Forget the banquet hall! Forget the clowns, pony rides, or helium balloons! You can make your child’s birthday special, without robbing a bank or taking out a second mortgage. Why? Because your child doesn’t need your money. He doesn’t even want the expensive toys. What preschoolers crave most is us. Our time, our attention. They wants to feel special, to feel not just that we love them, but that we value them. That takes some careful thought, preparation, and planning, but surprisingly little money.
Try to Follow Your Normal Daily Routine As Much As Possible
To make the day special for your preschooler, you should still stick as closely to the “routine” as possible. If he’s used to taking a two-hour nap, and he doesn’t get a nap on his birthday, the only thing you both are going to remember about his birthday dinner is the temper tantrum, and how you nearly felt like sending him to bed without that dinner at all! Some preschoolers are so dependent on their routines, that they simply won’t enjoy the day if everything is suddenly different. If you have such a child, it is best NOT to throw him a surprise party – perhaps ever. Instead, go ahead and make the special party plans, but be sure to keep your child informed. Let him know in advance, and remind him, how some things are going to be a little different on his birthday, but he’s such a big boy that you just know he’s going to enjoy himself anyway.
If you celebrate one child’s birthday, then you absolutely must celebrate every child’s birthday. My birthday is the end of January, and one brother’s birthday was in February. My mom must have had a bit of seasonal adjustment disorder, because she really looked forward to planning a party for us. It’s as if, after Christmas was over, and there were the dark, dreary days of winter still ahead, she needed that little excitement to look forward to. And we sure had some lovely parties! But I don’t really remember celebrating in June, August, or October so much, when the other kids’ birthdays were. I’m sure we did something special, with cake, ice cream and candles, I just don’t remember there being loads of guests, costume parties, and rented movies.
To jump start your own imagination, here’s a partial list of innovative ways to celebrate your child’s special day. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments area below!
Plant a tree in the backyard
Take your child to the nursery to pick one out. Maybe select an apple tree this year, and when your child graduates from high school, you can serve home-made applesauce! (How’s that for planning ahead?) Pick a special spot and let your child help dig the whole. Water it together. Make some mud pies together. If weather permits, have the birthday dinner as a picnic, at the base of your new tree. Let the child name the tree – not “apple” or “pear”, but “Barney”. Next week you can ask him, “How’s Barney doing? Do you think he’s grown?” Take a yard stick or piece of string and measure Barney, and mark it’s growth on the garage door. Maybe dinner will include apple salad or baked apples. Besides spending a wonderful afternoon with your preschooler, you can begin teaching him to respect the earth.
Picnic in the Park
This may sound old, but you can make it special. invite a couple of his friends, and have a treasure hunt. Perhaps make it a pirate theme, with simple costumes. Scatter some party favors in the park ahead of time, and have your spouse or a friend “babysit” the park to make sure an intruder doesn’t spoil it. Maybe bring along some simple props, like a kaleidoscope for a make-belief spyglass. Hang a piece of black fabric to the playground equipment for a pirate’s flag. Make one of the picnic tables the “plank” and have the children take turns “walking the plank” to jump into your arms. Let them dig in the sand, and bury small plastic toys, only to dig them up again. If you have enough adult supervision, let the children cook hotdogs on long sticks held over the charcoals. Serve with the necessary accouterments.
Get a box of dress-ups, either second hand clothes or commercial costumes. You and your daughter dress up like royalty. Make paper crowns and glue on dime-store jewels or sequins. Put on lipstick or other makeup. Play make-believe with your child, and end the party by watching a Disney cartoon, like Snow White. (Yea, I’m not big on TV for preschoolers, but a rare, once-in-a-while thing can be special).
Baby, You’re a Doll
If your little one really loves dolls, this can be a lot of fun. Invite a few playmates to the party, and have them all bring a baby doll. For activities, have them put on paper diapers on the dolls. They can “feed” each other “baby food” like applesauce, with a spoon – this is more fun for slightly older children, as preschoolers don’t really enjoy games with winners and losers. Let the little mommies take their dolls on a walk or push them in swings. Read a “mommy and me” book.
