Tips for planning a first birthday party

From time to time I’ll get an email asking me questions about my kids’ birthday parties. I know, I’m as shocked as you are. I’m not the best at party planning, but I find myself very handy when it comes to delegating duties and hijacking other people’s parties and making them my own. According to Pinterest pins, I seemed to pull off his party better than her party, but what do they know?

So if you’re getting ready to celebrate your baby’s first birthday, have no fear, today I’m going to reveal the secrets to planning a first party with the least amount of stress.

There are a few things to decide before you even begin the planning process.

planning First birthday party 1. Do you want to go all out (meaning a theme, some decorations, several attendees), or do something low key (a few guests, a small get together or celebration)?

2. How much do you want to spend? Have a budget in mind so you can make shopping decisions easily.

3. What’s most important to you? Keep this in mind as you plan.

Once you’ve answered these three questions you can get to planning. Decide on a location, make a guest list, and start making a shopping list. For each of my kids’ first birthday I wanted to be able to invite all of our friends and family members and make it memorable (for us, cause let’s face it, they aren’t going to remember). Here are my 5 party-planning tips to keep in mind for a first birthday party.

1. Location Location Location
Since Lil’ J has a summer birthday, we did her first birthday party outdoors at a splash pad. I didn’t need as many decorations since we were at a park, and there was lots of entertainment. We still had a theme, but aside from the food and goodie bags, it wasn’t a huge display.

bday-party-21 Big T’s party was at our house, but I had a blast decorating for it, and having a specific theme. It was the first party we’d had at our house (because we had just bought it a few months earlier) and I loved not being tied to a small window of time for party set up and take-down. Don’t stress too much about entertainment because kids are plenty happy just being out of their own house and being kids.

2. Keep It Simple Where You Can
After you’ve identified what’s really important to you, keep things simple where you can. Whether it’s with Facebook and Evite invitations instead of the paper kind, or buying the cake instead of making it yourself. I also hit up the Dollar Tree before going to the big box party stores for supplies because I could find a lot of what I needed there for $1.

3. Timing

Keep in mind nap times and your child’s mood before and after. We tend to plan the parties either in the morning before nap time, or in the afternoon, just after nap time. I usually don’t schedule them to last much more than a couple hours because it seems to be plenty of time for play time and cake, and the kid’s attention spans are good for about that long.

4. The Perfect Gift
You know your kid best, and chances are you have an idea of what your child would love for their first birthday. I, however, have been surprised with what stood out for favorite gifts for my kids. I tend to lean towards toys they will love and use for a while and typically don’t go all out on an expensive gift since the party in a way, is the main present.

I like a variety of toys from simple to the more advanced. Are you going to surprise him before or after the party? We tend to open gifts after the party and save more time for playing, but some people like to watch the birthday boy or girl react to the gift.

peg toys
From Papruswork Etsy

One of my favorite gifts for Lil’ J was a wooden peg toy set. A friend of mine painted it herself, and it was a long-loved toy teaching colors, hand-eye coordination, and matching skills. Lil’ J loved taking the little “people” out and putting them back in over and over. You can pick up these plain wooden pegs at a local craft store and paint them assorted colorful colors. I actually am working on a new set for my son now.

Fisher price laugh and learn chair fisher price laugh and learn chair

A more advanced toy that’s fun for new 1-year-olds is the Laugh and Learn Smart Stages Chair. My son loves anything with music, and small places to sit, so this was an immediate win for him. I love that the features and games on it adapt to his age as he gets older. For instance right now on Stage 1 he does little prompts with animal sounds and noises. Stage 2 has more Q & A prompts with pointing out numbers and shapes, and the third stage encourages imaginative play.

Toys like each of these are fun in different ways, and sure to keep their interest for a while.

5. Capture the Moment
preview Jayda turns 1 253_edited-1

Birthday Card 1

With each of my kiddos I wanted a whole photoshoot to celebrate reaching their first birthday. For Lil’ J we had a cake smash photoshoot, and for Big T, we set up a photobooth that went with the theme of his party. During the party you may want to hand your camera over to a friend so you can focus on enjoying the party yourself. You don’t have to go all out, taking some pictures as he or she dives into for some birthday cake may be all you want. But please, please don’t forget to get a shot of you with the birthday child. I am still so upset that I forgot to get a family shot of us together on Big T’s birthday.


Did I miss anything? Do you have tips for planning a first birthday party? Let me know what you think in the comments. Everyone who comments before November 22nd will be entered to win a Fisher-Price Smart Stages Chair like the one I mentioned above.

Good Luck!

Tips for Planning FP insiders logo



This post was sponsored by Fisher-Price as a part of a multi-month partnership bringing my tips to you. However all opinions and typos are my own.

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  1. Keep it small! I feel like babies get so overwhelmed at that age and a smaller party is less stressful for both the baby and the parents.

