Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"
birthday parties in American culture

Have you been to any kids birthday parties lately?

Have you ever planned one, particularly within the US?

You will find that kids birthday parties are a big deal in the US, and so knowing how to talk about them and plan them can be important.

We’re going to give you the details of what goes into planning such a party, and how to talk about the important points of it as well. Plus we’ll talk about adult birthday parties and how to plan any celebration in the United States.

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We have a listener question about birthday parties! 

Hi girls!

I have been listening this podcast for a year. You guys are really amazing and very helpful especially for my listening. I’m writing today because I have a question.

I am currently living in California and I have an 8-year-old daughter. I am going to throw a birthday party for her, but I don’t have any idea of what an American birthday party is like. Where do you usually throw a birthday party for your kid and what do l have to do to prepare? Do I have a piñata and goodie bags for the kids? I know there are no actual rules for throwing a party, but I want to know how to organize it.

Thank you for your help,

Lisa from California

Understanding This Important Event

It’s true that birthday parties, especially for kids, can be vary by different cultures.

In the US, kids birthday parties can be a big deal and are therefore really well celebrated.

Many natives have vivid memories of their own birthday parties as children.

So they want to pass this onto their own children when it’s their parents.

If you find that you want to throw a party, then you want to think through what this may look like.

You want to consider if it’s a big birthday or a special one.

You want to think through how many guests you may invite, and what sort of activities you may have.

Think through your main ideas and then it gives you a starting point.

There are so many things for you to think through for a kids party and we’re going to go through these so that you have a sort of planning checklist.

Popular Birthday Party Ideas

There are so many great ideas when it comes to themes or what to do at your child’s birthday party.

You can cater this to your child and what they like or are interested in.

There are some very popular birthday parties or places to have it that can be fun for everyone.

  • Sports venue: This can be either indoor or outdoor depending on the weather and time of year. You can find so many options such as basketball at the local community center or hitting at a batting cage. If you have an athletic kid, then this can be a great option.
  • Game center: There are some great options like Dave and Busters for example. There are other places and so you can cater it to the age of the child. Having games for kids to play can be a great option and keep everyone entertained.
  • Bowling: This is one of the most popular party spots for kids. You can set up some bowling and pizza for the kids, and you have a perfect party.
  • A movie: If there’s a movie out that your child and their friends want to see, then this can work well. You can grab a meal beforehand and then treat the kids to movie and some snacks at the theater.
  • Invite a magician or some performer: The idea of having a magician is at a kids party is timeless. This is a great way to keep the kids entertained and it’s usually a fun and affordable option as well.

There are so many fun ideas to choose from, but these at least get you thinking.

The idea is to pick something that your child will have fun doing.

They may have ideas if they’re old enough, otherwise consider one of these or something in your city that may make for a fun party venue.

How To Prepare For Your Party Beforehand

You want to break this down and think of what you can do in advance.

There are a lot of things you can do ahead of time to ensure that you pull everything together.

These steps can ensure that you are ready for your party, and you think through all of the details.

  • Think what does the person like: If they like sports then maybe a sports venue! If they love art then try a place where you can do a painting. Focus on the likes of your child and then plan the party around that.
  • Call around: You can ask for referrals from other parents or just call around to places you might be interested in. Call and ask places for estimates such as how much per person or per head. Ask the questions so that you know everything about this particular venue.
  • Create the guest list: You want to be sure to get an idea of how many kids you are planning for. This may influence the venue that you select. It can also give you an idea of how large or small of a party you are going to be planning. You also need to get contact information for the parents so that you can invite each child.
  • Mail out the invitations, include an RSVP: This may be done through an online option such as Evite. Whether you actually mail out invitations or you email them, be sure to include a date for parents to turn in their RSVP by. You need to know how many kids to plan for at the party, and often have to let the venue know in advance.
  • Decide on the food: Certain venues may include food such as pizza. Other venues may require that you take care of the food. Think about if you will cater the food, have food at your house that you make, or go out to a restaurant. Every kid party has food in some capacity, so you want to plan for it.

You are likely to have other ideas for your own specific party.

Use this as a checklist, and then add to it as necessary.

The more that you can do in advance, the better it will make the day of the party.

Things To Do At The Party

There are things you can do to keep the party on track.

These are all things you would expect to see at a children’s birthday party, and so they are good to prepare for.

If you think through these ahead of time, then you can get them all done at the party itself.

  • Yes, goodie bags for kids: This was a question from the listener and it’s something that you will want to think through because kids love these. You will likely want something to hand out to kids at the end of the party. It can have candy or little toys, and you don’t have to break the bank to make them. Just a little something that the kids can leave with is perfect.
  • Gift opening: The biggest question is do you open the gifts during or after the party. This can be a big part of the party or something done quietly at home, particularly if you are pressed for time. Be sure to make a list so you don’t forget for thank you notes.
  • Sometimes people do a pinata: You can opt to have party games and one of those may be a pinata. Kids love to play games or hit a pinata in the hopes of ending up with a bunch of candy. You can plan some games like this if you aren’t at a venue with a bunch of activities the kids can enjoy.
  • Happy Birthday and cake: This is always a big part of kids birthday parties. You want to have a cake or special treat, in the theme if there is one. Then all the guests will sing Happy Birthday and enjoy cake. It’s at the center of most kids parties!

These are some helpful things that you can enjoy at a kids birthday party.

Planning for these elements can ensure that you have a party that is sure to make everyone happy.

Some Review and Vocabulary Words

You may find it useful to review a bit so that you know exactly what you have to do.

You may find that a few vocabulary words come up often when it comes to a kids birthday party.

Knowing these words can help you to be ready for anything, and can also ensure you know how to talk about this fun event.

  • Guest list: This is a list of the people that you intend to invite to the party. This helps you to decide how big the party will be. It also ensures that you know who to invite, and you can keep track of who is actually able to attend.
  • Per person/ a head: This is what you pay for each person in attendance at the party. Some venues will have a set price that you pay per person, or a head, which means the same thing.
  • Catering/catered: You can pay to have food brought in from an outside source, often referred to as a caterer. This means that you pay a separate price for this food to be brought into your home or the outside venue you are holding the party at.
  • Invitation: This is what you send to let guests know they are invited to the party. You can do it online as well using a site such as Evite, which is very popular in this area.
  • RSVP: This is french for “Respondez S’Il Vous Plait” which means “respond please.” This is kindly asking invited guests to please respond to the invitation so that you have a final count. This is an important part of the planning process as the host.

These terms can help you to talk about your party planning.

They are an important part of how you plan a successful and fun party, so they play a significant role.


Birthdays are so much fun–they can be so expensive but are worth it for the kids or guest of honor!

Be sure to create a budget so that you know what you have to work with.

This is a great way to immerse yourself in the culture.

What are birthdays for kids like in your country?

It can be fun to compare and contrast how birthday parties are like in different cultures.

Remember, if you are taking IELTS, parties and celebrations could be a question you get on the Speaking Test. Go here to learn more.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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