While toddlers are picky with their foods, preteens are picky with just about everything else. Through my years of experience coordinating parties and event entertainment, kids aged 11-15 are definitely the most difficult when it comes to party planning. It’s that awkward stage in life where they’re “too old” for some things, and “not old enough” for others. Not to mention, this is one of the biggest transitions of their lives. Organizing a party for this age group requires creativity and understanding of their evolving interests/needs. Good luck, you’ll need it (LOL).
Choose a Theme
Start by discussing with your child what kind of party they would like, this ALWAYS has to come from them. Themes can range from movie nights to sports and even craft parties. Let their interests and hobbies guide the decision.
Create a Guest List
In my experience, social dynamics after grade 5 are extremely finicky. Encourage your preteen to decide on the type of vibe they want before building the guestlist. Do they prefer something small and intimate with their besties or would they rather have a larger group function? Keep in mind that you might want to do something lowkey your family (dinner etc), separate from the party with friends.
Planning Activities For Preteens
This is one of the most important steps! Preteens are full of energy and love to be entertained, they’re also the definition of CRITICAL. Brainstorm age-appropriate activities that align with your chosen theme, and don’t overdo it. You can organize DIY craft stations or outdoor games. A good mix of organized activities and independent/casual activities is best, this allows kids to guide their experience. Get creative and tailor the activities to your preteen's interests.
Choose the Venue
Decide whether you want to host the party at home, rent a venue, or go on an excursion (laser tag, movies etc). If you choose to host at home, ensure you have enough space for the activities and guests. Outdoor venues, community centers, or local parks are great options too, especially for active or sports-themed parties.
Design creative invitations that match the chosen theme. You can either create digital invitations or opt for traditional paper ones. Be sure to include all the essential details, such as the date, time, location, and RSVP information.
Decorations and Ambiance
Ask your child how they feel about decorations, and include them as much as possible in the planning. Pinterest has a ton of great decor ideas to draw inspiration from. MUSIC IS A NON-NEGOTIABLE AND WILL SET THE TONE.
Plan the Menu
Again, less is more. Keep the menu simple. Finger foods, snacks, and mini desserts are always a hit. I’ve even seen parties and events with full on “McDonald’s Catering” - order a bunch of burgers, fries, and drinks, then put them out as a spread (it’s all about the presentation). Got connections? Pay for a food truck or ice cream truck stop by too! If you have any guests with dietary restrictions, make sure to provide suitable alternatives.
Birthday Cake and Treats
No birthday party is complete without a cake! You’re never too old (or cool) for cake. Discuss with your child their preferred cake flavour and design. Consider ordering or baking a cake that matches the party theme. Don't forget to have some treats and goodie bags for the guests to take home.
Capture the Memories
Have a “photo scavenger hunt” to get kids engaged - split them into teams or partners, hand them polaroid cameras (or they can use their phones) along with a list of challenges, and make it a competition. Bonus points if you have a prize for the winning team.
Opt for something useful to this age group (Party City favours will no longer cut it!) If you have a craft station set up, it doubles as a party favour and something for kids to take home. Other suitable favours are: $5-$10 gift cards (Dunkin’ Donuts, Tim Hortons, McDonalds), keychains, tumblers, water bottles, funky socks, lip glosses etc.
On the day of the party, relax and enjoy the celebration, give your preteen and their friends a little space (this can be hard).
Remember to involve your child in the decision-making process, prioritize their interests, and most importantly, have fun!
Happy party planning!