Monday 16 June 2008

Party trauma

I am having a crisis - of the birthday party kind. When I was little we had parties in the garden, played hilarious games, ate enormous amounts of jelly and had a fabulous time. I can still remember balmy afternoons under the trees in sun dresses, messing about in water and racing around until the sun finally sank behind the house.
I'd always imagined this is what we'd organise for the little Woodmouses but now I'm not so sure. Since beginning school B has been to quite a few parties and I've begun to that my idea of the perfect celebration for a 5 year old is a bit stuck in the 70s. I can't believe the difference and I'm beginning to quake!

It's not that things are competitive but more that my ideas are a bit old fashioned. It seems the only option today is to hire the village hall, book some entertainment (Pirate Pete, a clown complete with circus skills workshop, disco with lighting deck, bouncy castle etc, etc) I'm not sure we're up to this and more to the point could afford it.

On the whole B has really enjoyed them but he does have a slight hearing problem that means the noise can overwhelm and hurt his ears quite a bit so that's a worry. He does loves to dance though, is thrilled with a balloon animal and as long has he can jump about a bit is very happy.

So now the hugely important occasion of B's 5th birthday is rapidly homing into view and we have nothing planned yet and I am dithering over what to do. Well I say nothing, but actually in my head it's already there - a sunny day in the garden, a few happy friends, gingham tablecloths, bunting, pin the tail on the donkey, musical statues etc, etc. But is that just what I'd like to do - do little ones thesedays enjoy that sort of thing?

We've got this lovely Shirley Hughes book where Alfie goes to smashing party in a garden with bubbles and games, all the usual trimmings, and B loves it so I think he'd probably enjoy one like this too.
For some reason though I feel really nervous about being a bit retro and doing a homespun version. Usually I wouldn't mind but B really has definitely enjoyed these big parties (apart from the noise) and I can see the attraction of doing it all away from home; although home is definitely where our little family's, and especially B's, hearts are.

But am I being bonkers? We can't possibly invite the whole class around but even so, what will I do with eight or so 5 year olds if it rains? Is this the reason the village hall is booked up solidly all summer because there's just too much to do for parties thesedays to have them at home?

And then there's the money? Like pretty much everyone else we're finding things very tight and the cost of halls and entertainers is huge. Then where do you go from 5? Do you have to up the ante every year so that by the time they're 10 you're hiring out the Millennium Wheel?! Sorry, so many questions but I feel a bit like I can't keep up.
Oh.... what would all my lovely blogging friends do? I'd love to know what type of parties you've had and any tips or advice about what's worked, food ideas, party games would be ever so much appreciated!


Pipany said...

Steph, I know exactly what you mean. we determindely stick to the old-fashioned idea of birthday tea parties for our children but worry endlessly what the kids/parents will think! It's crazy as it usually goes really well and the children really enjoy it. Just do what feels right for you (and we can't afford the hired thing either and wouldn't want to do it even if we could!). Your party will be lovely xx

Funkymonkey said...

Please don't worry about your party. I don't think children see things in the same way that we do - they love having Mum make a birthday cake even though the icing might not be perfect and the writing a bit wobbly. They love the fact that you've made the effort.I've always found that my son(now at the grand age of 12) loves having people round to his home. I'm sure you'll have a great day!

claire said...

This is a subject close to my heart with 4 children! I try not to worry what other mums think - I resolved lots of years ago not to get sucked into the oneupmanship of parties!!!IMO by far the best way is the homespun party!!
In April I did my 3yr old son's at home...bunting, pin the tail (way to ambitious at 3!!),'proper' party food and pass the parcel, I made the party bags and the cake was homemade too.
I looked into holding his party at an indoor play centre but even with 7 friends the cost would have been close to £100, and it just didn't feel right not to be at home.

Sal said...

I'd go for the old fashioned party every time!
You could have a theme of some sort and base various everything around that..i.e pirates..pirate cake, pirate going home bags, bunting,pirate hats etc.(they could even make their own hats with you).The possibilities are endless really,whatever theme you opt for!
Old fashioned is the best,in my opinion!
Hope it all goes well ;-)

Christy in Texas said...

I agree that simple is better. There will always be some who feel the need to spend tons of money, but is it good to teach that more money really means more fun? We had a rule that the child could invite the number of years he was turning. That way, each year, ithe party gets a little bigger, but not out of control. Little ones just get overwhelmed. No 5 year-old NEEDS 30 birthday presents! (What about thank you notes, too. Does anyone still do them?) More cost, more stress, more chaos does not mean more fun. Have the birthday boy help with decorations/food and make the whole experience joyful.... Simple is better! Have fun, the years go very quickly.

