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Great party ideas from ParentMap staff and readers

Published on: June 18, 2008

Everyone knows at least one of them. You know the type – fantastically creative, thoroughly organized, and mysteriously thrilled at the first sight of a piñata. They are the Party Mavens, and we have a couple on our staff who make Martha look so…so 10 years ago! Here then are some of their best-ever parties, top tips and inside scoops on how to have the most fantastic party on a budget. We’re hoping you’ll find at least one gem here to make your next party an even bigger success!

Construction party — for cheap!

I’m all about birthday parties on a budget, so “free” works really well, in my opinion. Did you know that you can have Home Depot lead a fun little building project just for your little party group? It provides a small wooden craft (we chose a truck that had holes in which to hold crayons) and the kids all get to use (real!) hammers to put the project together. There you have it: a project and a party favor in one! For free! Home Depot even gave each of the kids a free little tool belt, so after we went back to our house for birthday cake, our second craft project was using puffy paints and fabric markers to personalize the tool belts.

I bought my son a cool new big Tonka truck and used that to haul the birthday cake. I baked chocolate cupcakes and threw them in the bed of the truck so it looked like a pile of dirt. When it was time for the cake, I hid around a corner and pushed the truck so that it rolled into the room as people sang “Happy Birthday” to him.

Lego party

Make it Lego-cool from the very beginning by giving out actual Lego birthday invites! I printed off the details for our birthday party on plain white address labels and simply stuck those to the sides of some Lego mega blocks. Voilà, our invitation! I put those in cute see-through bags and handed them out.

Kick it up a notch by including little Lego block chocolates in the gift bags! I stopped in at the oh-so-cool Lego store at Bellevue Square, and its sales staff was kind enough to give me a bunch of Lego bags to use as party bags. While there I bought a Lego block ice-cube tray, which I used to make little chocolates in the primary Lego colors of the invites.

For a quick and easy little birthday party game, we played “Guess how many Lego pieces there are.” I put a bunch of different-sized pieces in a see-through container and passed it around. The guesses were pretty funny; they ranged from 12 to 2,000! Of course, the kid who guesses the closest gets a Lego prize.

A “High-School Musical” party

You know how Miss Darbis confiscates the students’ cell phones? Well, we went on a treasure hunt to get those phones back! After we found a bin full of pretend phones (color-copied on card stock photo paper) at the end of the treasure hunt, we decorated them with High School Musical stickers and lots o’ bling. The kids loved personalizing their paper phones and pretending to talk to each other about how totally hot Troy is.

Cynthia Tannis, ParentMap’s events coordinator

Creative low-cost parties

One of my friends had her son request a “get messy” party for his birthday, so they put a plastic tarp outside and had a huge food fight! My daughter wanted a “Japanese/Spanish” birthday party one year, so a dear friend who rivals Martha Stewart provided food from each culture; guests enjoyed cracking open a pink unicorn piñata; and our craft was origami. Last year’s birthday party theme for my daughter was “Secret Agent.” Her guests received personalized “secret-agent identification cards” and enjoyed getting fingerprinted and running through the house in teams, using clues to find their gift bags.

Other low-cost themes could be as simple as a giant bubble birthday party for toddlers using giant bubble wands from Bothell-based Majic Bubble Wand. Elementary-age kids could enjoy an afternoon of painting, ending with their own art show, or have a “Lego Olympics,” with prizes for the tallest and coolest creations. Tween and teens enjoy sharing their culinary skills with each other, so try a pizza party with pizza dough and toppings from Trader Joe’s.

Scarves from Value Village or Goodwill can make fantastic gift wrap, and kids love playing with them afterwards. Those beautiful pieces of cloth quickly become doll tents or blankets for a child’s favorite bear. Kids also love to get their birthday gift in a used basket. For larger gifts, try decorating and “recycling” a bag or box that something else came in. Or wrap a birthday gift using the Sunday comics. Tie your gifts with beautiful yarn instead of ribbon and you’ll be giving one more thing the birthday child will enjoy playing with for days afterwards, instead of tossing it away.

Contributing writer Kathleen F. Miller

Eco-friendly party ideas

Here are some suggestions for “going green” at your next party:

• Use construction paper or other paper you have around the house to make invitations and involve the birthday child in the process.

