Janis Nuckolls from Provo, Utah writes:
Hi, I really appreciate the monumental thing you are doing for your family and others as well. I’ve found that birthday parties are one of the biggest challenges for moms trying to control the commercialization of their families. . . . I would love to hear ideas from other parents on non-commercialized birthday party ideas that have worked.
Thanks, Janis. This is a great question and one I think many party-planners struggle with. So, I put the question out to parents via Facebook and Twitter and got some great ideas.
One overarching theme echoed by many moms was:
Throughout the year, I grab lots of solid color or other printed goods (table cloths, napkins, cups, etc) on holiday clearance. Saves me a fortune when it comes to parties.
These moms also had theme parties based on whatever holiday materials they bought on clearance. (Halloween in July — why not?) Or:
As for “paper goods” we got a bunch of inexpensive plastic plates, bowls and cups from Ikea that we reuse ad nauseum. They make any occasion festive at our house. We were lucky enough to find some plain sparkly party hats and others that just say “happy birthday.” Those, too, get reused, although most have gone home with guests over the years. I hope I can find more this year. Otherwise I’ll be making new ones out of wallpaper sample books.
Here’s many more specific ideas and comments:
– We did princesses one year and bought all non-licensed princess stuff, however, all the gifts my daughter received except one ended up being Disney princess junk. Blah! This year we are going to the zoo, and she insists on a volcano cake, so we don’t really have to worry about it.
– We did a Wonder Woman themed party without any store-bought Wonder Woman packages. Did some homemade Wonder Woman tiara/headbands, put up stars everywhere and Bam! Instant Wonder Woman party.
– We did an Egyptian-themed party. We played Senet. We did musical chairs with “Walk Like an Egyptian” as the music. We also did some historical research and found out that ancient Egyptian children played tug of war and games of skill like balancing, so we adapted those in to something that worked for us. We also had each child make a cartouche with their name in hieroglyphics and ordered blank pyramid cardboard shapes to paint as a craft.
– A friend of mine does color-themed parties for her daughter. Orange party is sloppy joes, Cheetos and Fanta, etc. I think she also has done a polka-dot party (cupcakes with round sprinkles, mini-pizzas). Se usually sticks to classic party games in the color theme. Not the most nutritionally sound party, but fun!
– With the exception of Star Wars a couple years running, most of our parties have been more general — dinosaurs (we put plastic dinos in balloons and hid them around as “dino eggs”), fish (party room at the aquarium with plastic sea creatures and shark masks from the dollar bin), animals, space. Even for Star Wars, we bought some licensed plates and such, but sent the kids home with homemade capes and light sabers made from pool noodles and duct tape.
– We did a garden themed party this weekend with a compost bin cake. Family Fun magazine inspired the cake. I did use a John Deere tablecloth though. [Ed note: Family Fun is owned by Disney.]
– My daughters just had a birthday party at the park. I used napkins we bought on clearance last Easter (just solid color), goody bags we’ve collected on clearance after various holidays and we used Easter cake mix (44 cents at Target on clearance) and icing to make cupcakes (decorated with flower cupcake picks and Easter sprinkles we got on clearance).
Goody bags are always filled with whatever we’ve managed to collect on holiday clearance. With my daughters’ party, that was silly bandz (clearance, 50-75 cents for packs of 20), super hero pencils (Valentine’s Day clearance), bubble rings (25 cents for a pack on Easter clearance), window clings (Valentines with got on clearance — 25 cents for a whole box) and things of that sort. The bags were from Valentines clearance from a few years ago. I think we got them for 10 cents.
– We did a dog party, with a giant cardboard box transformed into a dog house. Lots of other boxes lay about and got made into all those things kids make out of cardboard boxes.
– Arty party, with sock puppets made from a 6-pack of socks, googly eyes, feathers, etc, add in a couple of beading kits, and you’ve got a full afternoon.
– Cookie decorating party. Big shortbread cookies from a local bakery, a tub each of chocolate and vanilla frosting, 10 different kinds of sprinkles (some even came with the frosting) and some tubes of the writing frosting. Send ‘em home all sugared up!
– We’ve done a ‘Zoo-Bilee’ theme and a ‘Fairy Training Camp’ theme — we made homemade wings and wands, and then had all our fairies-in-training complete an obstacle course and hunt for fairy gold (spray painted gravel). We get all of our plain-colored disposable tableware from the Dollar Store and then we can leave them alone or decorate with stickers of our choosing.
– My daughter loves animals and we just had a puppy party for her 2nd birthday. We used dog and cat stickers and I made a pin the tail on the puppy game. In lieu of gifts we requested food for a local rescue.
– We have done zero waste theme, keep our oceans clean theme and will do a rain forest theme inspired by David Williams music. Functional and fun goodies like reusable lunch napkins, veggie seeds, coloring sheets with a message, reusable goody bag, homemade mini note books, home made recipe book, organic lollipops and fruit leather.
– Our four-year-old’s last birthday–we just gave all the kids instruments and had a musical parade outside. Win!
– Little House on the Prairie! The kids even churned butter and had a log cabin cake. Ha!
General theme suggestions:
General activity ideas:
Rock climbing wall
Family picnic in the park
And Janis herself offered this:
One thing we tried last year when my twin daughters were turning 7, we had a ‘strange fruit and vegetable party’. I bought a wide variety of different fruits and veggies and I placed each one on our dining room table. Each child chose one when they arrived. There was also a piece of paper with a number taped to each item. Then I had a master list with each number as well as the name of the fruit or vegetable. We played a game of pass the fruit or veggie. Each child sat in a circle and we played old songs (Steve Miller Band stuff worked very well). When the music stopped, the child who stopped it got to pick a child and ask him or her if they could name their fruit or veg. If they knew the name, they got to be the next person to control the music. Anyway, the goal was to get kids thinking about good food, and it was surprising how many kids didn’t know basic veggies like cabbages and eggplants. They got to take home the fruit or veggie they originally picked, along with suggestions from me about how to eat/prepare it.
We were also going to do a relay race, involving dividing the kids into two groups and seeing how fast they could run to a basket about 10 yards away, and fill it with their produce, in order to ‘feed a hungry village’. We were going to do this in a park near my house but it rained so we weren’t able to do that activity. The fruit and vegetable theme was a hit, though!
Any other ideas? Comment away!