Krafty Keely said...

Steph, I agree with the other have a traditional tea party.

My son is 17 and the birthdays he remembers with the most fondness are the ones at home with Jelly & Ice-cream etc.

As for games you could work out a treasure hunt round the garden and change it to the house in needed.

One of my sons favorite things was to decorate his own cake. He still liked a proper birthday cake but we also gave each child 2 fairy cakes and bits to decorate them with one to eat and one to take home, the kids loved it some took ages and others threw the stuff on either way they all seemed to enjoy it.

Other than that I don't think you can go wrong with pass the parcel etc. At 5 they love it.

Let us know what you do decide to do.

Keely x

Vintage Girl said...

First I want to say how much I enjoy your blog, just beautiful!
As for the party...old fashioned is best. I have three children, 19,18 and 11. They have all for the most part had home parties. The odd time we would take them to the park or swimming. To cut down on $ for food have an afternoon party where only cake and a few snacks are necessary. I like to make a cake (for the birthday boy/girl to blow out lots of candles) and then make up a dozen or so cupcakes for everyone to decorate. They can take them home with them. If it's a nice day outside and warm, running through the hose/sprinkler is fun, treasure hunts, horseshoes for kids (we can get the plastic set here at a dollar store), ball games, hulahoop contests, musical chairs (that is always a favourite), drawing on the sidewalk/drive with coloured chalk, oh and I just remembered I would put a picture of my son/daughter on a piece of bristol board and have each of the guests draw a picture and sign it. When I got the birthday pictures back I would add pictures to the bristol board and my child would have a lovely reminder of his/her party hanging in their room. I just know you'll have a wonderful party for your child, he'll love anything you do for him. Hugs, Heather

Unknown said...

Old fashioned parties are the best. One thing we used to do was to take pics of the guest and birthday boy as they gave the present or card, this could then be sent to the guest as well as keeping one for yourself. With digital cameras these days it could be done on the same day.

Rosie x

Anonymous said...

Oh Steph, I'm caught in the same dilema at the mo. Little boy is 4 next month and hubby wants me to book the soft play centre. I am really procrastinating over it as, like you, a "home party" is something I hold close to my heart. Last year we had a pirate party in the house (it rained) and the kids loved it. There wasn't one centimetre free on the floor what with toys and people but hey, everyone seemed to enjoy it. The kitchen table got in the way a bit so I turned it upside down and tied gingham tablecloths to the legs, put down a cot mattress, strung bunting around it and hey presto, we had a pirate ship! Instead of party bags we hauled out an antique travel chest, filled it with little pressies each for the kids and drew a simple map for them to find it. They were thrilled! I also made a pirate cake from a recipe found on the internet complete with paper sails (which caught fire, malteser canonballs and playmobil pirates. All in all a great day. Exhausting, yes, but I will treasure it, and the photos, for years to come. Hope you don't feel even more overwhelmed by these responses. I vote do the thing your heart wants to, and have fun!

julia said...

Steph, stick to your guns (and your cash!). My lovely boy has only this year decided he wants a party away from home and he'll be 8 this year! It'll be a case of just 2 or 3 good friends and a picnic at our local outdoor play place. Personally I hate the indoor play places, the noise and the red faced manic children put me off.
Keep it short and simple, play the old fashioned games. Last year we very bravely left the gift out of each layer of pass-the-parcel and wrote a message instead, not one child complained, in fact they loved it!
Handy hint, if you do a pirate ship, try not to set the sails on fire when you light the candles, the children didn't quite know what to make of it!
Julia x

Anonymous said...

I'd go for the party in the garden. I have 3 children aged 21, 20 and 17 and had various types of parties. We have had a couple indoor ones at swimming pools etc and parties at home. The ones they remember the most are the ones they had at home. We used to play all the traditional games - pass the parcel(with a sweet wrapped in each layer so everyone got something), dancing statues, pin the tail on the donkey, etc. They also loved the traditional party foods. I did used to cut the sandwiches into animal shapes and stars with biscuit cutters. He will love his party whatever you decide to do.

The Fairy Glade said...