  2. These are really great tips! Not just for a 1st birthday, but for birthdays in general. Aother helpful tip would be to ask guests if they or their children have any food allergies, just to be safe. 🙂

  3. take advantage of giving it a spin on your taste. You won’t get many more birthday’s where your kid will like what you do. So take advantage of that!

  4. I think birthday parties for 1 year olds are more for the parents and family/friends. Keep it simple, because they can get overwhelmed at that age.

  5. We kept it simple for my daughter’s 1st birthday party, 3 years ago… and upcoming for my son’s we plan on keeping it small with a theme of some sort, but just family. I hope I win the chair, he would LOVE it! I am Sure!!!

  6. keep it simple and dont over think it and make sure you are surrounded by close family and friends! My sister could not be with my family for my son’s first bday so we face timed her so she could join in on the celebration from a far

  7. My tip is to make sure not to plan it near naptime for the baby. My son fell asleep in his cake at his 1st birthday party!

  8. That chair is so super cute! Anyway, I can’t believe Lil J’s 1st bday was that long ago. She’s changed so much! It’s weird to see baby pics of her now! She’s so grown!

  9. I would hire a photographer for the party because friends and family are just as excited and involved as the parents are about the little ones first birthday!

  10. Of course mom and dad are going to give a gift but I think I would have either told guests not to bring a gift or to get him books instead. We already have so many toys that we still haven’t opened a lot of gifts from the guests. When they get so many gifts at once it’s a little overload but I am saving them so that each on is special when they’re opened further apart.

  11. One thing we did for our daughters first birthday was have all of our family members write her a letter that we will give her on her 18th birthday. It didn’t gave to be anything specific just a sweet note, sealed, that wouldnt be read by us but our little girl when she’s no longer so little 😉

  12. Enjoying the day with them! It’s stressful planning a party but you need to enjoy it too. Before you know it the day is done.

  13. Definitely plan the cake smash photos a couple of weeks before the party so that you can use the photos as decoration. Also, there’s less pressure for you to get the perfect picture of the birthday baby eating their cake at the party. Some babies may get cranky or not cooperate for the perfect photo at the party.

  14. Remember that the first birthday is more a pity parents, friends and family than the actual birthday child. Don’t worry about gifts or friends for the baby. Concentrate on solidifying your child’s place with family and extended family.

  15. For birthday parties each year, even their first birthdays I always have a crafts of some sort, of course age appropriate.
    It’s always nice when you can get kids to sit down at a table and watch them get creative. Try to keep the craft simple for less mess and easy clean up.
    Also, I’ve always done theit cake smash sessions a week before their party. Gets whatever cake they had out of their stay before they have another round of cake. Unless youre my daughter and hate cake 😉

    Great tips!

  16. Oh Jennifer thanks so much for this post!!! I am in the crunch RIGHT NOW of preparing for our son’s first birthday in December. Your tips along with your followers are extremely helpful because I really didn’t know where to start. I’m really thankful for your timing tip because I was about to plan the party anytime and totally forgot about planning it before or after his nap time duh!!! New mom problems lol. My son loves musical toys too so I love the chair gift idea! I’m so much more confident now to plan his birthday. I will definitely keep it simple and with only close family. One craft idea that I’m going to use that I got from our regular storytime visits at the library is that I will have all of the kids make a birthday card for Baby M with there handprints. I thought that would be a sweet idea and memory. Thanks for helping me as a new mom to capture memories for our family along the way. I love your blog!!!!

  17. One thing that really made my kids 1st birthdays go easier is to NOT try to make everything myself and let others help out. Also just enjoy it and know that it will not always go as smooth as you hoped.

  18. My best tip is to do a separate cake smash event (with a photographer) that way you have access to a tub right away and not a lot of other stimulation after that sugar rush. Then at the actual party you don’t have to do a cake smash and makes for a cleaner, happier baby.

  19. Great post! My best tip is to really keep things simple and try to incorporate something the “one year old” will really enjoy. At my daughter’s 1st birthday party, while all the older kids loved the circus theme and games, the highlight for all of the one year olds at the party was the alphabet rug with your basic duplo blocks set out. My daughter and her one year old friends played for hours. 🙂

  20. I couldn’t agree more about making sure to take a picture with the birthday babe! I really regret it. We have pictures of her but not of all three of us. Something I would add maybe is have back up plans for the big things (location, cake, etc.) unless it’s a completely sure thing. Even if you don’t do anything but think of a back up plan in passing. We had to change the location three times due to weather!

  21. Hiring a photographer or using a talented friend is a great idea, but be sure to give them a list (short) of the most important shots; it’s a great way to ensure that you capture the specific memories that you want. We plan to invite family and godparents only as that’s what makes a special and intimate day for us. My husband and I plan on writing her a letter for each birthday that she can open beginning at age 12. I would definitely recommend having guests write ‘love/advice’ letters–its an awesome keepsake.
    I also like the idea of having the party at home- you can decorate as you please, be messy, loud and no one will kick you out. My budding social butterfly would never go to sleep at a venue!

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