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

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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.

Image © Wavebreakmedia Ltd | Dreamstime.com

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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.

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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.

Child pirate ready to party

Pirate Birthday Party

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.

Dragon Themed Birthday Party

Reusable goodie bags for pirate 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

Image © Showface | Dreamstime.com

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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, 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.

Natural wooden birthday ring

How Does a Birthday Ring Work?

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.

1st birthday ring

To Start a Birthday Ring Family Tradition

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.

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