Toddlers are ready to have a good time. Even those children who would rather sit on their mothers’ laps during a party will often have a good time observing the fun from that safe spot.
The secret to a successful birthday party for toddlers is flexibility. Have a plan B and plan C to accommodate the ever changing moods of your little guests.
Toddler Birthday Party Themes
Toddlers are not ready to follow a metaphor too far, so keep the theme simple until they are older. Choose one of your child’s favorite things and nudge it just a little further to create some unexpected fun.
Decorations. Bugs can lean toward fun and icky or dressing up like lady bugs. Bugs are easy shapes to draw or cut out for bright decorations. If you have stuffed animal bugs, place them around the party—but remember that toddlers may want to claim them. They might be better placed out of reach but within sight.
Games & Activities. The Grouchy Ladybug, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, or several other Eric Carle books can be a wind-down activity that leads into an art project. If you read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the children can act out eating different kinds of food then act out wrapping themselves into a cocoon then flying around as butterflies. You could also go for a traditional game of stick the spot on the lady bug.
Food. Cupcakes can be lined up to look like a caterpillar for the birthday cake. You could even space out snacks throughout the party as your little caterpillars eat their way through a variety of small snacks.
Favors. A board book or a soft bug toy would make perfect party favors. A wooden earthworm can still be a fascinating quiet toy for a toddler as they figure out why the worm changes shape as they twist it. For a practical party favor, you could fill a Mimi the Sardine bug print lunch bag with popcorn like Nature Mom did for her recent party.
Gift. If you want to follow the party with a gift, Wheely Bugs are great for toddlers who may not quite be ready for tricycles.
Decorations. Think of what your child associates with dance. Ballet? Disco ball? Dress up and spin? Follow your child’s interests. Play silks are always helpful in creating a beautiful atmosphere for a young child.
Games & Activities. Once you gather your guests, explain that when the music starts, there will be a dance party. This can be a useful distraction from typical toddler discussions of “It’s mine!” and “Give it back to me.” Drop everything because it’s dance time. The dancing can give toddlers a positive outlet for their energy, and it can be a segue between activities.
Food. Create a simple cake with dancing figures made of marzipan or modeling chocolate, or make the cake in the shape of a pair of dancing shoes.
Favors. For another activity, you can add whistles and rattles for a dancing, musical jam session. These simple musical instruments can also be your party favors. Silk streamers can also be both dancing accessory and party favor.
Tips for Toddler Parties
- Invite Parents. Toddlers still need enough comfort and general guidance that you will probably need extra adult hands for trips to the toilet or soothing of bumps. Invite parents to attend the party. This is a must for toddlers!
- Dress Up. Toddlers love to dress up. Either ask them to come dressed up or pull out the dress-up box once the guests arrive.
- Following Directions. Plan games if your child likes them, but don’t make them complicated and don’t be disappointed if you can’t get the guests to follow directions or cooperate with others. Have a back-up plan that encourages happy chaos (such as catching bubbles or wild dancing).
- Leave Time for Discovery. On my daughter’s 2nd birthday, we let her explore each present before moving on. I didn’t want to encourage her to expect an endless stream of gifts, so that meant reading a whole book before moving on to try on a whole new outfit. Let your child savor the moment if the moment captures her attention.
- Last-minute Food. Don’t put the food out until you are ready to eat. Toddlers won’t understand the idea of waiting for the right time. NOW is the right time!
- Embrace the Mess. You may not expect cake in the face as with a 1st birthday party, but 2- and 3-year olds can still be messy. This is about the age that I realized my white couch wasn’t a good long-term plan. Hold the party outside or in a space that is easy to clean up—and don’t worry too much about the children getting messy. They will. It’s OK.
- Keep It Short. Toddlers can fall apart spectacularly. Keep the party short, and let it end before the guests forget how much fun they are having. End on a high.