I was at an 8th birthday party yesterday. It was at a local health club: the kids played dodge ball, they swam, they ate pizza and cake; they had an overall blast. My girlfriend (the mother) didn't have to set up or clean up, she only had to write a check for a couple hundred bucks and order the pizza, which is perfect for her because she has four boys....you are reading that right...1,2,3,4 boys!
There was a new family there. They had just moved to the East Coast from Scotland only a week earlier. At the end of the three hour shindig, she looked at me a little puzzled and asked: "Are all American birthday parties like this? In Scotland, we just have home parties." "Ahhh," I smiled, "You've met the right girl. I'm a die hard proponent for birthday parties at home, but of course, I don't have four boys and a husband who travels every week for work." Plus, to be honest with you, I get a real high from planning parties at home and setting everything up. It is the clean up that I'm not so fond of, but my husband and I do a trade off. I explained to the Scottish Mother that some people do bowling, skating, movies, or rock climbing, but that it is perfectly fine and acceptable to party at home.
When I was pregnant with my son Dakota, my ankles and legs swelling over my low cut black boots--a whole new meaning to "muffin top", I decided that my kids would have old fashioned parties at home. At least until I could get away with it without making them some sort of social outcasts. On Dakota's first birthday, I went C-R-A-Z-Y! It was a beach party theme---like he even KNEW what a beach party was, in fact, he would scream like a banshee whenever we tipped his toes in the ocean. The invitations were scrolls that I made and placed in little glass corked bottles filled with sand, small shells and trinkets. It took me two days during nap times to make and decorate his sand castle cake--the same one he screamed at and pushed away like I was trying to cut his head off. And I had a full meal for all the adults and children who came. After my husband peeled me off the floor where I had collapse from utter exhaustion, I vowed not to do THAT again. Not the home party, mind you. I am a home body, after all. Just the madness.
Dakota is turning 10 in May (I have Fort party planned with cardboard moving boxes...only, he doesn't know it yet), so I really only am certified up to birthday parties for 9 year olds AND I've had most parties outside. I have had one, no, two indoor parties and two garage parties on rainy days. Over the past 9 years, between Dakota and daughter, Audrey, I've come up with some great party ideas and a basic plan for the perfect home body birthday party.
Choosing a Date/Guests: The first few years, I would have a party at home on Dakota's birthday for family, take cupcakes into preschool and then have a separate home party on a weekend. By year 4, I decided to go against popular convention and make our family tradition be that we celebrate our birthdays on our actual "birth" days (whenever absolutely possible). Since then, some parties have fallen on the weekend but others fall during the week. During the week, I simply schedule the party for after school between 3:30-5:30 p.m. You'd be surprised how many people can still come and actually appreciate a free weekend!
As for guests, I would try to keep it as small as possible. I used to do the whole class but now I ask my children to only invite a few very close friends. The children will have more fun and so will you! Choose a number you are comfortable with having and help your child choose the invitees. Make sure you either email or mail the invitations instead of bringing them to school to keep feelings from being hurt. As for family, I pretty much make it known that if they are coming (the adults, of course) that they will be helping. I give each person some sort of job: trash duty, cake server, photographer, etc.
Choosing a Time: Like I said before, if it is during the week, I have it right after school, so that time is pretty much set. I discovered that if you have the party in the middle of the afternoon, after lunch, then you don't need to serve anything more than cake, ice cream and a drink. I normally plan my kids weekend parties in two hour increments between 1 pm - 4 pm. Two hours is plenty of time to party. You'll see below in my Party Schedule. Once the kids got a little older, I've let them choose a friend to stay the night.
I have one word for party games: Blech! One thing I don't do is plan party games. I have found that the kids entertain themselves just fine without adult intervention. I do make sure that there are plenty of activities or toys out: balls, balloons, bubbles and lots of bubble blowers like fly swatters and straws, sidewalk chalk, colors and paper, stickers, tattos, face paint and blocks. The age of the partiers determines what I offer. I haven't had one guest tell me they were bored and no one has asked when the games were going to start.
- 1:00 pm - 1:15 pm Guests Arrive and Kids Play
- 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm Kids Play
- 2:00 pm Eat Cake & Kids Play when they are finished
- 2:30 pm Open Presents
- 2:45 pm Play Until Parents Pick Up at 3
Choosing Food: Keep it simple. I actually advertise what we are having so people aren't expecting a full meal deal. On the invite, I will say something like, "Join Us for Cake & Ice Cream to Celebrate Audrey's Birthday....." The worst you can do with kids' parities is have too many choices because then all you will have is leftovers! Ugh, I hate leftovers. I usually have only a dessert that goes with the party's theme and a "special" drink (i.e. punch, soda, lemonade...it's the birthday child's choice) and then bottled water. That is it!
