I agree with everything Sally writes below, and yet must confess that when my kids were young we did all sorts of pricey parties, including one at McDonald’s, one at a children’s theater, and one at a bowling alley. (And if you want to know how these turned out: Flood in McDonald’s playroom meant kids had to slosh through stagnant water to get to ball pit. Missing actress meant the kids had to squirm in theater seats for an hour before replacement showed up. And distracted child meant birthday boy ended up in emergency room with finger smashed by bowling ball.) All the more reason to read this corrective post:
Kids’ birthday parties are due for a do-over,by Sally Mills Butzin
When did birthday parties become so expensive and over-the-top? While it may seem easier to hire pricey entertainers and screen first-run movies that match the party theme, these passive activities just exacerbate the inactive lives of so many children glued to screens at home and sitting at desks in school.
As a long-time educator of young children, I know how important it is for kids to engage in active play (and something a little more stimulating than a bounce house). When I hosted birthday parties for my own two daughters years ago, we created backyard fun with treasure hunts, relay races, homemade arcade games, scavenger hunts, hopscotch, and kick-the-can. Many of their grown friends still tell me how much they fondly remember those simple, super fun parties.
As my daughters became mothers and started attending the birthday party circuit with their own children, I asked whether kids still play simple games at parties. “Not much,” was the response I got. It seems that birthday parties now involve scores of kids (and sometimes even parents) watching high-end entertainment and eating elaborate food – sometimes from multiple food trucks. The kids don’t even open their gifts at the party anymore, which is a lost opportunity for showing gratitude.
This really shocked me. So my daughter Charlotte and I decided to buck the trend and put 50 of these simple games into a book (www.bestbuddiesbirthdays.com). The key to having a low-cost birthday party is to keep children engaged and successful. The birthday child should select one or two activities that will appeal to the age group and interests of the guests – active games or quiet crafts, for example.
Here are a few rules of thumb for hosting a sane and successful birthday party for a 5- to 10-year old:
- Limit the number of guests to no more than the child’s age, and only the child’s best buddies.
- Set a two-hour time limit – ample time for games, birthday cake, and gift opening.
- Involve each guest with a specific job, such as hand sanitizer-squirter, cake-server, or gift-wrap-collector.
- Choose games and activities where every child is actively engaged and feels successful.
Although throwing a homegrown party may sound like a daunting task, it is so worth it when you see the smiles and hear the laughter. Free-Range Kids deserve a liberating, back-to-basics party where they’re actively engaged and having fun on their own terms. —Sally Mills Butzin, co-author of Best Buddies Birthdays