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

If your kids are a bit older, show them how hip you are by suggesting a party that includes making tie-dye T-shirts (try the Francis Family Toys kit, ages 4 and up; about $22) and tapestry wrap bracelets (HearthSong, also a kit, ages 10 and up; $12.95). And what about a beach party? To transform your surroundings, professional sand sculptor Matt Long has created a terrific introductory video, How to Build the Perfect Sand Castle (, ages 2 and up; $12.99), plus an indispensable sand-sculpting tool kit (ages 7 and up; $10.99). Fine-grade play sand, access to water, and a disposal plan are recommended. Put the “beach” in your driveway or backyard, or move it to a local park or school (check regulations first). To dispose of the sand, try dispersing it throughout your yard or use it for a landscaping project.

If sand isn’t your thing, you might actually go for that backyard Olympics — with fun as the focus. Some parents suggest tying a doughnut on a string and hanging it from a tree limb. With hands behind their backs, kids try to eat the doughnut. Hide a strawberry in a plate of whipped cream, and watch kids howl as their friends look for it without hands or utensils.

Speaking of food, try a team cooking party for teens. When guests arrive, divide them into teams. With the hosts presiding, have each group prepare a different recipe. The conversation will be plentiful, the instant camaraderie unexpected, and the chorus of ooohs and ahhhs during dinner definitely show-stopping.

When it comes to video slumber parties, you might want to think outside the box, literally: Show movies outside. The extra jolt of magic is worth the effort. For a group of 6 to 8 kids, seeing a film outside on a screen (or on the side of a house) is fun and doable with a bit of effort.

Libraries often have great selections of classic movies and cartoons; some still have 16mm projectors for rent. Your school (or local college) might have one available. Checking with a local AV rental house, we found a 16mm projector and screen ran $50.

Don’t make the theme of your child’s event “Let’s outdo the Joneses.” Speak out for limits. Get together with your child’s class parent and agree to cap costs of all parties and goody bags. The goal is an event that gratifies kids, not parents. A terrific party should exhaust your creativity, not your bank account.

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