There are few birthdays as special as your baby's 1st birthday, but making the most of this wonderful occasion for your own child isn’t easy - particularly if you’ve never done it before.
At first glance, there are so many things to consider; the theme, the invites, the food… and then there’s the age-old problem of the invite list. This is why so many people, unfortunately, make mistakes and forget to focus on what really matters.
To help you along, we’ve put together the ultimate first birthday party checklist. And, to make it ultra simple to navigate, we’ve divided the tasks into the most appropriate timeframes for you.
At the end of this article, you’ll find a handy checklist you can use to make sure everything goes to plan.
No need to thank us - just get that pen and paper handy!
1 Month Before
Select date and time
You’ll no doubt want to invite a fair few people to the party, therefore get this task polished off as early as possible in order to ensure your child’s first birthday makes it into their diaries. Just try and avoid dates that are public holidays or midweek.
Make a guest list
Focus firstly on your immediate family and friends, and only extend out if you feel you need to. Depending on how busy or far-flung your family and friends are you might want to do this step earlier. Providing those closest to you are included from the start, you won’t run the risk of upsetting anyone on this occasion!
Make a list of phone numbers
Grab your favourite, trusty spreadsheet application and make a list of everyone’s phone number and email address, if you have them to hand - this will come in handy very soon.
Not a spreadsheet whizz? Don’t worry we’ve made a 1st Birthday Party Planner excel template you can download here
Select party location (home/outdoor)
If you’re feeling adventurous and the big day happens to fall during the spring or summer, go for an outdoor location. Otherwise (and, to be honest, this should be the default choice in Britain), go for indoors to avoid rain stopping play.
Decide the party theme (if there is one)
A theme isn’t necessary and may be a step too far if you’re pushed for time, but if you want to set a theme for the party, go for it. Fairy tales or characters and scenes from any of the popular baby TV programs are popular themes.
Set a budget
Time for the money element! You won’t need a big budget for a first birthday party, so simply ensure you have enough to cover the venue (if it charges for space), food and decorations. Be realistic - don’t go mad.
Book outdoor venue if required
If you decided to go for an outdoor venue - great! Just make sure you book it in plenty of time, because such venues tend to get snapped up when the weather gets warmer.
3 Weeks Before
Make and deliver invitations
Remember that contact list you put together a little while ago? Time to use it! Unless you want to go the traditional route, digital invitations will save you a huge amount of time, so put a nice email or text together and get them sent out.
Plan your baby’s outfit (if it’s a themed party)
If you’ve gone for a themed party, it’s time to shop for the outfit. Of course, if you know of someone who has a spare piece of clothing you could borrow, that’ll help save a chunk of your budget, too!
Have a basic party menu ready
Finger buffet food is the key here, but be sure to make a list of what you’re likely to have on the table before you order.
Choose a caterer or sort out recipes if doing yourself
Save money: do the food prep yourself (rope in a friend). Spend a little but gain more time: bring in a caterer. Make the choice that befits the venue and your budget.
Choose a first birthday cake
There are some lovely first birthday cakes you can pick up relatively cheaply, but make sure you go for a fairly big one to ensure there’s enough to hand around at the end of the party.
Plan for party bags and decorations
Everyone loves a party bag, and a first birthday wouldn’t be complete without decorations, so make sure you sort out both of these elements in plenty of time.
Plan for your Thank You cards
Sending a hand written Thank You card in the post is a really nice gesture so now’s the time to think about ordering the style of cards you’d like to send and buying enough stamps. Having the cards and stamps on stand by mean this won’t get forgotten in the post-party wind-down!
Decide on 2 or 3 party games
The best way to fill time at the first birthday is to have two or three party games at the ready. Pass the parcel, hide and seek or musical statues are classic ways to keep the older kids (and adults) entertained.
2 Weeks Before
Shop for party bag gifts and decorations
A party bag can easily and cost effectively be made that little bit more special with a ribbon and birthday-themed sticker or two. Add those to the simple gifts that’ll be contained within (go for sweets and chocs - that kind of thing).
Shop for other birthday resources
Think of anything else you might need - paper plates, tablecloths and cleaning products (particularly the latter!), and add them to your birthday shopping list.
Enlist the help of family or friends
Don’t do this alone! Rope in your family and friends to help; they’ll likely jump at the chance.
Order a birthday cake
You could, of course, get a cake from a supermarket, but if you want to make the day that little bit more special, order a unique cake featuring your baby’s name, instead.
Confirm pick-up date/time with bakery
The local bakery is a great choice for the cake, and most will be able to work to your schedule if you give them plenty of time.
Organise extra furniture, baby blankets, and soft toys if the party is at home
If you’re going to hold the party at your house, make sure you’ve got enough emergency chairs, additional toys and baby blankets to ensure it goes by without a hitch.
Book outdoor activities such as bouncy castles or swings
If you’ve gone for an outdoor venue and have decided to hire in particular activities, now is the time to get them ordered to avoid disappointment.
