Creative Family Birthday Celebrations

Family birthday celebration for young boy

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.

One of the reasons I keep coming back to The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections is the coherence of the philosophy of keeping family close while encouraging a child’s freedom of creativity and action. Whether we call this attachment parenting or we just practice it in various forms of “don’t offer, don’t refuse,” balancing our support for each individual child’s need for connection and for independence is the challenge of parenting.

Spiraling around year after year to familiar celebrations is one of the ways we build that nurturing foundation for our children, the foundation that gives them grounding over time.

Making yourself conscious of your traditions as you build them with your young family, according to The Creative Family author Amanda Blake Soule, “can help voice or reaffirm what your family traditions are for yourself and your children, as well as help you reevaluate what you want for elements in your celebrations” (162).

I’ve been so focused on birthdays through this month (and it will continue for another week or so) that I wanted to share with you the Creative Family ideas for birthdays.

We’re all used to the ideas of a big party, presents, balloons, and cake, but here are a few ideas for some creative new ways to celebrate birthdays in your home. These ideas are centered on celebrating the child and who they are, with a little bit less focus on what they want and/or have.

She suggests:

  • a birthday garden, whether a plot or a pot;
  • love letters from parents to child, a beautiful collection over time; and
  • birthday blessings as everyone shares what they love about the birthday child, what they remember of the past year, or what they wish for the coming year

The nudge, push, and shove to celebrate in a particular way is strong, but you as a parent have all of the power to create a tradition of familiar celebrations that fit who you are and who you want to be.

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Birthday Party Themes for the Imaginative Young Child

Child pirate ready to party

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.


Kids Birthday Party Theme Ideas

For an imaginative play birthday party, set the scene and provide enough structure that the party still feels like a party. Once you show the children the direction for a game or activity, though, give them plenty of space to add their own creativity, noise, and enthusiasm.


Pirate Birthday Party

Reusable pirate party hats

Decorations. Bynature.ca carries the perfect pirate party decorations: a reusable party banner of pirate flags and reusable pirate hats. The rest of the party could include the brightest red or plainest white play silks as flags. If you have any parrot stuffed animals, they need to either go on someone’s shoulder or perch around the room. Transform the food table into a ship. Put snacks in a treasure chest, easily made from a box if you don’t have a chest handy. Use all of the blue play silks, blankets, and sheets to create a watery scene.

Reusable pirate party banner

Games & Activities. Every band of small pirates needs to go on a treasure hunt. When we had a pirate birthday party, we had both readers and non-readers, so we created both written and visual clues for the hunt. We made the hunt itself cooperative, so that all of the pirates had to reach the end together, and all of the gifts and favors were waiting at the end of the hunt. For other activities, you could have each guest take turns talking like a pirate and have everyone else try to translate what they say into English.

Food. My son had a brief obsession with pirate-themed food after we checked out The Pirate Cook Book from the library. I had to track down this out-of-print book and buy it. Jiggling juice bar icebergs, fish-shaped sandwiches, and twice-baked potato pirate boats came in handy at a couple of parties. The cake itself could be a treasure map, a ship, or chest of loot.

Favors. Our pirates took home their loot in cloth bandanas, but we also carry reusable pirate party gift bags. Appropriate loot for these bags would be gold (small cookies), jewelry (homemade), and snacks. I’m not sure Caribbean pirates looked for snacks, but I am sure your young pirates will like snacks.

Reusable goodie bags for pirate party


Dragon Themed Birthday Party

Silk dragon costume for kids

Decorations. How to decorate depends on the kind of dragons your child is interested in. Right now, my daughter is very interested in Chinese dragons. When she was small, she was more interested in the average cave-dwelling, treasure guarding dragon. Keep the party theme to one type of dragon, and create the party space as an appropriate lair. Some dragon parties might have the children fight the dragon, but I think the children will want to BE the dragon—a whole weyr (herd) of dragons.

If your child is turning 8 years old, this is a perfect time to have a dragon party. We carry a dragon number 8 for your Waldorf birthday ring.

Games & Activities. I like having one of the party activities be creating one’s own party favor. For a dragon party, a dragon puppet makes a great craft and favor. Children this age can sew, but a party is not the time for a closely supervised activity. Give each child a sock or another basic hand puppet shape. Provide pre-cut dragon scales, eyes, teeth, and other decorations along with glue. Give them general instructions, but they will have a good idea how to proceed. After they let their puppets dry as they eat or play, they can come back to the dragon puppets and all join together acting out a dragon drama. Another quick game could be Pin (or maybe Stick) the Scales on the Dragon.

Food. A dragon cake is great fun to decorate. I baked multiple round cakes and pieced them together to make a big, snaking dragon. I mounted the mouth on a large spatula to hold it open. I used gummy candy to decorate: gummy teeth for the mouth, Swedish fish for the scales, red licorice fire coming out of the mouth, and big gummy eyes staring out at all of the children. Even short of the 4-foot long monster I created, a dragon cake can be made at any scale. Even cupcakes can be made into dragon faces.

