            I hope these tips help you avoid disasters and enjoy your child’s party.  But most of all, I hope your child enjoys her party, and with some thoughtful planning, I’m sure she will.

             Probably the most discouraging thing for a host is for guests to leave early out of boredom.  Not quite as bad, but still aggravating, is when you can’t get them to leave at all.

            My mother always told us that the party should end while everyone’s still having fun, so they will leave with good memories.  At first, we hated to see people have to leave when the fun seemed at its peak, but we soon came to realize that she was right.  When people leave wishing for more, they will think of your party as a lot of fun, and they will more likely be back next time!

            So how do you conclude a party before it begins to drag?  The best way is to be specific on the invitations.  Give a starting and an ending time (unless you really don’t care when or if they leave).  That way, parents know when to pick up their children.  If the guests have driven themselves, the party might run a little over, but someone will have a watch, and once one person leaves they’ll all start doing it.

            After you’ve made everyone aware of closing time, be sure you plan more than enough activities to take you through that time.  But don’t think you have to do them all!  (Flexibility, remember?)  You just want to keep the guests busy and happy, so they don’t have time to get bored and decide to “blow this joint” of their own accord.  You want them to leave with a twinge of regret, hoping they won’t be missing too much more.

            If all this fails, and the guests are hanging around with no sign of leaving, the last resort is to begin dropping hints.  You can ask if your clock is correct; you may begin clearing away garbage and maybe even some food; you might ask if anybody has an idea for another game.  Sometimes, the guests just feel so comfortable and pleasant that they would rather sleep at your house than get up and go home, but most will be able to take a little hint.  Nevertheless, I sincerely hope that your clarity on the invitation will suffice and that you will not need to resort to such crass and less-than-gracious touches as glancing at your watch repeatedly, yawning or mentioning an early appointment in the morning.  One friend tells the story of her grandfather, who, when guests had stayed too long, would come out, snap his suspenders and say loudly, “It wouldn’t hurt my feelings if you’d all go home now.”  I do not recommend this kind of bluntness!

           I discovered this principle at the first party I ever hosted.  My friend was co-hosting it with me, and she took the initiative and planned everything out.  She was well acquainted with the principle of planning, and the party’s agenda was very structured.  There is nothing wrong with this, but my friend was not aware of the Flexibility Principle, and so she intended to adhere rigidly to her schedule, which went something like this:  7:00-7:15, play Blindman’s Bluff; 7:15-7:30, play Charades; 7:30-7:45, play Musical Chairs; 7:45-8:15, exchange and open gifts; 8:15-8:30, eat; 8:30-9:00, dance.  It’s okay to have a general outline like this in mind, but there are too many variables–arrival time of guests, preferences and moods of guests, forgotten assignments, to name a few–for the host to expect to be able to enforce his schedule.  If he tries to do so, he will only alienate his guests and spoil the party anyway.

            My mother explained these things to us, and we relaxed our expectations a little bit.  The party then went smoothly, and everyone had fun.  

            Simply stated, the Flexibility Principle is thus:


Or in other words, you have to follow the flow of the party rather than try to force it into your own channels, if you want to avoid disappointment and make the event a success.   Let me demonstrate.

            Suppose you had your heart set on playing a certain game, which you would have to teach to your guests.  Now, several things could happen:  a)  The guests pick it up quickly and enjoy it immensely; b)  The guests don’t understand it and lose interest; c)  You run out of time; or d)  Another guest suggests a familiar game instead, and majority support is behind him.  What would you do if options b, c or d occurred?  Would you push for your game anyway, making your guests unhappy, bored and slightly resentful?  Would you sulk and moan and consider the party a total loss?  Just who is this party for, anyway?

            If you started the party intending to be flexible in whatever areas that were necessary to insure the success of the event, then you would take the slight tempo lapse in stride, change plans accordingly and go with the desires of your guests.  You would still have fun, and so would your guests!  It’s natural to feel a little disappointment, but if you expect to have to make changes it won’t be so bad.  After all, you should remember that the party is really for your friends, not for you.  (Consider it a fun service project!)  If you keep this in mind, then the enjoyment they have will be your reward.

