10 Minimalist (but fun!) Ideas for Your Child’s Birthday Party


My baby is almost two.

Though he’s not really a baby anymore. He drinks out of a cup and is tall enough to open doors all by himself. But he’ll always be my baby, right? I mean, I’m 33 and I’m still my mom’s baby.

Last year we had a very low key celebration for Henry’s first birthday. The highlight was the two monkey cakes I made. One big and one mini. No gifts. At least not from us. His Grandma’s are another story.

I’ve had a few requests for minimalist ways to celebrate kid’s birthday parties. Living with less doesn’t mean no fun or, you know, just a single candle on a dry biscuit for your seven year-old’s big day. But kid’s birthday parties can be a bonanza of gifts, useless loot bags and one off decorations that are destined for the recycle bin. They can also be really expensive.

My main advice: think activity, not stuff.

Here are a few minimalist-ish ideas of themes and activities for birthday parties:

Toonie party. What is a toonie you ask? It’s a Canadian two dollar coin. This is an awesome trend back in Vancouver (and maybe other Canadian cities?) where instead of bringing a gift for the birthday child, guests bring a toonie. After the party the child can use those dollars to go and pick out a toy or gift. Frugal fun and takes the focus off gifts and onto the party part of a the day.

Craft the party food. Again, take the focus off gifts and onto an activity. Decorate cookies, make fruit shish kebabs or, for the more adventurous or older children, involve them in a cooking activity. One of my favourites: make your own pizza. Pizza dough is dead cheap to make and loads of fun to play with.

Games. Ummm… I love this one. Can’t wait for Henry and his friends to try and balance chocolate covered donuts on their foreheads. I’m sure there are loads of ideas out there for creating custom games, ideas that will have you up till four in the morning spray painting garbage cans and stenciling Harry Potter character names on to t-shirts. Personally, I’d prefer a game of croquet or donut balancing, and more sleep.

Family far away? Go digital. I’ve decided we will stick with small family parties until Henry is school age. We have many years ahead of us of inviting the whole class over. So this year I sent out an e-vite to family and asked if they could be online at a certain time to say hello. We’ll be eating cake and Henry will open the gifts his Grandmas have sent. Gearing up to sing Happy Birthday five or six times.

What else? I would love to hear more ideas for simple yet fun kid’s birthday parties. Particularly for older children. Any parents of teens want to weigh in?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Like this post? Share it:
  • I am happy to say there has been a trend in my neck of the woods for simpler birthday parties. The last few parties we have attended have been outdoor at the park parties with cupcakes and punch. No planned activities, other than to let the kids run around and play. The most recent party didn’t even do treat bags, though they did have a pinata. I would like to add that all the kids had a wonderful time. No elaborate invitations, no elaborate decorations, or themes, just a dozen kids running around playing and enjoying each other’s company.

    • Love hearing this. I’ve heard and seen of some hugely elaborate birthday parties for young children. Homemade invitations, banners, multiple cakes, etc. I think if that is your hobby, go for it, but I’m not going to try and keep up with the “Martha Stewart” set.

      If Henry had a summer birthday I would definitely do something at a park or the beach. Free and outdoors!

  • Along the same lines, I love the idea of a charity party. Your child picks a charity like the local animal shelter and instead of ‘gifts’ the guests bring leashes, blankets, toys, etc for the animals at the shelter. I would love to do this for my son, but I should’ve started last year (at 3), because this year at 4 he is set on having a Buzz lightyear party. I’ll try again next year.

    • That is a great idea, Leah. We did something similar at a group first birthday party for Henry and his friends (they all had birthdays within a few weeks of each other). Instead of buying everyone gifts, or doing a gift exchange, we all brought $20 and made a donation to Children’s hospital.

      The animal shelter idea is adorable! I wonder if animal shelters do tours for young kids.

    • I love this idea. I am trying to figure out what to do for my son’s 2 year birthday and I will definitely think about this for next year as it’s too late now. I might even do this for my soon to be 5 year old daughter. Including a tour would be great!

