Birthday Party Workshops for Teens

Teen on trapeze

By the time your child is a teenager, the cute themes are over. (So, take advantage and enjoy it while they are little!) If you have used your own child’s interests to give shape to parties every year, that will make it even easier to do the same for teens.

According to my teenage daughter, birthday party themes should not come from outside—that is, YOU as the parent—but from the birthday child. You could start with a structure in mind, though, and ask your child how to fill in the details.

For a birthday party that engages teens, start with your child’s passion.


What do you love doing so much that you want to share with your friends?

Most children have spent time developing a skill in sports, in the arts, or in some other area of interest. Rather than just sharing that interest, how about helping a few of your child’s friends gain some skill.

For a teenager’s birthday party, hold a workshop, an intense day or half day when your child can share what they love to do with the people they most like to spend time with. Invite an expert to teach a class for the kids. This does add a big expense to the party budget, but you don’t need a lot of decorations or a gift bag for teens if the experience itself is the gift.


Teen Birthday Workshop Ideas

Keeping in mind that only your child knows the best theme for a birthday party workshop, these are a few of the ideas my children and I have come up with.

Dance Workshop
My daughter is an aerial dancer. She climbs silks and spins on the trapeze. She has taken several friends to classes with her, and she has made friends with other young dancers, but she wants more of her friends to have the experience of flying through the air on silk. One of the ideas she is considering for her upcoming birthday is an aerial dance workshop taught by once of her teachers, a professional who has danced with Cirque du Soleil and other circuses.

Martial Arts Workshop
My son is a kung fu junior instructor. Like my daughter, he has occasionally encouraged friends to join him for a class or an event, but he would like to share with them what has kept him coming back year after year. One of his kung fu teachers is also a pro skateboarder who has infected my son and many others with parkour, or freerunning. I think my son wants all of his friends to learn how to jump over huge obstacles so they can spend their days running and jumping.

Music Workshop
My nephew has been in bands since he was 10 years old. He went through School of Rock and many garage bands as well as a local program that teaches teens technical support skills beyond the microphone. One of our neighbors has a small recording studio in his basement. These two ideas come together in my mind as a day for friends to learn some music and recording basics and create a song of their own. It may not be a masterpiece (or maybe it will be), but isn’t a recording of oneself better than any goodie bag?

Cooking Workshop
Like it or not, your children will have to learn to feed themselves soon. They will go with the cheapest, easiest choices unless they have clear reasons to give serious thought to food. My niece is now in culinary school. She has been the designated cook among her friends since she was a young teen. I put this together with the idea of teen cooking demonstrations that Jamie Oliver gave during his television program Food Revolution. How about a child who loves to cook teaching her friends about low-impact, healthy food choices.

Start a brainstorm with your teen about what he or she loves and wants to share. Ask who you know that could help and what resources you can find in your town. Ask your child to take the lead in deciding how best to celebrate his or her birthday.


Happy Family Holiday

In my family, all birthdays are family holidays. We give our focus to the birthday person and do our best to make dreams come true for a day. As parents, our role changes as our children grow older and take on more responsibility. Like most aspects of attachment parenting, our job is to be the support and guidance when they need it—and to step back to admire their independence when they don’t. A birthday party for a child or any age should follow their lead.


More birthday party ideas

My Daughter’s Eco Super Hero Birthday Party

Gaia Girls Logo

On my daughter’s 11th birthday, she and her friends celebrated girl eco-super heroes. My daughter had a Gaia Girls themed birthday party.

Gaia Girls is a girls adventure series in which four girls are each approached by Gaia, the living organism of the earth in the form of an otter, to help her. Each of the girls has power over one of the elements: air, fire, water, or earth. Gaia, as an otter, asks each girl to help her by using the elemental power she has.

In the first book, Enter the Earth, Elizabeth uses the power of Earth to fight CAFOs (confined or concentrated animal feeding operations) that threaten her town in upstate New York. In the second book, Way of Water, Miho uses the power of Air to fight the Japanese dolphin hunt. The rest of the books are not yet published. The third book, Air Apparent, uses the power of air; the fourth book uses the power of fire; and the last three books see the four girls come together to use the powers of all four elements.


How the Party Developed

My daughter was young when the first book was published, but we read it several times. When she heard that author Lee Welles was going to speak at a green festival we were attending, she sat for hours hugging her book, waiting in the children’s area, before it was announced that Ms. Welles had not been able to make it. My daughter was so disappointed.

