The night before my eighth birthday I barely slept. The anticipation of the party the next day was too much for little imagination to take. If kids nowadays are anything like I was, then parties are a BIG DEAL. We obviously want to make our kids’ parties special, but we sometimes can go overboard with lots of money being spent on decorations, disposable crockery, wrapping and knick-knacks that will only see the light of day for a few hours before they are binned. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a kid’s party without the several bin-bags of rubbish that you end up with once you tidy-up.
As a parent, balancing our daily lives with our values can seem like balancing two wriggling toddlers in each arm. Take eco-friendliness, for example. We all want to do our bit for the environment and try to make the world a better place for our children, but against the pressures of time, everyday life and money constraints, what can really be done?
A children’s birthday party is potentially one of the most consumerist events in the annual calendar, so what steps could we take to try and create an event with less ecological impact? Here are a few ideas we’ve come up with.
It’s worth taking a look at what you already own and seeing if you can borrow additional items like extra plates, platters, tableware, cutlery, chairs, etc. The mix and match look is fun and colourful and items can be washed up and returned. If you regularly cater for large groups, you might consider purchasing an additional set of reusable plates and cutlery, which can be brought out time and again. Something in a neutral colour which wouldn’t look out of place at an adult party would be ideal. And at least you’ll never be short of plates at Christmas! If you like some colour, Kinderville do a range of colourful eco-friendly, durable silicone crockery.
A sturdy, wipe-down-able table covering is a highly useful addition to a busy household. They're ideal for kids’ crafts too, and if you buy a colour or pattern which can be adapted to many themes, it’ll last far longer than a disposable ‘Peppa Pig’ or ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ equivalent! Yellow, baby blue, white and pale green are all very versatile colours. See John Lewis for a range of designs from £12.95 a metre, but it’s worth looking in the sales when the prices drop considerably. Cath Kidston also do a few patterns like multicoloured dots that could be very versatile. Franclaire Fabric cloths are acrylic coated which means they are not only wipeable but can be machine washed too which is super useful.
Think about sending email or text invitations instead of paper ones. It can be a timesaver as you can send several at once, and if there is a cost, it often doesn’t work out much more than buying and sending paper equivalents. Companies such as Redstamp and Paperless Post have dozens of attractive and fun designs available either free or for a minimal fee. You can also send thank you letters/cards this way – some might say this is less personal, but I’m all for making life a bit easier where possible!
Fabric bunting is a fantastic way to add colour and personality, plus it can be folded away for another time or hung in your child’s bedroom between parties. My mum bought my kids a set with their names and we look forward to hanging out their birthday bunting year after year, regardless of the party’s theme. Not on the High Street has a number of styles at a variety of price points.
Colourful paper lanterns can take the place of balloons and can be collapsed to reuse again and again. Hanging Lantern have a wonderfully wide range and their lanterns are made using sustainable materials. Solar-powered fairy lights are also great for making any space feel special and creating a warm atmosphere. Try putting some in a vase on a table to make an inexpensive and pretty decoration.
If your child has their heart set on a party based on a particular character or film, instead of throwaway paper, why not buy the duvet set and hang it as a banner or backdrop? It will be high impact and then the duvet set can be kept and used as a longer-lasting present from the day. But this is probably only worth doing if your kid has a deep love affair with said character; otherwise, you may end up with a stack of almost new Teletubbies and Minecraft bedlinen.
Have a look at what you could use to create signs at home. Lego number or letter signs look great and can be a fun thing for your child to make the day before. Or try making a number or letter sign made out of photographs of your child – a very personal decoration which can be kept for posterity!
Use a mini blackboard to write signs/display information. You can use this for other purposes year round too. Mine is used to remind me of what stuff the kids need to take to school each day. (Yes, yes, I know they should be responsible for their own things, but who am I kidding?!)
Get the kids involved in making decorations for their party. Ok, I know few of us jump at the chance to make more mess and this might be your idea of hell. But if you feel inspired or your kids are anything like mine, this is the kind of thing they love, and you can tailor the colour to their requests/teach them a little bit about recycling along the way.
