The full-time job of parenting requires that one wear many different hats: babysitter, chef, housekeeper, teacher, chauffeur, ATM machine, and so on. One role arrives just several times a year, depending on how many children you have, but is just as important: that of party planner.

For most children, no time is more special than the day they turn one year older. The presents, extra attention and sweets make this a holiday to look forward to—but a great party ensures a day that your child will remember for a long time to come. From the traditional to the unexpected, the Peoria area has a colorful range of party ideas. And while the neighborhood pool or fast food restaurant may make for an enjoyable celebration, why not surprise your child and his or her classmates with a personalized party? Read on for some local favorites and tips for a unique day of merriment.

Start with the Basics

To give your child a stand-out party, begin by considering his or her favorite things. Would she rather have a craft session or a movie party? Does he enjoy baseball or science? Is there anything from school that she really loves to do? Get specific, and ask your child about his or her fantasy party. Once a theme is in place, act quickly. Bakeries, caterers and entertainers will need at least several weeks’ (or more) notice, and the parents of guests will appreciate
an early invitation.

According to an article on MSNBC.com, inviting less people may be better—both for your child and your sanity. “Try to keep the numbers down so that you don’t end up with a child that is singled out as the ‘it’ kid,” the article suggested. This problem can also be avoided by focusing on group games and structured activities to keep children mingling. Make sure each child receives the same party favors to discourage jealousy. For many children, the best part of the party—and its lasting effect—is the development of new friendships.

For the Science-Savvy

Curious children who like to get their hands messy will cheer over Mad Science of Peoria, an organization that travels to you to provide an interactive and imaginative experience. Trained professionals demonstrate experiments and work alongside party-goers to create take-home presents like slippery slime and super bouncy balls. The hour-long sessions slyly hint that learning can be fun but focus on satisfying curiosity. “Science can be magical, but unlike magicians, we tell our secrets,” said manager Carrie Healy. “In one experiment we put water in a cup, turn the cup upside-down and [the water] is gone. It really interests the kids.”

Children as young as preschoolers can participate, and sessions vary for those ages six to 10. For older kids, Mad Science offers a wizard party inspired by Harry Potter. Party packages begin at $159 for 12 children; up to 35 children have been included, but Healy suggests smaller parties are more intimate and fun.

Don’t worry: Mad Science won’t make a mess in your home or whatever venue you choose, but do make sure the party will be inside to maintain the session’s special effects. Book one month in advance, and look forward to an enlightening and fun afternoon.

For the Animal Lover

Lisa Saunders’ llama ranch in Spring Bay really allows aspiring zookeepers to get up close and personal. Most people have no idea what to expect when imagining a llama party, but these gentle animals provide fulfilling entertainment.
“The llamas are very socialized from parades and [visits to] schools and are used to being around people,” Saunders said. “We play games, make a craft and do presents and cake in two hours.”

The activities at EDR Lamas—spelled with only one ‘L’ because the ranch has both llamas and alpacas—vary according to age, and the ranch prefers that guests are at least eight years old. Games involve individual interaction, including leading your own llama through an obstacle course and trying to place your llama’s feet on a mat during “Musical Mats.” Each guest receives a bag of party favors and has a picture taken with a llama; both are included in the party package, which starts at $150 for 10 children.

Because llamas originate from the Andes Mountains and are used to cold weather, the llama ranch is open year-round. However, summer birthdays need to be planned carefully to avoid overheating the animals. Reserve your date a month in advance, especially in the spring, and anticipate a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

For the Aspiring Artist

If finger-painting or coloring is the cat’s meow for your child, plan your next birthday bash at Fired Up Studios in Peoria Heights. Described as a kid-friendly family environment, the studios specialize in helping children express themselves through art.

“We enjoy the kids,” said manager Heather Miller. “Nowadays kids lose art in schools, and if they don’t get it at home because it’s too messy, they’re losing something.”

Children get to choose a piece of pottery, ranging from a whimsical animal to a practical kitchen dish, and decorate it with non-toxic, washable paint. Although it takes one week for the pottery to be glazed, fired and returned, children will delight in their creations and the fact that they created them in a real studio.

Ten children receive 90 minutes of staff instruction and their own pottery at the cost of $225. Children as young as five can get involved, and the techniques taught vary with increasing age. Choose your pottery ahead of time or the day of the session, and if you prefer a smaller group, the cost of the party can be reduced. Book the studio at least two weeks in advance for a customized birthday plate, and don’t forget a paint smock!

So before venturing to your local McDonald’s, consider a more unique and distinctive party. Your children will feel even more special on their own holiday—and they’ll be sure to thank you for it! a&s