Hi Steph, I think most of these comments speak for themselves. I was initially sucked into all the birthday hype, and where you are judged by the contents of your party bag. With age comes great enlightenment, or in my case, quirkyness. I do it the old fashioned way and most of the Mum's probably think that I am barmy, but I don't care really. I think they see me as a bit eccentric and humour me, but that suits me perfectly, and I have to say that invitations for Isabel's parties are highly sought after. Now she is older, we have had a pool party and a build a bear one. But I always make the cake, do the catering and we still play all the traditional games like pass the parcel, statues etc. Don't beat yourself up about it and don't do it to please anyone but your little darlings! Dev X

driftwood said...

both of my childrens birthdays are in December so we never have the garden option, but I still love the at home version - we once went to a party at a villagehall/ballpool.. and I said to E as we left, whose party was that, and he said "I don't know mummy." "all those parties are the same", and the children don't remember whose they were.
keep it simple, at home, with as few children as you can - a child for every year the child is old is a good guide, so if he's 5 then have 4 guests.
and have a bottle of wine chilling in the fridge for when they've gone home!

Just Original said...

Hi Steph,

I would love to do the girly tea party for my little girl but I think she is probably a bit to young to appreciate it fully (4 next birthday). So I have got suckered into the hiring the village hall at £16 and then one of my little dears favourite things is to sing and dance so I have a friend coming in to do that and then a few traditional games I think. I will be making her cake and all the food and the party bags will be on my to do list to. I cannot believe I am thinking about this as her birthday is the 1st of September, but I am an organisation freak. I have had the girls party bag item since last month!

I say do what you want as you know your boys better than anyone & you know what they will enjoy.

Emma Herian said...

Geta big old tent, bunting, cushions and a huge pile of old fashioned party treats set out on a huge sheet on the ground. When food has been demolished just roll it (sort it later!) up, clear the decks and go wild on fun games, treasure hunts, food fights! Ask the children to arrive in old clothes so no one stresses about going home covered in food! Buy packs of cheap T shirts from Asda, get them to dcorate them - thats the party bag gift sorted!
could go on....... but have fun!

Anonymous said...

Home party everytime, our youngest is 13 the eldest 22 and they all say they have great memories of jelly and icecream with their friends and family. I loved making the cakes, decorating the house with balloons and having a fun time. Never worry about what the other mums think, do what feels right for you and your little family, they will have a ball and so will you.

Vintage to Victorian said...

Personally I'd go with your sort of party. As for asking whether littlies today like that sort of thing, I wonder how many of them have actually ever been to one like it. I bet they'd each love some bubbles with a competition to see who can blow the biggest bubble, a rabbit jelly or two, and how about little triangle sandwiches with the crusts off? And cupcakes galore ... And definitely pin the tail on the donkey and musical statues ... and dead fishes when you need a breather and pass the parcel. Or am I going too far into the past? Can I come please?
Sue x

Vintage to Victorian said...

PS - Just read Julia's comment about being brave and leaving messages instead of prezzies in between the layers. In my day (eeek) there was only ever one present right at the end with nothing in between and everyone loved the excitement of the game rather than what they were going to get out of it.

Deb said...

Hello Steph
I agree with your other commenters ~ old fashioned parties at home are the best. We're planning one as well for our son's 19th in July. All his friends will come over for a bbq in the garden :-} Love all your pretty sidebar pics!

Heidi said...

Hi Steph, It is late here, but I just had to comment on your blog today. As you probably know I am a decorator...during that time I have been asked to give many I always go back to the ones I always gave for my own girls!...Give the party you were planning! not give in to this competitive thing going on with children's parties!...This is not a new has been going on for years,... who can give a cooler party for their child? Who can top the last one?...Stick to the old-fashioned party, make it personal with lots of little hand- made favors to take favorites have always been cellophane wrapped cut-out cookies, or little paint cans filled with gummy worms & jelly beans that look like pebbles & lots of big bows...boy or girl the children love it!!! Also my most popular thing to do is to make a batch of popcorn balls & put them on dowels that are about 15" long. Wrap the popcorn ball with a sheet of cellophane & tie the base with lots of pretty ribbons with fairly long ends...then add tiny little jingle bells at the ends of the ribbons...I just did these for a party my daughter just gave my grandson who just turned 4! The little boys ran around jiggling the sticks! They LOVED them! Sorry for lecturing, but remember, anyone who can write a check can put on a party! it is the personal, imaginative & homemade touches that make it a party that your son will remember!....Good Luck!....Heidi :)

Tonya said...

Hi Steph, my kids are 10 and 7. I fell into the party trap and never had a party at home until my son was 9. By then I had got fed up with the cost of these parties and commercialism of it all, also my son asked for it to be at home. My DH entertained the kids, played games etc and one of the boys said it was the coolest party he'd ever been to and could he come next year!

