We can’t all be Martha Stewart. Luckily, we can grab cool themes from party pros and look just as good.
Bug ’em. "We did a bug theme for my daughter’s third birthday party; she loves bugs," says Laura Northrop, a mom of one in Birmingham, Alabama. "We had a picture of her dressed as a bumble bee on the invitation and put plastic bugs on the cake and table. We decorated with bug balloons and handed out bug catchers with gummy worms inside as favors. The guests had a great time looking all over the house for the bug toys we hid!"
Down on the farm. Cover tables in red-and-white checkered tablecloths. Wrap utensils in bandannas and place in a tin bucket. Put out a few bales of hay and pass out straw hats (you can usually find them in dollar stores). Make or get a cake in the shape of a pig or cow. Let kids play "Duck, duck, goose!" and sing "Old MacDonald Had a Farm." Hide eggs and have kids go on a hunt.
Back to school. "My son’s birthday is in August, and when he turned 2 we did a back-to-school theme," says Colleen Peterman, a mom of three in Birmingham, Michigan. "I took pictures of each guest to place in a ‘yearbook’ that I had guests sign. The kids ate on trays, and I served milk in the little cartons. The cake was shaped like a school bus, and my son was dressed in a plaid outfit that looked like a school uniform. I had his name embroidered on his shirt as a special touch!"
Choo-choo cute. Try a train-themed party: Decorate an iced sheet cake with model train pieces on top. Pick up inexpensive conductor hats and whistles online. Decorate with red and blue balloons, and use red bandannas for napkins. Let kids play "Conductor Says" (same as Simon Says) in the backyard.
Go fish. Pick up an inexpensive fish bowl or two at the pet store and serve snacks inside (goldfish, anyone?). Fill a small tub or kiddie pool with dirt, plastic worms, and some little shovels—the kids can go digging for worms. Fill another pool with water and let children pretend to fish. Instead of a cake, decorate cupcakes with a pretzel pole and a candy fish. Bucket hats can be purchased from an online party store for about a dollar a piece and passed out as favors. Use nets and a tackle box as decorations.
Out of this world. "For my son’s most recentbirthday, we did a space theme," says Amy Berkheimer, mom of one, in Selah, Washington. "I cut a rocket out of cardboard and decorated it for the cake table. I made cupcakes with colored candies and space-themed stuff from the scrapbook section of the craft store. For an activity, we gave kids piles of cardboard boxes, egg cartons, paper towel tubes, pipe cleaners, and tape, and let them make their own robots. It was a huge hit!"