Luckily many party games require very little equipment and can be created out of things you already own. Here are a few ideas:
Fancy Dress Relay. You will need plant pots and some old clothes/dressing-up box items. Station two lines of pots spread apart outside. At the first pot, place a woolly hat, at the second a pair of wellies, at the third a coat, at the fourth a scarf, etc. Line up the two teams. The first competitor for each team runs to the first pot and dons the hat, runs onto the second pot and puts on the wellies and so on. When they reach the final pot, they turn around and come back, removing the items in reverse order. They then tag the next competitor. The first team to complete the relay wins! Age 5+
The Chocolate Game. An old classic, but be warned, it gets hyper-competitive – one friend decided to bring this out at a dinner party! You will need a large bar of chocolate, a hat, scarf, pair of gloves, a die and a knife and fork. Sit the children around the bar of chocolate in a circle. The children take turns to roll the die. If someone rolls a six, they have to put on the hat, scarf and gloves and begin to try and cut a piece of chocolate off the bar with the knife and fork. Meanwhile, the die continues to be rolled by the other children. As soon as the next person rolls a six, it is their turn to try and cut off some chocolate. It is a race against time! Age 5+
Musical Chairs. And the like. These games are huge favourites and don’t add any mess.
Create-Your-Own. Paint bags or t-shirts with fabric paints as one of the games. These can then be a keepsake parting gift.
Reusable Felt Games. These can be brought out at every party and can become a family tradition/heirloom. If you‘re crafty, here’s how you can make your own. If not, see sprinkleofsparkles on Etsy for an abundance of felt ‘pin the…on the…’ style games.
Bubbles. Who doesn’t love bubbles?! Make some bubble solution in a big bowl and buy some bubble wands that can be kept for another time – or ask a friend or relative to consider buying a bubble machine as a gift – this can be reused time and again and adds a magical dimension to celebrations. From babies upwards!
Board Games. Games such as Twister can be kept for decades. Or create life-size chalk games/activities, particularly good if you have a summer party.
Go Mining. Use sandpits to create search games. Mine for chocolate money, shells or gold-painted pebbles!
Pass the Parcel. Sometimes, the old games really are the best. Pass the parcel is a huge favourite, so rather than skip it, think about using recycled paper, colourful newspaper pages or tissue paper saved from other purchases. Age 3+
These are a personal bugbear -- mindless plastic tat is the bane of my life! Plus, party bag items are often tiny, which is not great if you have a little baby crawling around the floor, hoovering up potential death traps at every turn. So here are a few alternative ideas:
Choose a book for each child that relates to the party theme and is appropriate for the child’s age. Give these as their parting gift – something they can return to again and again and can be passed on to other family members. It often doesn’t work out as more expensive than a bag full of bits and pieces!
Give a one-hit wonder gift, such as a little bucket and spade, a plant pot with a pack of seeds, a puncture-proof ball or a photo frame containing a picture of the guest with your child.
A piece of birthday cake is always great.
Create a sweetshop counter and display candies in glass jars or vases and invite each child to help themselves to some on the way out. This way they only choose sweets they like, you can reuse the glass jars and you can also use paper bags for the sweets.
If a party simply wouldn’t be a party without a ‘classic’ party bag, consider gifts that are more sustainable, such as a wooden yo-yo or spinning top.
Many of your kid’s friends will bring presents that maybe aren’t in the spirit of sustainability or trying to live a less throwaway life. In the face of such generosity, you don’t want to appear rude. However, if you are asked for ideas for gifts or can approach very close friends and family, you may want to suggest more enduring presents.
You could suggest that several family members club together for a wooden train set, bicycle, climbing frame or other items which you know will give your children (or indeed your grandchildren) pleasure for years to come. Our toy selection is small at the moment but growing all the time, and it can give you an idea of the types of things that can last over time.
You could also consider asking close friends and family to give the gift of time or their area of interest. This has the dual benefit of less stuff in your home and creating special one-to-one time with that child.
A visit to a museum/theatre can be expensive but it needn’t be – many museums put on free exhibitions or it could be a trip to the cinema/local theatre. National museum permanent galleries are free entry but they charge for temporary exhibitions.
For an older child, a gift voucher gift to their favourite restaurant can be fun, so that they can invite a friend or two out for dinner.
Classmates can club together to give one gift too. This year, my daughter’s class parents decided to give one gift between us. It often works out at about £10 per head, but the child gets one gift rather than a raft of things they may not want.
Hopefully, this provides some food for thought. It is certainly not meant to be another rock with which to beat ourselves up. Lord knows parents have enough of those! But if trying a couple of these makes our lives a little easier by accumulating less stuff, saving some time, and heck, maybe even imparting a little environmental wisdom to our offspring on the way, we might give ourselves a teensy tiny pat on the back… well, until the next parenting fail anyway!