Kids Birthday Parties

Kids birthday party with roses

Summer birthdays for kids can be so fun. We make an effort to keep the parties green, focusing on nature and the experience rather than the stuff. These are a few of the articles we’ve posted on eco birthdays and giving. We hope these help you plan a great birthday party for your little one.

Most of the posts on EcoBabySteps are written by NatureMom (Tamara, who owns bynature.ca) and AttachedMama (Lori, who writes EcoBabySteps). Both of us are figuring out the issues we write about. Both of us have had to find a balance between our desire to celebrate our children’s birthdays in a big way with a preference for natural and eco-friendly celebrations. Meaning, we had to find ways around the waste without birthday parties feeling like lectures in environmentalism.

These are two stories of actual parties each of us created for one of our children. Maybe seeing what we did will help you come up with ideas that fit your child and your family.

Our Eco Birthday Party
Eco birthday party table

When Nature Mom threw a birthday party for her daughter, she worked to lower impact for every aspect of the party. Here she shares the story of what she did and how she did it.

My Daughter’s Eco Super Hero Birthday Party
Gaia Girls elemental circle

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. The author joined us by phone, and the girls at the party were treated to a chapter in one of the unpublished books in the series. This is the story of how I made that happen.

Planning the Party

Start with a plan. Will you invite friends or keep birthdays a family celebration. There is no wrong answer. We’ve done both.

Once my kids could talk (starting with the 2nd birthdays), I asked them what they wanted. I built themes around a buffalo, alligators, a little stone cottage, rock climbing, trains, and a lot of other ideas. Each of these became a homemade cake, and the party grew from that core idea.

Here are a few ideas we have posted on themes and core ideas for children’s birthday parties.

Creative Family Birthday Celebrations
Family birthday celebration

Holidays and birthdays are opportunities to celebrate the familiar—the family-ar, as in, those ideas and those people who are so close to us that they are part of our intimate circle. For a lot of us who are focused on attachment parenting, those intimate family relationships are the core of our motivation for all of these choices. We are creating our children’s reality. We are setting a pattern for what our children will celebrate as familiar.

8 Fun and Free Places to Hold a Birthday Party
Kids meeting a horse

Cut down on children’s birthday party expenses by finding a place to hold that party that doesn’t charge an entrance or event fee. New places may suggest fun themes and activities beyond the usual party games. Even if you do the usual games and cake, going to a new and exciting place can be an adventure that makes the party memorable.

1st Birthday Themes for Babies
Baby's first birthday

Babies have a lot going on around the time of their first birthdays. Many speak their first words and take their first steps near their birthdays. They are busy! A birthday party will be a new experience. Frankly, first birthday parties are more ABOUT the baby than for the baby. To have the best chance that your baby will actually enjoy the party, keep it short and simple.

Toddler Birthday Party Ideas
Toddler birthday party

Toddlers are ready to have a good time. Even those children who would rather sit on their mothers’ laps during a party will often have a good time observing the fun from that safe spot. The secret to a successful birthday party for toddlers is flexibility. Have a plan B and plan C to accommodate the ever changing moods of your little guests.

Birthday Party Themes for the Imaginative Young Child
Child pirate

Between the ages of 5 and 8 years old, children are immersed in imaginative play. They love dress up, and they don’t look for direction from adults in creating their characters. A birthday party for young children should take full advantage of this phase. Give the children plenty of chance to be the characters, to tell the story, and to make up the party as they go.

Older Children Provide Their Own Birthday Party Ideas
Children rock climbing 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.

Birthday Party Workshops for Teens
Teen doing aerial dance

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

Birthday Gifts

Do your kids anticipate birthday gifts? I start hearing plans and requests for birthday gifts at least 6 months in advance. We tend to save big gifts, like a bike or skates or a musical instrument, for holidays. This year my teenage son wanted a suit! As long as I listen closely, I can usually find a way to give them something they hoped for as well as adding a twist that surprises and delights them.

We try to de-emphasize stuff, though. The biggest gift in our family is for everyone to take the day off of work or school or any other obligations and do what the birthday person wants to do. This often involves movies and ice cream, but sometimes we go for day trips and hikes. Whatever they request, we do our best to make it happen. Birthdays are dreams-come-true days for us.

Reusable Gift Wrap
Reusable birthday gift wrap

We my family started showing up at holidays and birthdays with gifts in cloth bags, it didn’t take long to convince our extended family that this was a great idea. This is a holiday post, but I find it relevant for birthdays as well. This is how we manage not to use only reusable wrapping for gifts.

