Happier Birthdays

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The children’s birthday party is another area that can cause a great deal of stress to 21st century parents. All too often I have seen echoey church halls filled with the entire class screaming their heads off, with a bouncy castle, entertainer, and disco all thrown in. The parents of the birthday boy or girl are left to try to handle 30 overexcited children whilst trying to duck the inevitable food fight that takes place about half way through. At the end there are expensive party bags and helium balloons, and having spent hundreds of pounds, the hosts can’t wait for everyone to leave.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Children do not need multiple expensive forms of entertainment to have a good time. They do not need church halls, clowns and inflatable equipment. If you have reasonable child handling skills, it is possible to scale the whole thing back without your child becoming a social pariah. More importantly, it’s possible to have children’s birthday parties in a family context so children can play with each other while parents also share a cup of tea and a bun, and get to know each other properly. This offers huge benefits in terms of socialising children and teaching them about being good hosts and guests. But like anything worthwhile, it does take a great deal of forward planning.

Here is a schedule for a home based party. Depending on the size of your home, this should be for 6-12 children and some associated parents who feel like staying as well. It is not necessary to invite every child your son or daughter knows, even if everyone else does. If other parents are tempted to stay for a cup of tea and a natter, then you are not abandoned alone with a tribe of children to care for, so this is to be encouraged. For older children, consider a cinema trip on a Saturday morning to a Kids’ Club, when it only usually costs £1 or thereabouts. Take your own microwave popcorn with you.

Before the party

Send out invitations designed on a computer with the date, time, address, phone number, map, and an indication that parents are welcome to stay, along with a request for guests to RSVP by a certain date.

On the day

Stick a few paper streamers up on the ceiling with white Blu-tack, and decorate the walls using balloons and any Happy Birthday banners you might have. The children could also make a paper chain and that could be pinned up as well. Tape three balloons to your front door so everyone knows which house to go to, and so it all looks festive.

3.00-3.15pm

Children arrive, put cards and presents on side table for opening later. Host child greets everyone. Any accompanying parents offered a drink. Party music on hifi and depending on children’s ages, a simple activity laid out in case the children need something to do before the party proper starts (eg decorating party hats).

3.15-4.00

Play a selection of party games lasting about five minutes each. You’ll get a list of these in a future post, along with instructions.

4.00-4.15pm

Have the birthday tea.  Assuming you don’t have a dining table big enough to seat all the children, to minimise mess, sit them on a big picnic rug on the floor (or in the garden) and hand each child a little cardboard picnic box or little paper carrier bag with the following:

  • A drink in a carton or sports-type bottle (the latter is less messy). If funds are tight, you can serve squash in paper cups but expect there to be many spillages, so light coloured squashes are probably best. (Similarly you can use paper plates for food but again more will get dropped).
  • A small packet of crisps or hula hoops
  • A fairy cake (see recipe)
  • A shortbread person (see recipe)
  • A bridge roll filled with grated cheese or cheese spread
  • 2 little sausages

Naturally the children will eat the sweet things first and the adults will try to eat the little sausages. That’s the way parties work. If you include healthy things like cherry tomatoes, grapes and carrot sticks in the party teas, this will pretty much all be rejected, unless it’s a very unusual group of children.

4.15pm

Clear up the food by getting the children to put waste into a big black bin bag. Fold up the blanket. Time for two more calmer games, to slow everyone down before the end.

4.30pm

Home time. Each child gets a paper party bag (this can be home made from glossy children’s magazine pages twirled into a cone, stuck with tape, and given a ribbon handle). Contents should include various bargains from the pound shop, such as coloured pencils and novelty rubbers or sharpeners from a multipack, balloons, bubbles, little toys and a packet of Smarties or similar.

After the party

As part of the socialisation process, it’s very important that any child old enough to sign his or her name sends out little thank you notes for any presents received.

Image: m_bartosch / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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