Bargain: Cupcakes, balloons and party hats are really all you need to make the preschool set happy, which makes a party at home a popular option. We like the idea of storybook themes, such as Eric Carle's "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" for a first birthday, a Seuss-inspired carnival, or a "Where the Wild Things Are" dance party. If you have a morning kid, how about an "If you give a pig a pancake" breakfast fete?
A paperback book or coloring book inspired by the story makes a great party favor.
However, because parents will be staying with their kids at this age, many families quickly run out of space in their homes. If the birthday happens from April through October, parks are an economical option. Plus, there's less cleanup than for a party at home.
A large pavilion rental at Patapsco State Park's Hilton area Tire Park in Catonsville runs less than $100 for a Saturday in June. At the neighborhood tot lot, you may just need to stake claim to a picnic table and bring some lawn chairs.
Moderate: Add some wow factor with a visit from an entertainer, whether it's a magician or a face painter. It's one thing to have a Dora the Explorer party; it's another thing when she shows up to lead a hike. Characters from Heroes for Hire run about $185 for a 45-minute appearance at a local party. Some characters will lead games and dance, while superheroes conduct "training."