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Kids' Birthday Parties You'll Enjoy
Planning a summer birthday for the little one? Use these tips to keep it real.

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You don't have to spend a lot of money to throw a good birthday party.

As a mother of three and an event planner, Iíve done it all when it comes to childrenís birthday parties. The topper has to be the Florida-themed party. We had pink flamingos in madras plaid playing golf on the lawn, inflatable pink flamingos in the trees and staked pink and aqua balloons in the yard. The kids got pink and blue beach bags stuffed with plaid beach hats, battery operated fans, blow-up beach balls and candy. The adults sipped spiked pink lemonade and the kids, of course, received their own personalized floral sippy cups to take home.

There were more over-the-top details, but youíre probably already thinking Iím nuts, and I donít blame you. I drove myself crazy for a couple of years planning my children's birthday parties. It was fun, but less than it should have been because of the pressure I put on myself.

Ask yourself, "Who am I planning this party for?" This is important in any event planning, but especially so for kidsí parties. Is your one-year-old really going to enjoy the beautiful dťcor, the wonderful man who brought the cute little animals for everyone to play with? Probably not, but you might.

My first piece of advice? Be yourself and your job will be easier. If you like to take the theme to the nth degree, invite the zoo keeper and set up the bounce house, thatís great. If not, thatís cool too. Do it your own way and everyone will have a great time.

Remember what you enjoyed on your childhood birthdays. I wonít forget the way my mother sang as she woke me up and made me over on my special day. She invited all my friends to my party and gave me the biggest icing flower. What she didnít do is plan the party as if it were hers. It was heartfelt and all about me. It dawned on me that I had been planning my childrenís lavish birthday parties not for them or me, but for some phantom person I thought would judge me if I didnít. Donít make the same mistake.

Now that you have figured out what you want and why, find sources of help. If planning games isnít your thing, check websites for local childrenís magazines in your area. Youíll probably find a great wealth of resources. My local favorites include Dale the Bubbleman, who can put a kid inside a bubble, and Mr. Rob who acts out the dinosaurs he sings about.

For very young children, think like a child. What would you enjoy? The ice cream sundae bar is always a favorite or let the kids decorate their own cupcakes. Buy fun art aprons or bibs and let them use chocolate icing, vanilla icing, sprinkles, M&Ms, and skittles. Clear the driveway and get out the sidewalk paint. Or begin a canvas and let them paint to their little heartís content. Crayola has a new product outó3D chalk that comes with 3d glasses. This might be worth a try too.

If you have slightly older children, your local science center or museum is a great place to begin. Our Discovery Place in Charlotte, N.C., has fascinating special exhibits and wonderful displays all year-round. They have many party options planned around these exhibits that are fantastically easy on the parents. Check the science center or childrenís museum in your city. Another option is sleepovers, which are always fun and donít have to be stressful. For the girls, think hair, nails, music and make-up; the boys love camping out in the back yard. Making the s'mores inside doesn't seem to diminish their enjoyment.

Having parties should be synonymous with enjoying life and the people you care about. It's not about spending the most money or impressing people. Keep this in mind as you plan and it will be joyful.

Angela Gala is principal with Rogers & Gala Creative Partners, a firm that plans parties, weddings, and special events nationwide. She can be reached through her website www.rogersandgala.com.

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