I was asked recently by a friend for ideas for her daughters birthday party. This is a really loaded question. Parties in recent years have gotten more and more elaborate (and more and more expensive). Partly due the economy and partly due to the return of sanity, there is a shift to parties that focus more on the kids and less on giving a show for the other parents.
Let's me start by saying I love my kids. They know this. I do not need to put on an over-the-top display of craziness for them to feel loved. Now that we have gotten this minor piece of therapy out of the way, we can plan a fun, kid focused party.
Cost - Decide on a budget first. This will determine many of the things that follow. Low budget birthdays are better staged at home, whereas a little bit bigger budget opens up options of off-site possibilities. One thing to remember is that although a birthday party at a play-type venue may seem much more expensive, make sure you consider all that is included. Once you buy all of the paper products, food, and entertainment (depending on what you are planning), you may save money or come out pretty close to the same in terms of cost.
Venue - Determine an appropriate place for the party. Many people like off-site parties to limit in-house mess. I tend to agree with this, although I have had very fun at home parties that did not result in Christmas morning type mess making. One great thing about having the party elsewhere is that it does give the kids a sense of "special occasioness" (my own word invention - feel free to use it!).
Theme - If your child has their heart set on a themed party you don't have to break the bank to pull it off. If, for example, you sweetness wants a princess party, you do not have to clean the store out of every princess themed plate, napkin, balloon, and party favor they have. Let the cake or cupcakes set the theme. Perhaps get some themed plates, and let the other party supplies play a supporting role in a less-expensive coordinating solid color.
Parents - If you are inviting minor children to a party it is a safe bet they will come with a parent in tow. Although I don't think you have to go party crazy, you should consider the parents when planning the event. Many places that cater to kids needs (especially the non-chain places) will let you bring food more geared to adult tastes. I recently had a party for my daughter at just such a place, and they had no problem with bringing some adult food, and some fresh and healthy additions to their pizza for the kids.
Decoration - Decorating is fine, just don't go insane. I like to rely mostly on lovely serving pieces that I have invested in over the years to add a special touch. White table cloths are wonderful to make any table a little less ordinary. I also like to use goody bags and treats to add some color.
A child's birthday party need not be an ordeal. A simple home-spun party with homemade cupcakes and simple outdoor games can be just a fun an the most over-thought, over-done, mega party.