  • I don’t have children, but I remember from my own youth that I had a lot of fun decorating cakes. We also did karaoke, just with a kids karaoke cd in the computer, nothing complicated.

    We also went to a museum once about the middle east and then decorated our own middle eastern veil. Lots of fun and we also learned something.

    In the Netherlands children hide the presents they bring in the house (or garden depending on the weather) and the child who’s birthday it is will have to look everywhere in the house to find it. It does focus a little bit on the gift part, but it’s more on finding original hiding places than the actual gift itself.

  • LOVE this!!! I actually wrote a post awhile back about how we planned our 3 yr old’s minimal, eco-friendly party. Being a minimalist, it helps a lot in party planning because you don’t go overboard…less party planning stress=more time to enjoy the party :)

  • You might want to play the donut game without the chocolate…. :-) :-)

    A mother of 4 who has organized more than 20 birthday parties over the years, always at home (oh my, we had some really bad :-( ones!).

    • Nice work, Erin. That is nice to hear that people in your ‘hood are moving to smaller parties. I’m guessing most of them are condo dwellers so it makes sense; if you want to host at home you have to keep it small.

  • We love organising the kids’ birthday parties.
    Generally we tend to invite as many children as their age. (ie. 4 kids invited for the 4th birthday, 7 kids invited for 7th birthday)
    I tend to prepare pizza dough and let the kids decorate their own pizza.
    One of the most popular activities is when I put a huge piece of paper on the floor (or to the garden wall) and the kids can draw, colour or write onto it.
    The party games my kids love are:
    – picking up peanuts with chopsticks
    – unwrapping a previously wrapped (with tinfoil) toy with knife and fork
    – musical statues
    – name the animal
    – who can put the most T-shirts on in 3 minutes
    – separating eg. Smarties and pasta

    Your idea is great re. donating to a charity instead of gifts!

  • Loved this post :)

    We did a flower party for my daughter’s 6th birthday. The girls (5 in total + little brother) decorated flower pots and then we planted daffodil bulbs (her birthday is in April – Autumnn in NZ) which the girls got to take home and they have so enjoyed the process of watching their daffodils grow! It was so nice to be able to send them home with something that wasn’t a bag full of plastic cr*p!

    We had a star wars party for my son’s 4th recently and we did a Jedi training course with pool noodles for light sabers which they got to take home. The boys have definitely had more fun with those than lollies and plastic!

  • simple & basic, i love the idea of letting the birthday boy/girl invite one friend for each year that s/he is turning. four 4-year-olds or seven 7-year-olds sure sounds better than 15-20 kids of any age!

  • I’ve never quite understood the mania behind birthday parties. We keep it very simple at our home. My children are raised with the expectation of only one gift from Mom and Dad and then they can invite one friend with their family over for a party which is basically a meal with cake and ice cream afterwards. We did a pinata at my son’s last party which served as both game and favors for all the children.

  • For both birthday parties we’ve had so far for Bug it has been a combo party kind of deal, since DH has his birthday just 11 days previous. It’s been on the first Saturday afternoon after Bug’s actual B-day and we just invite local friends (some of whom have kids) a couple weeks before. Cake for Bug, ice cream cake for DH, and grilling burgers and hot dogs. No mention of presents, but there are always some for Bug and this year DH got a couple as well.

    The first year the highlight for the kids was the smash cake…what a mess!! This year we set up a bubble machine and a no-spill bubble bucket with wands on a small table in the backyard, as well as filled the tiny wading pool, and I set up the pebble and water table…so the kids pretty much entertained themselves outside when not eating or watching the gift opening. Of course, after the gifts were opened all the kids joined in on the playing with them.

    As far as decorating goes, umm…I buy a mylar balloon or two for Bug and for DH at the Dollar Tree and tie them to the kitchen chairs. For another $3 we’ve got a throwaway tablecloth and some cups and paper plates (also from Dollar Tree) and we are STILL using the leftover plastic silverware from our wedding almost five years ago!! Besides that, it’s just a matter of having a straightened and clean minimalist house and we are good to go!! For us the focus has been on celebrating the fact that there have been birthdays and just visiting and having good fun with friends!!

