By Ellen Percival, Publisher, Calgary’s Child Magazine

Our readers often ask us for advice about birthday parties, and specifically, what kind of parties we throw for our own children. After much debate, we’ve come up with a list of ‘Our Favorite Birthday Parties’. This was no easy task. The parties on this list were chosen because they’re tried and true (we’ve given them for our own children), they are simple, relatively stress-free…and our kids loved them.

First Birthday
Mark this birthday with the closeness of immediate family and friends. Have each guest bring an item to include in a time capsule to commemorate this first year. You can include anything that was special to your child and/or a significant memento of this first year. Perhaps your baby’s first soother, a tape of a special show, ticket stubs from events or concerts, a Sears catalogue, sports magazine or maybe even a bottle of champagne. Seal well and store everything in a safe place until your child’s eighteenth birthday.

Second Birthday
Keep it simple. Toddlers can be stressed out easily by too much commotion. We know this to be true, we’ve had more than one child break into tears during these parties. Our best parties for this age have been home based – a few little friends, family, cake and presents – very simple!

Ages 3, 4, & 5
Now, the real party planning can begin, but be advised, don’t go overboard! If you set the bar too high on this party, you’ll be trying to outdo yourself for years to come. Keep it simple and remember the purpose is fun and celebration.

Our favorite parties for this age group include:
Party at the Playground: Simply find a new and exciting playground, set up a picnic and let the children play and have fun. You can set up some formal games (duck, duck, goose or sack races), or bring in a Piñata to hang from a tree. This picnic is wonderfully stress-free. (Hint, if the weather is poor, move the picnic indoors and set up blanket tents in your home.

McDonalds: for the ultimate stress-free party, head to a McDonald’s ballroom. We loved this party for four-year-olds, and the kids had a ball (pardon the pun).

Ages 6 & 7
Let their imaginations soar. Theme parties are a huge hit with this age group. Collectively, we’ve held Pirate and Princess parties, Barbie parties, Firemen parties, Gardening parties, Bug parties and more! (Check out our article ‘From A to Z: 26 Themes for Your Child’s Next Birthday’) for great theme ideas).
Our favorite theme party is a Backwards Party. This party always gets great giggles. Print the invitations backwards so when you hold it up to a mirror, it can be read, (it’s simple to do on the computer). Encourage the guests to wear their clothes backwards; have cake first, food next, then presents and games, you get the idea. For added fun, everything everyone says means the opposite (for instance if the cake is truly awesome, this kids will ‘say’ they don’t like it). A sure fire hit.

Ages 8 & 9
This is a great time to check out an outside venue. Calgary has dozens of great places to take your kids and their friends to party – from science to gymnastics; swimming to the theatre, there’s something for everyone. One of our favorite venues is the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. A professional naturalist presents an entertaining and educational nature-based program complete with hike. There’s a nature craft and party room and goodie bags filled with neat nature ‘things’. It’s a great party and very inexpensive, especially if you had trouble paring down the guest list.[1]Last year our readers voted the Calgary Zoo for the best birthday party venue in our 2014 Parents’ Choice Awards. They loved the fun of a themed party in their child’s favourite part of the zoo. Parties include a mini tour, fun, games and snacks and a gift! The zoo provides staff to thrill and “edu-tain” all of your guests. Homorable mentions in this category went to the Calgary Gymnastics Centre and Stir Crazy Family Fun Centre. You might want to give these a try, our readers are never wrong!

If you love home parties, this age is a great time to add an entertainer. We’ve had magical parties and dazzling parties with magicians and scientists. We’ve sprinkled Fairy dust and had menacing pirates and we’ve had animal visits. Our readers picked Butterfield Acres Farm, Mad Science and Christopher Cool Productions for their 2014 Parents’ Choice Award favorites.

Ages 10 and up
Finally, the guest lists start to become somewhat manageable at this age. It’s time to venture into the land of the sleepover party. There are no hard and fast rules here, our only word of advice is to make pickup time no later that 10 am. (just trust us on this one). With smaller guest lists, it’s also a great time to take the kids to a movie, go bowling, play laser tag, miniature golfing, or swimming – the list is endless. How about a trip to a farm or corn maze? Check out Kayben Farms, Calgary Corn Maze & Fun Farm and Cobb’s Corn Maze. If it’s activity-based, this age group will love it.

And that’s our list of tried and true. For a complete list of more great ideas for birthdays including venues, entertainment and suppliers, visit www.calgaryschild.com (Resources > Birthday Party Guide) and (Family Fun > Parties). Planning a winter birthday party? We can help with that too! Our 2015 Jan/Feb issue features our Winter/Spring Birthday Party Guide and cool ideas for the perfect winter party.