The preferred length for a child's birthday party is usually dependent upon the child's age, but there is always some flexibility. Toddlers and preschoolers have short attention spans so birthday parties need to be short and focused. Older children often enjoy longer parties as long as there are plenty of activities to keep them entertained. If the party is at an off-site location, such as a restaurant or park, you need to know exactly how long you want the party to last so you can make reservations.
Toddlers often lose interest in lengthy birthday parties because they don't have the patience to watch friends open lots of presents. They would rather play with the toys than watch them being opened. Toddlers are likely to get bored sitting around the party table once they have eaten their piece of cake. For children who are under age 3, a one-hour birthday party is best, according to "Parents." One hour is enough time to play short age-appropriate games such as "pin the tail on the donkey" or "duck, duck, goose," open a few presents and eat dessert. One hour also works well for children who still take afternoon naps.
Peppy Preschoolers and Kindergartners
Preschoolers and kindergartners are at a fun age for birthday parties because they enjoy socializing with their peers. Energetic indoor and outdoor activities, cheerful music, birthday and holiday crafts, presents, cake and guest gift bags are usually well received. Most children in this age group can handle a two-hour birthday party as long as there are enough activities to keep them busy. Preschoolers and kindergartners typically do well when they don't stick with one activity too long, so several short activities work better than one long one.
Eager Elementary-Age Kids
The length of a birthday party for elementary-age children often depends on party events. For a traditional party with simple games, presents and cake, two hours is usually long enough. More elaborate parties that involve role-playing games, competitive sports or recreational activities, such as swimming, paintball or scavenger hunts, often require more time. Some elementary-age parties are held at local attractions, such as science museums or recreation centers, so a three-hour party might give kids more time to play before opening presents or eating cake.
When hosting a birthday party for a preteen child or teenager, the party is more about hanging out with friends than opening presents or eating birthday cake. You might consider a sleepover, paying for a night out at the movies or a "LAN party," which is a party where teens bring their video consoles or laptops and play games online together -- "LAN" stands for local area connection. You can incorporate a brief gift opening or birthday cake into the event, but they shouldn't be the main attractions of the party. Preteens and teens enjoy socializing while celebrating.