Etiquette Filter: Hosting a kindergarten birthday party.
August 24, 2011 10:44 AM   Subscribe

Etiquette Filter: Hosting a kindergarten birthday party.

Parents of school-age children, I am a stranger in your lands. Teach me your customs.

Our oldest son starts kindergarten in early September and has a late September birthday.

In the past, his birthday parties have been attended by family friends and their kids. Outside of this circle, he doesn't have other friends and he didn't go to pre-school. (Luckily, he's gregarious and I'm sure he'll make lots of friends in kindergarten.)

Because of the closeness of his birthday to the school start date, it will likely be hard to identify his new friends soon enough to give out birthday party invites to a select group of his friends.

In talking to my son, he seems open any guest list as long as his favorite uncle is there.

I've been told that the correct thing to do is to give invitations to the whole class (20-ish kids).

How does this work?

Mrs. Sisquoc15 proposes inviting the class to a public playground/park and having a sheet cake, some drinks, and simple party favors. Sounds reasonable.

Would kids typically be dropped off by their parents or no? Should the invitations specify this? I don't think I'm ready to herd up to 20 five-year-olds. It also sounds like a liability nightmare.

Any thoughts or suggestions for a great party?
posted by sisquoc15 to Human Relations (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I babysat a lot as an mid-to-older teenager and helped out at a few birthday parties like the park idea or at the kid's house. I don't remember any kid's parents staying but the parties didn't last more than maybe 1 or 2 hours.
posted by thewestinggame at 10:49 AM on August 24, 2011

I keep hearing that "invite all the kids to the party" thing and can I just say: no. Never happened in our house and my kids are not social pariahs. I am so sick to death of people whining that someone will feel left out, we must include everyone, blah blah. I don't get invited to every single little thing that my friends, family, neighbors, co-workers do, and somehow I'm able to get up in the morning and go about my day.

If you do decide to invite all the kids from his class, great. Go for it. Send the invitations with him to school. If you don't decide to invite them all, for heaven's sake, don't send the invitations with him to school - if you have a school directory, mail them. But you must also be prepared to tell your kid not to discuss the party with his friends at school. If you don't, you will inevitably get a call/email from some hurt parent or the teacher, reprimanding you for not inviting everyone.

But really, the best way to do this is to go with your gut. You say you're not ready to have that big a group; don't do it then. Typically, at this age the parents would likely stick around. Any siblings they have would probably come, too. Keep those things in mind when making your decision.

Disclaimer: my position is that of a mom of a 14-year-old and an 11-year-old in the US midwest.
posted by cooker girl at 10:52 AM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Would kids typically be dropped off by their parents or no?

In my experience parents stay with the kids, and hang around the refreshments table shooting the breeze. I have been to quite a few of these things, and no one that I have noticed has ever just dropped off their kid.

I wonder when that changes?
posted by dirtdirt at 10:52 AM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

p.s. Yes, my children have been on the negative end of party invitations. You know what? They're fine. It's a teachable moment: not everyone has to like you and you don't have to like everyone. Be civil and kind, and that's it.

On preview: dirtdirt: around here it happens in about 2nd grade (so 7 yrs.).
posted by cooker girl at 10:54 AM on August 24, 2011

Would kids typically be dropped off by their parents or no? Should the invitations specify this?

In my experience, no. Parents of kindergartners will stay at the party. This will change next year or the year after, but this year they will probably stay. I wouldn't address it in invitation.

Consider adding some baby carrots and dip to the fare. And don't put (a lot of) candy in the goodie bags.
posted by Dano St at 10:55 AM on August 24, 2011

Hi there ---

My 7-year-old has just started the "drop off" birthday party thing. For kindergartners (esp. brand new kindergartners) the assumption tends to be that a parent will stay. At least that's the case among the folks we know.

I think inviting some "special friends" from the class is fine -- as long as the invitations are not sent through school. It's when you deliver invitations at school, and some don't get some, that things can get a little hairy.

We've done both, invite the whole class and invite a few special friends (through evites to the parents) -- both are fine in my book.

Your plan sounds fine -- it's hard in Sept. (my son's birthday is early October) to know who the good friends might turn out to be, so we often invite the whole class.

Don't worry! Have fun!
posted by pantarei70 at 10:55 AM on August 24, 2011

You definitely don't need to invite the whole class, you just need to make sure it doesn't become an issue at school, meaning don't ostentatiously pass out invitations to just a few kids. An easy way to do this is to just hand them directly to parents at drop-off/pick-up time, or do invites via email or phone.