            The use of decorations at a party is, of course, optional.  The only necessity is that the place of the party be clean and comfortable.  However, the chosen theme will likely fail if you do not make some effort to create an atmosphere at your party.  Decorations often make the first impressions that are very important to getting the party off to a good start.  So, how do you go about creating the right atmosphere for your party?

            To begin, you look at your theme and your agenda of activities, and then you decide what kind of atmosphere you want to create.  Do you just want it to feel homey?  Do you want a festive air?  Do you desire a foreign feeling?  Is there the spirit of a certain holiday that you want to capture?  Are you turning your home into an elegant restaurant, or the studio set of a game show?

            Next, you put on your thinking cap and decide just how to create that atmosphere.  You may need to do nothing but clean the house and rearrange the furniture or borrow a few chairs.  Or, you may go big on balloons and streamers and centerpieces.  Maybe it’s a matter of finding some Hawaiian music to play in the background.  A few props to carry out your theme can go a long way toward creating that atmosphere; you can tastefully arrange such items as sports equipment, dolls, socks (for a Sock Hop), camping equipment, stuffed animals, etc.  Sometimes you may want to put up signs to let the guests know exactly “where” they are supposed to be.

            One alternative often overlooked is to have your guests participate in creating the atmosphere.  As well as lightening your load, this method also helps to unify the guests and get them more involved.  You might ask your closest friends if they have any authentic artifacts you can display.  Or, depending on your chosen theme, you may ask all your guests to dress in appropriate costume.  This can be all you really need to get the feeling you are trying to evoke.  You may put up no decorations, but a room full of top hats and hoop skirts can easily turn your home into an English manor of the Victorian period or a Southern plantation of the pre-civil war era.  And, it has been my experience that, when guests are in some sort of costume, they automatically feel more like partying in the spirit of your theme.

            The object, again, is to be creative and unique.  When guests see something new and different, it gives them a little jolt that says, “My hostess is really creative, and it looks like she cares about this party because she put in so much effort.  I think this is going to be a lot of fun!”  Another thing I’ve found is that creativity is catching, and it is a wonderful thing to spread around. 

            Last of all, you go to work!  Plan ahead to give yourself enough time so you can have things just the way you want them when the guests arrive.  Whatever you decide to do to make your theme come alive, I promise you that it will add to the spirit and enjoyment of your party.

            I do have one caution, however.  There is such a thing as going overboard with decorations.  You don’t want to have so much stuff around that guests cannot move freely, relax comfortably or communicate easily.  Unique touches here and there in out-of-the-way corners are better than miles of streamers, clouds of balloons and piles of props.  You also don’t want to overload yourself with work, such as making 200 crepe-paper flowers, or whatever.  If you take into account all the various aspects of your party when you plan your decorations, you should come up with the right balance of atmosphere and free space.

            For specific ideas on decorating, stay tuned for the party descriptions in future posts.

            Though it doesn’t necessarily make or break the party, food generally plays a very important role in party-throwing.  Even if a party is fun in every other way, the guests will usually be disappointed if the food is scarce or less than tasty.  Actually, many choices and concerns need consideration when you’re making decisions about the food at your party.

            First, decide what type of food you want to have.  Do you want to have snacks, desserts, or are you going for an entire meal?  This should be quite easy to decide. 

            Second, you decide who is going to be responsible for the food.  Are you going to provide it all yourself, or are you going to ask the guests to help?  Either way is perfectly acceptable, but beware of overspending your budget if you’re doing it all yourself.

            Third, you select the specific kind of food you want to have.  The theme you have chosen will help you with this decision.  Consider the whole party carefully when making these choices.  Think about the atmosphere you want to create.  Don’t serve English crumpets at a luau, and don’t serve sloppy joes at a black tie affair.  Is it a swim party?  Have lots of cold stuff to drink, but keep the eats light.  Is it a dinner-dance?  Don’t make the meal too heavy or spicy, and don’t serve food that creates bad breath unless you intend to provide after-dinner breath mints, too.  (Remember that people come face to face with each other when dancing together, and bad breath–real or imagined–inhibits the desire to mingle and dance!)  Is it a caroling or sledding party?  Have warm drinks and hot food.  Try to anticipate what the guests will feel like, so you can “hit the spot.”