Visit a farm
Dress in overalls. Feed the chickens. Pack a picnic, and eat at the farm. Take a hayride. Pick fresh ripe fruits or vegetables when in season.
Visit an orphanage
Bring small gifts to give away instead of receiving birthday gifts. Have cake and ice cream with the children there.
Pack backpacks, and take a “trip” somewhere, hiking around the swing set and behind the garage, and ending at your camp site, where you’ll set up a tent in your back yard. If possible, build a small campfire and cook “hobo dinners” (place raw hamburger patty in aluminum foil, add stuff like onion, tomato, cheese, etc. Fold foil and place in hot coals until done. Toast Marshmallows for desert. Look at the stars. Tell stories. It’s okay if your preschooler won’t fall asleep in the tent. Enjoy the experience, and after a certain time, end the game and bring him inside to sleep in his bed.
Visit a construction site
Point out the hard hats the builders wear for safety. If possible, let the child tour a home that is being built – see the two-by-fours and plastic pipes and holes where electric wires will be strung. Lots of children find this fascinating! But construction sites are inherently dangerous, so Be Careful! Then, have your child receive a set of wooden building blocks for his birthday present, and a toy hard hat. Play blocks with him for as long as he wants to play! End the party by watching Baby’s Day Out with your sleepy preschooler.
Take your child to a free concert
Many cities and towns have community bands that will perform outside. Sometimes churches will have a free Christian group perform. Or find out if you can take your preschooler to an orchestra to watch them practice (Then you can leave when the child is ready, rather than paying for tickets!) If all else fails, do you have a friend who plays an instrument? Have him perform something for your child. Then give your child a toy band set for his birthday present – drums, maracas, harmonica, tambourine, etc. Put on band music, or folk music, or something interesting, and help your child make a joyful noise.
Party at the beach
Wear swim suits, bring umbrellas for shade, sunscreen, beach toys, shovels, and even a friend or two. Dig in the sand. Build a huge sand castle. Eat sandy sandwiches. The fresh air and sunshine tend to make us all a bit sleepy after a while, so don’t stay too long. And don’t forget to reapply the sunscreen. A sunburn is a nasty birthday present. Shower up at the beach house if one is available, then stop by Dairy Queen for an icecream cake before returning home.
A new pet
If you’re thinking about getting a dog or cat, you can make the entire day special. Talk to your preschooler about dogs (or cats). What they eat and how they eat. Where they will sleep. What they can or can’t do. Read a book about dogs. Visit a pet store. Tour the animal shelter. You should have done your homework BEFORE, so you already have a good idea about what to look for in a pet. Then guide your preschooler to the right choice. Pick up a collar and pet dishes, and bring home. Watch “Beethoven” together, or take the new pet for a walk together. Maybe your preschooler can ride his trike while you hold the leash. Or get two leashes, put both on one dog. That way the child can walk the dog, but you ensure the pet doesn’t get away.
Visit a bike shop
Let your preschooler see all the neat new bicycles. Look at the helmets, bike horns, lights, or other safety equipment. Pick out a tricycle or small bike for your child’s birthday present. Pack picnic lunch, and toss bike/trike in the back of the car. Go for a ride in a local park, and enjoy your lunch together.
Little Guests Are Not Necessary
You don’t need to have little friends over to make the day special. The preschool child really just wants his parents’ attention. Take advantage of that! If you do decide to invite over playmates, a good rule of thumb is one for each age of the child. So a two year old could have two friends. A five year old could have five friends. A two year old will not enjoy himself if there are ten friends at his party. He may feel lost, overwhelmed, or frightened.
We started a tradition in our family, that we would have “friends over” parties on the even years, and “family only” parties on the odd years. This was a budget idea, as well as keeping the year from getting out of control. Luckily, two of our kids would turn “even” and two turned “odd” every year. That sounds bad, doesn’t it? But you know what I mean :). My kids tended to really enjoy the “odd” family-only parties better. When our middle daughter was a young teenager, she went to Martinsville to see a car race with her dad. She’ll never forget that, but I can guarantee she doesn’t remember the traditional birthday party she had when she was eight, with playmates, party games and cake.
So what birthday party traditions will you share in your family?
Building Family through Tradition
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