Over the last few years, parents have had to exercise their creativity in many ways: coming up with new games to play inside while quarantining, making meals from what was in the pantry when it was hard to get to the grocery stores, making sure kids’ special milestones were celebrated in a way that was safe for everyone.
What that has meant for our family, with two small children, is that many friends have held their birthday parties outdoors, when possible. We’ve gone to zoo outings, splash park pizza parties, and barbeques. It’s great to be able to celebrate outside, where the kids can let their crumbs fall to the ground and run off the extra energy that comes from eating sweet treats. After attending several parties like this, our son decided he wanted his 8th birthday to be outdoors.
The only catch? His birthday’s a week after Christmas. After initially telling him no, of course not, sure, some people have birthday parties outdoors when they’re born in June, July or August, my husband and I paused and pondered his request. Well…could it work?
We talked to our son about what he envisioned. He’s a creative kid with a love of nature and fantasy worlds. We live in a city, but in the suburbs just outside is a world of parks, rolling hills and forested trails. He wanted to go on a hike and drink hot chocolate. We told him that sure, we could try his idea. Did that mean his friends would be just as game?
First things first: I checked out the local offerings and found a park pavilion, wired with electricity, rentable for just $60 per day. Before the party, my husband, a gamer and fan of odysseys like Lord of the Rings, scoped out the area around the pavilion and chose a section of trail that would make a loop easy for all participants to walk. Also a fan of puzzles, he then wrote a series of riddles for the kids to answer at intervals along the hike. Each successfully answered riddle would give the kids a clue to the next direction to move in.
All of the friends we invited were excited to attend. On the day of the party, a light snow fell, but not so much that participants couldn’t make it to the party. Bundled and booted up, the kids set off with my husband leading the way. They made their way through the winter trees, the high points giving them a great view of the forest all around them. After answering all the riddles, the children made it back to the park pavilion, where a treasure chest of candy was waiting.
I had set up a portable heater to warm hands and made hot cocoa with our electric kettle. Pocket hand warmers were another thing we brought to help the kids stay warm. However, considering that they wait for the bus together on cold mornings, and were moving their bodies most of the time, the cold was not something they complained about.
We learned that sometimes we might initially want to say no to our kids’ ideas, but the initial “no” might just be our knee-jerk response. If there’s one muscle we’ve all worked on the last few years, it’s flexibility. We’re all used to making pivots when plans get thrown off and coming up with a new plan. Something like this was a great chance for us to be flexible.
There were so many benefits. Kids got outside in the winter. They had so much fun seeing their friends and solving the mystery that they weren’t really thinking about the cold – or screen time, which always seems to increase in the winter. The party was very affordable since we just rented the space and did all the setup ourselves. Also, our son got to experience the feeling of being listened to, with his ideas being respected.
Depending on what’s available in your area, you can tweak this idea. Some park pavilions in our town have full fireplaces. You could have a camp-style party with S’mores and storytelling. Or an ice-skating get-together. Or a wintry scavenger hunt. Having a wintertime birthday party outdoors is something that my son, and everyone who was there, will always remember. My toes were cold by the end, but it’s nothing an hour back in my warm house afterwards couldn’t cure.