            Try to include new and different, creative choices.  This doesn’t mean that you need to be a gourmet–or cook like one–unless you want to.  It just means that you should try not to get into a rut, using the same old party foods.  (Chips, dips and pop does not say a whole lot for your creative genius, now does it?)  If you need help coming up with new food, check special party-type cookbooks out of the library and look through them or search the internet.  Or, use your imagination to fix favorite foods in a new, exciting way. 

            Even old stand-bys can seem novel by displaying them in unique ways.  In fact, setting out your food can be a fun part of the total decorating process.  Let me give you some examples of eyecatching display ideas to get your mind running on the creative track.

            Suppose you’re giving a Mermaid Party.  You could set out refreshments in large seashells, hollowed melons and coconuts, toy treasure chests or boats.  Perhaps you could rent an interesting beverage fountain to go with the theme.  For the endless varieties of Halloween Parties, you could serve food in plastic skulls, mini-coffins, mad scientist beakers or tubes, or hollowed pumpkins.  Dry ice in a cauldron will carbonate your drinks, and also add a spooky atmosphere.  Perhaps you could carve a cheeseball like a jack-o-lantern or use a witch’s hat for a cornucopia.  For a Gypsy Party, maybe you could craft a mini-wagon to hold refreshments, or put them in tambourines or atop colorful scarves.  If you’re giving a “Peanuts” Party for children, display food in a clean dog food dish or mini-doghouse, on a toy piano or in lunchboxes. 

            I hope these four examples will give you an idea of the creativity a good theme can bring out, whether in displaying your refreshments or decorating for the event.  You will find more ideas in the posts to come.

            Now, a few words about asking your guests to bring food . . .  This is an ideal way to make guests feel needed, as well as keeping your budget down.  If people are asked to do something, they usually feel important and wanted.  They will feel responsible and will more likely come to the event.  (This true principle can work in all phases of our lives.)

            When making food assignments, first list all assignments on a piece of paper, then use as a reference when filling out invitations.  This way, you can match the assignments to the guests, giving more complicated recipes to the better cooks and less-expensive items to those on a tight budget. 

            If you’re just having snacks, you can ask them to bring specific things, or you can ask each person to bring his favorite treat.  You should provide the things that are less portable, like punch or ice cream.  It’s also a good idea to have a backup in mind, in case some guests forget.  Something easy, fast and cheap, like popcorn, is best. 

            If you’re having a potluck meal, try not to make the assignments too complicated, unless you’re entertaining a gourmet cooking club!  You might even include a recipe with the invitation, if you feel that would be appreciated.  Always be sure to tell the guest how much of the particular food he should bring.

            If you are providing all the food yourself, take a lot of thought before setting off to the grocery store.  Consider your budget first.  You don’t owe anyone an exotic, expensive meal.  If you’re doing it all to hear praises of your wonderful cooking, you might be disappointed.  Some people just won’t notice all the work you went to.  Besides, that should not be your reason for having a party, anyway.  Food should be a delightful sideline at most parties, with a few exceptions (like the gourmet club above).

            Next, consider the time element.  How busy are you, really?  Be honest with yourself; be practical; be reasonable.  How much time will you truly need?  Are you going to start making things ahead and freezing them?  Do you have a full, uninterrupted day to make it all fresh for the party?  What food do you have to make from scratch, what can you use mixes for, and what can you buy ready-made?  Can you afford to have some or all of it catered?  (Do this only if your time is a very precious commodity.)  Don’t think it all has to be from scratch, unless you’ve really got the time for it.

            Last, consider the amount.  In general, you want to have slightly more than you really think you’ll need.  If you are not sure what you will need, consult cookbooks for how many servings the recipes make.  Read labels to see how many servings are in the box or can.  Assume all the guests are coming, even if some sounded rather iffy.  People can always change their plans at the last minute, and if you really know how to throw a party, many people will do that, just so they won’t miss your shindig.

