What kids want at a birthday party (bad news: it’s not tasteful or educational. Good news: it’s not expensive)…
Having now been to six years of kids’ birthday parties, I reckon I’ve got a decent idea of what kids want, and, if you’re hosting the party, where it’s worth spending and where you can save. I am definitely not a natural party-thrower, or cake-maker, so this is my guide to putting in the least effort for max results.
In my experience, the main priority is the party bag. Kids bloody love a party bag. What they don’t love is anything tasteful or particularly expensive, and if it’s educational then it’s almost certainly guaranteed not to spark joy. Sad but true. Feel free to ignore this advice, but my then-three-year-old son very nearly went into mourning over a learn-to-tell-the-time party favour clock. Give them a crappy plastic whistle or a yo-yo they can’t even operate, though, and it’s like they’ve uncovered the crown jewels. Plastic tat and sweeties, they’re all you need.
They also love indoor play areas, but this is where I draw the line. When the weather’s nice, you’re going outside and you can blooming well enjoy it (go big on the afore-mentioned sweets and plastic tat and enjoy it they will).
For December-born Fox’s fourth birthday this month, we held his party in the garden at home in Dubai (save) and hired a professional entertainer (spend). There are loads of great companies in Dubai but I’d seen Oscar from Kids HQ at a few other parties and without fail the kids adored him. Kids HQ offers a two-hour party package from Dhs1,500 for week days (Dhs2,000 at weekends) which covers two entertainers for party games, face-painting, sound system and generally controlling the guests. Oscar even cut the cake for us, using a genius technique that involved slicing round a central cylinder. In short he was a legend.
Kida also love a piñata. Yes, it’s a bit feral, a bit Lord of the Flies, but for a birthday party I think we can turn a blind eye to children’s natural tendency to violence and greed, don’t you? If I had a creative bone in my body I’d make the piñata, but I don’t, so I chucked money at the problem. Creative Minds has the best selection in Dubai; they’re expensive but they do make a party. For smaller kids, the string-pull piñatas are probably a better bet as no one wants any children getting knocked unconscious and kids have really bad aim. For Fox’s Hot Wheels-themed party, this one was perfect but it did cost Dhs150 before sweets (if only I had paid attention in papier-mâché class at school). Tip: hand out cheapy party bags for guests to stash their sweeties in.
We hung the piñata from our baby swing frame (removing the swing first, obvs) and I wove garlands of fake foliage around it and battery powered fairy lights from Carrefour, which then served as a nice garden feature over Christmas – there is no such thing as too many fairy lights in my opinion. For decoration, we strung multicoloured balloons from Carrefour (regular air ones, I don’t think spending on helium is necessary) and paper fans from Creative Minds throughout the garden, recycling them from my husband’s birthday bash two weeks earlier.
Maybe it’s because kids are jacked on sugar, but I reckon food is an area to save on. Most children are not culinary experts and they are often too busy having fun to eat much anyway. We held Fox’s party at 9.30am to beat the Dubai heat, which also meant I could get away with serving a light meal. We did cheese sandwiches, hummus with Arabic bread, cucumber and carrot sticks and pre-made mini muffins from Spinneys, and filled up a big ice box with mini bottles of water. For a non-domestic goddess like me (ie if you are never going to make your own cake), it’s hard to beat the 8” rainbow cake, Dhs199, from Hummingbird Bakery. It looks great, seemingly feeds the 5,000 and is cheaper than having one made to order. Stick a couple of plastic toys on top, et voilà.
For the main event, aka the party bags, the best and cheapest solution is Amazon, but you need to leave enough time for everything to arrive. If you haven’t got a decent lead time (I arranged Fox’s bash in a week), Toys for Less in Dubai is a life saver. I bought lots of multipacks of mini cars (around Dhs5 for three) and split them up. These Hot Wheels bouncy balls were Dhs5 for two – again, split them up. The Barsha branch in Dubai has tons of stuff and staff are constantly filling the shelves with new stock. It’s also great for Christmas stocking gifts.
Finally, we hired gorgeous white picnic tables from the lovely party firm Miss Faye & Lion. The Kids HQ package does include table and chair hire but I swapped that out and added extra guest numbers, to avoid paying a supplement, instead. It’s taken six years but I think I’ve cracked the birthday party formula. Bring on the next one (unless it’s mine, that is, in which case can we please ignore the situation?).
Digital invite, $5.25, Etsy
Hot Wheels cars for top of cake, Dhs11 each, Carrefour
Party bag fillers, Toys For Less
Balloons, Carrefour, regular air-filled ones are cheap and look just as pretty as helium versions. Just get loads and bunch them together