Alternatives to Large, Chaotic Birthday Parties


Kids blowing party blowers at a party.Kids’ birthday parties. Love ’em, tolerate ’em? Flashing lights, loud noises, and kids running around while keeping track of your own child to ensure they have a good time. There are alternatives! Dread the clutter of a pile of gifts adding to unwanted clutter in your house? I’ve got the answer for you!

As a mom of kids ages 10 and 13, I have planned over 15 birthday celebrations. I have also tuned into my mother’s advice, who, with five children herself, has planned upwards of 40 parties! 

Teach your kids early on that experiences are longer lasting than material gifts.

This, of course, needs to be done at an age-appropriate time. A 4-year-old might not appreciate a gift card to their favorite activity, but combine that with their favorite food or candy, and you have some instant gratification alongside the promise of an activity that will delight your older child and tire them out (a win-win in my book)!

As my boys get older and toys become more of a distant activity, gifting yard games has been a hit. Some favorites are new slip and slides to pull out for summertime, light-up frisbees, movie night buckets (a gift card, microwave popcorn packs, candy, and a comfy throw blanket), or even travel games. I am all about one-stop shopping, and you can gather all of this at your local Target (or local pharmacy) in under five minutes. 

As for the “press and play” parties, as I call them, in which you pay a few hundred dollars for 90 minutes and show up with 15 kids and a cake, I have done these out of obligation because both of my boys have begged for that experience at one time or another. As I have written before, my boys have different personalities. While my older son weaves in and out of different social groups, my younger son has had a more challenging time socially. Therefore, I have turned to smaller experiences with my younger son more quickly than with my eldest. What has this looked like? I am happy to share!

My son recently turned ten and has asked for a few experiences instead of one large one.

Turning ten is a significant milestone, so I am happy to turn it up a bit! My work schedule is somewhat flexible, but I also am very committed to my older son’s basketball team, and it being March Madness, it could not be more of a chaotic month! So this means carving out a few days, even after school. It’s a sacrifice and not something all parents cannot do. Tailor things toward your family situation. Since my weekends are less flexible, I utilize my work-from-home ability and host an afterschool playdate. 

Utilize local, free resources.

Your local libraries offer activities such as Lego building, chess club, STEAM sessions, etc. Sign up your child and a friend and work while you wait if needed. Simple, you just created a special memory!

Celebrating with two to three friends at their favorite activity is great. Escape rooms, ice skating, movies, or their favorite jump place can be a great way to make their day special. Grab ice cream after, or stop by a local cupcake or donut shop! Remember that groups of three usually do not work since someone usually gets left out. So go for three guests or just one, if you can. 

Opt-in for local parks. Wintertime? Well, that’s what mittens, hats, and jackets are for! 

Don’t let the weather limit the fun and availability of creating memories in an environment already suited for kids. A playground with juice boxes, cupcakes, and snacks is a hit too. If your kids are younger, grab coffee for the parents sticking around!

Incorporate their celebration into something you would like to do as a family. Let’s face it; everything has skyrocketed in cost. Getting out as a family costs 10-20% more than a year ago. So make a day at a local amusement park part of their gift. Allow them to bring a friend, and you just made another memory.

Consider joint birthday parties.

Connect with a friend and share the cost, especially if they are at the same school or have an overlap in friends.  

Our kids will look back at their birthdays and remember how they feel, not how much money was spent or how big the pile of gifts was! My favorite memory as an 80s kid is rolling out our own dough at my parent’s kitchen table and making pizza fritta followed by knocking down a piñata!

What creative ways have you celebrated your child’s birthday?


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