Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons/Hendrike

What is more exciting to a child than his or her birthday? My own children begin dreaming about their birthdays as soon as they finished celebrating their last ones. We have done the full-fledge birthday party for a one-year old (who couldn’t care less), elaborate carnivals for a two-year old (when all she wanted to do was to take a nap), to sleepovers (when all I wanted to do was to take a nap). Nowadays, we rely on the teachers to give out peckalach and mini cupcakes.

But children do love a good birthday party, so it’s time to find a healthy balance between what the school and my budget allows.

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Keep the party small. You don’t want to invite the whole class, because despite how much you don’t want to leave anyone out, having twenty-five 8-year olds is a recipe for disaster. If you want to make sure that nobody feels left out, send out the invites close to the party, asking the parents not to tell their children until right before as not everyone could be invited. At the party, remind the children that there wasn’t enough room to invite everyone and not to tell others because they will feel left out. To make sure that everyone is invited at least sometimes, ask your child to think of someone in the class that perhaps doesn’t get invited so often, and invite that child.

Despite best efforts, this policy can sometimes backfire, as when a boy in my son’s class realized what was going on. Instead, I had my son invite the boy over for another playdate on a different day and he was happy with that.

Of course, when I say invites, I mean text messages or at most e-vites. By no means should you waste the extra expense and effort on actual invitations. The one exception was when my daughter designed her own invitations on construction paper.

Keep the party short. Two hours should be the maximum, regardless of how old the children are. Believe me, entertaining excited children is exhausting.

Fun, cheap games are the key to a great party. Recently, piñatas have come back in style, and they are so much fun. You can easily buy one at local party shop or online with candy or cheap toys in it, or even better, you can make your own with a paper bag, string, and lots of little candies.

Food decorating such as cupcakes or cookies tend to be a huge hit. You can bake or purchase plain cupcakes or large cookies and lay out different toppings such as chocolate spread, marshmallows, sprinkles, chocolate chips, etc. I have used these cupcakes in lieu of a birthday cake, and everyone was very happy. Make sure to let parents know ahead of time that the children might come home messy.

Ball games are always fun, but you want to avoid any games where a child might get hurt. Safer games are freeze dance, musical chairs or hug-a-bear.

Simple food such as pizza, hot dogs or bagels are always a crowd pleaser especially if children make their own pizza or bagel with toppings spread out on the table.

For my children, regardless of age, the most important part of the party is the party bags, or peckalach as they are known in my circles. You can put the cheapest nosh in it, and kids love it. I don’t know why. They just do. I like to buy tall drinks, individual bags of chips and other snack bags that contain a lot of air, as it creates a larger package, upping the wow factor.

Once my children begin to age out of the birthday party stage, I allow them to invite two or three friends to go out to eat or have a sleepover with. As these children are older, I no longer have to entertain them, I just have to make sure they stay safe. Therefore, I stay in the background as much as possible, only enforcing my one rule: no electronics or screens allowed. Otherwise, I’m an invisible chaperone, as nothing is more embarrassing to a pre-teen or teen than an overbearing mother.

Keep to these guidelines, and I promise everyone, including you, will enjoy.

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Pnina Baim is the author of the Young Adult novels, Choices, A Life Worth Living (featured on Dansdeals and Jew In The City) and a how-to book for the Orthodox homemaker, Sing While You Work. The books are available at amazon.com. Pnina is available for speaking engagements and personal consulting. Contact her at pninabaim@gmail.com.
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