Can You Throw an Educational & Entertaining Birthday Bash?
When I was a teen, I worked as a children's entertainer: painting faces, making balloon animals, and leading scavenger hunts while dressed as Princess Jasmine or the Pink Power Ranger. Parents spent big bucks hiring performers, renting out party locations, and stuffing expensive goody bags filled with junk food and plastic favors.
These days parents are aiming for a more meaningful experience on a tighter budget. Can you really get more for less? Can you plan an educational and entertaining party... on a budget? I think so.
Tips for Planning an Educational Birthday Party:
Choose a Theme: A theme "highlights the interests of the birthday child and brings a focus," explains Ashley Renee Jefferson, an early childhood enthusiast and play time expert, who runs My Play with Ashley. A favorite book, animal, or activity makes a great theme. Jefferson adds, "Trust me, it makes it easier on you! Choosing between a princess party or circus party does not matter. They can all be educational so long as it is executed well."
Invite Learning: Set the tone from the beginning with an invitation that ties into the theme and gets young guests thinking. "Send your toddler guests an invite made out of eco-friendly jumbo puzzle pieces," suggests Marley Majche, The Party Goddess!, who has celebrity clients including Britney Spears, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Pierce Brosnan, Katherine Heigl, and Snoop Dogg.
Short and Sweet: "Short people need short activities for their short attention spans!" advises Dylan Glanzer, founder of Parties by Dylan & Company, who also holds an M.A. in early childhood education. "Successful parties for ages one through six involve short, hands-on activities that include creative props and music."
Feed Me: "Feed children before they do any entertainment," warns Glanzer, "Hungry children don’t like to play anything!" Provide some healthy options, like fruit, for a brain-friendly snack. Getting kids involved in the refreshments is another way to spice up an educational party. Make your own pizzas or decorate your own cupcakes encourages creativity.
Man Your Stations: Take a tip from classroom teachers and break kids up into groups of three to five to rotate them around stations for some of the activities.
Get Physical: Children, especially young kids, need to be up and moving. Provide a good mix of sit-down crafts and activities that get everyone dancing, racing, and jumping. You can tie these physical activities into the theme. For example, try a freeze dance with everyone moving like their favorite animals. Obstacle courses and scavenger hunts work with most themes and will encourage kids to get up and explore.
Play to the Crowd: Modify existing popular games and activities to fit your theme. Melissa Taylor of Imagination Soup created a Greek Gods-themed "Go Fish" game for her kid's Percy Jackson party.
Think Outside the Goody Bag: If you are looking for an alternative to candy or toys, "coupons to visit local attractions are ways to provide children with cultural and educational opportunities -- memories that will carry them throughout life," says Greg Jenkins of Bravo Productions.
While it is important to be organized, leave plenty of room for open-ended fun. Ashley Renee Jefferson notes,"Many of the party companies that I've seen come and perform, but with the work that I do I show up to facilitate. There's a difference. I bring the goods and more but my job is to set up a platform for children to play together and explore without giving an overwhelming amount of direction."
Educational Birthday Party Themes
The possibilities are endless...just use your child's interests as your guide! Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Theme: Dino Dig (Ages 3+) from Angelica, of Boutique Mob in Silicon Valley.
Activities: Purchase inexpensive dinosaur bones, trace their shapes on plain white paper with the name, description and picture of the dinosaur. Then bury the bones for the children to excavate match to the bones on the paper. Next, children gather all the bones and create play dough molds.
Goody Bag: Beach bucket with digging tools and a safari hat.
Theme: Party Animals (Ages 3+)
Invitation: Print on the back of a color by numbers picture of a favorite animal.
Activities: Hide plush woodland animals in the backyard. Cut out oaktag "tracks" in the correct shape leading to the animal. Can the children guess the animal before they find it? Let kids explore in a backyard or park for a nature party. Make binoculars out of toilet paper rolls and have children "spot" posters of local birds. See how many they can check off their list. Play animal charades. Make a bird feeder.
Goody Bag: A nature journal, a field guide to local birds, bugs, or mammals, mini figurines of the animals from the party.
Theme: Grow with Me (Ages 3+)
Invitations : Print on plantable seed paper.
Activities: Decorate a planter and plant a sunflower seed. Make tissue paper flowers. Pick and press wildflowers. Pin the petals on the flower.
Food and Refreshments: Serve fruit and make-your-own smoothies. Add edible flowers to the menu. Have a ring toss with the stanchions shaped like tulips.
Goody Bag: Gardening gloves and tools.
Theme: Mad Scientist (Ages 5+) from Kelly Lanza, of Studio DIY
Invitations: Write in "invisible ink" and provide instructions how to reveal the party information. Just make sure to write your phone number in regular ink--just in case!
Decorations: Use a poster of the periodic table as a backdrop.
Activities: Provide kids with lab coats as party favors at the beginning of the party and they will don them for a day of experimenting. Set up different stations with simple science experiments. What happens when you put Mentos in soda, and why? Can a mixture of baking soda and vinegar in a bottle really blow up a balloon? How? Watch them be surprised at the magic that is milk, food coloring and soap combined!
Food and Refreshments: Serve drinks in plastic beakers and mini smoothies in test tubes.
Theme: Party Arty! (ages 5+)
Invitations: Print on the back of postcards of famous masterpieces or on a color wheel.
Decorations: Paint brushes, palettes, art posters.
Activities: Create "spin-art" a la Jackson Pollock. Pin the body part on the painting to create a cubist masterpiece. Find the art thief scavenger hunt. Allow every child to add to a giant mural and then take a group photograph in front of their work.
Favors: Mini watercolor sets, blank postcards, small frames.
Theme: Medieval Times (ages 5+)
Invitations: Print on a scroll and word as a proclamation.
Activities: Hold a "joust" with kids using a pole to grab rings. Set up a low balance beam over a "moat". Decorate crowns and scepters and goblets with stick-on "jewels". Defeat a piñata at the end of the party. Play "The King (or Queen) Says" instead of "Simon Says".
Food and Drink: Serve "honey mead" (apple juice), fruit tarts, and "turkey legs" (boneless chick on skewers).
Favors: Sand castle molds and the crafts made at the party.