As I struggle for patience or motivation when it comes to my kids, I think about what my mom did for me because I respect her parenting so much. When it came to birthdays, Mom always made them special. She would plan a party with simple activities, games, and decorations. Cousins and friends of all ages were in attendance. Everyone thought my mom was cool–all because she really thought about what we kids would like and have fun doing. The bottom line was my birthday party required her time not her money. And I felt special.
I try to recreate that for my children for their birthday parties. Once, a few years ago, my daughter asked a friend to come to her birthday party. The friend looked at her and benignly asked, “What’s the theme of your paw-ty?” My poor child looked at me desperately in confusion. We have no “theme” besides “BIRTHDAY PARTY.” Both of my oldest daughters (we haven’t started parties for my third child yet) request the same party every year, and I am getting it down to a “T.” It’s about a two-hour party. When I start getting fussy and not wanting to do it, I think of my mother. Kindness that comes around ought to go around. And anyway, the thought that my children desire my simple, crude party plans over any other party lure is a high compliment, despite the extra work.
Our Fun “Best Ever” Birthday Party
Goop (flubber, gak, or whatever you call it): The ingredients for Dixie Cup Goop are set out on my plastic lined kitchen table. As the children arrive, we start making goop. Stragglers come join around the table as they arrive. I make sure and tell them the rules for goop at my house and at their own homes: play with it at the kitchen table. It stains clothes, carpets, walls, and sticks terribly to hair. When the goop is made, we put it in plastic baggies with their names. If you wanted to get fancy, you could save small jars through the year (like baby food jars) to put the goop in.
Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey: Believe it or not, the kids still like this game. No kidding. Go figure! I draw it on our chalkwall chalkboard. But you could get a big piece of white butcher paper and draw it on that. Art evades me, but using this website makes drawing the donkey a cinch: “How to Draw 200 Animals.” We write the name of each child on the paper “tail” and stick a piece of tape on it to get ready for the game. Blindfolds and spins are necessary. I found it got a bit boring once we started having more kids to the parties, too much standing around so we played “Pass the Chicken” instead this year.
Pass the Chicken: Usually we play pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, but there got to be too many kids. So we opted to play “Pass the Chicken” instead. We followed the rules of “Hot Potato.” The kids sat in a large circle in the living room, and they passed the chicken around while we played music. When we stopped the music, the holder of the chicken was “out.” They got a sheet of stickers for playing. The last person to be out wins the game, and the winner got a sheet of sticker and tube of Chapstick.
Treasure Hunt: Everybody’s favorite. We play it inside and/or outside, depending on the weather. I try to make the clues spread out all over so the kids get a real “workout” and get their energy levels taken down a notch. There are about 10-15 clues. Sometimes, in order to get their clue, they have to do things like “sing happy birthday to the birthday girl” or “do 10 jumping jacks and strike a pose.” Depending on the age level, the clues will be either straight forward or tricky, requiring them to think. The last clue leads them to a treasure map I have drawn up. If I’m fancy, I’ll wrinkle the paper and tear the edges so it looks like an “old treasure map.” If I’m running behind, it’s just a plain piece of paper with my rudimentary drawing and an “X.” The treasure may be hidden outside in a pile of leaves or inside underneath some pillows on the couch. The treasure box is usually just an empty cardboard box duct taped shut really well, requiring more work on their behalf. The treasure box contains Ziplock baggies for each person with some loose change in it, and something from the Target $1.00 box.
When hiding the clues, work backwards to make it easier for your brain to figure out where to hide the clues!
Pinata: Again, a real kids’ party winner! After too many store-bought failures, we make our own: Making a Piñata. The store ones are hard cardboard that seem to not want to break open for us. Or where it’s anchored to hang comes apart and it just falls on the ground. I use the boiled paper mache recipe and newspaper. Usually we use a latex round balloon, but one birthday my daughter wanted a cupcake. Not wanting to take time to be too creative, we went to the Dollar Store and bought a Mylar balloon shaped like a cupcake! We papier-mached over it, and it turned out nice. They paint their own pinatas. It’s about them. Not how nice the pinata looks. We fill it with very practical stuff that kids amazingly love! Tape, white out, toothbrushes, hair rubber bands. I really recommend having the older kids wear blindfolds, at least for the first round. The older kids can really swing with power and bring the pinata down too early!
Cake and Ice Cream in the Formal Dining Room: Birthday parties are always in the formal dining room. I run about 8-12 streamers from the ceiling-wall junction to the center light fixture, buy a few helium balloons, put on a nice tablecloth, and display the cake. The birthday girl’s chair gets some balloons, streamers, or most recently I picked up 2 yards of tulle for $2.68. It was enough tulle to decorate the chair and to arch over the window! I pick up a small bouquet of flowers to place in the birthday room, and they’re my reward when it’s all over. We function gluten and dairy-free at our house except for birthdays and holidays, so I am able to outsource the cake. But I do really like my gluten-free, dairy-free, GAPS legal chocolate cake: Chocolate Cake and Frosting.
Goodie Bags: I guess tradition says no party is complete without a goodie bag. At our party, each child gets a brown bag with their name on it and after each activity, they put all their stuff in it. There–that’s the goody bag. Maybe not as cute as some, but functional and full of good stuff. I have had them decorate their bag with stickers and markers a few times while we’re waiting for everyone to arrive. It got easier just to write it on a brown bag and hand it to them to fill throughout the party.
And that’s the “BIRTHDAY PARTY” my kids have developed through the last 4-5 years. No princess tea party. No secret agent bash. No jump house. We ate the lovely cake we presented and didn’t whoosh it away to the counter to be replaced by a small, plainly decorated measly cupcake (I’ve seen that done). No one had attached monogrammed “calling cards” to their gifts. The treasure hunt in the house makes things a little worse for the wear.
The kids all seem really happy and kid-like during the party. No matter how much I groan (and I do complain a lot to my husband, mom, and sisters–who are too far away to help), after it’s all over I’m always glad I did it. I feel kind of cheesy repeating the same party over and over, but nobody seems bored–and that’s what my girls want! And it’s for them, nobody else. Special.