Gas prices aren’t the only things that seem to be getting out of hand these days. Most of us are also facing sticker-shock at the grocery store checkout stand, and beginning to find the idea of kids wearing hand-me-downs more and more attractiive. Eating out is becoming a rare treat rather than a common occurrence.
Even when the paycheck does stretch far enough to cover basic needs, a child’s birthday party can quickly turn “getting by,” into deficit spending for the rest of the month. There is no reason this should ever need to happen.
No law says your child must have a choice between “Spiderman,” “Hello Kitty,” and “Where’s Nemo?” for his birthday party theme. Dare to start a new trend. Dump the expensive video character cakes, ice-cream, and store bought decorations and throw a reasonable party that your child and his friends will enjoy just as much. Here’s how to do it:
Instead of buying expensive themed invitations, spend a couple of hours helping your child create his or her own invitations. Use glue, crayon, colored paper, and stickers you already have around the house. Let the child deliver the invitations in person to his friends. (Older children might want to make their invitations on the internet and send them out by e-mail.) Getting your child involved in planning and preparing for his own party will make it a more memorable experience for him.
Activities and Decorations:
There is no end to the ideas you can use to entertain your child’s young guests. One sure-fire hit for all ages is to give each child an envelope you have prepared ahead of time. Each envelope should instruct the guest to use materials they will find in front of them on the table to make a picture of a different creature, which is then described for them. (Example: an elephant wearing a cowboy hat and boots, sitting on a tiny stool, holding a kite in one hand (paw?) and a rag doll in the other, or perhaps a pig with earrings that drag on the ground, hip boots, a monkey on his back, and his tail holding a bouquet of flowers.) Each envelope should decribe something silly, but simple. Have various craft tools on the table in front of them, including scissors, glue, crayons, buttons, colored paper, beads, etc. (Even teens will enjoy this activity. Just make their instruction card more difficult.) Depending on the age and ability of the group, you may decide to let them refer back to the card as they complete their assignments, or you may decide to give them 60 seconds to study the instructions, and then tell them to make their project from memory. Award small prizes for posters that follow all instructions.
Finished artwork can be hung on a line stretched along one wall. When all the artwork is displayed, have each child read the assignment on his card aloud and have the other party goers decide whether or not he or she has followed all the instructions. (By the way, if you leave the artwork up during the entire party, it can serve as your major party decoration. Some draped crepe paper strips and a few balloons tied together and placed around the room are the only other decorations you need.)
Another fun activity for any party is a scavenger hunt. Tailor it to fit the ages of the children involved. Set rules about how far they can wander to find the items on their list. If you have several groups of two or more working together, it will be more fun.
For very small children, limit the search to the back yard with items like 3 leaves, a small rock, 2 blades of grass, a bug, etc. Older kids are quite capable of finding things like a copy of the Declaration of Independence, a stick of gum, a sunflower seed, a nightcrawler, etc.
If a bunch of computer savy kids are invited, and a computer is available, do a little pre-party research and make it more difficult for them by asking for them to name the 21st president of the United States, the Capitol of a state far away from where you live, who would be president if both the President and the Vice President could not serve out their terms, the name of the King of Arabia, etc. If only one computer is available, give each group a 20-minute time limit.
You don’t need endless activities for a birthday party. By the time they arrive, and they do an activity or two, the honored guest opens presents, and refreshments are served, they are usually more than ready to call it a day. A good time limit for most parties is an hour and a half to two hours.
On your invitations, request that gifts for young children to be limited to $2.50 or less. The excitement comes in the unwrapping of the gift, not what is inside the package. Parents who think they have to spend $15-$25 for a gift so their child won’t appear cheap, will bless you. Birthday parties should be to celebrate the day a child came into this world, not a day to gather all the loot he or she possibly can. Besides, most kids already have an over-abundance of toys.
For older children, canned food in lieu of gifts is a nice way to start teaching them that birthdays can be a great time for sharing with others rather than a gift grabbing occasion. And, while we are on the subject, why not eliminate the little take-home bags of goodies that seem to have become a “must,” at most parties these days? Some people fill each bag with several dollars worth of items that would probably never be missed at all.
I am always amazed at how much cake and ice cream gets dumped after a party. Most parents can’t imagine planning a child’s birthday party without ordering an expensive sheet cake, done up in the latest popular theme of the day. After the party, the soggy, half-eaten pieces of cake remain on the plates, and most of the ice cream. Why not bake your own cupcakes and serve ice cream cones instead? When I was a child, my mother would wrap a few nickels, dimes, and even a quarter or two in waxed paper and push them down into homemade cupcakes before applying the icing. She warned us to look for treasure, and there were always delighted cries when a lucky child found a cupcake containing a treasure. Plain icing with a few colored sprinkles was quite adequate.
I dare you to simplify the next birthday party you throw for one of your children. I think you will be amazed to find that the kids have just as much fun as they would with all the modern trimmings that seem to have become the norm. And, while you are teaching your child to be less focused on “keeping up with the Joneses,” just think of all the money you will be saving in the process.