Book entertainment such as magicians and exotic pet handlers
Entertainers will require at least a couple of week’s notice when booking, so get in touch with them now to ensure they have your date in their diary.
Buy prizes for the party games
A party game isn’t much fun without a prize for the winner, so make sure you shop for some simple, low-cost prizes. Again, chocolates and sweets are always winners here.
1 Week Before
Get final head count and RSVPs
By now, you should have received all RSVPs, but chase anyone who hasn’t responded so you can get that all important final head count.
Confirm booking with venue/caterer if applicable
If you originally put off confirming the venue while waiting for the exact number of people attending, now is the time to confirm the date with the headcount to hand.
Start organising party bags and label them with guest names
Time again to turn to that spreadsheet of invites. Felt tip in hand, start putting together your party bags with all the necessary goodies and label them with guest names.
Check memory storage on your phone or camera so you’re ready to capture the special day
There will be so many photo opportunities on the day, so make sure you don’t run out of space on your smartphone or camera by checking that you’ve got plenty of storage space available.
Check your first aid kit - anything can happen at a party
It doesn’t really bear thinking about, but things can go wrong at kids parties - particularly with so much going on. Make sure you have a fully-stocked first aid kit to hand, just in case.
Shop for your baby’s birthday outfit and present
If you didn’t need to buy a themed birthday outfit for your baby, you can leave it until now to shop for their ‘normal’ outfit. It pays to bundle this in with the present shopping, too.
Check the venue and your home is baby-proofed
No sharp objects, open plug sockets or expensive equipment onto which drinks can be poured; leave no stone unturned!
Select appropriate party music
This bit is fun - and there’s no harm in admitting it. Grab your music library or subscription service and set up a special playlist that features songs and theme tunes that befit a first birthday party. Top tip, make sure your playlist doesn’t include any lyrics not suitable for children’s ears and select those Radio Edits!
1 Day Before
Check candles, cake knife and matches for the cake
Everyone will be looking forward to the reveal of the birthday cake, therefore make sure you’re ready to make this first one ultra special with all the trimmings.
Choose your own party outfit and accessories
Time to focus on yourself! Spend some much-needed time looking for an outfit and accessories for yourself; you need to shine on the day too, after all.
Re-check guest list
The last thing you want to do is accidentally leave anyone out, and with so much going on, you might want to take one last look at the guest list. Is everyone definitely present?
Reconfirm your family member or friend will still be helping
If you’ve roped in support for pre-party preparation and activities on the big day, make sure you double check that those who opted in are still up for it (once they’re in, they’re in!).
Keep your baby’s outfit and shoes ready for the big day
To avoid last minute scrambles, leave the baby’s outfit and shoes somewhere obvious before the big day. That way, you can grab them quickly when the time comes to get dressed up.
Wrap your baby’s birthday present
Grab your favourite tipple (be it a glass of wine or cup of tea) and enjoy wrapping your child’s first ever birthday present.
Get an early night - it’s going to be a long day tomorrow
Now for the most important piece of preparation, you’ll do the day before. Tomorrow will be long, emotional and hard work, so make sure you get plenty of sleep beforehand. Once that present has been wrapped, get an early night!
On the Birthday
Start preparing party food and refreshments
To ensure maximum freshness, reserve the first couple of hours of the day to preparing the food and refreshments. This is where those handy helpers will be invaluable.
Set the table and decorations
Transform the tables in the venue or your home with the decorations you purchased and make everything look fit for a king.
Set a separate place for presents
When people arrive, they’ll probably be laden with presents, so make sure there’s an obvious area for them to be placed, ready for opening later on.
Pick up the cake
Head to your local bakery and get that cake; if you’ve done your homework, it’ll be ready and waiting for you. Just remember to be very careful driving it back - take someone along with you, if possible.
Make sure the camera or phone is charged and ready to go
Keep your smartphone or camera on charge for as long as possible during the morning and make sure it’s working as intended an hour or so before with some test shots.
Keep cameras and candles ready
Keep both the birthday cake candles and camera in your pocket at all times - you’ll need to grab both quickly when required.
Keep the first-aid kit in a safe place
Again, we won’t dwell on the reasons for this one, but make sure you and a few other parents know exactly where the first-aid kit is located, and make it as easy to access as possible.
Keep the guest contact list in a safe place
The spreadsheet you created a few weeks back containing guest contact details may not be out of service just yet. Keep a printed copy of it close by just in case you need to contact anyone on the day, or if you need to check where someone important is.
And remember to get someone to note down what gifts you received so that you send out some personalized Thank You cards after the event.
Day after the Birthday
Grab the spreadsheet containing a note of the gifts you received, now’s the time to find those Thank You cards and stamps you ordered 3 Weeks ago. Handwritten notes popped in the post really create a lasting impression and are a joy to receive.
That’s all, folks
Time for a hearty pat on the back, for if you follow our guide to organising your child’s first birthday, you’ll create a day that will live long in the memory and from which you’ll have numerous photos to embarrass your child with later in life.
Get your copy of the checklist here