This page is exclusively about children under who are preschool age or younger, and includes some helpful activities that you can implement to make their birthday party as enjoyable and memorable as possible.
Many, if not most, of these strategies assume you understand a little bit of child psychology, especially the subject of your-child psychology. Even if you don’t, no worries. I have you covered!
Children of different ages behave differently, have different wants and different needs. It goes without saying that your planning needs will vary depending upon how old your child is. So before you head out on your birthday planning adventure, the first lesson you have to learn is this:
Understand the age group of the children’s natural stimulus level – A celebration that is geared for kids is usually an hour and you can add about 25 minutes of play/per year into the party equation depending on the child. And that’s it. A three-hour celebration for a five year old, for example, is appropriate and about the entire amount of stimulus they can handle as a group without having what we parents like to euphemistically refer to as a “meltdown.” A general rule of thumb for parents is to not plan day-long events with other kids until the kids are over age 10, because it is only usually around this age that children can handle this length of time; a five-hour stretch or longer.
Your next important tip is this: Have an agenda – You have to know how long the kids are going to play and when the kids are going to get picked up. Period. You need to have the times on all of the important activities, especially if your child is very young. Don’t let the party control you, you control the party!
People often wonder whether having a birthday for a child under the age of two is even something worth having. After all, the child is not likely to remember any of the experience and it only creates added pressure on the parents to become good hosts and to “put on a show” for others. While I understand this sentiment, and encourage parents to follow their gut instinct on what they feel would be best, I also encourage those parents who are genuinely interested to consider some of the great opportunities that a birthday may hold, not just for the child but also for you and your loved ones. As I noted earlier in the book, having a birthday for someone is an opportunity to express your gratitude, affection, and to celebrate being with the people you love and care for, and even a birthday party for a young child under the age of two can provide such an opportunity.
Whether you want the party to be large or small is up to you. I will say that many of the parents who decide to do this for their children are often interested in doing so to celebrate another year gone by; they are new parents who have experienced the challenges of raising an infant. Oftentimes, these challenges can be quite overwhelming and take the parents by the seat of their pants as they struggle through a lot of trial and error to figure out what will best resolve issues like baby crying, baby unable to fall asleep, feeding baby, and so on and so forth. New parents can be very stressed people, and for very unique reasons compared to other challenges that parents face when the children get older and can act more autonomously. Ultimately, parents hold birthdays for their infant children to celebrate one full year of being accomplished parents and to celebrate being with the people who helped them overcome the learning curve that one must inevitably face as a new parent; and to just be together with others.
In this world of busy families, one of the best birthday gifts you can give to a child is a whole day of nothing but love. Making a special breakfast in a fancy bowl, letting kids watch TV in bed, taking a long, well-deserved nap with your child, having your child color with siblings ALL morning with ALL the crayons spilling out on the table or floor, or even just sitting on the porch playing dolls can be enough of a memory, to celebrate the fact that your child is special and that the world is better with her/him in it. Just as effective is having an entire day to play in the tub, or decorating cookies, or taking a pet for a walk. Having all day to have nothing to do IS a gift, especially when you consider the crazy and hectic pace that some families live in!
The following are just some suggestions, but are in no way meant to substitute the genuine moments of enjoyment that a party will have.
Games and Activities
The purpose of these activities is to allow the kids to move and play. Many, if not most of these games are designed for adults to lead children cautiously through play so that everyone is having a good time while at the same time no one is getting hurt.
Children at this age really don’t need a whole lot to have a good time! In fact, many parents often opt to make the party as low-key and quiet as possible, taking advantage of the fact that their child isn’t old enough to know any better (remember, this chapter is dedicated to very small children). If this cost-saving strategy can work for you, then great! But if you have one of those nagging aunts or godparents or brothers or sisters who insists on seeing the baby, then you probably won’t be able to keep the party small! However, I will say that children under the age of two are probably the easiest to have birthdays for because they really won’t do much complaining if you forget to decorate the house, put up some balloons, or even if you forget to bake a cake. Most of the time, the children will just be happy to see you and to get all of the attention that you’re going to give them! You actually have a lot of leeway here to do what you want. Take advantage now while you can!
Many of the games and activities provided in this section are not quite games in the way you might think of them, particularly since these activities are for really young children who might not even know that they’re partaking in a game! Still, many of these “activities” are designed to keep the party fun and engaging, and you can probably file these ideas in the back of your mind, under the “more for the parents and relatives of the child” folder than for the child.
Who doesn’t love music? Just about anyone will enjoy a little party music every once in a while, even young children. Many parents have often used music for games like musical chairs and limbo, but for a child as young as two, music can be incorporated into the birthday more easily with something as simple as just dancing. Although the character of each child will be different, many children are absolutely fascinated with this crazy thing called “dance,” and will often enjoy mommy or daddy prancing around the room to fun melodies. All it takes is just a radio, CD player, or even laptop computer, and some good “taste” in music to get this activity off the ground. If you find yourself lacking for ideas on which music to play for the birthday, I have provided you with some ideas for songs in the glossary in the back. Many of these songs won’t cost you a penny to download. Just make sure to get yourself a free download service like Spotify, so you can take advantage of the ever-expanding music libraries that are available at your fingertips through the internet.