            When you’re preparing the food, set priorities.  Anticipate which foods will be most popular and make sure you have plenty on hand.  Make the most important items first, leave the “nice-to-haves” for last.  If you get down to the wire and you are not done, don’t sweat it.  You can leave out the minor stuff, and no one need ever know.  This is part of The Flexibility Principle, covered in a later post.

            If you follow the basic guidelines in this section, and give some intelligent thought to your preparation, you will have a party that is made all the more successful by your tasteful array of tempting victuals.

In The Great Key, I promised to start on the 7 tips for successful party planning.  So, today, I’ll start with No. 1:  “Think up a theme.”

     One thing so many parties lack today is a theme.  It is possible to have a fun party without a theme, but in general these parties are mere carbon copies of each other, usually a dull mixture of food (pizza, chips/dips, etc.), drink (pop, Koolaid, or worse–alcohol) and music (usually the host’s personal collection of CDs).  There is no action here, and very little thinking.  If the guests are poor conversationalists, then the party is dubbed a flop. 

            Even if one guest considers himself “the life of the party,” you should remember that you are not providing an audience for show-offs.  You want everyone, even the most shy or timid, to have a good time.  Few things are more rewarding than bringing out the best in a “wallflower” or shy person.  This is all more easily accomplished if you have a good theme and plenty of things to do for everyone.

            The easiest way to think up things to do at a party is to first choose a theme.  This personalizes the event and sets a tone.  Perhaps only Molly Cavanaugh would throw a spelunking party in her basement, or only Luke Smith would think of a Star Wars Convention in an empty drive-in theater lot.  You can bet one thing:  With a unique theme, your guests will remember you and your party much longer than they’ll recall What’s-his-name’s nondescript chips-pop-and-CDs evening. 

            But just how do you go about choosing this all-important theme?

            Well, I can’t give you a step-by-step process, but I will suggest some hints.  Think about your favorite subject, something that really fascinates you.  Is there a way you can build a party around it?  Or what about a favorite activity–such as a sport, hobby or game?  Can you use that in an interesting setting for a party?  Is there a piece of a movie, TV show or book that you would like to re-create?  Hopefully, these questions can help lead you to choosing a workable theme.

            Just remember, the possibilities are endless!  You can pick a time in history, an exotic place (real or imaginary), or a season of the year.  Don’t forget things like nursery rhymes, famous sayings, etc. 

            A word of caution:  High school seniors are fond of choosing a popular song title for a theme for their proms, graduations and such.  This is nice for these kinds of occasions, but for personal parties a song usually doesn’t work as well.  There is not enough meat in it.  Say you pick the song “Let the Good Times Roll” for the theme for your party.  Where does that leave you?  What kind of food or decorations does that suggest?  What kind of games?  Possibly you could take the last word, “roll,” and turn it into a bowling party or a motorcycle-riding outing, but that’s about all I could come up with.  Nevertheless, I am not totally ruling out song themes; since this is your party, you pick what you want, and if you find a song that really works–by all means, use it!

            Now, with your own unique theme chosen, the really fun part of your party-planning begins.

            Stage a brainstorming session with your family, co-hosts or whomever you’d like to help you plan your party.  State your theme and elaborate a little on it until everyone present has a clear feeling for your idea.  Then put your heads together.  Ideas for invitations, activities, food and decorations that fit the theme will come quickly and easily.  Your parents might know where they can get hold of a fog machine for atmosphere, or your friend might have some authentic German artifacts, or your co-hostess might know a game you don’t that would be perfect.  Listen to all suggestions, even if your first reaction is negative; you may find some value in them later.  The secret to successful brainstorming is not to make anyone feel that their ideas are stupid.  Once that feeling gets out, the idea session will die and all creativity will be suppressed.

            In the posts that follow, you will see dozens of examples of parties emerging from different themes.  You’re more than welcome to copy some of these–that’s what they are here for– but if you come up with a great one of your own I’d love to hear about it.  Just leave a comment, and tell me all about it.

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