1. Don’t overthink the food
While we’re all for serving up healthy nosh, don’t forget you’re cooking for the kids, not the grown ups, even if there are some adults attending. Keep costs down by sticking to the perennial kids’ party favourites that they’re guaranteed to hoover up – cheese cubes, chipolatas, carrot sticks, mini pizzas – and save those gourmet canapés for next time you have an adult soiree. If you are ordering out, look out for 2-4-1 takeaway vouchers in the likes of Time Out Dubai or The Entertainer.
2. Get crafty
For smaller groups, a craft table laden with goodies is guaranteed to keep kids of all ages occupied. For little hands, you can make it as simple or as complex as you want, while older girls may enjoy making their own jewellery or scrapbooking, especially if they can take the fruits of their labours home as a party favour.
3. Invent something new
When ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ or musical chairs leaves them yawning, invent your own games, especially if they’re tied in to your party’s theme. Who can do the loudest pirate ‘yarrrrrrr’, or which kids can dance the longest to the Mickey Mouse Hotdog song – you’re only limited by your (or their) imagination.
4. Scour the web
If you’re feeling under-inspired, don’t forget that the internet is your best friend when it comes to creative party planning. Check out Pinterest or eHow for some nifty ideas.
5. Build your own obstacle course
If you’ve got a garden, or are partying in the local park and want them to burn off some of that birthday cake, get inventive and create an obstacle course. Think hula hoops, skipping ropes, hopscotch, paper plates to balance on heads and even an old bit of camo netting from that camping trip to crawl under.
6. Frugal favours
The sky’s the limit when it comes to sending your young guests off with a party bag (we’ve heard tales of everything from kiddy spa vouchers to live goldfish!). For party bags stuffed with fun bargains, check out Carrefour and HyperPanda for tubs of plasticine, boxes of crayons and colouring books, while Japanese discount store Daiso, has a great selection of party bags, kitsch stationery and stickers, and toys such as penny whistles and yoyos, all for just Dhs7 per pack.
7. Throw a spa day
You can end up forking out a small fortune for a professional spa party, but how about a DIY pampering sesh for tweens and teens in the comfort of your own home? Load up on fluffy towels, and check out sites such as www.organicauthority.com, www.naturemoms.com and www.thedailygreen.com for some all-natural, make-your-own skincare treats that they can rustle up from the contents of your fridge.
8. Break out the karaoke
Who doesn’t love a good sing song? Whether you’re rocking it out to Hannah Montana, or trying to copy some Gangnam Style moves, we reckon it won’t be long before the grown ups join in too, especially if you throw in some props like blow up guitars, funny glasses and coloured wigs. If you haven’t got a karaoke machine, check the instructions on your DVD player – most modern versions have a karaoke function.
9. Don’t go with disposable
Throw away plates, cups and cutlery aren’t exactly going to break the bank, but the price tots up, especially if you’re going for character themes which you’ll have to keep buying year after year. Consider splashing out on some brightly coloured oilcloths from Satwa or the fabric souk, and some plastic kids’ tableware from Ikea (priced from Dhs7 for an 18-piece set of forks, knives and spoons, and Dhs7 for a six-pack of bowls). While they won’t get you out of the washing up, you’ll be able to re-use them year after year, and are kinder on the environment, too.
10. Play with timings
Who says parties have to be in the afternoon (guaranteed to be the time of day when over-tired sprogs start to bounce off the walls)? How about throwing a breakfast bash from 10am – not only will the kids feel fresher, but you can also cut down on the catering, limiting the menu to morning-friendly fare such as mini pancakes, fresh fruit and smoothies.
11. Set your own limits
For kids’ parties, especially little’uns, stick to the mantra ‘shorter is sweeter’. A two or three-hour time frame is more than enough time to run wild, play games and eat plenty of cake – any longer, and you’re risking tears at hometime. If you don’t want parents to stick around, make sure you write pick up and drop off times on the invitation, and (without wanting to sound like party poopers), if you don’t want to have guests’ siblings joining in too, make it clear from the outset.
12. Get creative in the kitchen
A great option to keep older kids amused, try getting them involved in the catering. Make your own pizzas, decorate your own cupcakes or cookies, even make your own fresh pasta. It cuts down on the prep time for you (but it might be wise to have everything measured out beforehand), and they’re more likely to gobble it all up after if they made it themselves.
13. Choose your space wisely
If you’re throwing the party at your own home, take into account its limitations (whether it’s the size of your apartment, or that cream sofa you don’t want sticky handprints on). If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, it’s easier for things to get messy – but don’t discount some of Dubai’s local parks. The likes of Safa Park 2 and Al Barsha Pond Park are quieter, family-friendly alternatives to Safa and Zabeel Parks, and have plenty of facilities, including bathrooms, cabanas and barbecues (just make sure you bag a spot early).