  • I don’t have kids, but I love this post!

    Forget kids parties… What about for us?? Yours is coming up soon, too! (did you know our moms met in the hospital when I was born?)

  • Not sure how, but I have managed to avoid birthday chaos. I have always asked for donations in lieu of gifts, but they get a gift from each set of grandparents, our gift is the party.
    As for loot bags, I would prefer to get each child something of value that will last as opposed to a bunch of crap – plus by the time you add up the price of all the crap, it tends to cost about the same.
    This year we had a sleep over party – ordered pizza, ate cake, watched a few movies. Had waffles for breakfast and all (4 girls) went home with a $10 itunes card.
    As kids get older they actually just enjoy hanging out with each other and don’t need additional planned activities.

  • Last year (Peanut was 2), we opted not to have a birthday party. Instead we did the same thing we did the year before and that was celebrate with each of the individual families (my parents, my father, and my husband’s parents) throughout a Sunday where we would have already been going to their houses. She got two separate cakes (and one she made with mommy at home the day before) and I asked the grandparents to buy one gift only (and non-grandparents to just donate to her college fund). Of course, it didn’t work out that way because the grandparents bought more and she got some stuff from an aunt, but I think they still bought less than if I would have given them free reign.

    This upcoming birthday, now that she has actual friends, I’ll probably do a very small party for her. They say a good number to invite is the year they’re turning plus one, so she’ll get four friends. I also plan on asking them to bring a book to donate rather than a gift. I plan on going with the same gift giving rule and I’ve explained to the grandparents that a toy in means a toy out (my new rule for Peanut), so I think they’ll try to be wise with their decisions.

    Also, for both this year and last, my husband and I have given her just one gift along with donating to her college fund.

  • I have been to some parties which combine the toonie and charity ideas which I think works very well. In both cases guests brought $5 as a gift and $5 for a charity chosen by the birthday child. In this way they have enough to buy one item that they really want rather than receiving a number of gifts which they may or may not really want. It is also a good lesson for them to learn about giving to others (a charity in this case). The amount is not important so this would still work with loonies or toonies!

  • Meant to come on this earlier – Firstly Happy Nearly Your Birthday Henry!
    For Dan’s 2nd (last year) I asked everyone to pitch up at the local forest with Bikes. I took a picnic (and his Bikey Bday Cake) and the weather held, a lovely afternoon outside was had by all and no clearing up! Result!

  • We just celebrated my daughter’s 5th birthday and it was so simple. I wrote a post of how we have handled birthdays up to this point. It helps that we don’t live near family. In 6 years of parenting, we’ve never yet had a formal, big birthday party.

  • First – congratulations on becoming a mother two years ago! It’s amazing how it changes one’s life.

    We’ve loved having at-home birthday parties. There is an awesome book called Penny Whistle Birthday Parties with loads of themes, games, craft ideas,and decorating ideas. Written by Meredith Brokaw (Tom’s wife). Don’t know if it is still in print.

    We’ve had penny hunts in our house. We hid about 150 pennies on the first floor and kids had small bags to put their pennies in. They got to keep what they found.

    We had a pirate party that was also greatly loved: kids arrived, were given eye patches or bandanas and then face painting of mustaches, beards, etc. We set up a very low balance beam and kids “walked the plank” while everyone else pretended to be sharks in the water circling the balance beam. We also did a water balloon toss!

    One year we held a party at a farm in their barn. The kids got to pet the cows and chase the chickens. We played pin the hat on the farmer. I also printed up bingo cards and the squares were filled with photos of cows, horses, the birthday child, etc.

    Have fun and take photos to share!

  • I’m a teenager and I went to a paint war party which was pretty minamalist, we just did capture the flag using buckets of paint and they also had water guns and stuff. It was really fun (of course you’d ruin a tshirt, but I think it was worth it.)

Comments are closed.