I have systematized a lot of things in our family life, but birthday parties are not one of them. As of now, we have no set pattern or household rules to follow about who gets one when, what they look like, or who is invited. Thus far, we have had:
— A first birthday party at our home for June, with family and family friends
— A third birthday party at our home for June, with family and six of her preschool friends
— A first birthday party at Pullen Park for Shep, with family and family friends
And now, a fourth birthday party for Shep at a local park! (Of course, on years we haven’t had official parties, we’ve celebrated birthdays in other ways, either with small family-only meals, birthday fun days, or very casual park meet-ups with friends.) His party was a sweet little delight, and I would love to tell you about it.
A few months ago, Shep started asking about having a birthday party. Given how COVID had changed the landscape for much of his preschool career, he hadn’t really attended any birthday parties until earlier this spring. Once he did, though, he was hooked, and expressed interest in a “camping and nature” themed bash for his own number four. This was most definitely a theme I could work with, and so my planning assistants and I got to work.
First up: location! We chose a somewhat out-of-the-way local park, with a pavilion tucked right up next to a small playground. The park is on a lake, and given the heat of July, I figured a morning soiree next to a body of water gave us the best chance of surviving an outdoor party.
We invited a truly eclectic selection of guests: my sister and her family; four “family friend” families; two newer-friend families from church; and the families of four preschool friends. If everyone had been able to attend, we would have topped out at almost 50 guests, but with summer travels and last-minute sickness, we ended up with a small group: my parents, Kate’s fam, my younger sister (who flew in as a surprise!), and three preschool friend families. It worked out perfectly: I joked that the only people Shep really cared about being there were his two best buddies from school (they are inseparable!), and he was positively thrilled to spend the morning with them. We sent out Paperless Post invitations to keep things simple.
Since it was a morning party, we opted for brunch-y food: chicken minis, of course, and a fruit salad from Chick-fil-a; bagels and cream cheeses from a favorite local shop; mini muffins from Publix; a mix-your-own trail mix bar; and juice boxes, water, and Waterloo to keep everyone hydrated. E-A-S-Y was my watchword.
The trail mix bar included Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, peanuts, mini pretzels, m&ms, bunny grahams, and mini marshmallows (which promptly stuck together into big clumps, ha – not the best choice for the heat).
In lieu of a traditional cake, we continued the brunch theme and opted for a tower of Duck Donuts.
The park setting was lovely and perfect for our theme, so we added just a few touches: a string of felt bunting to mark the pavilion, kraft paper runners with animal track decals for the tables, and paper goods. Very important: we brought two large standing fans to bring a breeze and keep the bugs away! They were quite effective.
We also set up our backpacking tent and Eno hammock nearby for the kids to play in, and they enjoyed those between runs to the playground.
The final organized activity was tucked inside the goodie bags: a custom nature scavenger hunt.
The favors were probably my favorite part: I’m stubborn about providing something edible or that won’t be immediately discarded, and since we had a smaller guest count, we could splurge a bit. I stamped muslin drawstring bags with each guest’s name (using these stamps), then filled them with the scavenger hunt sheet, a marker, a mini clipboard, a woodland creature sticker sheet, a granola bar, and a pair of binoculars. The final touch? A specially-chosen gem from the kids’ collections for each friend. You know we’re always trying to find uses for our overflowing rock collection :)
And there you have it! A fun and low-key morning for our best little guy. “I really loved my party,” he said on the way home, which was the sweetest thing to hear.
Thanks for taking a peek, friends! An attendee and I were discussing whether we thought at-home or on-location parties are less stressful. I came down on the side of on-location (where the main stressor for an outdoor location like this one is remembering to bring everything you need – candles, tape, scissors, etc.!), but I’d love to hear what you think!
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