BUT. I've done it a few times. For DD's 4th, I organized a craft (decorate wooden "jewelry boxes/treasure chests) and games. Whoa, was I exhausted from planning/executing all of it. Plus, the crafts & game supplies - cha ching. Still pretty pricey.
Last year I did a "decorate cupcakes" playdate for a smaller group. It was mayhem. The were running all over the house like a stampede of rhinos, and then they got kind of bored, and things fell apart a bit.
One thing I did like about each of these parties was the lack of loot bag crap. The take-home things, respectively, were the treasure chests & the an extra cupcake for mom/sibling/whomever.
So...does anyone have tips for what to me is the elusive at homespun party? I've been to very, very few of them around here, so haven't had first hand experience. It's a prosperous area, and the norm is to have it at a party place or else to hire entertainment at home.
-I'm on a budget
-I'm not particularly crafty
-I WOH f/t so the time I can devote to shopping for bargains, making things, etc. is limited
-My kids, relatively speaking, don't have many toys or the big toys that seem to get groups of kids excited (trampolines, tumbling stuff, musical instruments, etc)
-Winter bdays (dead of winter in the northeast)
Any and all ideas would be welcome please!!!
It does take more time than just buying stuff, and that can be hard with a FT schedule, but you can definitely find activities and crafts that take less prep work on your part. I like ones where the kids do the making as part of the craft activity, and all I need to do is provide the base materials. One year we did Make Your Own Playdough as both craft activity and party favor. We threw a couple plastic tablecloths down on the carpet and set the ingredients for a no-bake playdough up on the coffee table. The kids mixed it up together, then divvied the dough up, put it in plastic baggies, and added their own food coloring. They sealed up the bags and mushed them up to mix the color in (which turned out to be their favorite part!), and took them home.
Face painting is easy to set up and do. You can even have the kids paint each other's faces! Just warn their parents ahead of time to have them wear clothes that can get messy.
Tie a small prize to the end of a ribbon and a tag with their name on the other end, one for each child, and make a spiderweb that they have to untangle to solve. You can wrap them around furniture, doorknobs, anything.
Decorate your own cupcakes is another fun one and takes some prep time off your shoulders.
Stick a couple large cardboard boxes in your kiddo's bedroom with washable markers and stickers and have them design their own castle, rocket ship, whatever. You can get an hour or two of playtime out of that, easy.
Keep the snacks really simple. Chips, cheese, crackers, veggies, pretzels, hummus, fruit, stuff like that. Maybe it's a local group thing, but I haven't had any kids turn their noses up at simple food like that yet.
Chasing/bopping around with balloons and dancing to a CD that DH will make with DS's favorite songs. I think he's burning CDs for the grab bag. (The bag is important to DH because he has such good memories of them from his childhood, so we'll do it.)
A game with little pillows - either toss them into baskets, or across the room at each other, or I'll hide them all and they can find them. Not sure if DS will be into the finding, so we're doing a trial this week. They can take home a couple of pillows if they like.
A friend has graciously offered her bouncy castle which DS first encountered at her son's party a few weeks ago. Three children fit at a time.
DS loves playing golf, football, tennis/badminton on the lawn, basketball on the deck, and I thought the kids could do that for a while. We need to get a few more racquets or golf clubs. Maybe a ball and bat. You could do something along these lines, but make it competitive or a tournament.
For food, I think we'll do make-your-own tostadas. DS has allergies, and these are one of his favorite foods. There are a lot of options for toppings, so I hope everyone can find something they like. I assume that parents will help with the assembly. Plus, they will be relatively inexpensive. My dream is to have some friends pick up a box of Chipotle burritos when they drive up from their town, but I'm not sure of this yet. DS absolute favorite food is a Chipotle burrito bowl.
Two allergy-safe cakes - one chocolate, one pumpkin spice. Maybe some decorations, but I'm not bothering with icing.
Do you have an older child or 2 in the neighborhood who likes little kids and who likes to plan? You could enlist her (most likely a "her") to help you plan out a bunch of games. Maybe do a carnival theme with home-made games?
I *loved* doing this type of thing for my little sister and neighborhood children when I was 11-15. We would help the children come up with skits, learn and perform action songs, make obstacle courses and treasure hunts or scavenger hunts - kinda like camp counselors. I could make a hunt that would take 6-8 year-olds a couple of hours to complete. They were elaborate, with rhyming clues, the kids had to bike from one house to another and back again - all over the neighborhood.
If you have a few readers in the group, you could make teams for the treasure hunt.
ETA - I just thought of another party game that my friend does at her multi-age holiday party. A "sticker" hunt. She cuts 1-inch square "stickers" out of wrapping paper and sticks them ALL OVER the house with tape. The adults are randomly paired with a child and they hunt for as many stickers as they can find. There is a nominal prize at the end. I have a tootsie-roll bank from winning one year . I won so many years that I was no longer allowed to play. I was put on hiding duty the day before the party.
Seriously - ALL OVER the house. She has people crawling around her master bedroom, in her office...Bonus points for finding a sticker from a previous year. (Yes, she keeps track).