In my neck of the woods parents will definitely stay for the party at this age. 1st & 2nd grade seems to be when it starts to be okay to drop-off.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:59 AM on August 24, 2011

My G-d, can you imagine if all these kids' parents did the same thing you're considering? Your child would have 15-20 birthday parties to attend just out of his classmates (not even his friends' parties!). Follow your child's lead and let him tell you with whom he's getting friendly.
posted by litnerd at 10:59 AM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can basically either invite the whole class (OR all the boys) OR just invite his very small number of special friends (one for each year is the usual rule, so five). It starts to get tricky when you invite HALF the class, or "everyone but those three kids he doesn't like," or something like that. That's when hurt feelings and exclusion and gossip are likely to rear their ugly heads.

Incidentally, some schools have rules about invitations given through school, etc. It'd be in your handbook.

(When I grew up, usually the kid celebrated at school with the whole class, with mom bringing cupcakes, and then the party was just the same-sex peers (all from the kid's class, plus a few extra friends from other classrooms or schools). But I guess most schools don't let you bring celebratory food anymore.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:00 AM on August 24, 2011

The rule where I went was: if you invite at school, you have to invite either all the class or all the girls/boys. You are not allowed to invite almost everyone, so if you invite more than half the class, you have to invite the whole class, or if you invite more than half the boys you have to invite all of them. It was a private school, they could make these rules. They are good rules in general.
posted by jeather at 11:05 AM on August 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

Our school says that if you're passing out the invitations at school, you have to invite everyone. Most people who invite the whole class have parties at the bouncy house place or somewhere like that. In my experience, some parents stay and some don't.

In my circle of friends, we've been doing the child's age + 1 when determining the number of guests. You have to mail the invitations, but it's much more manageable.
posted by Ostara at 11:13 AM on August 24, 2011

Even if you send the invites with him to school, consider the small chances of every invitation making it from his grubby hands to the grubby hands of his peers and then all the way to their parents' date books. I would arrange it yourself with the parents directly.
posted by bleep at 11:20 AM on August 24, 2011

Decide first if you're inviting school friends or sticking to the same group as before. Depends on the kid and his level of development, and what you parents would enjoy the most. Some kids his age just get overloaded with a big party with friends from school and everyone ends up miserable. If you have a decent crowd of friends and family, I'm not sure you need to do the school invitations this year. However, it's a good way to meet the other parents and to get a great understanding of your kid's social development.

You really do have to invite the whole class if you invite anyone from school, because there's no way to keep this out of the classroom and avoid hurt feelings. The good news is that less than half will probably attend. Bad news is that folks don't do RSVP anymore, so you won't know how many to actually plan for. I don't think kindergartners will be dropped off, but I've seen it happen before so you'll probably have two or three at least without parents. I would keep them busy with an easy project. Painting t-shirts, making cardboard sheilds or masks, painting a giant birthday card to hang on son's wall, decorating their own cupcake, pretend camping with tents and sleeping bags. Outside is good, because they're going to run around A LOT. Set specific times, two hours works well. I would specify NO GIFTS from the schoolkids because it just takes forever to open and does he really need more crap in his room????
posted by raisingsand at 11:33 AM on August 24, 2011

Check with your kid's teacher; they may allow an in-school celebration. Ours had us bring the cake right at the end of the day and we had a little celebration in the kindergarten yard.

My daughter has a mid-October birthday, so she didn't have any good friends from school to invite at that point (we invited friends, and some of her preschool classmates). It was fine. We'll see what happens this year.
posted by mogget at 11:35 AM on August 24, 2011

raisingsand: "You really do have to invite the whole class if you invite anyone from school, because there's no way to keep this out of the classroom and avoid hurt feelings."

So what? I'll agree that kids shouldn't pass out invitations during class unless everyone is going to get one. But if you invite people out of class time there's no reason you have to invite everyone in class.
posted by theichibun at 11:37 AM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been told that the correct thing to do is to give invitations to the whole class (20-ish kids).

A rule of thumb I've heard recommended (and one which may make you a lot more comfortable) is "number of kids at party = age of the child + one". So if your kid's turning six, invite seven kids.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:40 AM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

My suggestion would be to stick with last year's guest list and listen carefully to your son to see who he mentions from school. You *might* end up inviting one or two other kids (slip them an invitation at pick-up time.) Inviting 20 kids? Your son won't even know all their names by the time of his party. More downsides than upsides to going that route.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:41 AM on August 24, 2011

Since your son hasn't made friends in kindergarten yet, it might be best to stick to just a family party this year and wait until next year to invite kids from school. If your son is disappointed in this, you should check with his teacher to see what kind of celebration they do as a class. I took cake and ice cream up to my kindergartner's school and passed it out to the kids after lunch. The teacher also gave all the birthday kids a special Birthday Crown and gift and the class sang Happy Birthday.

