How to Plan a Kid's Birthday Party: The Ultimate Timeline

When to order invitations, schedule a venue, and do other party tasks

Birthday party decorations arranged on light pink table cloth

The Spruce / Olivia Inman

Figuring out how to plan a birthday party for kids and teenagers can feel overwhelming. Instead of trying to tackle everything at once, break things down into small tasks. Use the following birthday party planning checklist and timeline to help you organize your kid's birthday party, and the event should run smoothly.

Birthday Party Planning Checklist

Here are the basic tasks you'll need to accomplish when considering how to plan a birthday party for kids, teenagers, and even adults.

  • Determine your budget.
  • Choose a theme.
  • Pick guests.
  • Send invitations.
  • Arrange food.
  • Acquire decorations.
  • Plan activities.
  • 01 of 10

    6 to 8 Weeks Before the Party

    birthday party hats


    • Sit down with your child, and choose a party theme. Begin brainstorming how to incorporate the theme into the decorations, cake, favors, and other party details.
    • Set a date.
    • Book a venue or entertainment, if desired.
    • Order invitations, or purchase supplies for homemade invitations.
    • Set a budget.
    • Determine a guest list.
    • Begin shopping for gifts for the birthday kid.
  • 02 of 10

    3 to 5 Weeks Before the Party

    Party Cupcakes
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    • Buy stock invitations from a retail store if you didn't preorder or make them.
    • Write and send out the invitations. Include the party’s start and end time, your phone number, directions to the party location, and the party’s theme.
    • If the child still naps, set the party time with that in mind. Toddlers, for example, often nap between 1 and 3 p.m., so hold a party for that age group either in the morning or late afternoon.
    • Shop for party supplies, such as decorations and items to make the favors. Shopping early gives you time to order items online if you can’t find them locally.
  • 03 of 10

    2 Weeks Before the Party

    Group of children in party hats blowing party favors, high section
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    • Make or buy party favors.
    • Settle on a menu.
    • Order the cake. (Allow more time for this if you'll be ordering from a busy bakery.)
    • Decide the activities or games that will be part of the party’s agenda, and buy or make any necessary supplies.
    • For those who have a young child, consider asking or hiring someone to watch the child on the morning of the party to give you time to focus on decorating and preparing the final details of the day.
    • Arrange to have someone watch your pets during the party if necessary. Consider that some guests might have allergies or be afraid of animals, so if the party is at your home it might be best if your pets are in a separate space.
  • 04 of 10

    3 to 7 Days Before the Party

    Mother and daughters organizing bedroom, donating
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    • Call any invitees who haven’t RSVP’d.
    • Write a rough order to do things at the birthday party. (See the sample order for birthday party activities below for guidance.)
    • Confirm the entertainer and venue, if applicable.
    • See whether the child is willing to donate some toys, clothes, or other items they've outgrown to make room for gifts that are about to arrive.
    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    2 Days Before the Party

    wrapping gifts
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    • Shop for groceries, and do prep work on any menu items that won’t spoil.
    • For those serving pizza or similar carryout/delivery food, place your order.
    • Wrap birthday gifts.
    • Buy any party supplies you still need, such as plates, napkins, cups, dinnerware, toothpicks, matches, or candles.
  • 06 of 10

    1 Day Before the Party

    Birthday Cake
    Tim Grist Photography / Getty Images
    • Charge any electronic devices you plan to use at the party.
    • Rent any movies you plan to show at the party.
    • Clean the party area.
    • Set up whatever won't be disturbed between now and the party time tomorrow. This might include hanging decorations, setting the table, setting up party games, or placing buffet servers that can be filled with food just before the party.
    • Make the cake, or confirm the order with the bakery.
  • 07 of 10

    The Morning of the Party

    Preparation for Birthday Party
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    • Drop off your child (or pet) with a sitter if you've prearranged this.
    • Confirm your food arrangements, including the pickup or delivery time if applicable.
    • Finish any other food prep work.
    • Pick up balloons, if using, and the cake, if ordering.
    • Complete decorating of the party area.
    • Set up the games and activities if you haven't yet.
    • Put out the party favors.
    • Place a sign outside or tie balloons to the front door to help guests find your home.
  • 08 of 10

    Just Before the Party Starts

    Food On Table

    Volker Schlichting / Getty Images

    • Pick up your child if they're with a sitter.
    • Set out the food and drinks.
    • Turn on some music.
    • Set out candles and matches for the cake (away from where young children can reach them) to avoid scrambling to find them when everyone’s ready to sing “Happy Birthday.”
    • Place your phone or other device you'll be taking pictures and videos with in an easily accessible spot.
    • Have a pen and paper handy to write down who gave which gifts, which will be helpful when it comes time to write thank you cards.
    • Take some photos of the party scene and cake in case things get too busy once the guests arrive.
    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Sample Order for Birthday Party Activities

    kids' birthday cakes

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    • 0:00 to 0:15: Everyone arrives.
    • 0:15 to 0:30: Guests eat snacks or the meal.
    • 0:30 to 0:50: Guests play organized games.
    • 0:50 to 1:10: Birthday kid opens presents.
    • 1:10 to 1:30: Everyone sings "Happy Birthday" and eats cake.
    • 1:30 to 2:00: Guests have unorganized playtime and say goodbye.
  • 10 of 10

    After the Party

    Cupcake after the party
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    • Clean the party area.
    • Return any rented equipment.
    • Settle any bills with entertainers or venues.
    • Store gift bags, so they can be used again.
    • Throw away gift wrap, and recycle any paper or cardboard.
    • Write and send thank you cards within two weeks of the party. Consider including a photo of the child enjoying each guest’s gift.