Half a year or so later, I happened to be in a booth next to Lee Welles at another green festival. I bought her new book, had her sign it to my daughter, and told her about my daughter so patiently waiting to meet her. She was so moved by the story, that she asked how she could make it up to her. Since we were next to one another for most of a weekend, we kept talking and together we hatched a scheme to have her call my daughter on her birthday to talk about Gaia Girls.


How We Created the Gaia Girls Party

My daughter invited five girlfriends to her party. Each invitation was tucked into a copy of Gaia Girls: Enter the Earth (book one). Most of the girls read the book before the party.

We decorated with colorful fabric scraps tied to our trees. My husband is the family creator of treasure hunts. Since all of the girls were strong readers, he made the clues fairly difficult riddles, leading the girls around our neighborhood, which is surrounded by open space and a lot of trees. The final clue led to a group of otters swimming up a blue playsilk river—a large otter hand puppet as mother with enough baby otter finger puppets for each guest.

The cake was a simple round cake decorated with the Gaia Girls logo. Each girl also decorated a donut as we talked about the elements in the logo.

As the highlight of the party, the girls talked on the phone with Lee Welles, asking her questions about Gaia Girls and about writing.

My daughter and her guests knew that they were going to be talking to the author, but they didn’t know that she had sent my daughter a gift: a chapter from the as-yet unpublished Air Apparent, her next book. Keeping in mind that these were 11-year old girls, there was a lot of happy screaming.


The Logistics

All we bought for the party were books, puppets, donuts, and food to make lunch. I made and decorated the cake, and we used my fabric scraps as colorful decorations outside. We created and printed invitations and treasure hunt clues. We used the left-over colored cake frosting to decorate donuts. The party was simple and focused, but the girls had a lot of time to just run around our house to talk and play. It was a good balance of structured and open time.

It probably isn’t practical to plan a party around an author’s call unless you happen into a lucky situation like I did. This is a great age to plan a party around a favorite book, though. My son is a reader of the Percy Jackson series, and he attended a party around that theme. Any favorite book might suggest a birthday party theme.


Gaia Girls

The seven-book series is still two books long because author Lee Welles is busy being the Deputy Mayor of Corning, New York, at the moment. My daughter feels attached to the element of fire, so she is anxiously awaiting the publication of book three so she can then anxiously await the publication of book four about fire.

That my daughter was able to share an earth-friendly theme with her friends—they talked about what it means to raise animals in CAFOs—led to further conversations about how each of them could take steps to green their lives. It’s a simple step, but it’s a step. Every step is good.

The Gaia Girls blog is updated frequently and is still a good place for any older child to begin to make connections between the beauty of the earth around them and the need to act to protect the natural world.

Older Children Provide Their Own Birthday Party Ideas

Kids climbing a rock wall

As children get older, between 9 and 12 years old, I have found they want birthday parties about their interests, whether those interests are friends or activities. You may not need to think through a focused birthday party theme or a predictable structure like you did when your children were younger.

“Every year, you want a themed party less and less. It’s less important to you. I just want to spend time with my friends and family. I don’t need a huge party to be happy with my birthday. There used to be a lot more party guests, but now I only want to invite the people who are my best friends and my family.” My 13-year old daughter

This is also the age when my children started asking for parties with just girls or boys. Segregated parties. I didn’t think it would happen, but this is the calm before the storm when teen parties most definitely have boys and girls.

Each phase in childhood, each age range, requires a different approach. Each child may require a different approach as well. Last year, all my son wanted for his birthday was to play mini golf with my husband and a couple of friends. It was a boys afternoon out, and they had a great time. The family always has a separate meal and party from the friend party, so my daughter and I didn’t mind at all.

“I like having a big cake. Mama makes great cakes. Even if the birthday party isn’t themed, you can have the cake themed.” My 10-year old son

“I used to think that every birthday party needed a cake, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be a cake. For the past few birthdays I’ve had key lime pie, and I’m really happy with it.” My 13-year old daughter

Don’t worry too much as the parent that you have to come up with ideas for your child’s party. Gradually encourage your child to step up into more responsibility for the ideas, the planning, and the party itself. Brainstorm with your child what their ideal day would be. See how you can plan a party to help them make their birthday wish come true.


“Oh, it’s so cold. Why is my birthday always so cold? I want to be outside with my friends.”

