How to throw an awesome toddler birthday party

I just had the experience of throwing my first toddler birthday party for my daughter. Although she turned two, this was her first birthday party due to the pandemic.

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The guest list was small with approximately twenty family members. Although she has friends at daycare, I didn’t feel too comfortable inviting non-family members due to continued restrictions in my state. Oh well, maybe next year!

I tried to stay as budget-friendly as possible but I ended up getting a little carried away. My husband and I were excited that this was our daughter’s first birthday party.

When you’re planning a toddler birthday party, it should be all about fun and excitement for your toddler and other kids. 

Prepare in advance

We started planning about one to two months in advance for our toddler birthday party. I’d do a little shopping here and there so it wasn’t too overwhelming as the date got closer.

Pick a theme

As soon as I started sending out invites for the party, people responded and asked about the theme. This is going to tell your guests about your toddler’s interests. It’ll also give them an idea for birthday gifts. (I also got a lot of questions about potential gift ideas.)

This year, our theme was Sesame Street. My daughter has been obsessed with Elmo for over a year now, so it was a no-brainer.

Choose a venue

Instead of paying for a venue, we chose to have the party at our house. We have a nice-sized backyard with grass and a shaded patio cover, so it was perfect.

Purchase decorations

Big corporations are making the purchase of party decorations so much easier these days. I chose a packaged set of Sesame Street decorations from Amazon.  I also purchased a personalized Elmo birthday banner for $20.

To stay within budget, I decided to purchase table covers, plates, napkins, extra balloons, and plastic cutlery from Walmart and Dollar Tree.

Enlist a cake maker

My brother and his fiance offered to make a Sesame Street cake for the party. His fiance used a Cricut to make the topper, which came out amazing. We ended up with a two-tiered confetti cake with colorful frosting. It was perfect.

toddler birthday party
Homemade cake for our toddler birthday party

If you have a fixed budget to plan your toddler birthday party, you may want to cut costs in some areas so that you can spend more on others. Since my brother and his fiance graciously offered to make the cake, it didn’t cost us anything!

Secure entertainment

We found a company to rent a bounce house for the day. I’m so glad we did because it was the hit of the party for the kids and adults.

toddler birthday party

When I went on the company website, they also offered extras like pinatas, popcorn makers, cotton candy machines, and table and chair rentals. 

I chose an 8-hour rental package that included a large bounce house, a huge Elmo pinata, and tables and chairs for $150. With a delivery fee of $35 plus taxes, it came out to $200. It was absolutely worth it.

Decide on a menu

Since the focus of this party was my toddler and other kids, we chose to keep it simple. My husband wanted to smoke a pork shoulder for the adults (he loves smoking meat), so that was about as fancy as it got.

We did burgers and hot dogs on the grill. It was easy to buy a bunch of chips and dip. I made some pasta salad and fruit salad in advance, which upheld nicely in the refrigerator.

Unlike other parties and events that I’ve thrown, I did not stress about the food at all. Kids will be happy with hot dogs, chips, and cake.

Gift bags

I stressed out the most on gift bags because I didn’t know what to put in them that would be age-appropriate for toddlers. Since I knew we would be handing them out at daycare, I had to take extra care to find items that were safe and non-hazardous for little ones.

Since I spent so much time, effort, and thought perfecting this toddler goodie bag, it ended up becoming its own article. Here are some Amazon items I used in the goodie bag.

Toddler birthday party tips

Sunday is better than Saturday

My husband and I both work full-time Monday through Friday and weekends are just too short in America. Having the party on a Sunday early afternoon was great for us. I found that I needed the Saturday beforehand to run around and do errands and pick up last-minute items for the party.

Some might say that Saturday is best so that you have Sunday to rest and relax. Either way, it’s going to be a busy weekend.

Decorate the night before

My husband and I decorated on Saturday night after my toddler went to bed. This was great because it took way longer than we expected and we were exhausted by the end.

Make sure your toddler naps

My toddler is so not happy when she doesn’t take her 2-hour nap in the middle of the day. We’ve gone to countless family events where my daughter skips a nap and it turns out to be a disaster. She is whiny, crying, and throwing tantrums.

I scheduled the party to start after her midday nap. Although she was a little grumpy while guests were arriving and refused to put on her birthday t-shirt, she snapped out of it and was alert and happy the rest of the day.

Transition through activities quickly

toddler birthday party

Since this was the first time I threw a toddler birthday party, I completely underestimated the time it would take to eat, play in the bounce house, sing happy birthday, do the pinata, and open gifts.

I listen to Jamie Glowacki’s toddler podcast from time to time and she has an episode that covers toddler birthday parties. Since toddlers are so young and can only handle so much stimulation, her advice is to get them in there and get them out, like 2 hours max.

Our party lasted 4.5 hours, which was a really long time. We ate and played for a while, then I realized we needed to sing happy birthday and cut the cake. By the time we got to the pinata, half of our guests were already gone!

If I could do it over, I would transition through activities a little quicker to shorten the overall party length. Jamie Glowacki is correct. Most toddlers can’t handle long, extended periods of stimulation and excitement.

Final thoughts on throwing a toddler birthday party

Overall, planning the event was a great learning experience for me. If you start planning well in advance, there will be little to no stress.

The main goal is to make sure that your toddler and other kids have fun. My toddler thoroughly enjoyed her birthday party. I’m grateful that we had an awesome, memorable day.

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