All too often these days kids’ birthday parties are stressful exercises in one-upmanship, self indulgence and the spreading of bad food and junk amongst a group of kids put together for political reasons rather than friendship. There! I’ve said it. I don’t actually like normal birthday parties for kids.
Throughout my life I have thought that they are just yet another platform where badly brought up children can display their greed and competitive streaks and parents stand by and put up with it, not checking it along the way! Remember those ugly ‘pass the parcel’ and ‘musical chairs’ scenes with kids snatching, grabbing and shoving? Always the same kids who elbowed the polite ones out of the way to grab the biggest slices of cake, more sweets and treats.
But they have their advantages I suppose as object lessons to your own kids, provided they are not too saddened by the view of human ugliness! And those red sausages can be pretty good!
The green party is definitely worth moving towards. Firstly, you will need to be bold to break the mould of parental and child expectations of what a party can be.
- Invitations – stress to the kids that it is a green party. Encourage recycled paper and home made cards. Make the invitations by using tree-free paper (home made from waste cotton, recycled office paper, silk etc.) or by making seeded invitations. You can make the latter easily by using paper medical tape, taping some border seeds, veges or herbs onto your card and then the recipient can cut that into strips and put it in the garden. Carrots work well this way. Alyssum is fun too. You can write with it! Again, sprinkle the seeds on the tape, cut into letters and put on card. Bury the whole lot in the garden, water and it will spell whatever you want it to.
You can also cut them from magazines spy style! Glue to recycled paper.
- Think of a membership to a toy library as a gift that keeps on giving.
- Give tickets to a show appealing to kids – preferably something live, but even movie tickets are a fun gift.
- Wrap the gifts in a fabric bag that can double as a shoe bag.
- Make new paper from recycled gift paper.
- Think of a meaningful charity and encourage the guests to join you and the birthday child in raising some funds for that charity. It need not deprive the child of a gift.
- Donate a flock of ducks through heifer.org or gardenharvest.org and keep the birthday child informed of what happens to the ducks.
- Integrate a trip to the Lost Dogs’ Home into your party. Make it a doggy themed party and see what can be made for puppies by the kids on the day. For instance, you can bake a batch of dog biscuits, take them to the home, play with the puppies and learn something from that.
- Organise a gift registry with a local environmental store and make sure that everything on it is recycled or made of sustainable materials.
- Visit the op shop. So many great toys are thrown away. Check that all parts are in the box, clean them well with sanitiser, mend or replace the boxes. Dolls are particularly good.
- Make a dollhouse. This is great fun. Ask guests to bring an article for the house that they have made or sourced themselves.
- Give the birthday child a musical instrument (mouth organ even!) and some music.
- Don’t use disposable plates for the party. Or cutlery or tablecloths.
- Helium balloons are a no-no as they float away and become poison in the environment. Substitute with paper Chinese lanterns or chimes. These can come from the $2 shop!
- Prizes for games? If you must, give the kids Chia pets, small seedlings or terrarium gardens or be creative with this element.
- DIY food – make healthy food, fruit juices rather than fizzy sugary drinks, healthy cookies and muffins rather than frosting laden cupcakes (you can decorate them in interesting ways).
- Glace fruits can be amazing. I can get miniature preserved pears here cheaply but would make them myself in Australia as they are expensive there. Buy those tiny pears, peel and glaze them for a yummy treat. You can do this to any small fruit – snow apples, cherries, sultana grapes or currants.
- Miniature anything is a great party idea. Get some tiny poussin chickens and make some miniature roast dinners for the kids. This is always a hit! You can do it on the BBQ.
- Check for allergies in the guest list.
- Make mini apple or other fruit pies with crispy pastry. Kids love these. Or individual strudels.
- Games: Don’t go overboard with the jumping castle hire, the clowns etc.. Kids will never remember you did any of that. Take them to the local park and get out those old games (sack race, egg & spoon etc.). Kids will love those and get exercise at the same time. Organise a mini Olympics with party games. Think ‘Minute to Win it’ and get the kids competing with all those fun tricks and balance feats.
Most of all, stop this cycle of ‘bigger is better’. Don’t let the party develop into an exercise of one-upmanship between parents.
It should be a celebration for all the kids that their friend has reached another milestone towards maturity. By taking a mature look at the impact of your party and its carbon footprint, you will set a good example for your child AND his/her friends. (and perhaps their parents who will thank you for not upping the ante of the every spiraling upward party extravaganza!