WHY I DONT’T DO BIRTHDAY PARTIES, AND 21 IDEAS FOR FUN NON-PARTY FAMILY ACTIVITIES.
Ditch the décor and invitations: family parties, activities, and adventures.
Do you have those brilliant friends who plan and execute fabulous birthday parties? They have themed food, themed décor, themed games, themed drinks, themed activities for both the kids and the adults at the party. They are SO much fun, and I sometimes wish that I had half the talent that those friends have.
Now, Pinterest and the internet have made it so tempting and sometimes so easy to plan chic themed kid’s birthday parties. Simply google “daisy birthday party,” “superhero birthday,” “insert-favorite-movie/tv show/book/car birthday party” and you will be bombarded with printables, DIY crafts, a menu, themed plates, napkins, silverware, and games.
Then, the real work begins. You have to invite the family; you cook the food; you wonder who will actually show and whether you need to ask the local health department whether you need advance approval; you set up the food; you serve the food; you entertain the guests; you play the games, and you clean up the food/tables/chairs/décor/games. All the while your little(s) has a fabulous time, your guests have a fabulous time, and YOU miss the special day.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for a crown or anything, but I am the one who carried, birthed, nursed, and raised the child. I (and my husband, for clarification) do the laundry, cook the meals, and keep a roof over his head. Shouldn’t I, at the least, get to spend some quality time with my beloved child on his or her special day?
What did we do?
I never want to Grinch away my kids’ birthdays, but selfishly, I want to spend that special day with my own child. Our family wants to create special memories, special experiences, and special connections on the birthday. I want to involve family, friends, and favorite interests, but I don’t really love the idea of having to spend weeks in advance cutting out crafts, organizing favors, and curating a menu.
Honestly, I really do love to host; I really love to party, but I love my kids more. In fact, I have even planned the extra special birthday parties. Our family did a bounce house/puppy/flower party for my daughter’s first birthday. I orchestrated a farm-themed, overall wearing, tractor and barnyard snacks, animal cupcake birthday for my son. And, finally, I organized an elevated first birthday brunch party for my other son complete with charcuterie, a bagel board, hot chocolate, and novel décor. The parties were great. The kids and guests had a blast and that was the end of birthday parties for me (at least for now!).
WE DITCHED THE BIRTHDAY PARTIES
My husband and I decided long ago that we would have first birthday parties but after that, with limited exception, we would have small birthday parties and a big birthday family activity: non-parties. We ditched the party and aren’t looking back! Our kids have been able to experience all sorts of things. We encourage them to find interests to explore. Thus, we give them a say in what we do or where we go in celebration of their birthdays.
Now, they get to choose the food or restaurant, choose the family activity or entertainment (with parent veto power of course), and even usually get to pick out an additional birthday souvenir. They are some of our very favorite days as a family.
So, maybe you are like me and want to have a special celebration but do not necessarily want to order the themed invites and start an email chain. Or, maybe you are having to celebrate birthdays differently this year due to social distancing. If you are looking for some birthday inspiration, here are 21 family activities for a non-party birthday for your kids.
21 NON-PARTY BIRTHDAY FAMILY ACTIVITIES
- The Zoo! So far, the family activity that my children have chosen the most is the zoo. They have been to multiple zoos across the country. My youngest chose to go to Christmas at the Zoo at the Indianapolis Zoo for his birthday celebration this year. We had a great time and have season passes as we look forward to more visits. If you live in Indiana and have littles, you just can’t beat The Fort Wayne Zoo. Although it is not nearly as large as the Indianapolis Zoo, it is not nearly as large as the Indianapolis Zoo. In other words, it is much easier to navigate for little legs. The paths are wide and stroller friendly. The animals are close and non-threatening, and their carry-in snack policy is generous. Due to Covid we missed so much time at the Fort Wayne Zoo in 2020 and hope to get back soon.
- An Aquarium. Ok, this may sound just like the zoo, but it isn’t. This is CLIMATE CONTROLLED! Great for winter or summer, the aquarium is a great way to spend the day with kids. Newport Aquarium has a traveling display if you do not want to travel and want to see what local library or museum has a visiting exhibit. The Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg even has an indoor playground! We had to have walked the shark moving walkway at Ripley’s in Gatlinburg at least 3 times!
