9 cool birthday party ideas

Check other birthday party locations!

Every year when your child's birthday rolls around, you're faced with decisions for keeping a group of kids interested in engaged: Should you have your birthday party at home or move the whole thing off site? What options are available for an energetic crowd, beyond the usual swim or bowling party? Keep reading, because we've come up with a list of fresh birthday party ideas to get you started.

Pump It Up. You know that really active group of kids? The ones you won't let in your house at the same time? Bring 'em here. At Kirkland's Pump It Up, you go to the bouncies -- they don't come to you. Kids can jump in the play version of a padded cell to their hearts' content, accompanied by the beat of popular music. Optional birthday goody bags, pizza/soda and balloons are available for an extra cost. Parents and children under 2 attend for free and aren't included in the guest limit. 425-820-2297, www.pumpitupparty.com.

All That Dance. Older kids dig the hip hop and swing dance birthday parties offered by this dance studio in Seattle's Wedgwood neighborhood. Parents of younger children can work with instructors to set a party theme for dance, music and art activities in the studio's airy space, equipped with performance-quality floating floors. 206-524-8944, www.all-that-dance.com.

Art Studios. Kids almost universally love the chance to dive into art projects, and our region boasts plenty of small, neighborhood-based studios with distinct personalities. At Spill the Paint Art Studio in Sammamish, birthday parties include a photo for every child with the studio's resident pet goats (www.spillthepaint.com, 425-269-4703). Ceramics studio Fayezart, in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood, is located next to a charming neighborhood park where kids can play after working on a clay project (206-719-4207). At Roaring Mouse Creative Arts Studio, in Seattle, kids can play with toys and musical instruments if they tire of their projects. (206-522-1187, www.roaringmouse.org)

NuCulinary. A cooking party gives kids a chance to eat, experiment with tasty, messy ingredients and feel grown up, all at once. The West Seattle–based cooking school offers cooking birthday parties at your house, but also has access to off-site party locations in Seattle, on the Eastside, and in the South Sound. The parties, for gradeschoolers and up, can be customized according to your child's tastes and interests; popular themes include ethnic foods, English tea and baking parties. Pricing is variable, call for quotes. 206-932-3855, www.nuculinary.com.

Whirly Ball.
Guests hop into a nimble, bumper car-like vehicle and try to fling whiffle balls, using a plastic scoop, into goals on either end of the court. The three birthday party packages at this Edmonds sports complex include an hour of the game and an ice cream cake; higher-priced packages include pizza, soda and other add-ons. Pricing depends on number of guests and party day; look online for a calculator. Children must be at least 8 years old or 48" tall. 425-672-3332, www.whirlyball.net.

Imagine Children's Museum. Parents living south of Everett may not fully realize that the old Children's Museum in Snohomish County has been transformed into a spiffy new space complete with a play downtown, tree house and wildlife clinic, plus activities from PBS' long-running show for kids, "ZOOM." The bright party rooms feature a throne where the birthday kid can be king or queen for the day. 425-258-1006, www.ImagineCM.org.

Farrel-McWhirter Park.
If you have a pony-mad kid but can't imagine bringing a horse to your backyard, check out the birthday party package at this Redmond park, which includes a children's animal farm. The fee includes a party space -- indoors or at a picnic table -- plus pony rides for up to 12 kids weighing 50 lbs. and under. Farm tours (ages 2-10) and wagon rides (ages 2-10) are also available in place of the pony rides. A "birthday kit," which includes down-home activities such as a bale of hay and wooden milking cow, is included in the package. Reserve in person at the Old Redmond Schoolhouse Community Center, 16600 N.E. 80 St., 425-556-2386, www.ci.redmond.wa.us.

Renton Community Center. The center offers reasonably priced packages for kids of various ages, including the "Bounce Around Birthday" for ages 3-6, which includes one hour in the racquetball court with hula hoops, balls and an inflatable bouncy, or the "Good Sport Package," which gives kids 7 and up an hour in the gym for basketball or volleyball. Party size limit is 25 guests, and you provide all of the food and decorations. Call 425-430-6700 for reservations, or visit www.ci.renton.wa.us.

Ben & Jerry's. The ice cream emporium with the hippie vibe is also a cool place to have a birthday party. Packages include a party room, video about ice cream production, decorated ice cream cake, store tour (including a walk into the large, incredibly cold deep freezer), ice cream tasting, waffle-cone making by the birthday child and a tie-dying activity. All ages. To locate the store nearest you, visit www.benjerry.com.

Brighter Birthday Club -- Learning about Philanthropy Starts Early.

For many parents, birthday parties present a chance to wrestle with the dilemma of honoring their child's special day without spoiling them with too much stuff.

ParentMap National Account Manager Laura Glass was turned off by some of the displays of wealth she witnessed at children's birthday parties attended by her daughter Sophie. When Glass began planning Sophie's fifth birthday last December, she knew she wanted to do something different. "Sophie has her birthday, Christmas and Hannukah all in the same month," she says. Glass and husband Kevin Harris wanted to avoid turning their child into a glassy-eyed robot ripping mechanically through mounds of gifts. Most important, they wanted her to understand that their family's abundance is not the status quo for everyone.

Inspired by family friends, Glass contacted the Brighter Birthday Club, a non-profit that works with six local social service agencies to harness the power of birthday party gift-giving. Parents sign up and choose one of the agencies that will benefit; the club provides invitations that contain information about a child and a list of that child's needs. Instead of bringing a gift for the birthday child, guests are asked to bring a present to be donated to the child on their invitation. The birthday family delivers the gifts to their chosen agency after the party, and the agency distributes the gifts to the children.

Glass didn't want to force this type of party on her daughter. She was prepared to introduce the idea another year if Sophie wasn't completely on board. Sophie, however, was eager to participate. "We were waiting for some fallout because a 5-year-old has a short attention span, and we wondered how she would react when she saw...presents going somewhere else," Glass notes. There was no problem, however, because she did receive presents from her family, and she had already seen practical philanthropy modeled by her parents. The experience has increased her daughter's awareness of the world and has furthered their family's discussion about money, Glass says.

There were some negative reactions from other parents. Not everyone agrees that a child's birthday party should be used to collect gifts for charity, and some people wondered if Sophie really understood what she was doing. Sophie, however, says, "Next birthday I'll have presents just for me and the next birthday (after that) I'll do it again."

For more information visit www.brighterbirthday.com.

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