Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Getting a Jumpstart On a Cheap but Fun 1st Birthday Party

One of my many, many New Year's Resolutions this year was to make sure I capture all the work I put into brainstorming, crafting, cooking, baking, and decorating for the parties I put together. I find myself always so busy hosting, trying to snap a pic here and there, running party games, etc. etc. that I don't always remember to step back and just soak in the entire atmosphere I've created and to see if it fits the vision I originally had. Then when it's over all too soon, I find it rather difficult to remember what happened and in what order- whether that's due to old age or not has yet to be determined.  

As a mother of three children, I guess I can claim to be a pretty adept birthday party planner. I don't claim to be a professional at all but I think I have all the necessary skills to be good at doing it on the cheap: I'm thrifty because I like to do everything myself as much as possible; I'm creative (currently working on finishing a graphic design degree); I'm an idea person (meaning I'm all over Pinterest just about 24/7) and I love reliving childhood fantasies and bringing them to life for my kids.

Because of my children, I get to do things I never got to do at their age and I have so much fun doing it for them that I hope they continue this habit of mine of DIY-ing all their future parties and celebrations for their kids. A proud thrifty mama can always hope, right? Already my daughter has picked up the crafting bug, probably right around the time she turned 3 and learned that pretty things can be made at home too and not always bought at the Red Store (Target) or the Blue Store (Walmart.) This is a lesson she hasn't forgotten as can be evidenced by her daily request for a new craft project right after she fills her tummy with breakfast.

In a single year, I plan from start to finish three birthday parties (two for boys and one for a girl), a few holiday celebrations (Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas) and an occasional tea party just for the heck of it. This year, I decided to do something small for Valentine's Day as well simply because I believe it's important to teach my children that celebrating love should be as important as celebrating Easter or Halloween. I haven't decided if I should do a tea party or a casual living room picnic in front of the fireplace (I live in a Midwestern tundra. I know, I'm still quite bummed about that and don't know why I continue to stay when half my family is in sunny, humid, beachy Florida!) Anyway, back on track here. I'm leaning towards the casual picnic because I can already envision a gigantic but cozy blanket fort big enough for my family of five. I can just see my kids throwing all 20 of their pillow pets in there and a string of Christmas lights hanging inside to light our picnic feast. Yes, I'm definitely leaning more towards the cozy living room picnic! =) And what better way to celebrate love than all smushed together inside an unventilated blanket fort?

Anyway, the reason I decided to start this particular blog was to record my party and event planning from start to finish. (Basically- new blog= new brain for maintaining memories I'll forget when the party's over.) I have a first birthday coming up for my sweet baby boy, Noah. He is my last child (I think, haha!) so this will probably be the last first birthday I'll ever get to plan. I started brainstorming themes last fall after I had put together my older son's Superhero 6th birthday. I originally loved the idea of a hot air balloon party- so whimsical and colorful- but then it seemed an inappropriate fit for Noah's personality, at least it did to me and who knows her baby better than the mama herself? He's robust, lively, loud, mischievous, and darling and hot air balloons seem so calm, peaceful and quiet- quite the opposite of him, I'd say! I always like to match the personality of my child to a theme and as they get older, I make a point of asking what their preferences are as well and try to incorporate some of that into the party. My daughter always has definite ideas, being all of 4 years old going on 14. My oldest son... hmm, well- he could care less about party themes; he just wants cake and presents!