If you do decide to invite kids from school, talk to the teacher about how to handle it. Our teacher last year let my son stay behind during a bathroom break to put invitations in backpacks of the few kids we invited. If the class policy is that you do have to invite the whole class, don't panic. Since none of the kids (or parents) know your son, they're not terribly likely to show up. Not passing out invitations until a few days before the party might help too. The kids will get the thrill of being invited (almost as exciting as getting mail for a five-year-old) but the families are more likely to have other plans and not be able to make it. Plus, your son may very well have made a couple of best friends by then that you can invite outside of school without causing a problem for the rest of the class.

I did have a couple of parents drop off kids at a first grade party, but for the most part second grade seems to be when that starts. I wouldn't worry about it for a kindergarten party - particularly if it's in a park, and definitely not when the kids don't know the birthday boy very well. Most five-year-olds are not going to want their parents to leave them alone at a party even if the parents think it's okay.
posted by Dojie at 11:58 AM on August 24, 2011

I was a Stay-at-home Mom, YMMV, but when my son was in kindergarten I'd drop off cupcakes for the class on his birthday. That would be their snack. You have to know the school policy and work with the teacher, because more than one kid might have the same birthday.

As for the "home" party, I've heard a general rule of thumb for number of guests = child's age +1. That's a reasonable guideline. Please don't feel you *have* to do the park and sheet cake deal if you want to keep it small. You can just have family or a few of his friends. If you do invite more, Moms/Dads will stay with kindergarten kids (around 2nd or 3rd grade they tend to start just dropping them off).

Here're my birthday party worst-case scenario stories; I only ran into trouble twice, and everything turned out fine in both cases. The first time was when my oldest son, who is a bit of a loner and also has a birthday right around July 4th, decided to have a party for once, and then only a couple kids showed up. Lots of people went out of town for the holiday. We thought he'd be heart-broken, but they had a great time and the parents came and the party went on hours longer than planned (Note to OP: good idea to put an end time on invitations when they get older! I've had people drop their kids off and not come back for 5, 6 hours).

Second story: My younger son told me he wanted to invite 7 friends, so we did, and I made favor bags up as if every child would attend, even though usually at least a few can't come.

On the day of the party, the kids start showing up, and I get to 7 and think, wow, that's great, everyone we invited was able to come. Sigh of relief. How nice for him, that all his friends are here!

And then more kids showed up. Boys and girls, kids whose names I didn't know, whose parents I had never met. Kids from different grades, even. They just kept coming.

We ended up with twenty-two kids instead of 8! I remember frantically trying to divide up favor bags so everybody ended up with something and cutting *really* small pieces of cake, and I'm sure some parents were puzzled when their kids had big bags with like three things in them. They probably thought we were really cheap (I think I even robbed some candy we were going to put in the pinata). But hey, the kids all had fun!

So, the party over, we get to the bottom of it, and it turns out my son just basically went around the playground cheerfully inviting everyone he met at recess to his party. And, amazingly, most of them came! He's always been the kid to know everyone's names, and befriend even the most unpopular kids, so he's a well-liked kid. So when I look back, I'm just glad for him that he made friends so easily.

Your son is going to get a lot of invitations this year. Hopefully the parents will be cool and everyone will keep the parties fun and the gift budget sensible. Kids will say things to each other, when they're mad, like "You're not coming to my birthday party!" It's almost funny; that's the biggest threat they can make. The best thing you can do as a parent is not get caught up in feeling like you have to go bigger and bigger each year or compete with the other parents to make your party "perfect". They're little kids, and they like each other, so they'll have fun!
posted by misha at 12:09 PM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

A rule of thumb I've heard recommended (and one which may make you a lot more comfortable) is "number of kids at party = age of the child + one". So if your kid's turning six, invite seven kids.

The rule when I was growing up was the more conservative "age MINUS one" for school-age children, and I'm stunned that people would try to heard TWENTY five-year-olds in the name of fun. Five guests (hell, four if his favorite uncle is going to be there) sounds perfect. Just don't pass out the invites at school.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:12 PM on August 24, 2011

My G-d, can you imagine if all these kids' parents did the same thing you're considering? Your child would have 15-20 birthday parties to attend just out of his classmates (not even his friends' parties!). Follow your child's lead and let him tell you with whom he's getting friendly.