My DD is 8 in August and asked for a party at home too. I said shall we have an old fashioned tea party theme and she agreed, so I will really go to two with all my vintage stuff!

My advice is stick to your guns, and stick to your budget!

pinkgreen said...

I think that these things are a way of the parents showing off rather than providing something their children actually want. We have always done the party games thing at home and a few crafty things in between games (easier with 2 girls than boys) and it has always gone down well with the children. We have never had a children's entertainer (one child at a party I went to had seen the same one so often that they gave away all the tricks as they knew what was coming next!), and I can honestly say that my children have consistently asked for home parties rather than anything else. Stick with what you feel happiest with - you never know, you may convert the whole school to doing the same!
Good luck
Cathy X

periwinkle said...

I think you should go with your gut instinct and do the home thing. It's what I'm planning for my soon to be 4 year old.. I think the whole big present / big party thing is just getting out of control. We are just going to invite family and a couple of his friends and also ask for no presents just cards. Luckily Milo has only been to 1 party at a Wacky Warehouse so he doesn't really understand yet.I'm sure he'll have a great day whatever you decide to do
Lisa x

Garden Girl said...

Steph I think you should go with your instincts. You may be surprised how many other mums will be grateful for your decision to have a traditional party- these things only tend to get out of hand when people start trying to do bigger and better. You may re-start the trend!What could be lovelier than an afternoon in the garden with jelly and ice cream? (can I come?)I think Rosie's photo idea is a great one as well...all the traditional party games and a load of balloons will keep them amused for hours. If it rains stick them in a circle and play pass the parcel. (oh, and if you want less stress get rid of the parents-, less stress on you, stick to a couple of close friends)You and junior will have a ball- he's certainly far more likely to remember a party at home surrounded by familiar things and people than he is a village hall with some weird freaky clown person.x

Kathy said...

Hi Steph, I have always done parties at home with just a few friends (normally they can invite the same amount of friends as their age; ie. 6 years old = 6 friends and so forth). Pin the tail; sweet hunt (only hide a few so the kids spend AGES looking (ha ha!!), home made cake, sarnies, jelly, ice-cream and flakes, may be a dad to organise a football skills game (may be that comes when they are a little older?) Lots of bunting, and i always do a party bag, nothing expensive but just some fun bits. Also, a bottle of wine for afterwards... Don't feel pressured into inviting the whole class. Kathy PS. Party memories are of those at home; where else would you want to be on your birthday? PPS One year, I made a rocket cake and it actually looked more like a willy. Memories are made of these!

Rowan said...

I think you'll find that most of the children would enjoy the novelty of an old-fashioned party with games in the garden and jelly and ice-cream and a homemade birthday cake, it's the parents who organize these expensive affairs with entertainers etc not the children. I like Sal's idea of a themed birthday party but it doesn't need to cost the earth nor does the entire class have to be invited unless it's very small. A dozen or so is plenty. My children are 35,33 and 28 now but all had their parties at home and the one piece of advice I can offer is to have a nice bottle of wine and quiche and salad or something ready prepared for the evening - making a meal is not going to be top of your list of 'things I want to do' after wards:)

Nonnie said...

Not sure I can add much more to what everyone else has said. Old fashioned 'at home' parties are definitely best. Don't worry what other Mums think and the kids will definitely love it. Just do what feels right for you. I'm sure you would organise a lovely party with decorations, cake and all the fun old games.

mollycupcakes said...

Oh Steph,
I think your idea of a party in the garden sounds just wonderful. I can't stand the way families have to out do everyone else and invite all the class, so when it's other little ones birthday parties they have to be bigger and better.
That's all wrong, children love the way Mum's or Dad's bake their cake, hang the bunting, blow up the balloons and sort out real party games. I've always baked all my own birthday cakes and still do it even for my 13 year old and she' wouldn't have it any other way lol Keep it at home honey, just workout rain day games for inside if the heavens open.
Hope it all goes well look forward to seeing the photos, of smiling little faces :)
Many hugs.

Catherine x

dragonfly said...

It seems like the overwhelming view is to stick with the home party, and I'm absolutely in agreement. I've always done them and everyone has always thoroughly enjoyed them. Stick to your guns and don't get caught in the competitive mum rut!
You just can't beat jelly and ice-cream and a homemade birthday cake.

jessica daisy said...

well I don't think there is much more to add reading all of these commments, but I agree with everyone else. Last week Ella came back from a sport centre party, they had invited about 20 kids, and when we picked Ella up not only did she come home with a party bag, but with a wrapped up present too - which turned out to be a paint your own plant pot thing. It was nice for Ella, but I thought it was a bit much I certainatly won't be buying presents for all of Ella's friends!