How about a beach party for a winter birthday. Invite guests to dress for summer under their winter coats and play what beach games you can indoors. Wear sunglasses. Serve picnic foods. Play summer songs. Create a whole atmosphere of summer fun to take them out of the cold winter temporarily.


“I want to climb a mountain!”

If you have a mountain to climb, go on a birthday hike. If you don’t have a nearby mountain, go rock climbing indoors. My local recreation center has a rock climbing wall. I reserved it for an hour and sent a dozen kids scaling up and down the wall. When they were tired and hungry, I fed them lunch and birthday cake shaped like a climbing wall with multi-colored hand holds. It was a simple, active party.


“I want to spend all day with my friends.”

A sleepover can be one long birthday party. This is the age when my children were first willing to sleep over at friends’ houses. A sleepover birthday party could turn into backyard camping with a campfire dinner, a dance party, and scary stories with flashlights. They may not need much structure, but it helps to have a few planned activities spaced out through the evening. In the morning, have everyone join in to cook their own breakfast before going home. They end up spending a good chunk of a day together.


Tips from My Children

  • The birthday cake doesn’t have to be a cake.
  • A birthday party doesn’t have to have a theme.
  • Party favors can be one big thing instead of many little things.
  • Parents should come to the party.
  • Ask your children what they want rather than suggesting a theme.
  • Make sure that they really want the flavor of cake before you make it.
  • Encourage them not to just settle for whatever you want.

On Friday, I look forward to telling you all about my daughter’s favorite birthday party ever for her 11th birthday. I will tell you that she wanted to be an eco-super hero, but you’ll have to come back to read the rest.

Image © Michalakis Ppalis | Dreamstime.com

Party Hats

Reusable chidren's party hats

Where the tradition of party hats comes from isn’t exactly clear.

During Roman Saturnalia, cheeky slaves wore freedmen’s hats, pointy hats made of red felt, as a reversal of social position. This type of hat became a symbol of liberty that evolved to become the more commonly worn Phrygian hat (think of a floppy red Santa cap). This type of pointy cap spread far and wide as a “liberty cap,” a revolutionary icon during the past two hundred years or so.

As a party hat, though, the turnabout hat-wearing tradition of Saturnalia and the paper crowns that we pop out of Christmas crackers seem closer to the celebratory hat wearing of birthday parties.

Hats can be practical, as in keeping one’s head warm, or they can be symbolic, often sending a social message through their shape or color. Wearing a birthday hat, in addition to the joy of dress up, sets the birthday girl or boy apart, showing that this hat wearer is the special person at this party.

Now, it’s common for all guests to wear party hats at birthdays, New Year, and Christmas. Everyone steps out of the ordinary into the special space a party creates for all.


Make Your Own Party Hats

You can buy adorable, reusable party hats made of felt, our you can make your own reusable hats. Many families have a collection of reusable hats for parties.

For a very simple party hat pattern, see Martha Stewart’s Party Hats. A plate becomes the pattern for a hat that takes just minutes to make. Rather than making your hats out of paper, you can use a couple of layers of wool felt or any stiffened fabric, sewing the overlapping edge. Add ribbon ties or a piece of elastic from ear to ear, and you have a reusable birthday party hat.

Waldorf Birthday Rings

Waldorf birthday ring

I adore Waldorf birthday rings. They create a beautiful family ritual that spirals back around each year as you focus on your birthday child.

We have an older birthday ring in my house. After seeing all of the new birthday ring accessories at bynature.ca, I’m wondering if I can get away with connecting a couple of rings (well, several) to make a new decoration for my next birthday.


How Does a Birthday Ring Work?

Natural wooden birthday ring

The base of a birthday ring is a simple circle of wood with 12 (or 16) holes.

For your baby’s 1st birthday, put a candle in one hole and with numbers or figures in the other holes. Each year, add another candle. You can continue to use the figures you started out with, or you can add a new figure each year to represent your child’s growth or current interests.

Some families use the rings for other holidays or as a centerpiece for special dinners as well. Build up a collection of figures over time for a meaningful family traditional you can all share.


To Start a Birthday Ring Family Tradition

1st birthday ring

Start with at least three pieces: the ring (the base), one candle holder, one candle, and a figure representing your child. You don’t need 11 figures to start, though you may not be able to resist 11 gorgeous figures. You may want to buy a set of birthday numbers or start with a character number. We also have basic ring decorations, character figures, animal figures, and garden figures.

All of the pieces of the Waldorf birthday ring are part of our Green Celebrations collection. See them all on our Facebook page.