Planning a Birthday Party for Three-Year-Olds

Careful planning and keeping it simple will help you survive your child's first birthday party.

By Jo Ann Sheldon and Norma Heller


When your son or daughter turns three, you might decide it's time for a "real" birthday party, complete with other kids and party games. What fun!

It's best to be organized and as relaxed as you can. First, decide on the date, location, and budget. Keep the party short--an hour and a half to two hours is long enough for this age--and limit the number of guests. Three to five children are plenty.

Away from Home
A party outside the house eliminates a lot of mess. Make sure the establishment can accommodate very young children and their parents--at this age most children insist that their parents stay with them.

At Home
Parties at home are exciting for the child. He or she can help decorate and prepare. If the weather permits, have the party outside.

Extra Help
Consider hiring someone to help out, such as a favorite cousin or neighbor who can set up games and serve food. Very young children need constant attention and help. Book this helper a month in advance and make sure he or she arrives well before and stays well after the party. Go to FamilyTime Calendar .

With their short attention spans, young children need only one or two activities. Fill up the remaining time with food and free play.

  • Musical chairs, duck-duck-goose, and simple relay races.
  • Read a story or two (the birthday boy's or girl's favorite).
  • Hire a magician or clown. Ask him to keep the show short and simple. Some young children are afraid of clowns--find out if this might be an issue.
  • A simple treasure hunt or candy hunt (similar to an Easter egg hunt).

If you want to serve lunch, stick with small, plain sandwiches--jelly, chicken salad, tuna, pizza, or chicken nuggets. Buy or bake a cake and have no more than two ice cream flavors to choose from. Serve the meal halfway through the party to give the children a rest and provide focus. Go to FamilyTime Recipes.

Matching, colorful paper products dress up the table and make cleanup a snap. Use plastic spoons and forks. Have plenty of paper towels on hand for spills. Fill paper cups only halfway with juice or soda. Lay a plastic mat under the table for easy cleanup.

Fill "goodie bags" with sturdy plastic toys, stickers, and a few pieces of candy. Very small objects, balloons, and chewing gum can be choking hazards.