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The Birthday Party at Home

I am a big fan of birthdays, and having some kind of celebration makes it special. From small and cozy to an all-out extravaganza, there are many ways to honor the birthday kid. Kidoinfo has a great list of resources and ideas on how to have a party. Decide what works for your family and don’t stress over what you think you should do. I wrote about choosing a birthday theme in the past and today Katy Killilea writes about having a birthday party at home (one of our family favorites).

Zip Wire on kid o info

What happened to having a birthday party? My first grader’s classmates have been taking turns hosting parties at Big Fun, big-box venues: Radical Rick’s, Monster Mini-golf, Fantasyland. It seems we go to one of these parties a few times each month. Hey, I have no quibble with the fun the kids have and do not mean to criticize parents who choose these venues for parties. I am, of course, grateful for the many afternoons of entertainment my son has enjoyed. (And please don’t stop inviting him. It’s not his fault his mother is like this.)

But. When it came time for us to have a birthday party this spring, we planned our usual little shindig. Doing so felt almost aggressively retrograde. And I worried that our back yard party would flop. That the kids would be bored without the delights to which they had become accustomed: glow-in-the-dark monsters, an animatronic bear strumming a guitar every twenty minutes, or laser tag. An additional worry: would we just seem cheap? (I do not know the cost per child for one of the Big Fun parties, but I’m pretty sure it is more than the cost per child for cake, pizza, pineapple, and grape juice/milk, and a bag of fifteen multicolored balloons.)

I do not know how to decorate a cake to look like a Barbie princess, nor do I have clever party ideas to share (our not-so-clever yard party games are described below). Instead, I want to report that our very simple party was fun. We played games, the kids played on the swing set, ate pizza on the patio, zipped over a pit of poisonous snakes (or were they dead leaves and random sticks?) on a trolley strung between two trees. It differed from a regular playdate only in that there were more kids, and there was a handful of adult-directed games, ahem, “events.” Oh, and there were cupcakes, and the singing of the song that no birthday party can be without.

The kids we know, I am happy and relieved to report, are not yet so jaded that they can’t just play outside and enjoy one another’s goofy company. Start with a birthday boy or girl and add some friends, a watermelon, a pizzeria that delivers, and cake, what you get is a pretty great birthday party.

Yard games we used:

Arm Tangle-1 on kid o infoSqueeze On Mat on kid o infoBalance Beam on kid o info

1. Arm tangle (photo, above left). Equipment needed: none. Kids stand close together in a circle, eyes closed. Everyone grabs someone else’s hand in each of their hands. The challenge is to untangle the arms and form a circle without letting go of any hands. (Usually involves twisting under arms, stepping over, etc.)
2. Door mat (photo, above middle). Equipment needed: none. All of the kids have to stand on a doormat at the same time. That’s it.
3. Balance beam (photo, above right). Equipment needed: log, bench, stripe of masking tape. Everyone balances on the beam. Then they are told to rearrange themselves (by height, age, etc.) without stepping off.
4. Tarp flip. Equipment needed: a tarp or picnic blanket. Everyone stands on the tarp. They are challenged to flip the entire thing over without stepping off or using their hands.

Have a cupcake idea? A party game to share? Just want to rave about the food at Fantasyland? Please share your comments.

Related stories:
Let There Be Cake…
Coming soon: Birthday cakes on Flickr

Photo: Katy Killilea

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  • Thanks for the brilliant game ideas for entertaining children at home- we’ll be experimenting when our grandkids come to visit!

  • Three cheers for at-home parties!

    Our homemade pinata was a BIG hit this year at our son’s party, fun to make & destroy.

  • if only i could have read the ideas in these comments before my kids’ birthdays! i hope i remember to refer back to this next spring.

    i remembered one other low-effort idea that kids love–my friend kim does this every year–instead of a pinata, a “candy fling.” after an exciting count down, you just throw candy (or what have you) all over your yard (possibly from a 2nd story window) & the kids scramble around to gather it up.

  • It’s really easy to get sucked into planning a big extravaganza, but we don’t need to–inviting some kids over and having cake a party makes. For my daughter’s 4th birthday, we did a little craft project, played a few games from Unplugged Play (great book–well worth it), ate some hot dogs and cake, had a little parade around the block with the musical instruments we rounded up from around the house, and called it a day. And it was really fun.

    For my son’s last birthday (his 5th), the party was a little more labor-intensive, but still pretty low-tech. We put some blacklights from Home Depot up in the basement (we taped paper over the windows to block the outside light). I bought a wide roll of colored paper and some fluorescent tempera, and we traced our guests’ bodies on the paper, then they went to town filling in the outlines in glow-in-the-dark paints. We also dolled up with different colors of fluorescent hairspray. (All this was done outdoors, on the patio). After some lunch, we hung the paintings under the blacklights in the basement and marvelled at how cool they looked, then played some games (pin the tail on the donkey, bowling with a cheap plastic set of pins and balls) that had been jazzed up with the same tempera paints. Other than the cost of the lights (which wasn’t too bad), it was cheap and a lot of fun.

  • We have had 2 birthday parties for my son that were great successes, both at home. One was a backwards theme. Everyone was told to dress backwards… whether it be inside out, or just plain backwards. We opened the door to greet the guests by saying “good bye, we had a great time!”. The kids had to pin a donkey on tails that were randomly placed on a wall, they stood with their backs to the basketball net we hung from a door had had to try to get the ball in, and they raced across the lawn backwards. The cake had happy birthday written backwards, and we said hello, nice to see you to everyone when they left. I heard for weeks what a great time the kids had.
    The other party we did was a “Fear Factor” theme. The kids had balloons they had to pop without using their hands, they had to dig out “worms” from plates of dirt (gummy worms rolled in honey and crushed oreo’s) using their mouths only, and transfer the worms to another plate, and they had to squeeze slime out of a container and fill up a cup to a line the fastest. The slime was egg whites, which do not absorbe in sponges, making it harder (and messier) for the kids. We gave each child a painters vest, from the dollar store so their clothes would not get ruined, and they each won a “medal” at the end of the games, also from the dollar store. It was just as much fun for the adults.

  • My son’s birthday is in August so we consider us lucky that we can have birthdays at home. (Its a lot harder to fit 20+ kids in your house in the middle of winter.) We’ve done a fire theme and hired a retired firefighter to come to our home with his real-life fire truck! We have done a pirate theme, and an inflatable pirate ship pool was the center of attention. This year, however, we gave in and promised he could have his party at USA Skates like the normal kids!lol!

  • My six-year-old son went to a fabulous at home party yesterday, all centered around cooking. Activities included using a ladle to carry water from a stock pot to a bowl across the yard, and carrying play food on trays through an obstacle course. It was a fabulous day, favors were personalized aprons.

  • The cleverest home birthday party I attended had a fire theme. The kids got to climb down the side of the house on an emergency rope ladder. Thrillingly dangerous. Also educational–probably a good thing to practice.

  • Kudos to you, Katy! I did an at-home birthday for my son who is in kindergarten. The theme was magic and my husband performed magic for the kids. It was a success. We did a scavenger hunt and the kids searched for their own magic tricks to take home. We also had a toy pirate bomb that they passed around and if it exploded in your hands you were out. That was a big hit – what more do a bunch of little boys need??