For Ella's third and fourth birthday We had the classic birthday sandwiches and cupcakes amongst other things at home, and after we all went to a local dairy farm that does tours and an talk, and all the children get to feed the chickens and ducks, milk a cow, feed a lamb and have a donkey and cart ride for £3.50 per child. This was ok cost wise as we only had about six children with their parents, who where either our friends too, or family so I had said in the invite that we would pay for the children but they would need to pay for themselves if they wanted to come along. It was such a nice time, which is the reason that we did it twice, and at the time I think Ella was a bit young to understand the concept and rules of party games, so it was a different way to entertain them.

This year will have to be different though, now Ella is a seasoned party go-er! I had thought about going to the local country park where for £5 per child (although a minimum £50 must be paid) the park rangers will take the children pond dipping or a hunt for mini beasts (insects)and then you provide the food for the party I thought this sounded fun, a bit different, and edcational, but after reading all of these comments I feel a little braver to attempt an 'at home' party and some traditional party games, I'll just have to try and keep the numbers down!

JuicyFig said...


The kids will love it - honestly - been there, done it!
The party's we had in village halls, with clowns etc, were ok - too sterile! the ones where we improvised at home and did them old fashioned style are the ones her freinds all remember 10 years later as being 'excellent' parties! bobbing for apples, wierd coloured drinks with ice cream in them, I even painted a huge menu and pumpkin etc on the dining room wall pre-decorating once! (T's birthday is towards autumn)

it is the effort you go to, not the money you spend they appreciate!


prettyshabby said...

We could never afford parties like all the boys friends that age they went to a small village school where most of the mothers drove half a mile down the road in their fancy Range Rovers to drop the kids off, so as you can imagine, there was a lot of money around for fancy parties, and they went to some real eye openers..the cost of some of them must have been pushing £500!! Go with your heart will be a novelty for them as its something may get one child that may winge..but hay might get 9 that have a super time!
We used to have themed parties at home..I'll always remember my pirate one,I must have been about 6,we all dressed up and were blindfolded to walk the plank(4" off the ground!) and poke Nelson in his eye(an orange with a hole in it!) It was hilarious. Hope it all goes well however you do it!

Ragged Roses said...

Hi Steph
Stick to your guns!!! I always have parties here and the children always seem to have a great time. They just want to have fun, it doesn't matter where it is. We use our garden as much as poss and if it looks rainy we put a tent and bunting up, it's terrible how much parties can cost but they needn't. It sounds like you have so many ideas already, just do what you feel is right. The best parties my children have been too have been at other people's houses rather than at a hired hall. Good luck with it all
I always find it's best to have lots of games planned, just in case!

alice c said...

Hi Steph,
Everyone has left brilliant advice - can I just add two more things? First - Treasure Hunts - fantastic fun (with photo clues when they are small) and second I used Party Pieces mail order. They are the best mail order company I have ever used and even if you don't order from them you can get some great ideas. They used to send me the catalogue just before the birthdays so that there was no wastage. Have fun!

gayle said...

I have had my kids parties always at home (Except sons 5th this year, in feb it is just to cold to run round the garden so we had it at an activity place) and I prefer the home ones. We play, pass the parcel, musical statues/bumps, hide and seek and hunt the thimble. A few years ago I made a small assault course using a play tunnel, a ball, a plank to run a long, a hobby horse to ride back to the start again. The kids had a ball. Friends told me that their kids looked forward to it the next year. Good to catch up with you. Am slowly working my way through your posts. I am extremely jealous about the centerparcs holiday!

Anonymous said...

I have boys 10 and 13 and we started out with home parties around the table. Lots of games and music. Now we take one or two to the movies and they sleep over.

What about a fancy dress party! All kids love to dress up.

If you can afford it, pay a teenager to paint all their faces, I'm sure they would each love to go home as Spiderman, Harry Potter or The Hulk.

Good luck, and don't worry about what the other kids are doing, it's really their parents doing the "look at us" thing.

Oh I just remembered a great party we had around age 7. The boys put up tents in the garden and had a BBQ (sausage sizzle) then they all slept out in the garden. I was heeps of fun and my husband really enjoyed the night ... while I slept in our bed hahahaha!

Anonymous said...

I'm just laughing at my typo in the last comment. It should read "I was heeps of fun" is meant to read "IT was heeps of fun".