Best Birthday Ever

Celebrating your child's big day doesn't have to stress you out or cost a bundle.

from Reader's Digest Magazine | September 2003

When I was young, kids’ birthday parties were uncomplicated. One year my party was a backyard carnival. We decorated the yard with streamers and turned a large cardboard box into a ticket booth, giving each guest a fistful of coupons. My father made stilts from a pair of broom handles and angled pieces of wood. He secured heavy rope from a back-porch post to the corner of the garage, attached a pulley, a handle, and presto! One carnival ticket bought two delicious glides through the air. We also had a tire swing and a Hula Hoop contest. Not to mention cake and ice cream.

Today, throwing a child’s birthday party seems much more complex, competitive and costly. We’ve all heard stories about the competition among kids and families for the “best” party. Competition should be left to professional sports teams and to Wall Street. It has no place at a birthday party, unless, of course, you’re hosting a backyard Olympics.

It’s easy to get the party off on the right foot even before it begins. Start with the invitations. You and your child might make them together out of colorful construction paper and fun stickers. Or try Handmade Cards (Klutz; $24.95), a kit with some good ideas to suit any theme. Set the stage with the atmosphere. A few lively decorations and posters, and you’re off and running.

If you happen to be short on time, why not turn your whole house into a party? The Treasure Hunt Book (Klutz, ages 4 and up; $10.95) is your ultimate resource for this activity. With sets of clues for 12 treasure hunts, the book accommodates pre-readers through adults.

Setting up stations of craft activities is another way to go. Check out the book Little Hands Paper Plate Crafts (Williamson Publishing, ages 3-7; $12.95 ) for clever ideas. Whether your child loves animals or sea creatures, or enjoys make-believe with masks or hats, this book is full of ways to keep the smallest hands busy. The instructions are easy to follow, and the materials are affordable and readily available.

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