Should I invite my kid’s entire class to her birthday party?

Categories: Hacking Life, Parenting


My 4-1/2-year-old has a birthday party or a playdate every weekend for the next five weeks. She’s become quite the social butterfly — sometimes with her 2-1/2-year-old brother in tow. Which is great, except now I’m faced with a birthday party dilemma: Invite the whole class or just a few kids?

I have a few months in which to stress about this — she’s a late-fall baby, and my youngest’s birthday is just 10 days after hers — but, in the past, we kept things very low-key, and I’ll admit that’s where my heart lies. Last year, we skipped the proper party entirely, driving down to my parents’ house and eating cake with them and my nieces instead. I’d planned to invite a couple of friends to an outing at a local museum, but you know what it’s like trying to juggle work and family: Somehow, that trip is still in the planning stages.

Previously, birthday parties were a very simple affair. A stack of cupcakes. Pizza for the kids, “grownup food” for the parents, and maybe a grand total of about 20 people in the house, family and neighbors and adults included. The adults chatted, the kids decorated things with stickers, and then we’d all hang out outside if the weather was nice enough. Boring? Maybe. Stress-free? OH, YES.

After attending gymnastic parties, indoor playspace parties, princess parties, rented-bounce-house-in-the-driveway parties, and a few others so far this year, though, I’m not sure that a simple family gathering will do.

When I was a kid, in the (gulp) ’70s, my parents used to insist that I invite my entire class to my summertime birthday parties — plus my classmates’ parents and siblings. My younger brothers would each be allowed to invite a couple of friends — plus their parents and siblings. We had a pool and a huge yard and kids would swarm around like cake-fueled bees while the parents would sip beer and eat grilled chicken and much fun would be had by all. Or so I assume. That’s the way I remember it, and I never heard my parents complain. But I’ll level with you: Just the idea of inviting all of my two youngest kids’ classmates and their families to my house at once gives me agita.

On the other hand: The idea of my 4-year-old knowing about a classmate’s party but not being invited to it breaks my heart, and I don’t want to make another child feel that way. In fact, that’s how most parents seem to view the issue. “I know life’s not fair,” Momlogic’s Julie wrote recently. “”But I don’t know why my son has to learn that lesson in second grade. Isn’t that a little young to adopt a ‘life sucks, then you die’ philosophy?”

On yet another hand: Have birthday parties just become too PC? At Cafemom, one member points out: “Everybody has become so worried about hurting other’s feelings in this regard that I’ve seen parents nearly go broke because they not only felt compelled to invite every kid in the class but they take it a step further and invite all the kids in the same grade!… If your child does not hang out with people at school, why would you want to invite them?”

So I’m throwing the question out to you. Do you invite your child’s entire class to the birthday party? Why or why not? And what do you do if you have more than one child whose birthdays are close together?

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18 comments so far...

  • Great topic! My son turned 3 at the end of March. Because we’ve been invited to several parties for daycare kids in the last year, we decided we should reciprocate this time. Our house isn’t big enough for any kind of party, so we looked for other indoor options. We settled on Gymboree, since he was already familiar with it, and it seemed like the most reasonable “deal”. Of the 13 kids that were there, only 4 were invited from daycare. I put the invitation in a plain white envelope and put it in each kids cubby at the end of the day, as discreetly as possible.

    There are 18 kids in his class, most with siblings close in age, most of which he doesn’t “play with regularly”. At that age, I don’t feel obligated to invite everyone, and I know there have been other parties we weren’t invited to. Maybe that will change by the time he turns 5, but for now, this worked okay for us. GOOD LUCK!!!!

    Mama Kerr  |  April 27th, 2009 at 8:08 am

  • My kids aren’t in school yet, but I don’t think I would ever do this. Maybe your parents found it to be a nice anchor for a summer party, and more power to them. But I’m pretty sure your parents were in the minority.

    In keeping with my overall “less is more” mentality, I have only had one “birthday party” for my kids and it was really their welcome-home party. In the future, I figure I may do another “real” birthday party at some milestone age - maybe the birthday after they start kindergarten. But I have no plans to invite anyone from their school, unless I happen to be personal friends with the child’s parents.

    Ignore “peer pressure”; just do what you and your children will truly enjoy (and can afford). You don’t owe anything to those whose parties your child has attended; presumably you provided a gift that more than made up for the cost of cake & ice cream. If your child starts the comparison thing, just talk up whatever activity you have chosen instead as much better than a huge party. Or say what my mom said: “we can’t afford it.”

    SKL  |  April 27th, 2009 at 10:53 am

  • For 4 years we had no larger parties; family/close friends only, cupcakes to the sitter’s one year.
    In preschool she started getting invited to parties and consequently wanted to have one of her own. But she couldn’t identify close friends so we did the whole class invites.
    We have foudn even if we invite 24 kids, a maximum of half that number will show. We might get off easy being in the summer, but I think also a lot of parents don’t feel the need anymore to go to every party for a classmate if it isn’t someone their child is close with.