10 Ways to Give without Stuff
Teen knitting wool scarves

This is another holiday post, but I thought you might find the giving ideas helpful for birthdays. I interviewed my daughter for the post, as I do for a lot of posts. These ideas were based on her ideas and our brainstorms.

My Rules of the Eco-friendly Loot Bag
Girl with a birthday party bag

Has your child ever come home from a birthday party with a bag of candy and throwaway plastic toys? Is there really anyone who can say “No!” to that? I’ve even seen myself give out party gifts that make me groan and feel more determined than ever to improve the loot bag with each passing year. Every time I throw a children’s party, I manage to get a little closer to the ideal of a low-impact loot bag. These are my evolving rules of the eco-friendly kids’ party bag.

Allergy-free Birthday Cakes
Baby with a birthday cake

For both of my children, their first birthday cakes were their first solid foods. That means all at once they covered their faces with milk, eggs, wheat, and other potential food allergens. A lot of us take the chance that our baby won’t have a reaction or sensitivity to birthday cake even if we are careful introducing new foods slowly otherwise. If you are introducing your baby to new foods at a birthday party, at least simplify the birthday cake recipe to reduce the number of potential food allergens.

Reusable Birthday Party Supplies

Parties can generate a lot of garbage. If you want to avoid that, you can move toward reusable supplies like cups and plates as well as decorations like garlands and hats.

You will find a lot of reusable party supplies in the bynature.ca store in our Green Celebrations department: candles, decorations, games, and a few great gifts for a green loot bag.

Waldorf Birthday Rings
Wooden birthday ring

Have you seen Waldorf birthday rings and wondered how they work? I explain this beautiful family tradition to help you get started. Then, year after year you will spiral back around as you focus on your birthday child.

Party Hats
Reusable birthday party hat

Where did the tradition of party hats come from? I did a little research.

Happy birthday to all the children of summer! Drop in to bynature.ca and ask how we can help you green your birthday parties this year.

Image ©  | Dreamstime.com

A Month of Green Birthdays

Girls playing with silk streamers

Just like you, I try to lower the environmental impact of my family, including our celebrations. I’ve been so excited about all of the reusable birthday party supplies in the Green Celebrations department of bynature.ca that I spent a whole month writing about it. March (and a bit of April) has been a month of birthdays.


Birthday Party Themes

The first step in planning a birthday party is the theme. It is the structure that we use to hold it all together. My advice through every age is to work with your child’s specific interests and build on those to make a fun party for all.

Baby birthday party
For 1-year olds – 1st Birthday Themes for Babies

Toddler at his birthday party
For 2- to 4-year olds – Toddler Birthday Party Ideas

Young boy dressed as a pirate
For 4- to 8-year olds – Birthday Party Themes for the Imaginative Young Child

Children on rock climbing wall
For 8- to 12-year olds – Older Children Provide Their Own Birthday Party Ideas

Teenager on trapeze
For teens – Birthday Party Workshops for Teens


Very Cool Products from bynature.ca

We have a lot of great party supplies and birthday decorations at bynature.ca. I highlighted a few and told a bit of the history beyond the traditions. I thought I would cover a lot more about birthday traditions, but it turns out that many of those party traditions we have all participated in since we were children ourselves aren’t quite as interesting as I had hoped. Believe me, you should be relieved that I didn’t end up writing about birthday candles.

Waldorf birthday ring
Waldorf Birthday Rings

Reusable birthday party hat for children
Party Hats


Stories of Real Birthday Parties

Nature Mom and I have both made our own efforts to lower our party impact. Our success has generally come in raising our children with expectations about celebration more than about stuff. We make their days special with what we do not in what everyone gets (then quickly throws away).

Eco birthday party table
Our Eco Birthday Party by Nature Mom

Gaia Girls Logo
My Daughter’s Eco Super Hero Birthday Party


Eco Birthday Baby Steps

Don’t worry about creating the perfect party. Take the steps you are ready to take, and catch another step for the next party. Taking Eco Baby Steps isn’t about perfection. It’s about the constant process of raising your own and your family’s awareness of how you live.

Child with party favor goodie bag
My Rules of the Eco-friendly Loot Bag

Children petting horses
8 Fun and Free Places to Hold a Birthday Party

Eating first birthday cake
Allergy-free Birthday Cakes

Family birthday with cake
Creative Family Birthday Celebrations

See original posts for image credits.

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