Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Minimalist....birthday parties? 5 easy steps

Fun and minimalism
Of course it can work.  And it can work for your kid's birthday party too.

I've just endured... I mean organised two large home birthday parties in quick succession for my children.  Nadia turned 3 in late January and Alex turned 6 last week.  Both parties were declared a major success, both with quite a reasonable budget.

Here are a few tips:

While my kids love getting party invitations in the mail, I have not returned the favour for our parties.  Same as my Christmas greetings, I use either e-cards or a carefully-crafted email.
  • my convenience (no shopping, multiple invites sent all at once, late invites sent easily)
  • low cost
  • low environmental impact
  • recipient's convenience in replying, scheduling and storing the information

And there are some very cute e-cards out there.  Care2 is free and supports the environment.

My last several party invitations have included:  
XXX has lots of toys - instead of a present, please consider making a small donation to your favourite charity and/or bring a gold coin to contribute to his special gift from the family.
I'd much rather some charity benefited than a chain store.  With the Christchurch earthquake, this was particularly appropriate.

Some invitees love this and some don't.  Alex very much enjoyed the haul he got this time regardless of this note, and I don't begrudge him that.  But the predictable happened:
  1. he didn't even see all the presents to open
  2. he hasn't even played with all of them yet
  3. I haven't managed to find a new home for them yet 
  4. He is having severe attacks of the gimmes from the mini catalogs that come with some of the toys
Remember when present opening was part of the party entertainment?  It's now so complicated and overwhelming that most parents skip it until later.

Serve some real food.  Serve it before the sweets appear.  OK, not celery sticks and raw broccoli, but active kids will not ignore crackers, nuts, fresh and dried fruits, etc.  Make it special - splurge on grapes, melon, cherries and blueberries.

If your guests party on with a table loaded with junk food, by the time the cake is cut, tummies are bloated and teeth sugar coated and the most beautiful and delicious cake is left in uneaten chunks on plates.
Remember when the cake was the finale and special treat of the party?
Nadia's party occurred during a flooding downpour and the weather was iffy for Alex's party as well.  
Nadia's guests were happy enough with our selection of toys but I needed to be more savvy for Alex's older guests.

We set up zones in our house for Face Painting (thanks Mom! and remember that you don't need an artist like my mom to paint a flower or zigzag on a cheek) and LegoLand.  Kids zipped out to the bouncy castle (hired) and trampoline (ours) and back in again when they needed food or quiet play or a break from the light showers and cold winds.

Having experienced serial party games, here's why they don't work for me:
  • Hard work for me!
  • Winners and losers - some kids (like mine) take this really to heart
  • Regimented - groups of kids find their own entertainment.  Calling them away from their own activities to play a formal game can be disruptive
  • Prizes - kids can be very disappointed to miss out on prizes.  And the prizes are usually more candy or cheap toys... leading on to....

To take home...
I don't know who invented the party bag, but they didn't do anybody any party favours!

Embarrassingly, my children now expect and ask for party bags when they attend parties.  When my kids have spent a few hours loading up on sugar and excitement, the last thing I want is a plastic bag containing more sweets and plastic toys.  Enough already!

I did the party bag thing once.  Once.  What hard work!  At the last party, I let each child pick a lollipop and a balloon to take home (no plastic bag needed), and parents and kids alike were very pleased.

Lighten up, it's a party!

Of course.  But let's celebrate the birthday and fun and not the availability of cheap food and toys.

What was the best party you've ever given or attended?


  1. I'm taking notes for when this happens with Indiana -for her 2-yo b-day we had just one party for family, godparents, friends. A couple of mom-friends with their kids came the day after to play and have left over cake.. She probably won't have a "kid party" for another year or two.
    The party favor idea has crept in here as well (I've heard some complaints..) I think it's a good idea to have a basket of lollipops or choco bars at the door when the kids leave and each can take one to go (enough with the plastic junk already!). Or, to make sure each kid gets an equal share of candy, divide all the candy in little paper bags (can decorate these with your child and perhaps put a sticker or a scrap or a balloon in there too) and hide them in the house and let the kids each find one, and that is all the candy that will be served.

  2. I'd like to get off the consumerist explosion triathelon of boredom that are modern kid parties, too. One thing I'd like to know, is what happened to parents dropping their kids off for an hour or at most two, and picking them up again? I have realized that if my daughter has 4 friends to her 7th birthday party, if I can't find a way for the parents to realize this is old school, and that it's a KID party, they will linger the whole time (which I know I'd give blood for a way out of staying, in their shoes!) and then I will have to find out how to seat and have room and refreshments for 16 or so people if you include my kids. I simply cannot do it, and all I want is to serve cake and let the kids have some fun, and then go, much like birthday parties were when I was a kid. No pinata being hammered at for an hour until everyone is bored stiff or else someone got injured. No tacky theme and matching plastic everything, everywhere you look. And no roomful of parents uncomfortably crowding into corners, just...being....there. These are all people I know and trust, and who know and trust me, so there should not be any issues of being afraid to leave their kid at my house, or else they wouldn't be being invited.

    But how do you say it, when the current prevailing practice seems to be that parents hang around the whole time?

    1. This is very late in coming, but I'm just now reading these. We had this same problem with both my kids' parties last year. It was my son's 6th and daughter's 8th. I love kids and get very silly and animated with them and had lots of fun, simple, inexpensive activities planned. However, I get a little performance shy when there are parents standing around watching. The parties ended up being very stressful for me. When my daughter's best friend had a birthday that same year, she was allowed to have one friend over for a sleepover. I was nervous, because it was my girl's first sleepover, but it went beautifully, and I have decided that this will be our go-to plan when we want to do more than a simple family party for them. My kids are thrilled with the idea of having a special friend sleep over, and the stress of a parent hanging around is eliminated.

  3. I hear you! When the parents stay you are giving two parties.

    Personally I often use my kids' parties as the opportunity to get together with all my friends too, but your kids' friends parents aren't always your best friends.

    With younger parties the adults stay, but I guess we're lucky as when the kids are 5+, it is assumed here that the parties are dropoff, to everyone's relief.

    What about "We have ample adult supervision so you parents are welcome to drop your kids off and go party yourselves!"