Favors. As with pirates, those who party with dragons often end up with gold, jewels, and similar loot. Maybe guests would like to take home a dragon soft toy or mask to continue the dress up and play. At my daughter’s dragon birthday party, guests had to work for their loot. We created a dragon out of a box about 4′ high and 2′ on each side. The teeth were made from egg cartons mounted on giant BBQ tongs. Children had to reach inside the dragon’s mouth to look for treasure. Sometimes they got little nips (though my husband was a very gentle dragon), but they all came away with gifts. The guests were 6 to 8 years old, and they screamed in delight at every bite.

Birthday ring dragon 8th birthday

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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.

Allergy-free Birthday Cakes

First 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.

Wheat-free Cakes. If you aren’t attached specifically to the idea of having a cake, frosted rice krispie treats have that cake feel without wheat. An ice cream or frozen yoghurt cake could also be a wheat-free treat if you aren’t also avoiding dairy.

Egg-free Cakes. If you are avoiding eggs, avoid egg substitutes unless they are egg-free. Check the label. You may need to look online for vegan cooking ingredients. If you are lucky enough to have a local vegan bakery, even better. Save yourself the time and support a local business.

Dairy-free Cakes. Some cake mixes are dairy free. If you have a favorite homemade recipe, a simple substitution of soy milk may be enough. Wacky cake is a common and much loved dairy-free and egg-free cake that uses vegetable oil for moisture and binding.


Cake Flavors

For babies who have been eating solids foods, they may already know carrots, zucchini, applesauce, and bananas. All of these make great additions to cakes. The cake will just push familiar flavors a little. Since a lot of the sweetness in these cakes comes from the fruit or vegetable, you won’t need to add so much sugar.

You may also want to avoid chocolate, peanuts, and tree nuts. Until you have introduced these foods and know that you child has no problems with them, you can easily flavor your cakes without them.


Frosting

If you are avoiding buttercream frosting, there are several ways you can create that frosting feel without adding a slab of butter and powdered sugar to your cake.

Cream cheese frosting is sweetened with powdered sugar and made loose enough to spread with milk. If you want to avoid adding sugar, try mixing yoghurt and cream cheese until it is a texture you like. You could also use whipped cream, but don’t put it on the cake too long before you serve since it can lose its firmness and soak into the cake.

Or, avoid frosting altogether. A light sprinkling of powdered sugar or fresh-cut strawberries dress up a cake.


Check with the Guests

Your child isn’t the only person you should look out for when you are making a birthday cake. Either make a note on your invitation to let you know about any food allergies or just call the guests. Sometimes it is easier to speak up about food sensitivities when it feels like a casual question. When I receive a dinner invitation, I dread the conversation when I say, “I can’t have dairy or this or that.” I often wonder if my saying that will be followed up with, “Oh, don’t bother coming, then.”

Make it easy for your guests to speak up.


Are you ready to make your cake?
Do you know what you plan to avoid in a recipe? The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network has a free allergy-free recipe database with cake after beautiful cake that you can use to introduce your baby to the joy of birthday cake.


Resources

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8 Fun and Free Places to Hold a Birthday Party

Children's party looking at horses

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.


1. Fire station

I arranged a party with a local fire company. The kids all got Jr Firefighter hats and safety lessons, though I’m sure all they really remember is crawling around the fire truck. The drawback is: if there is a fire, the party is over.


2. Local history visitors’ center

Depending on your local history, a birthday part at a local history site could include hearing from volunteers, seeing demonstrations, drawing maps, treasure hunts, or re-enactments.


3. Farmer’s market

If your farmer’s market has picnic tables and your party is small, you can join in the fun. Send the kids on a treasure hunt to find honey or fruit. If the market isn’t too busy, ask a farmer to talk to the children about what they do on their farm.


4. Farm

If you are considering talking to a farmer, how about going all of the way to the farm. Children are curious where their food comes from and they like meeting animals. They may not even realize it’s an educational trip.


5. You-pick farm

If your child has a mid- to late-summer birthday, you can look into pick-your-own farms. Raspberries are ripe around my daughter’s birthday, so we spent her first several years with friends having a picnic at a raspberry patch.


6. Park or playground

Though you could always go to a local park, it mixes things up to go to a park or playground that you don’t usually go to. The year we went to a park with a rock climbing wall, the climbing wall-shaped cake was the hit of the party.


7. Day camping

Take the kids for an outdoor adventure at a nearby campground or state park. Melissa celebrated at the lake and gave all of the kids a pail and a shovel. Be sure you have enough adults present to keep track of wanderers.


8. Your own backyard

You can’t get any cheaper than your own backyard. Your birthday party venue doesn’t have to be new to be exciting. Dress up your backyard. Draping play cloths across wash lines can create a whole new landscape to explore.

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