By Tammy Woeppel
Last week I went into great detail about why I won't be throwing elaborate birthday parties for my children. For those who find themselves in my camp, I am creating a roundup of alternative birthday party ideas so you can still celebrate your little one's special day without going too crazy or emptying your bank account.
1. Camping Birthday
So, if you read last week's post, you know that there was no way I was escaping this year without throwing some sort of party for my 4 year old son. My husband started taking Andrew camping a few months ago, along with some coworkers and their kids (the mom's all stay home and get a night off!), and mentioned that they were due for another trip. Light bulb! I decided I was going to send some food to feed everyone, stick a candle in a s'more and voila! The birthday 'party' was planned.
The advantage to this kind of gathering is that A) camping is not for everyone so it's easy to keep the headcount to a small group - we even included age-appropriate siblings and still only had 13 kids total. B) a wide open space like a campground naturally encourages the kids to just run around and play together, therefore additional entertainment isn't necessary. We made sure to pick a non-holiday weekend so the site wouldn't be crowded and there was a small entrance fee per vehicle but no additional charge to stay overnight. Activities such as footballs, soccer balls, and glow sticks got packed, and my husband handed out kites to each child as their party favor. For food I sent: hotdogs and hamburgers for the kids, chorizos for the adults, roasted potatoes (I cooked them ahead and sealed them in aluminum so they could just get reheated on the campfire), fruit, salad, granola bars, juice, water, beer, and pre-made pancakes/coffee for breakfast. Each child also received a brown lunch bag with s'mores kits and i just sent the extras for the adults. All parents were notified what to expect, and what we were providing via group chat about 10 days before in case they had questions.
Even though it ended up pouring like the world was coming to an end, the party was a success. The kids loved getting out of the city and having all that green space to run around in and more importantly, it was a serious bonding opportunity to be with their dad's in a place where internet and reception were almost nonexistent. Most of the mom's got a night off which made them really happy (I kept my 2 year with me so I was still #momlife-ing it). Pro-tip: if the weather is a bit unpredictable in your area like it is in ours, make sure there are a couple seasoned campers who can keep a fire going in the rain, otherwise, you'll have to turn back and try another time. For those that find camping is just too much of a commitment for (myself included), just nix the overnight portion and make an afternoon out of it. Here's a list of all the campgrounds in the US and Canada.
2. Boxed Lunch Birthday
I love this idea as a watered-down birthday party. You can still create a theme and go as crazy or keep it as simple as you would like, but the idea is that you invite a few close friends over (or to a park) and just serve lunch. Each child receives a boxed lunch at their place setting (pick a cute lunch box like these and fill it with whatever you like- a sandwich, fruit, crackers, yogurt, etc) and maybe a small party favor like hotwheels for a cars theme. The children have lunch together, gifts get opened, cake gets cut, maybe a mini play-date ensues, and voila! Everyone leaves. Short and sweet, but still a way to make a child feel special on their day while throwing an easy party. The best part is that you can look to google or pinterest for almost any theme, extract a few small elements to give your birthday lunch some detail, and still skip the balloon arch, custom cake toppers and signage, dessert station, etc. I love this back-to-school theme picnic that could easily translate to a birthday lunch in the park.
3. A Movie Date
Again, very straightforward. Invite a small group of friends for a group movie viewing. I know this one can add up since movie's aren't exactly the most economical choice, especially once you add in concessions, but this can easily translate to a dollar movie theater in your area if budget is the main concern (for me, I am happy to pay up for a convenient and stress-free experience like this). Afterward, head to a local ice cream parlor or bakery to sing and eat dessert. You can also recreate this experience at home by creating your own simple concession stand with various packages of candies, individual bowls of popcorn (or serve in these retro popcorn boxes), and small bottles of water, juice, etc. then serve a dessert after the movie is finished.
4. Rent a Hotel Room
This will really apply to small groups of 3 or less unless you are will to pay additional charges or upgrade to a suite, but find a hotel that has a great pool in your area and let the kids have a pool party. Order pizza or whatever your favorite takeout is and bring in your own cake/cupcakes. If you really want to splurge, go ahead and order room service. There is something about having ordinary experiences, like eating dinner, that just feel elevated when you experience it in a hotel. You can also opt to make it a slumber party, or just have parents pick everyone up before bedtime, and enjoy the remainder of your staycation. To stay organized on this, learn all the hotel's rules/policies: how many are allowed, their noise policy, pool rules, hours, and safety measures, plus reminders to bring bathing suits/flip flops, etc and print a copy of all this information for the other parents. It's best to avoid any issues by keeping everyone on the same page from the get-go.
5. A Nail/Hair Party
This may be more applicable to a group of girl's (although I wouldn't think twice to send my son if he was interested). Find a salon or spa that offers fun services like nail art manicures or blowouts and braids (just make sure any spot you choose has proper ventilation). The head out for an ice cream sundae or cupcake after. Super simple but definitely a pampering experience. If you want more of an organized party experience, there are day spa's popping up that specifically cater to hosting children birthday group's, such as this one, but expect to pay a base package rate and additional costs for increased number of guests, add-on services, etc.
6. Throw a Beers 'n' Babies Party
A 'fancy' term for inviting close friends and their children over but add in a birthday cake. I actually have a friend who started this tradition in the name of craving those familial connections that most of us don't have as expats living overseas, and it turned into such a fun Sunday tradition (miss you SGS). It was basically boozy brunch for the adults and the kid's all played together. Appetizers were kept simple- think cheeseboard, quiche, pastries, and plenty of beer/wine/champagne. The vibe was always super-relaxed (it usually lasted several hours so there was a window for people to come/go as they pleased). If it fell near one of the kid's birthdays, we sang and cut a cake as well. It doesn't get more basic than this, but in a world where we always intend to get together, this really took the effort out of it.
7. Offer an experience instead
For older children that are starting to take on decision-making, offer them a choice! They may be more interested in a day of fun with their parents all to themselves versus a 2 hour birthday party with friends. You can keep it simple (day at the museum, lunch, movie, etc) or go all-out with a Disney trip, a weekend in NYC, an island vacation at a kid-friendly destination, and the best part is, it's a great excuse for a getaway!
There are so many creative ways to throw your child a memorable birthday celebration and I hope this inspires you to think outside of the party box that now includes event planners, branding, custom cakes, and theme-everything. While we will continue to enjoy attending these over-the-top soirees, I think we'll be using this list as inspiration for ourselves in the years to come and really keeping it simple.
Have you thrown an alternative birthday party for your child? Tell us! We wanna hear in the comments.
photo credit: project nursery blog