If you decide to hold the party indoors, but still want to capture some of the excitement of the great outdoors, you could create a mini obstacle course right in your living room. It doesn’t require a lot of material–just some sheets and some cardboard or rearranged furniture that your child can crawl through. I know, this probably sounds really involved, but it doesn’t have to be. All you need is even just one or two cardboard boxes that your child can crawl through and rest assured, they’ll be happy campers! Any time you have recyclable materials, try to think of ways you can use that material to make a fun project. If not a jungle gym, maybe you can create a collage or an art-installation piece resembling a late Picasso. Realize that projects with recyclable materials are not only ripe with possibilities for projects but also will cost you less to initiate!
Maybe you personally know someone who knows a few magic tricks, someone who can pull pennies out of ears, or someone who can do some really funny miming motions. If you personally know someone who can entertain with a few tricks up her or his sleeve, invite them to the party and have them perform! You’d be surprised just how flexible you can be in deciding who counts as “entertainment.” Sometimes all it takes is just some really funny-looking relative to smile and wave at the child to do the trick! Grandparents can also be great party guests, but you might also consider inviting the babysitter or nanny as well. Just make sure you find someone whose mannerisms are delightfully entertaining to young children—be it a person with a silly face, funny voice, or some interesting facial expressions and a few bag of tricks—and you’re golden!
Children, especially toddlers, love getting messy, and one of the best ways of creating organized messiness is to set up art projects in which the rules require no explanation whatsoever. Just make sure you’re using safe supplies that the child can use without unintentionally harming herself or himself!
Create a Body
This project only requires a large piece of paper and some crayons and/or colored pencils. Have a parent or friend draw an outline of someone’s body on a large piece of paper. Afterwards, you can have the children draw and color in the shape. If you don’t have the necessary materials to outline the entire body, then just use parts of your body, such as your hand and fingers, or your feet. Encourage your child to make artwork with the crayons that you’re using, guiding them along toward creating the masterpiece that you can eventually hang on your refrigerator. If your child is really young, you can spend time just teaching them how to draw and color things in. With that said…
If you have a coloring book, you can show the child how to use it by shading in parts of the pictures that have not been filled in. You can guide the child along as she or he fills in the little ovals, circles, and squares or whatever other shapes make up the total picture. Doesn’t matter if the child colors to perfection or not, just as long as the two of you are enjoying the experience as the work of art develops. Most of these activities, after all, no matter what the age of the birthday child, are about building special moments that everyone can cherish and remember for a long time.
Using certain edible substances such as pudding or jelly, you might be able to pull off finger painting with your toddler. Simply take a plain sheet of paper, and with whatever “paint supplies” you use, model for the child the activity and encourage them to play along. It doesn’t matter if they entirely understand the purpose of the activity. Even if they just understand “Messy is fun,” that will be just perfect. The sillier the better.
Got a camera? This activity actually has been recommended for most age groups, and all you need is a group of random objects that you can use to embellish your photos. Create a treasure chest (or trove) of random objects, from weird hats, jewelry, and trinkets, to unusual clothing and makeup. Then, with each random object, have someone take a silly picture. The pictures can be with anyone, either the birthday child, the guests, or the parents. There really aren’t any rules for this game, except to have fun! Young toddlers may not be the best candidates, but certainly if your child is two they should be old enough to “Get” the silliness of it. Again, just make sure you’re using safe objects and keep in mind that this game may not be the best for some child-personalities. Try taking pictures of your child in advance, and if you find that they want to use the camera and click the pretty red button multiple times, just make sure you use a disposable camera that you wouldn’t mind… well… disposing.
A Quiet Stroll
I include this activity at the very end of the chapter to emphasize that you don’t need to make the party “Big,” or “extravagant.” Fun can be had in many ways, including quiet and laid-back ways, especially if your child isn’t of the age yet where they can complain that there aren’t enough people in attendance. As I’ve said before, take advantage of this peaceful period of the child’s life since there might not be many to follow! Maybe take a light stroll through the park, lie on the grass, or just enjoy a quiet evening on the living room floor, enjoying music. Just enjoy the quiet and peaceful moments that you can spend with your child. Often, we feel like we can’t fully enjoy another person without putting something together; yet, some of the most powerful moments can be had by simply just enjoying someone else’s presence, including that of your child’s. This is probably the most cost-effective game I can provide in this book, as it requires no money to implement, and interestingly enough, it’s probably the most important game I can include. Birthdays are all about enjoying the company of others, so make sure that you’re checking in every once in a while with your child and the people around you, making sure that you haven’t lost sight of what it’s all about!
Hopefully this chapter has given you some ideas on how to make the most of your young child’s birthday party. As it turns out, you need very little money to entertain a child that is under the age of two, and more often than not, it’s just the attention that you give to the child, your presence, that will make all of the difference. Most of these games can certainly fill time, but for most toddlers “rules” will mean very little if you, the parent, aren’t giving the child all of your attention. Smiles and laughter will be far more powerful than if you have supplies for finger-painting. So please use these games, but do realize that they aren’t meant to be applied like some formula. Take from the strategies what you will, and toss out the rest.