Amy recently turned three, and so as well as hosting a 3rd birthday party for her, we attended about a dozen other birthday parties. Here are some of the ideas we liked.
Firstly, a theme is not essential, but it can help give you some ideas. Some examples include: The Wiggles, Dance Party, Buzz Lightyear, Noah’s Ark, and so on. If possible, get your child to choose a cake and go from there.
Next, get invites out three to four weeks before the party. Use the theme for ideas on the design of the invite. There are lots of web sites around which could help you design an invite, but just a bit of craft and colored paper should do the trick. Make sure to include the date, time (including ending time), address, and RSVP details. Unfortunately, most people do not RSVP these days, so you have to cater for an unknown number of people which adds a bit of a challenge.
For games, pass the parcel is always popular. Consider including a small toy at each level, and obviously rig the music so each child gets a turn unwrapping. Consider also having two parcels and sending them both around if you might have a large group. Pin the tail on the donkey/dinosaur/Wags The Dog is also popular, as is face painting (although you need to be very organized to ensure the wait is not too long). Blowing Bubbles is also a good way to keep the kids occupied (make sure they blow them outside, otherwise it can make an awful mess).
For food, rather than putting the various party foods on the table and having the parents serve their children, consider pre-filling a set of plates (one for each child) with a selection of party food. This tends to be what the kids end up doing anyway, and saves the confusion of all the parents trying to collect everything. You probably still want to provide some food for the adults too.
One cool idea for a cross between food and games was to let the kids make their own cookies using a biscuit, some spreadable icing, and various “bits” like M&Ms, sprinkles (100s & 1000s), choc chips, and so on.
With all food, be careful about allergies. Remember that some kids may have very severe nut allergies, as well as allergies to other food groups.
For party favors (small bags of treats to take home), try to include mostly non-food items, like little note pads, stickers, crayons, and such. Be especially careful with included food as parents may not see it.