Choosing Party Decorations and Favors: Decorations are kept simple (read as "cheap") as well. Balloons. That's it. I get 2-3 dozen balloons and maybe a big ol' shiny number to represent the new age. The balloons are tied in big bunches around with the biggest bunch on the child's chair. If we are inside, I let the balloons roam freely except for the chair decor. For dining ware, invest in some fun mylar plates and reusuable colored forks, spoons and cups. These can be your special birthday party items, so use, wash and put away until the next party. As for the favors....these drive me crazy, too. I don't do the goody bags. I do; however, give guests one significant item that represents the party's theme or is a craft item they can make while they are at the party and then take home with them. The most favorite party gift so far has been playground balls. I got one for each guest at a local discount store and they got to choose their color when they arrived and put their name on it with a Sharpie. Man, did they have fun with all those balls!
Choosing a Theme: Now, this is the most fun for me to do. I love coming up with different ideas that reflect my child's interest at the moment. I have the dessert reflect the theme when I can, but when I can't, I buy their favorite cake (7 layer Chocolate Cake from Gregg's) and decorate the top myself with colored sugars and props such as a princess crown, soccer players or a party hat. Think outside the toy box...not just Spongebob or Spiderman. Think Gardening, A Green Party, Bubbles, Birds, Favorite Color, Faeries, Forts, Soccer, etc...anything that truly floats their boat (hey, another great theme!) Make sure to tell your guests to "dress for mess" or for "outdoor play" if there is a possibility of dirt, mud, water, paint, or any other staining fluids.
Choosing an Invitation: I am very creative (if I say so myself) and love the process of making my own invitations. Last year, I painted illustrations of my children acting out their party themes. Dakota was standing on top of a huge ice cream sundae with a cherry on his head for his, you guessed it, ice cream bar party and Audrey was riding on a bird in flight for her feathered friends celebration. (Her invite said: "A Little Bird Told Me that Audrey is Turning 6 and Dakota's quipped "I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream Dakota is 9!"). If you aren't into this, you can have your child make their own invites with paper and stickers from the scrapbooking section of your local craft store. You can even simplfy this process by having them make one and then color copying them for distribution. In a pinch, just get regular invites at a local stationary or discount store. You can also order invites on-line. Two of my favorite sites are http://www.partycat.com/ and http://www.plumparty.com/. I also like to use http://www.evite.com/ for on-line, environmentally friendly invitations.
A word about opening presents. I understand when parents choose not to open gifts at the party. It can be hectic and overwhelming for some children. For our family, it is important to set aside some time for the presents to be opened at the party. It has been my experience that a lot of times, the children pick out the present for their friends and they are excited about giving them. This is also a great time to practice social skills of giving and receiving, taking turns, showing gratitude and graciousness. I set up two chairs. The birthday child sits in one chair and then the gift giver sits in the other when his/her gift is being opened. Once they are able to read, the gift giver may read his/her card out loud if they wish. I take a picture of the friends together and this will be included in the thank you note.
Gardening/Earth Day Birthday: Have everyone wear green, brown or blue in celebration of Mother Earth! Provide each child with permanent markers and a clay pot to decorate and put their name on. Then place a big mound of potting soil in the middle and have plants available. Let kids plant their own plants that they will take home with them. If you have the space, have the children plant a tree in honor of the child's birthday. Decorate with pinecones they fill with peanut butter and roll in birdseed. Have a hose, soap, and towel and a environmentally friendly antibacterial cleaner available for afterwards cleanup. As for the dessert, serve "mud cake". Simply crush one box of chocolate stuffed cookies in a big Ziploc bag with a rolling pin. Set aside. Mix together 2 cups milk, 8 oz. Cool Whip, 8 oz, cream cheese, 2 small packages chocolate instant pudding mix and 1 stick of butter. Place filling in plastic flower pot and top with crushed . Decorate with gummy worms and plastic plants. Serve with a new clean garden trowel. Eat on earth friendly reusable plates.
Spa Day: Set up a massage station (I used the kitchen table) with glitter lotion, a manicure station, a pedicure station complete with warm foot bath, a hair station and a make up station. When the girls arrive, give them a white or pink terry beach cover up and flip flops (these are their party gifts...I got mine on line by GOOGLING for the best deals). You can also just say on the invite to come dressed for a spa day and give them a small package of lip gloss or nail polish. I had two polish colors (pink and purple) only for the nails. I had some blush, glitter gel and lip gloss (use Q-tips) for the make up. The hair choices were simple: pony tail, dog ears or a braid. Girls go from station to station for their spa treatments until every one is all bright and shiny! Older girls can do this themselves; enlist he help of other mothers for younger children. I served small cupcakes with pastel frosting and the drinks in tea cups.