    Mich  |  April 27th, 2009 at 12:22 pm

  • I was thinking this same thing, although my daughter just goes to daycare. But she has been invited to several parties already and I am sure there will be more. My thought was to send cupcakes to daycare the Friday around her birthday and maybe order some Pizza for them…This would take care of the invites and she still gets to celebrate something with her friends at daycare…

    BAM  |  April 27th, 2009 at 1:29 pm

  • I am staunchly resisting the overly-large, too-much birthday party for as long as possible (hopefully forever?). Our past parties have been just what you’ve described here as your former experiences (my girls are also 4 and 2). This June, my oldest turns 5 and will have her first ever “traditional” party involving some friends being dropped off for a couple of hours. But, we’re still doing it at home only, with a homemade cake, and the guests will number 3 (4 if one baby sister comes along). Keep it small! Kids don’t know or care at this age about all the bells and whistles. A cake, a few presents, a game or two, maybe a few balloons–that’s all you need. I really believe that!

    Shannon  |  April 27th, 2009 at 2:50 pm

  • Oh, where do I start on this topic? In Day Care, it seemed like everyone invited the whole class, so we did too. And we had the “place” party, not at our house…you know, Chuck E Cheese, Mr. Gatti’s Pizza, Bowling Alley. Then the boys started at a private (religious) school with most of the same kids from Day Care. So there were 22 kids in each class, but 44 kids in each grade…and they knew nearly all of the 44 kids. So it was a struggle EVERY year to determine who and how many kids to invite to birthday parties.

    Finally after my youngest son turned 6, and we invited all 22 kids in his class, and all the boys in the other class….and after the bill at Incredible Pizza was over $500….we just said “NO MORE.”

    The good news is that the older kids get, the more they don’t care about how many kids are there. My oldest son is 10 and we do a pool party (in our neighborhood) every year with about 7-8 boys, and then some of them spend the night. His birthday is in August, so we can do the pool. When my youngest turned 7 in January, we did a sleepover party for 7 of his friends.

    And everyone was happy.

    Of course…on a side note, your family summer parties in the 70s sound sort of fun…..

    Karla E  |  April 28th, 2009 at 11:04 am

  • I have 3 kids, ages 7, 4 and 3. We’ve been to huge parties and small parties. They are all fun in their own way. We have 2 winter birthdays and all the parties have been small, at home, and lots of fun. The summer child gets a big cook-out bash in the backyard. Everyone invites friends to that one!

    The best idea I’ve ever heard, though, is to only have a “friends” party every other year. In the “on” year the party can be big or small, as long as it involves friends. In the “off” year, the birthday is celebrated with family only. One 7-year old that I know has her next 4 birthdays planned out: (1) princess party with friends, (2) museum trip with family (3) bowling alley party with friends (4) camping overnight in a tent with family

    Not sure if she’ll get what she’s wishing for, but I think the every-other-year thing is a great idea!

    SM  |  April 28th, 2009 at 12:54 pm

  • Well, my step-daughter has only lived with us long enough for this question to come up once and that time I took my mom’s advice. Allow her to invite the number of people equal to her age. She was turning 9, so she invited 9 friends.

    I think this year I maybe have a slightly different rule. This year she turns 10. She’s been asking to have a “special event party”. So the number we would allow her to invite will depend somewhat on where we have the party. If we have it at our house, we’ll probably go with 10. If we have it at build-a-bear, the minimum # of guests is 6 and that sounds like plenty to me. If we have it at a party place where it’s the same price for 10 kids as it is for 20 kids, we’ll go with 20.

    Jenni  |  April 28th, 2009 at 2:20 pm

  • So yeah, about this subject…my almost 5 year old (coming this May) is in two (count them 2) classes during the day, with 15 kids each. I just asked his teacher how many total for both morning and afternoon, she informed me 29 total (including my son).

    So, I called a friend of mine (a silly magician) who is willing to come for a half hour to do some magic (I figure he’s great with the kids, and if you want his info and live in MA, he can give you a quote too, just dm me), and then see who can come on Memorial Day weekend…(Yeah, can’t wait until he turns 21…).

    I just need to worry about the weather, and getting the pizza there on time.

    Thinking about doing a smaller party for my folks (not sure if they would dig silly magic show).

    Any ideas?

    Gia Saulnier  |  April 30th, 2009 at 11:21 am

  • i invited my daughters entire kindergarten class (all 36 of them) plus the few siblings that I knew had to be invited in order for the friend to come. I was panicky and the class teacher said I was insane ! lol (we were friendly) The major problem was that the school has a policy that invites are not allowed to be passed out in school unless the entre class is invited— to prevent “hurt feelings” My children at 5/6 understood that not everyone plays together so why would they get invited. They hadnt been invited to some partys already and they were fine with it. Anyway my other thinking about inviting the whole class was that not everyone would come. I simply wrote RSVP YES or NO by such date (4 days prior to party) I got the number of kids coming and wouldnt you know only 10 kids came :) And if they all said yes well then We would have had a huge outdoor party in the rain lol. (yes it rained that day of course)

    Danielle  |  May 1st, 2009 at 2:19 pm

  • I’d suggest asking your daughter if she prefers having a birthday party with her whole class, or spending her birthday in a more intimate celebration with your family and close friends. Talk about it with her and explore what options you have. You might be able to come up with some pretty neat ideas :) Good luck!

