It's a big day for your little one, but don't sweat the small stuff – follow this step-by-step guide for a party that's big on fun, small on spend.
1. Make your own piñata
A piñata stuffed with goodies is a certain party hit, and it's surprisingly easy to DIY. For the paper mache shell, you'll need flour, water, a balloon and newspaper cut into strips about 5cm wide. First, mix one cup of water to one cup of flour in a bowl to create your paste. Mix until it has the smooth consistency of pancake batter. Inflate your balloon. Dip each newspaper strip in the paste, squeezing off the excess, cover the balloon's entire surface. Repeat three to four layers. Let it dry for at least 24 hours, then use a utility knife to cut three sides of a rectangle 'hatch' for filling your piñata with goodies; this should also burst the balloon, but if not gently burst it and remove.
Decorate your piñata with coloured tissue paper cut into long, fringed garlands. Make it a fruit or an animal by adding leaves, eyes, legs – anything goes!
Cram it with a mix of candies, lollies and party favour toys such as mini bubbles, lip glosses, erasers, hair clips, whistles and mini puzzles.
2. Go colour crazy
For stunning visual impact, you can't beat a sea of colour – and it's easily created. Pick your hue and gather balloons, plastic or paper tablecloths, large cardboard sheets, tissue paper and crepe paper streamers to dress as many surfaces as possible. Carry the colour through to goodie bags, with inexpensive toys such as erasers, candies, and toy jewellery. For food, have fun with coloured popcorn, fruit or sweets.
For just $100, Melbourne mum Sarah Hodgson laid on a pink fourth-birthday bash with pink lemonade (using food colouring), pink ice cubes (same); pink meringues, pink marshmallow skewers, pink frosted cupcakes, and pink backdrops on all the walls made from crepe paper streamers hung vertically. "I dyed rice pink, and filled glasses and vases with it as table decorations with pink lollipops standing in them," she says. "Coloured rice is easy; you mix a couple of spoonfuls of white vinegar with food colouring, slosh it in a Ziplock bag with the rice, then dry it overnight on foil."
Can't decide on your party colour? Instantly transform your room into a rainbow wonderland by threading five or six inexpensive table covers in different shades on a string, like a row of bunched-up shower curtains. Hang or tape on the wall for an instant backdrop. Multi-coloured crayons, cups and paper plates add to the effect.
3. Balloons are your best buddy
Coloured latex balloons cost as little as $2 for 20, so it makes sense to explore their creative potential and think big!
With nothing else required but glue spots and tape, balloons can be the building blocks for archways, forests, towers, oceans or the number of the host's age or letters of their name.
Make a balloon backdrop by taping balloons closely together to cover a whole wall in a clever colour palette: various shades of one hue; stripes, spots or one block of colour. Linkable balloons make fun wands that kids will also love to take home.
Balloons are a perfect party favour solution, too. Use a canning funnel to stretch the mouth of the balloon so that you can fill it with lollies and small toys before inflating with a pump. "Those $3.75 Beanie Boo clips look amazing in clear balloons with matching confetti inside, tied with string to match the toy," says Brisbane mum Sue Harmer.
4 … and fruit is your friend!
Fruit is a purse-friendly and healthy party food that makes for stunning centrepieces worthy of a royal banquet.
Get the kids excited with a fabulous rainbow fruit porcupine; skewer cubes of watermelon, rockmelon, pineapple, apple or papaya on toothpicks and stick them into the melon, covering it as densely as possible. Create gorgeous fruit rainbows with berry, banana and melon chunks across large plastic serving trays.
Delight little rev-heads with vegetable cars; use a long vegetable – cucumbers and carrots are best - for the chassis, attach four wheels made from cucumber or carrot slices with toothpicks, and add a cherry tomato on top for your driver's head. Wilton Candy Eyeballs and Moustaches add a finishing touch, and they're also great for adding a face to caterpillar kebabs, made from grapes strung along a skewer with a strawberry for a head.
There really is nothing prettier than the vibrant, natural colours of fruit, and other parents will thank you for keeping their kids healthy too.
5. Dress-up magic
A box bursting with costumes will excite kids of all ages. Entertain them with an accessories station where they can create their own look to be captured on Mum's smartphone. All it takes is setting up a table with coloured cardboard, glue, ribbon, crepe paper, pom poms, feathers, shells, sparkles, glitter and googly eyes, and let the kids loose. Add flower crowns, tiaras and mask options to stretch their imaginations even more, or match the accessories to your party theme or colour palette. A photoshoot to follow, on a camera or handy smartphone, will create a unique party souvenir for each guest. "When we did a Princesses and Pirates party for my son's year one class, I asked all the mums and dads to contribute items for the dress-up box and some extraordinary things came out of their wardrobes!" says Meredith Young, from Sydney. "We printed out simple instructions for pirate hats and princess tiaras. They each took on a character with a name and a story - then we had a disco with everyone in their finery. They absolutely loved it."
See also: Essential hacks for busy mums
This article has been produced in association with BIG W.
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