Another fun thing she does is hang a large white sheet on the wall and put out fabric markers. Everyone signs it or draws a picture. The sheets are displayed each year. You could have the children decorate a pillowcase or T-shirt for your birthday child.
DS, 10/07. Allergies: peanut, egg, wheat. We've added dairy back in. And taken it back out again. It causes sandpaper skin with itchy patches and thrashing during sleep. Due w/ #2 late April, 2012.
Food wise we've only had one party over a meal time. Then we served hot dogs, fries and baked beans with ice cream for desert. Most of the kids seemed to like it.
The other 2 we've avoided meal times and just served drinks, fruit and biscuits. I did put out a few other things like mini pizza and sausages but very little of it got eaten.
For DDs 4th birthday we made bread, we made the dough before the party and let the kids shape it. We gave them some raisins and kid scissors (vital for making hedgehog spikes ) and they had a great time with it. Then they took home thier fresh baked creations. I can think of a better goodie bag than fresh bread
This year we got some plain fabric bits and pieces and fabric pens. Again it didn't need me to do much before hand though we did need someone to iron the finished items to set the paint before they were sent home. Had we not had an extra pair of hands I would have printed instructions to send home with them.
My final tip is to prepare the house so that you are not worrying about kids knocking into grannies vase or wanting to play with someone's special toy. I also put stair gates up to make sure the kids are not going in rooms I don't want them to.
How old are your kids and what are their interests?
For DD we once did a princess tea party and invited friends, moms, and siblings. I made "tea cakes" which were a different shape than cupcakes (I borrowed baking rings from a friend) and had pink frosting and a cherry on top. And we had the moms bring teapots so we could make many different kinds of tea. Princess dresses and prince outfits could be worn or borrowed from our dressup. I had this idea that I could cut out paper crown strips and the kids could decorate them and we could tape them on their heads, but I think we didn't even need it. This was our most fun party ever. I think we had something like 25 people in our house drinking tea and eating teacakes, with classical music in the background.
For DS (winter birthday) we have had more than one sledding party at various local sledding hills, with a large thermal dispenser of hot cocoa and a pile of cookies. This is also a parents-and-siblings-invited party. Once we gave out jingly bells on strings as a favor, but I pretty much don't do favors anymore.
For DD we once had a (summer or fall) bubble blowing party, with all the different bubble wands and containers that I could scare up or borrow, bubble stuff bought in bulk, the usual "wear dress up if you want to," and cupcakes and punch.
Also we have done "playground runaround" parties where we bring some fun snack and drink and let the kids loose at the playground.
This is more structured, but at Halloween we always have a party with sack races, egg-on-a-spoon races, three-legged races, bobbing for apples, sometimes a TP mummy wrap, donuts on strings hanging from a tree, pin the something on the something, and freeform crafts with orange/black paper, scissors, crayons, pipe cleaners. That could be modified for a birthday theme. I'd have the birthday kid pick two colors and come up with cheap craft supplies in those colors.
The most complicated party I ever did (LOL) was a space theme party for DS when he turned five. I actually bought a spaceship pinata and filled it with stickers and trinkets. I decorated cupcakes with actual stars and rocket ships. But the highlight of the party was GLITTER ART because I am kind of a mess-phobe and always said no to glitter. So he wanted glitter art for his birthday. We got some cheap trays, a bunch of glitter, a bunch of glue dispensers, and a bunch of paper. We did it outside so there wouldn't be much to clean up (also summer). The kids LOVED it.
We have also done decorate-your-own-cupcake and ice-cream-sundae parties.
We have been at parties that were potluck-and-a-hayride (or sleighride) at a local farm. But our friends are the farmers so that might not feel homegrown to you.
We have also been at painting parties where the hosting parent was cool with the kids painting HUGE murals on paper in their basement. Not something every house can accommodate, so it was extra special.
We once were at a party that had a homemade pinata full of bags of legos that the mom had gotten secondhand. I think the same party had some older siblings running a treasure hunt. I even think homemade pinatas and premeditated treasure hunts are too involved for me, but the mom is a teacher and loves that stuff. Maybe you could hire a pair of teens to do this for you.
My mom did a party for me when I was about ten where we made potpourri sachets. Just squares of cloth with a blob of potpourri inside, tied with a ribbon. Precut the cloth and ribbon. They make drawers smell nice. The sachets were the craft and the favor.
We went to an animal tracking party on a friend's land where the mom had put together a cute tiny track-identification booklet with the basic tracks that we would see. We traipsed around in the snow and got all excited about the tracks. Then, cake and cider, and sledding for anyone who wanted to stick around.
Ice skating at the community rink or a local pond?
For bigger kids, how about a "games" party where you borrow a few card tables and an assortment of games and engage a few adults or teens to stay and help run different games?
I find that here, simply inviting people over and calling it a party is generally enough for our crowd (and my kids are 6-12 and this still works). But a general theme, some misc craft supplies (you don't even need a plan, just stuff), and a special birthday snack help. Also we just don't do party favors unless it's a craft the kids made (one Halloween I bought mini pumpkins for the kids to decorate, but that was relatively $$).