As the parent of a preschooler (preschooler! not yet kindergartener!) in New Jersey, I can tell you with certainty that this is the norm in some areas. Many parents I know complain about spending their weekends at birthday parties out of a sense of guilt or duty or something, and in turn feel obligated to reciprocate when their kid's birthday comes along. I think it's ridiculous, and my own daughter's 4th birthday party was the only one we've been to in the past year that took place at home and included only close family and friends (there were only 2 other 4 year olds). In this area, many parents pay for parties at kids' play places (the kind of place that has rooms full of large inflatable bounce houses and slides).

My advice: do what you've been doing, forget the classmates. No harm will come of it, especially with September birthday. You'll have a year to get go know these kids, their families, and the socially accepted norms for this group's birthday celebrations.
posted by ellenaim at 12:26 PM on August 24, 2011

The unwritten rule around here is that, if you are handing out invitations at school, then you should invite all of the kids. BUT, if you invite by mail, email, evite or the phone, you can invite anyone you wish. (You can also hand invitations discreetly to parents. The point is to avoid excluding young children in their first school experiences.) Our school has permission-based docs with all the class contact info for parents, though.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 1:06 PM on August 24, 2011

Oh, and as for the drop-off thing, I would expect parents to stay unless they are familiar with your home and safety precautions and already know you. I don't drop off my own kids at the homes of people I don't know.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 1:07 PM on August 24, 2011

Rent a city park shelter near bathrooms and playground. Have cake and drinks. Tell parents that they are welcome to bring sibs (parents stay at party). Hand out something silly like bubbles. Done. A perfect summer birthday party and no hurt feelings.
posted by Knowyournuts at 2:33 PM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't forget those parents don't know you or your son so you'll be lucky if you get 50% attendance (I think we've only had 20-30% for our kids ages 2 and 5). Also, inviting the class could give you the opportunity to meet some new good friends and play dates for the soon to be birthday boy.

Regardless, your son doesn't have to distribute any invite himself. Give them to the teacher and ask if they could make sure those parents/class gets the invitations. They'll likely go into a folder, or cubby that the parents will get daily or at the end of the week.
posted by doorsfan at 3:24 PM on August 24, 2011

When our daughter was 4 (she has been in pre-school since 9 weeks old, poor thing), we did the city part shelter thing that Knowyournuts mentioned. We also bought cheap kites from the Internet (I think they were like $5-6 each) and made it a kite party. Between the playground and the kites, the time went by really fast. I think we had about 10 kids.

She is starting kindergarten this year and when we asked her what she wanted, she said she wants a small party just with her best friends (none of which will be in the same kindergarten class as hers). So we said sure, it will be a party of 4 kids, none of which is from her kindergarten. She has a late-September birthday as well.

By the way, it took only one or two parents to break the vicious circle of large birthday parties where everyone invites everyone else. One parent said "no presents please". The second parent said "we'll celebrate at school with cupcakes". And that was it. Most parents were happy with not having to drag their kids from birthday party to birthday party. Suddenly the cycle was broken and parties suddenly got smaller and more intimate. More importantly, we all noticed that the kids don't really care that much about how many people come to each party.
posted by tuxster at 3:45 PM on August 24, 2011

Check that your school doesn't have a policy prohibiting the handing out of party invitations in class or at school - my son's preschool does. It's basically down to mums and the ocaasional dad to make contact with their kid's friend's parents around the school gate. I can say that my son was still devastated to hear that he hadn't been invited to a party when the other boys were talking about it the next day anyway; luckily, he was invited to another shortly afterward.

Parents will stay for kindy parties, which shouldn't go for more than 90 mins. The first person to arrange a 'no presents' party will be cherished by all but a few possession-centred morons you can safely ignore. Park parties make everybody feel much more relaxed than turning up to Mrs Perfect's perfect house with the perfect lawn and the perfect jumping castle hired at enormous expense that the kids aren't the slightest bit interested in.

Our boys' birthdays are very close to the start of the school year too. We have a birthday party for them with family, and have a generic 'party' later in the year once they get to know more kids. This year will either be a pirate party or a Halloween party.

Make fairy bread. It's an Australian kids party standard. Soft, soft white bread; margarine; douse with hundreds and thousands (little round multicoloured sprinkles), shake to remove excess, cut into triangle. Nom nom nom. That, a sausage sandwich, a colourful drink and some Cheezels is all kids need to have an awesome time.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:04 AM on August 25, 2011

As part of my job, I run science birthday parties for kids and I sometimes struggle with 20 x 5 year olds. It is very full on, and I have lots of activities as part of the party, but they still get bored or just don't want to. Go the small party. You will be far saner for it.
posted by cholly at 4:42 AM on August 25, 2011

« Older Owie itchie hot hot hot   |   Identify this fabric Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.