    Greeting Card Printing  |  May 1st, 2009 at 8:19 pm

  • I just faced this dilemma…life’s short so I’ve invited the people I want to hang out with who happen to have kids, and some who don’t! In several cases, the kids b-day parties are the only chance we have to get together.

    Mandy Nelson  |  May 3rd, 2009 at 3:51 pm


    My son is turning 6. I come from a family that over does every event. So every year for my son’s birthday I would go all out, spending several hundred dollars. However, as I’ve been to more and more parties I have found that my son has the best time when it’s just a group of good friends. I’ve been to one party, the home of a plastic surgeon, his daughter was turning 5. They invited the entire class and their siblings. What a nightmare. There were way too many kids running around inside and it was just chaos. I suppose if you had a huge yard that would work, but this was an inside party (although their house was extremely spacious).On the other hand we went to a very humble party where there were about 10 kids. The parents sent up 2 goals and they all played hockey (on foot) in the back yard. A homemade cake, a station for decorating your own hockey puck and voila! Instant fun. My son displays his hockey puck proudly on his bookshelf.

    My little guy’s bday is in 2 weeks. We are doing an old fashioned party, Saturday from 1 pm - 4 pm. I am sending out evites instead of paper. The party is a race car theme with a simple homemade cake, ice cream, blow up balloons, streamers and pizza I’m going to play 2 games, with small lollipops and fruit gushers as prizes. Afterward I’m dumping a big bucket of legos on the floor and let the guys go at it. For goody bags…instead of giving what my girlfriend calls - “UPO’s”: Unnecessary Plastic Objects, we went to the Lego store. I let my boy pick out a car set and we bought 7 ($4.99 each). Those are the party favors the guests will leave with. They will actually be used, not end up in the trash. Ultimately, my son doesn’t want his whole class here and I don’t either. We follow the “your age + 1″ rule. So this year he can invite 7 kids. That’s it. Not only is he looking forward to it, I’m looking forward to it as well. I love his friends and I love their moms so it’s really going to be fun for everyone involved. Simple is best.

    Sandra  |  July 1st, 2009 at 1:45 am

  • when i was younger, i always invited my entire year to my birhtday parties, and a few extra friends, because at that age, the friendships were all so transient that between the invites going out and the actual party, my friends might have changed completely.
    i suppose it must have been difficult for the kids with no friends, but my parents didn’t really have that much of a cleanup job, and they made me help. we just opened up my playroom onto the backyard, and since both were pretty big and right next to each other, there was plenty of space.we just had food in the music room, since little kids trying to all fit at the table would’ve been difficult, then let everyone play in my old nursery and playroom, with organised games in the backyard. it was fantastic.

    dancing.mermaid  |  July 6th, 2009 at 2:50 am

  • We usually settle on all the girls in the class to my daughters’ parties. In the past, when my youngest was close with several boys, I always had the rule that you invite less than half or the whole class. It just breaks my heart too much to have one or two kids realize they are not included. And, they always know. I would rather eat the cost than hurt someone like that. And, frankly, you never know who your kid will end up being friends with after tha party. Finally, I do think the gifts/ thanks yous get a little crazy in a whole class scenario, so I have encouraged my kids to pick a charity for their friends to donate to in lieu of gifts.

    alli  |  September 15th, 2009 at 1:59 pm

  • My only other comment would be that some kids may prefer a small party and get over stimulated by large groups. For my kids, the more the merrier, they love the chaos and craziness! You need to consider your child’s personality.

    alli  |  September 15th, 2009 at 2:05 pm

  • I just ran through the same dilima and my five year old daughter has 21 kids in her class. Not to mention the group of daycare kids that have come for the last five years. So I decided not to invite the entire class and my daughter ,and her teacher secretly put ten invitations in the guests backpack backpack. My reasoning was that If I start her kindagarden B-day with 30plus then I would have started a trend that every year it would have to be the same or it wont be as good. In my childhood my 13 and 16 were the BIG parties and were very special. I would never want to hurt anyones feelings but financially that had to be my decision. So I guess the moral of the story is if one of the uninvited ever found out I would hope their parents could help me explain the reason why. I dont know if Im right I just know what I have to do.

    j.webb  |  October 4th, 2009 at 6:01 pm

  • In theory I think the proper thing to do - is to invite the whole class, but then reality hits. Class sizes are huge in our public school and I have yet to find a place that will allow all the kids in the class, let alone parents and siblings. Think about it - 36 kids, half have at least one sibling and all need one adult to drive them… The ice skating rink caps at 20, the childrens museum at 24, our home will hold only eight kids with parents. My daughter has her heart set on a halloween party and I would love to do it, its not a birthday party so part of me wants to just invite her eight closest friends, while part of me worries about the remaining twenty four classmates. Then there are the neighborhood kids….Plus I know that my daughter is not being invited to everyone else’s parties. Summer and fall birthdays are easier because you can rent the park, but winter birthdays must be done indoors and its just not always possible.

    Rebekah Sass  |  October 2nd, 2011 at 10:58 pm