Shep’s camping fourth birthday party

10 August 2022

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.

Compostable paper plates | bear dessert plates | compostable cutlery | white paper cups | white napkins | blue serving bowls | kraft paper runner | animal track decals

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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August 10, 2022 7:26 am

I love the trail mix bar idea and the party favors were so cute! Happy belated birthday, Shep!

August 10, 2022 7:27 am

How fun! I love simple and cute parties! My favorite was my son’s 4th birthday that we had at a park with two of his buddies.

August 10, 2022 8:03 am

Taking copious notes for future little boy birthday parties — this is SO cute! Happy belated, Shep!

August 10, 2022 9:56 am

Oh wow I’m split on this one. I do think the best thing about having a party outside your home is that you don’t have to clean (before or after). I believe you and I are both Cup of Jo readers. I love how Toby’s birthday every year is basically the same thing haha It just seems so perfect and simple for kids. And in an era of Pinterest and Instagram parties, it’s kind of refreshing to see a party without a million homemade or expensive decorations and food. So we did playground and pizza for our daughter’s first birthday. Now that she’s two, her favorite things are still… playground and pizza hahah Safe to say, we’ve got her next birthday party planned.

August 10, 2022 9:38 pm

Sweet buddy! Looks like it was such a fun celebration! We have yet to host an out-of-the-house party, but I feel like it would be less stressful, so maybe it’s something I should branch out into :P

August 12, 2022 11:40 am

Looks like such a fun and sweet party! I have yet to host a birthday party that’s not at our house, so I don’t know from experience. I imagine it being easier in a lot of ways (no worries about cleaning before and after, for one). But I like that hosting at home forces us to keep the guest list somewhat small. I can only speak for my kids, but they seem to enjoy smaller parties (for themselves or others) more than big ones. I have a feeling it might get harder to narrow down a list of kids the older they get, but maybe also easier to have a couple more friends come (since they won’t bring the entire family, ha). Time will tell.
I love to plan and execute birthday parties for my kids, but it can be a LOT. So I try to focus on a couple of things that are important to me and/or the birthday kid (LOTS of balloons, a treasure hunt and a thoughtful birthday note are a must for each birthday!) and keep the rest more simple (we’ve done donuts instead of birthday cake before, too, and it was a hit!).
Thanks for sharing!

August 18, 2022 12:51 pm

This is so cute. And may I add… what a great set of children’s names! Hats off to you and your friends on their baby naming :)

Bethany Griffith
September 2, 2022 2:02 pm

It was the grandest day to celebrate our pal Shep! So many thoughtful and fun details. That clipboard has already lived a robust life in our home!

September 2, 2022 5:06 pm

We love our buddy Shep so much! And while we were so sad to miss the party, those gift bags provided lots of entertainment for our kiddos for several afternoons! And Milly even brought her binoculars to her first day of class introduction baggy and said she enjoyed bird watching :)