We did soft play for 4 and 5, but had exclusive use of a small place which was lovely and did nice food and great party bags for about £8 per head. Next birthday is the hall option, we've booked a magician which is a bit pricey, but entertaining 15+ 5/6 yr olds would be exhausting! Keep it brief - 2 hrs MAX. For 4 yr old you won't need to do much though, some music, balloons, some fun games - my tip would be to make sure there are lots of prizes to win and do some games that are not competitive - 4 yr olds can get terribly upset about losing. (Some may also be freaked out by balloons!)
I think simple craft activities work well at that age and the results can be the party bag! In fact decorating a paper party bag can be one of the activities.
I've done craft and games at village halls, and while you might want to rope someone in to help you with the crafts, generally they amuse the kids for longer. Then you can doa a couple of traditional games.
I like ill age hall parties, sadly exH doesn't agree as it makes work so dd2 will probably never get to have one.
We hired a hall for the girls 4th+ 2nd/ 6th + 4th, but they were joint parties. I would say that the 4th is probably the last birthday that I had control of the invite list, 5th birthday in reception were whole/ half class invites. And since then it has been their friends. If you want your friends and their children then I would go for the hall invite maybe 8 friends plus siblings, and parents- at 4 not many people drop off around here, by 5 they all do. Just do some simple party games, balloons and music. £30 isn't too much for the extra space and at least you don't spend the next week discovering bits of cake and balloons!
Thank you all for your input - I'm glad to see I'm not the only one with this dilemma.
I've discounted soft play. I looked into it and it's £8 per child for an hour in the play area and then tea. You don't even get exclusive use - which seemed to be a bit cheeky (it's very small). Plus party bags and cake.
So then I decided on a few friends at home, saving the big guns for reception. However, we have a very small church hall nearby which is only £30 to hire so might consider that, just to save my carpet!
So really no further forward ... well, maybe a little bit.
Similar dilemma for DS who was 4 last week. I booked a hall and an entertainer and was going to invite the world and his wife and then realised it was going to cost a fortune so cancelled it. In the end we invited 4 friends so there were 6 kids (including DD) in total to our (small) house. We played some games but they all wanted to just play with toys together as well so was all really easy and DS enjoyed it as much as he would have a big one I think. In Reception it will be an all class party so saving the money for that one!
Village hall. I did what was supposed to be a "Sports party" for DS's 5th birthday in the local church hall. We set up a goal with a foam football and some hula hoops, beanbags etc to do obstacle courses but the kids were happy just running around and using the equipment so I ended up not doing any organised games at all (apart from a few races with the few children who wanted to) I roped in a few family members to help set up and put away and it really wasn't too much hassle, or too expensive.
I'd go for the village hall. I did those for 3rd, 4th and 5th birthdays and although there was a little bit to organise in terms of games, music, food, decorations etc, it wasn't really that hard or that expensive.
As dd got older the type of parties changed into more activity ones, rather than pass the parcel and musical bumps, and now she's into the realms of sleepovers. I came away from her 6th thinking that while it was really easy it was a bit formulaic and I enjoyed the previous ones more (because it's about me enjoying them, not her ) So I'm glad I did them at the time, and look back and think what great parties they were.
Completely undecided what to do for DS2's 4th birthday next month.
For DS1, we had friends in the garden but his birthday is in the summer.
My options are - a few friends at home. In it's favour, it's the cheapest option but the psychic price may be too high. - soft play. Our garden centre has small soft play and they do children's parties so it would be hassle free, but expensive - village hall. Either expensive or a lot of hassle, depending on whether I get someone in to do it or we do it ourselves.
My initial thought was soft play but it doesn't feel special enough somehow for 4. I still think they should all be playing pass the parcel and musical bumps.
All the parties he has been to recently have been village hall type ones.