Even though your baby won’t remember their first birthday, it’s a major (and incredibly cute) milestone for parents—one that your kid will love to look back on when they’re older (be sure to save all the best pics in the Tinybeans app). You’ll probably choose the most adorable party outfit, soon to be covered in freshly baked (or bought!) smash cake. But with schedules to take into account and a lot of little personalities to cater to, how do you plan a party to remember that doesn’t end in disaster? Whether hosting a small gathering with family or a big blowout, these are the first birthday party ideas and tips that’ll ensure everyone has a great time—especially the birthday babe.

1. Respect the nap.

Happy, stress-free parties require a well-rested baby, so time the birthday bash around your baby’s naptime. While this may mean a different start time than Grandma expected, everybody (especially your child!) will have a better time if you work around the sleep schedule.

2. Create a quiet area.

Since parties with babies can mean tears and gleeful shrieks, setting up a secondary party area in another room or outside for guests to go to if they need a break from the festivities is a brilliant first birthday party idea. Set out non-electronic toys for babies who may feel overstimulated, and place chairs and snacks there for adults who want a spot for quiet conversation.

3. Designate photographers.

To ensure you capture the big moments and sweet snuggles with important folks, ask a few attendees to take charge of specific photo moments. That way you can focus on your child and guestsand end up in some of the photos, too! Take all the snapshots from the day and make them into a Tinybeans photo book to save your memories of the special day.

4. Choose a simple theme.

If planning a Pinterest-worthy party sounds too stressful, stick to a simple theme. Lifestyle guru and mother of two Camille Styles opted for a summer-themed party for her daughter’s first birthday and used hearts and the colors pink and orange to make the party look cohesive.

5. Or… skip the theme.

No, you don’t need a themed first birthday party. Promise. Instead, spend your money on fun first birthday activities your baby and guests will enjoy. Our favorite is the ball pit. Just buy an inexpensive kiddie pool and a lot of colorful plastic balls. Kids will love to play around in it, and you can set it up at home or in your backyard for your child to enjoy for years to come.

Related: Best Places to Hold a First Birthday Party

A picture of a baby with her big sister celebrating with a circus party, one of the cutest first birthday party ideas

6. Take photos before guests arrive.

One of our favorite ideas when planning parties for one-year-olds olds is to snap pictures before baby gets sleepy or cake-covered and when you and your family are more relaxed and focused. To ensure you get great photos, make or order a small smash cake before the big day and do a low-key photo shoot without any guests around. Baby will be all smiles, and no one flipping through the scrapbook will ever know that the picture was taken on a different day.

7. Weather permitting, opt for an outdoor venue.

A park or playground can be the perfect party spot; all you bring is the cake, balloons, favors, snacks, and a table. The mess will be minimal in the great outdoors, and younger guests will have lots of space to run around.

First birthday party tip: Arrive early to stake out a spot in the shade, and tell guests what color balloons or decorations you have so they know where to find you. If the weather isn’t cooperating and you need to move the party to your home, make extra room indoors by moving furniture out of the party room so little legs can crawl or walk around.

8. Put older kids in charge of games.

Delegate, delegate, delegate. Older kids, like cousins or friends’ children, usually love to be given responsibility at parties, and they’re really good at getting the younger ones’ attention. Put them in charge of party games, music-making, singing songs, and more. Chat with the older kids (and their parents) in advance to ask what they’re comfortable doing and create a plan.

a picture of a baby with a smash cupcake, a good first birthday party idea
free stocks via Unsplash

9. Use a cupcake for smashing.

Smash cakes are all the rage with the one-year-old crowd and their photo-taking families, and while we say smash away, a tiny confection or cupcake works just as well with much less mess. You may even be able to salvage your child’s outfit for future events if you go for a less messy, smaller cake.

10. Personalize the party.

Highlight a few of your baby’s favorite things over the past year (first word! favorite food! favorite stuffed animal!) and make a poster you display at the party. This first birthday party idea from Kara’s Party Ideas lets guests learn about your baby and is worth snapping a photo of for your child to revisit in a few years. Better yet, make it a yearly tradition.

11. Create a time capsule.

Asking your guests to write the guest of honor a short letter to be read years from now tops our list of sweet first birthday party ideas. To ward off writer’s block, offer suggestions for what to write, such as helpful advice, a memory of the party or first year, or wishes for the future. Store the letters in a marked container that reads “Do not open until you turn 21” (or whatever age you like). For guests who can’t make it, ask them to email your submissions—print them out, and file them away for a future date.

12. Make your party treats self-serve.

Set up everything from drinks to dessert in advance so you can tell guests to help themselves, leaving you to focus on your child and having fun. For younger guests, prep cut-up fruit, applesauce pouches, and cups of Cheerios or snack crackers. For adults, a charcuterie board, crudites, and antipasto are always popular nibbles.

13. Keep it short and sweet.

Little people get overstimulated quickly and can’t handle too much of a good thing. Limit your party to two hours or less so everyone can leave on a positive note.

Related: Celebrate Your Baby’s First Birthday Without a Party

Capture all the cutest (and messiest) moments from baby’s big day—and share them with your family and friends near and far—with the Tinybeans app. The secure platform puts parents in total control of who sees and interacts with photos and videos of their kids.

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