- A Trampoline Park. Unfortunately, so many of these locations are dropping like flies in the midst of the Covid pandemic. We actually tried to take our littles to a trampoline park recently for a holiday party, but the location actually closed between the time we first discussed the party and the time that we finally tried to book tickets. A trampoline park is great fun for kiddos and parents alike. It is the only public place I have ever been that encourages parents to throw balls at their kids, albeit dodge balls. They have ninja warrior style courses, swings, trampolines, games, and even special toddler sections for your littlest littles. Finally, most trampoline parks offer generous birthday party packages. So, if you still want to have the party but you do not want to do the cooking or the cleaning, let the birthday coordinators do the work and buy/serve/organize the pizza. You might even find this family activity to be more budget and emotionally friendly!
- Horseback riding. My daughter loved this, and the boys ended up loving it too! If you have littles, book a pony riding session and picnic at a place like Koteewi Park’s K-Trails. If you have bigger littles, then book a full trail ride as your family activity. We even found horse farms in our area that do private barn tours and will let you take your kids’ pictures with a horse dressed as a unicorn! My daughter found this to be magical!
- Hiking. Another of our favorite family activites is out on a trail. Obviously, we do not tackle any brutal summits, but we regularly spend an entire day out on a trail meandering through nature up and down hills and across streams and rivers. This is a budget friendly non-party and requires little to no planning. As long as you are not going on a peak day, you do not even need a reservation. Watch the calendars, and many parks will let you in free! Fill up on a big breakfast before you go, stop for a fun dinner, and the kids will all be happily snoozing before you even make it home! Hiking with kids? Click here.
DINNER AND A MOVIE
- Dinner and a movie. My kids do not have the luxury of going to many movies. The movies are often too expensive, set at a difficult time (i.e. naptime or bedtime), difficult to take our littlest, or simply inappropriate for our littles. But…from time to time, we splurge, we stay up late, we wrestle the kids for bathroom breaks down a crowded aisle for just the right movie. If my kids know that there is a special movie coming out, they might opt for the movie and a special dinner out for their birthday party.
TAKE A BAKING CLASS TOGETHER
- Baking class. Do you have a child who loves to play in the kitchen? Who enjoys getting his or her hands into a bowl of dough, trying new flavors, or experimenting with new kitchen tools? Did you know that you can book your child and even your family a cooking class? Sprouts Cooking School in Carmel, Indiana is fabulous and uber-popular with kids and adults alike. They even have a cooking camp. Check for kids and family cooking classes near you! I can’t wait to take one of my littles.
PAINT YOUR OWN POTTERY
- Pottery painting. Maybe your child isn’t into baking but loves to create. It seems that every mini mall, shopping center, and downtown strip now has a paint-your-own pottery store. The beauty of this family activity is that the mess is in someone else’s “house” and someone else tells your child not to eat the paint too. Oh wait. Is that just my child? I hope not. My children have been able to make some interesting creations, but they have always had a blast. The artwork that they complete with grandparents has been a terrific bonding experience and memory between them.
- Interactive dinner. Do your kids love juggling shrimp? Do your kids love cooking in hot oil? Take them to an interactive dinner. They can pick their own ingredients, watch how it is prepared, laugh a little with others, and hopefully walk away trying something new and different. Hibachi grills, pizza by design, and fondue restaurants are great fun family activities!
- Game night. So many great adult board games have been modified for children. So many board games for children are fun for adults. If you want to socially distance, pick a stack of special board games and plan to spend the day or evening sliding down chutes, yelling “uno”, or sequencing random animals or shapes! Bonus: This non-party family activity not only is fun and cheap but educational too. Strategy and good sportsmanship are great skills for your children.
- Special dinner at home. If your child has an extra special favorite food, plan a special dinner at home. Include a crown for the birthday boy or girl, a couple of balloons and streamers, and festive lighting will make your birthday baby feel so special. Looking for some budget meal ideas? Check here.
- Dinner and a show. Dinner theaters are so much fun! The informal environment makes them suitable for young children (probably over 2) assuming the content is also suitable for children. Kids do not have a lot of opportunity to be exposed to live actors, so this is a great way to start instilling a love of art and theater in your kiddos.