Decorate Your Own Cupcakes: Party favors are child-sized aprons. Paint or write the children's names on the aprons. If they are older, have supplies at the party for them to do it themselves upon arrival. Stamps with permanent ink (available at craft stores) are an easy, simple way for kids to decorate their apron. Make sure to have newspaper down so the ink doesn't ruin your table. At cake time, set out plain cupcakes and all the fixings: different frostings, sprinkles, jimmies, jelly beans, M&Ms, Skittles, whatever your kid loves. Give each child a plate and a plastic knife and tell them to make their cupcake wish come true. Take a picture of each child with their creation before they eat it! Send kids home with pictures (hooray, Polaroid cameras) or send later with thank you note.
Favorite Color Party: When Dakota turned 5, we had a Goopy, Gloppy Green birthday party. We had the kids come dressed in green. We had green balloons, Gatorade, cups, plates, forks, and napkins. I made a tower of green sprinkled donuts and 5 green candles. We had green Frisbees, green balls, and big green silly glasses. I also made a huge batch of green "goop" for the kids to play with. What a hit! I had Ziploc bags for kids to take Goop home with them. Here is the recipe for Goop:1 cup room temperature water,1 cup white school glue, Food coloring,1 1/3 cups warm water, 4 tablespoons Borax laundry booster. Mix together room temperature water, glue, and food coloring in a medium bowl. Set aside. In another bowl, mix together warm water and Borax until completely dissolved. Next, slowly pour the glue mix into the second bowl with the Borax solution, but do not mix them together.Roll the glue mix around in the Borax solution (around 4 or 5 times). Then lift the glue mix out of the Borax solution. Knead for 2-3 minutes. Store the slime (the glue mix) in an airtight container or plastic Ziploc bag.
Super Duper Sundae: My son loves this theme so much that we have done this one twice! While the kids play, I set out a sundae buffet. Dakota picks out all the stuff for it. I have three kinds of ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce and then at least 10 different topping ranging from the usual sprinkles and chocolates to teddy grams and gum drops. Before they start scooping, I put candles in one of the ice cream containers and we sing. I let the kids scoop and make their own sundaes. Take pictures before they eat their creations! You can send kids home with an apron they decorate or have a tray of containers of ice cream sprinkles and ice cream scoops they can take home with them.
Fun Forts: Dakota LOVES to build tents and forts out of the couch and his bunk bed. I am planning a Build Your Own Fort for Dakota's 10th, although he knows nothing about it. I am thinking that I will purchase a large, refrigerator size box for each child. I will provide paints, markers, tape, scissors, and paints at the party. Each child will build their own fort out of the box. The kids can then link them together into a large fort to play with at the party. At the end, they can take their own creation home. The invites will be posted on corrugated cardboard and I will do some sort of cardboard decoration on the chocolate cake--unless of course, he wants the ice cream bar again.
Birds of a Feather: Audrey wanted a bird party. I made the invitation as described above. I had the children make bird food when they arrived out of pine cones rolled in peanut butter and then rolled in bird seed. The children then were given a string and hung their creations on our bird tree. Afterwards, I painted their faces with simples beak noses and feather eyes. The kids ended up running around the yard pretending to be birds and then jumping on the trampoline. For the craft, I had plain wood birdhouses that they were able to take home a decorate before hanging them in their favorite tree and filling them with seeds. If they wanted, they were able to decorate the houses at the party. For the cake, my mother-in-law took the invitation and had it copied onto the cake. It was beautiful.
Zoo Party: Next year, whn my daughter turns 8, my she wants a zoo party where all her guests dress up like their favorite animal. I will provide paper bags and trail mix condiments for children to make their own "pet food" mix. I will also serve their cake in small metal pet bowls that they can wash and take home afterwards. For the craft, I will get small canvas tote bags for them to decorate with a wide array of permanent markers. They are all really into pretend play, so I can just see them all acting out their animal theme. Can't wait for the howls, growls, hoots and hollers!
I could go on and on with ideas for parties but this blog has to end somewhere. Plus, I think it is time for me to go make dinner. If you are stuck for an idea for your child's next party, send me an email and I will be your "think tank." Until then, cheers and happy party planning!