Because my kids and I are bookworms, I turned to children's books for inspiration and stumbled upon---dun, dun, dun: Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar! LOVED the book as a child and now even more as an adult because I can bring it to life for my kids! How cool am I??? I know this theme is quite popular but it fit my very hungry little boy so well. You see, even though he's just turned 10 months old, he's eating like a teenager and always on the go looking for more junk to stuff into his mouth. So the theme is quite fitting, wouldn't you say? Not only that, but his siblings are of preschool and kindergarten ages so learning the days of the week and counting will also benefit them. I'm all for killing two birds with one stone and I think most mamas would agree with me!
Eric Carle's Very Hungry Caterpillar

For the entire past week, I've been researching party ideas on Pinterest and coming up with a few of my own. This would be the obvious second step to party planning once a theme is picked out. I was bombarded with so many wonderful ideas but had to shake some sense into myself because in reality, this party will be for a 1-year old who will not be able to participate in all the activities. So I thought and thought about what my baby really enjoys doing and remembered how much he enjoys playing peekaboo with his blankets and TADA! Just like that the lightbulb turned on in my head: a parachute! You know, one of those gigantic, circular, usually quite colorful, nylon contraptions with handles all around so the kids can grab them and start flailing it up and down to their delight?? Yep- I'm sure you recall them from your elementary school gym days like I do. I miss those! And guess what? Oriental Trading Company has a 12 foot parachute for $30 and guess what else? There will definitely be one at this party! Woohoo- I really can't wait to see Noah's reaction to that ginormous "blanket!"

I also scored an awesome deal on Craigslist, another favorite shopping site of mine. (I do a lot of online shopping now since I'm a SAHM) I thought to look for a ball pit because that's something else my baby could do quite easily and voila! A ball pit showed up for $30 the first time I searched! I felt like I'd just won the lottery! But seriously, wasn't that absolute divine providence?! In reality, it was a 5.5 foot diameter rainbow-colored pool with a ton of balls of both cheap and good quality but it does the job I want it to so I'm definitely not complaining! We're still two months away from the party so right now, my kids are enjoying the ball pit to themselves. A great bonus is that it makes a great little cage for my naughty Noah so I can cook or clean and know that he's safe and having fun. Killing two birds with one stone again- I'm such a clever mama. =)

So that's the first two activities I have planned for Noah's VHC 1st birthday party. I wanted to make sure he had something to do at his own party and made that my priority. Next, I brainstormed ideas for the older kids and again, the lightbulb went on! Cootie!!! Another childhood favorite making a comeback in my life again! Yay! Seriously- I'm reliving my childhood vicariously through my own kids but in a healthy, fun way. Cootie is a very easy game of assembling a caterpillar-like creature- so easy for 4-6 year olds to do! I thought to buy two games and give one away as a prize to the winner. The game is only $7.99 at Kmart according to my Google search engine. I can definitely afford that!

Other activities I have planned include a DIY caterpillar bug jar for which the kids can create play dough food for their pompom caterpillars, a collage butterfly with tissue paper (similar to how Eric Carle does his own fantastic art) and a paper caterpillar puppet that the kids can then use to act out the story when it's read at the party. Fun, right? I hope so! I really believe reading, creating by hand, and active play are essential to making learning an enjoyable adventure and when combined with a birthday party and food, it makes for an incredible and unforgettable experience. That's really what I'm hoping for anyway!

I know it seems like a lot of activities but most of them will not take too much time to do and the kids don't need to do each one either, just the ones they want. I'm all about a casual atmosphere so I had thought to set each "craftivity" up at separate tables and the kids can move from one to the other at their leisure with helpful parents and friends chaperoning each table. The ball pit and parachute are planned as "free play" activities to do during down time and eating is allowed all throughout the party as I plan to set it up buffet style all down the center of the main dining tables. (More on that in a later post- I promise!)

So far, I've covered games and activities. I find myself brainstorming those first because they always seem to take longer to prep for than anything else. Most of the games/activities will be DIY and require materials that can be found for cheap or in my own crafting room! Yay for being a crafty mama! In my next blog, I'll cover my invitation ideas! Exciting, huh? I found some great ideas online but decided to come up with my own, being a graphic design fan myself and all, and I've even made a quick mockup of an invitation that I need to perfect but I'll share it with you anyway. It's way too cute not to! So please do come back and see how I progress in creating a very special 1st birthday party! Maybe you can even throw some tips my way!

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