EXOTIC ANIMAL SHOW
- Traveling exotic animal show. Do you know that the zoo can come to you or your special location? We have been able to have an animal show at a friend’s hayride and even at our community pool. These animal handlers are great at dealing with young children, keep the dialogue moving and engaging, while also teaching your littles about conservation, animal protection, and respect for animal habitats. Send one to your child’s school for a party or invite one to your home, church, or local event. (Hedgehog Hannah and Silly Safaris are our favorites right now!)
- Traveling petting zoo. Maybe pythons, alligators, and tarantulas aren’t your style. Maybe your family activity style is more along the lines of pigs, ponies, and baby goats. Call a local traveling petting zoo for pony rides at your own home or goat feeding in your backyard. Call them to your community fair, block party, or school event for a double whammy: birthday party and philanthropic donation!
- Children’s Museum. Do your kids love building floating vehicles, climbing strange contraptions, experimenting with electricity and water? Book a day at your local children’s museum. Your kids will love exploring the exhibits, trying new experiments, and even climbing on the interactive exhibits. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is now the largest children’s museum in the WORLD! I guarantee that you won’t have the stamina to fully experience every exhibit in a single day with your littles. So, this is another great opportunity for your child to receive a season pass for a year full of visits. Birthday party and gift in one! Plus, if you have toddlers or younger, many of the exhibits will not be geared to them, and Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has a special locked play space where children are not able to leave a designated exhibit room without the same adult who brought them. Safe, fun, and family friendly!
- Pool party. Don’t worry about sending the invitations or organizing the games. Just pack the kids’ swim gear and some snacks into the pool bag for the day and head to your local community pool, YMCA, or country club. Again, the kids will be happy and asleep before you even make it back home! Fun family activity for everyone!
BAKE A SPECIAL CAKE
- Bake a cake. Your initial reaction might be “well duh,” but bear with me. One of our favorite birthday traditions is the “cake.” For my husband we always make a non-cake like scones, cheesecake, or cookies. My daughter loves online cake and cookie decorating, so we attempt some great work of cake art. My son has requested ice cream cakes, Spider-Man cakes, and pie. Making a cake or a new dessert has been a great family bonding experience that has generally resulted in a lot of laughs! Or, if you are more adventurous, make cupcakes or cookies, set out sprinkles, icing, and other toppings, and let the kids design their own birthday dessert! Food, game, and craft in one!
- Build a fort. Let the house be messy for one day! Get out all the blankets, bring home the big boxes from work, and pull all the chairs and couches out. Build an elaborate system of forts, bridges, tunnels, and hideaways. Spend hours configuring, reconfiguring, playing hide-and-seek, and crashing forts. If you are more ambitious, look up plans for box fort building and design a house, a castle, or a jungle!
- Camp out. Pitch a tent, start a fire, and roast s’mores. When the sun sets, pin a white sheet to the side of the house and project a movie. The kids can watch from the tent until they fall asleep. I will leave it up to you to determine whether you sleep out there too! Bonus points if you haul your mattress outside!
FRESH FRUIT PICKING
- Go fruit picking. I defy you to prove you have a pickier eater than me! But, I love fresh produce, I love fresh raspberries from my grandparent’s garden, I love fresh sweet corn from the farm stand near us, I love blueberries from the local farm, and I love apples from our local orchard. If one of your littles has a favorite fruit or veggie too, then plan a trip to your local u-pick farm. Many orchards and u-pick farms cater to a day’s outing with kids. Playgrounds, fresh goodies, bakeries, swings, mazes, petting zoos, and yes, fruit and veggies. Spend the day with your kids talking about apple varieties, tasting the different flavors of grapes, or even sampling every kind of pie the bakery sells. The birthday boy or girl can determine where you go depending on what is in season!
- Visit a new town. Take a daycation in the name of the birthday boy (or girl!). Tons of options are available to you within 1-3 hours. Travel to a local historical site that the child is studying in school, visit a town rich in architectural diversity, or wander through a quaint suburban donut trail. Spend the day in the car talking about the things you see, new things that you learn, and trying new foods.
OTHER FAMILY ACTIVITY IDEAS?
Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE celebrating my kids birthday. I just don’t love planning the birthday party, and we have chosen that birthdays are important intimate family events centered around the interests and development of our children. Our birthday days are always fun for everyone, and if you are looking for ideas for your own non-party, I hope that these help!
If you decide to ditch the party and choose one of these family building fun events instead, let me know!