The current trend amongst parents and kids is to have elaborate, complicated, expensive birthday parties that send kids home with gifts of their own (why?) and leave the host with a huge bill and loads of stress. Kids don’t need expensive play places, field trips or gifts. They need to get together to celebrate a birthday. Having attended some very simple birthday parties that my kids loved and talked about for days (and sometimes months or years), here are a few ideas for holding simple birthday parties.
- Have the kids decorate their own cupcakes or sugar cookies. Your only responsibility is to make (or buy) the cookies or cupcakes and provide the decorations. You can do something as simple as several different frosting colors. Or, add sprinkles and candies. You can even host an “art show” encouraging kids to show off their creations before they are consumed! Try using large sugar cookies, cream cheese frosting and a huge variety (colors, shapes, flavors) of cut up fruit to make artistic creations from fruit pizza!
- Play “old fashioned” games. Most kids have no idea how to bob for apples, pin the tail on the donkey or hide the button. Can they carry a pea on a spoon through an obstacle course or over a great distance in a hurry? Can they accurately get a message from one end of a line of people to the other end? Most libraries have books containing hundreds of ideas for games kids can play indoors or outdoors with little or no cost involved.
- Create Mad Libs. You don’t have to buy them. Create your own using the lyrics to a familiar song. If you want to be even fancier, sing the original version (after you have filled in the Mad Lib blanks) and then sing the “new” version. You will get loads of giggles from this. If you can’t play the song, invite a parent who can. Christmas songs and children’s songs are simple, familiar and easy to turn into hilarious stories using the Mad Libs method. Plus, the kids might not realize that they are using or learning language skills while doing Mad Libs. (Identifying nouns such as “nose hair”, verbs such as “wobbled” and adjectives such as “sloppy” make for interesting stories.)
- Use a digital camera to take photos of the kids. They can be making funny faces, doing “daring deeds”, dressing up in hilarious costumes (created from things you have around the house or supplemented with things from a friend). Or, simply take photos of each child with the birthday boy or girl. Print the photos and write a thank you note on the back of the picture and mail it (or deliver it) to them a couple of days after the party. (If you think you will be too busy or distracted to get this accomplished, ask another adult or older brother/sister to help.)
- Arrange for a visit to a local animal shelter to help pet, brush or play with cats, and/or walk and play with dogs. An hour of time invested here can let a child who has no pet have a pet for an hour. Both the kids and the animal shelter benefit. If you feel it necessary, make a donation to the shelter or have the kids bring dog food, cat food, toys or donations for the animal shelter in lieu of a birthday gift.
- Have everyone wear a pair of old shorts or jeans and an old T-shirt. (These are way more modest than swimsuits and offer more sun protection.) Set up sprinklers in the yard and let them have fun getting wet. All you have to do in advance is have hoses, sprinklers and old towels ready for them to use. Add squirt guns and water balloons if you wish. You can precede or follow this with eating birthday cupcakes at a picnic table outside. That way they are not dripping their way into the house or making puddles on the floor.
- Hide “Easter eggs” around the yard or park for the kids to find. Fill them with a few Skittles, M&Ms or jelly beans, tiny bite-size candy bars, pennies, etc. Give each child a plastic shopping bag and let them hunt. My kids love hunting for things like Easter eggs all year round, even if they are empty.
- Create a scavenger hunt in your backyard, neighborhood or park. Create teams. Use clues to send them from one place to another to collect additional clues. You can hide the clues in Easter eggs (one color for each team), or just use savvy to conceal tiny pieces of paper containing clues. Try giving them a list of things to find, such as an ant, a three-leaf clover, the leaf from an oak tree, a round rock, etc. Give the winning team the chance to go through the lunch line first or get first crack at the birthday cake. Borrow or create a set of crowns or tiaras and take a group photo of the winners in their “royal attire”.
- Bring in an “expert” to teach them a new, unique skill. (It could be another parent or a friend.) Origami, folding fantastic paper airplanes, folding towels (or cloth napkins or washcloths) into fun shapes, creating balloon animals and objects, juggling, etc. are all fun “skills” to learn.
- Do a “drive-in” movie. Borrow a projector from a school, friend or work. Hang a large, white sheet or blanket against the house in the backyard and show a favorite movie on it. Let the kids sit on blankets or towels and eat popcorn while they watch a movie outside. Turn it into a picnic by offering picnic-type foods and let the kids eat their picnic on the blankets while they watch a movie.
A personal observation from me: Kids don’t need cheap plastic toys in a goodie bag to have fun or remember the fun they had at a party. Most of the time, these are either forgotten or destroyed within hours or days (sometimes minutes) after they are received. If you feel like you need to send something home with them, send home an extra cupcake or cookie. Make a promise (and carry through with it) to send them a photo from the party. Set a time to have a playdate, sleep over or lunch in the future. Lasting memories are all that are really “needed”.
Birthday parties do not have to be expensive, elaborate or complicated. Making memories and having fun together to celebrate a birthday is the goal. Enjoy being together and making memories that will last for years. That is celebration and gift enough. Happy partying!