This might not work so well for kids, but little ones might like it: We have had "stone soup" parties where everyone brings a clean stone and a soup ingredient. We read/tell/sing the stone soup story (or multiple versions) and play while the soup is cooking. Then eat.
For the past few years my boys have preferred to have 1-3 friends over for special dinner and a sleepover and something that they don't usually get to do, like a movie or video games.
I think one key is to set the tone that it's going to be fun and not apologize for simplicity or lack of bling or whatever.
First it sounds like you need a crowd control plan. Running all over the house like crazy cats is just not allowed. Were the other parents there or was this a drop off party? Can your DH be on that duty or do you have a friend or family member who can step in to help? It takes more than one adult to run one of these things. Then think about who you invite. If there were one or two main leaders of that behavior you may want to consider not including them. That kind of experience would make me hesitant to do it again as well.
I've done the decorate your own cupcakes and it went over really well so I wonder if they are too old for it? I wouldn't imagine so. Hrm. I just put out cupcakes, about 8 colors of frosting and a bunch of sprinkles. Kept them occupied for quite a while.
I don't think it matters that your kids don't have "big" toys. They are different toys. Kids always want to play with different stuff.
I know it is January but do you have a yard? Snowman building contest, "paint" in the snow with colored water, sledding - all of that can be a lot of fun. Then come in for hot chocolate or hot cider and cake.
If you are on a budget I'd skip snacks or a meal, have a shorter party, and just do cake and a beverage. Simple.
I do not do crafts or goodie bags. The kids never seem to mind. They play and eat cake.
Works great if you have enough oven space to get them all baked quickly.
We've also rented a community room (our home is small) and done a "bring the loud messy games that your parents don't like to do at home". We had spin art, twister, etc.
We definitely over-plan on activities to minimize the amount of "down time". As long as the kids move smoothly from one activity to another there's no time for running around the house, etc.
Last year we did a tea party at home with about 10 girls. dh was there to help and it definitely required 2 adults to keep everything under control. When they first arrived, they each made themselves a place card. Then they made beaded bracelets or necklaces to match their "fancy tea party dresses". The craft supplies were pretty cheap-- one bulk package of wooden beads and some string. Right after that, they played some relay races in the park next door. But first, they lined up for the bathroom-- yes, we even planned the bathroom break! (Otherwise someone would have asked to go as soon as we left the house.) After games, they all sat around the table and it was tea time. We served mini-sandwiches and fruit and dh put on a suit to be the butler who served tea (and lemonade). Then cake and we opened presents as parents were arriving to pick up. No goody bags-- they each took home their beaded craft.
When they were younger, I did really super cheap projects. When dd was 3 we did an "animal" theme. I got some paper plates, popsicle sticks, googly eyes and colored paper. I cut out different shapes for mouths, noses, etc and the kids went to town glueing stuff on the plates to make "animal masks". Maybe it's just because I'm not very creative or crafty myself-- but some of the craft suggestions I've found online and in magazines seem so overly complicated and $$.
I think it's always a bit exhausting but still worth it.
At that age the fishing game was fun... station a helper on the other said of a wall (or anywhere hidden) and give the kids a fishing pole with a small weight and a hook at the end (we made one out of a paper clip - don't use a real fishing hook!). Instruct them to wait until they feel the fish "biting". Meanwhile, your helper attaches a small prize of some sort to the hook and then tugs on the line.
Single mom to Rain (1/93) , grad student, and world traveler
Some ideas that have worked well for us:
-Have it between 2:00-4:00. Provide cake & drinks (maybe pretzels, or icecream or something, but no need for a meal). Do cake near the end of the party.
-Have a small craft set up and ready to go at the table for when they arrive. IT's a good ice-breaker and a calm dtart to the party.
-Pick up an old refrigerator box from an appliance store. The kids can all decorate it and then play in it. We were having a castle theme that year. I pre-cut a door and windows in it. They had soo much fun and both still talk about it.
-Last year DS had a star wars party. They received pool noodle lightsabres near the end of the party. We had a bag full of blown-up balloons. We opened up the bag and told them to try to keep the balloons in the air with the pool noodles (half of a pool noodle).
-Play the 'freeze' game. Play music and they dance. When the music stops, they have to freeze. This can go on for a while.
-Having activities like these last three ideas really allow the kids to 'get their sillies out' in a more structured manner and prevents them from running around like crazy (which isn't permitted here, either. I am not anti-fun, but I just don't want anyone getting hurt)
They did a homemade chia pet at the library. It was FABULOUS. All you need in:
a disposable cup
a piece of construction paper already cut to go around the cup (it is kinda angled)
sequins, glitter, eyes
foam pieces cut for arms and feet
they decorate the cup as something...ours was an owl. then the librarian put dirt and some grass seeds. we took it home and watered it and within a week we had a crazy owl with spiky green hair. It was a huge hit.