• Make or buy cloth bags to use as goodie bags for the party-goers. Include pencils, jigsaw puzzles, coloring books and new crayons, a CD you burned with your kid’s favorite songs on it or a video rental gift card in the bags.

• Instead of going to the local pizza place, opt for a tour of a local organic farm, dairy farm or go on a nature walk instead.

• Have children plant seedlings in miniature clay pots to take home and later replant.

• Check out ECHOage , an online organization started by two moms, where the invitations ask guests to make a secure online donation to the birthday child’s chosen charity. Half that money, minus an administrative fee, is given to the charity and half is returned to the party host to purchase one special and meaningful gift for the birthday child.

Contributing writer Heather Larson

The charitable event

My daughter, Isabel, and her friend Chloe just celebrated their sixth birthdays with a joint birthday party. Both girls have more than enough, and neither set of parents wanted a bunch more gifts cluttering up their houses. So we decided to have a discussion with the girls about donating the gifts their friends brought to kids who don’t have enough.

Before sending out the birthday invitations, we went to the Brighter Birthday website. There, you can print out and fax or mail the form to one of the charities listed. We chose Family Services of King County. We received inserts that described a child in need and what their needs or wants were. We then added that information to the birthday invitations.

The feedback from the parents was overwhelmingly positive. This also provided a good reason to discuss why people give to charity and what kinds of kids would be getting helped. Since we had spent time talking about this before the birthday party, neither girl was disappointed that all the beautifully wrapped presents at the party weren’t going home with them.

Michelle Brown, Shoreline

A sweet shower

I loved the bridal tea party I hosted at home. We ate tea sandwiches, scones, fresh fruit, cookies shaped like teapots, and sampled four different kids of tea: an Earl Grey, a mango green, a raspberry herbal infusion and a lemon twist. Favors were individual tea pots, and guests wrote “marital advice” on cards, which I pasted in a small book. On the last page was a group photo I snapped, uploaded and printed in minutes. The tea was beautiful, fun and easy!

Linda Morgan, ParentMap’s associate editor

A yoga party

We hired a yoga teacher to do a private one-hour yoga birthday party for our 5-year-old daughter. The teacher was great; while teaching beginning poses she incorporated many stretching games and breathing exercises. It was a hit!

A circus party

The next year, the birthday party was at the School of Acrobatics & New Circus Arts. Sophie (then 6) was asked to choose her three favorite areas; she chose trapeze, trampoline and floor. The kids were divided into three groups and rotated among the three areas. We then moved the birthday party a few blocks away to a lovely little bakery for an English tea party, complete with tea sandwiches, scones, petite cakes, hot chocolate, tea and cookies all served on mix-and-match vintage china. This was a wonderful December day! Since we give “sustainable goodie bags,” the treat Sophie’s friends were given as they left our day of fun was a CD of Sophie’s favorite music. This was a great way to share something personal with her friends while not giving out the usual bag o’ stuff that every parent dreads.

A cooking party

A few years ago, I celebrated my own birthday at Sur La Table by hosting a private gourmet cupcake-making class. Sophie (then 8) asked if she could have the same kind of birthday party. She invited 11 kids to Sur La Table for a private cooking class; the girls made spaghetti with marinara sauce, salad and, of course, cupcakes! After devouring their meal, the girls were led in a game of kitchen-shop skits. The “sustainable goodie bag” for this party was Rachel Ray’s 30-Minute Meals for Kids.

Laura Glass, ParentMap’s senior account manager

A garden party

This year, we’re having a garden birthday party! No gifts allowed, please — only outdoor flowering plants. The kids will each plant their flower in a bed by our house, add some water and place their flower stick next to it. The flower stick will read, “Happy Birthday, Celia! Love, (fill in guest name).” I’ll prepare those sticks ahead of time and laminate them so they’re waterproof. We’ll be making a couple of garden stones to go in the garden as well — complete with names, handprints, whatever the kids want to put on them. At the end of the day, Celia will have her birthday garden (which she can maintain during the summer) and I’ll have some of my landscaping done (or at least a small portion of it!). Birthday party favors will be small buckets, on which the guests’ names will be written in Sharpie, filled with a flower jump rope, some gardening tools, and a flower seed packet. Birthday cake will be a “dirt cake” (a chocolate cake with gummy worms in it; topped with Cool Whip and crushed Oreos).

Kimberly McDonald, ParentMap’s marketing manager

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