“I felt like a princess,” says Georgia Steffan, who turned 8 in June. She was all smiles as she waved to adoring family, friends, classmates and teachers during an hour-long car parade organized by her mom, Janine, of Olmsted Falls.
“Georgia’s birthday was right after school would have let out for summer vacation,” Janine Steffan explains. “We normally have a pool party in our complex, but, given the circumstances, we decided on a car parade — Georgia got to pick out a new dress, my friend Kristi made a coordinating balloon display on a stand (shared grounds don’t allow for lawn decorations), and I sent an email invitation to friends and family for a timeframe on a Friday evening. Everyone was on board.”
Following cake and presents inside with immediate family, Georgia greeted parading guests — including more than half of her classmates — from the sidewalk. “Some handed her gift bags through car windows, and many people decorated their vehicles, blared the birthday song, honked horns and noisemakers, and waved as they drove by,” Janine Steffan says.
To their surprise, neighbors even joined in on the fun, watching the parade or playing music and extending birthday wishes from their windows. “It made her day,” she says.
Already been around the birthday parade block? Whatever your comfort level or preference for gatherings, there are plenty of other fun, creative ways to celebrate safely in-person, virtually or with a hybrid event. Here are eight more ideas sure to make your birthday child feel special:
1. Make an “All About Me” day
Multiple siblings and schedules to coordinate can make it difficult to focus on one child’s wishes, but pick a day to let the birthday child be the star. Display his or her baby pictures or favorite memories somewhere in the house, have each family member write a letter or list what they love about the birthday child (e.g., 10 things for 10 years). What brings your child joy? Let him or her choose everything — from dinner and dessert, to music played and a family activity that day, whether that’s a movie, board game, playground visit or other outing — within reason, of course. Create a fill-in-the-blank schedule or menu of options if you need to set limits, but keep it the birthday child’s day.
2. Pack a party to go and link up later
Pre-pack birthday boxes or bags of take-home treats and simple games, like bingo boards or coloring sheets coordinating with a theme of your child’s choice. Do you have a Blue’s Clues fan, for example? Look online for plenty of free printables, favor ideas and more. Make paw print “clues” leading to your child’s gifts or for guests to follow to your house where they can pick up the goodies, then log on to Zoom or another video conferencing service at a designated date and time to play a game, learn a dance (try Go Noodle or Koo Koo Kanga Roo videos) and/or sing “Happy Birthday” and other sing-along favorites together. If you’re not tech savvy, practice how to screen share beforehand, and be sure to provide clear links and instructions to guests in advance. For added surprise, ask guests to dress in costume.
3. Set a drive-in date
Meet friends for lunch or dinner at a drive-in diner with curbside car hop service, like Swenson’s, Sonic or Green Leaf Restaurant in Wooster, or catch a flick at a drive-in movie theater (be sure to check current hours of operation). Call the venue ahead of time to see if spaces can be reserved, line up your cars, pop the back hatch or roll down your window and “visit” from a distance. If you can pick up at least part of their tabs, consider providing gift cards with the invitation, or hand out a prepackaged treat (check theater guidelines on this) or a non-food “thank you” favor for coming. Label party cars with balloons or bows.
4. Be party animals
Plan an outdoor adventure where kids can roam freely with parents or guardians yet still interact as a group, like at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Akron Zoo or Majestic Meadows Alpaca Farm in Medina. (Think: Join us for a “whole llama fun” or “wild time!”) Designate a time and area for exchanging gifts and favors. For example, consider purchasing each guest a keepsake KeyBank Zookey (available at the Cleveland zoo box office) to unlock educational messages throughout their visit or a bag of alpaca grain from the Majestic Meadows boutique (reservations and feed may be purchased online) to enhance your guests’ experience, especially if they’ll incur other entry fees. Fishing and nature walks are also economical options depending on the age group. Feeling more ambitious? Prepare a scavenger hunt tailored to your destination and offer an extra prize for those who complete it.
5. Book a private indoor rental
Wary of sharing space with strangers?
• Roll Arena in Elyria offers private “safe skate” facility rentals ($150 for an hour and a half session, including skate rentals and free printable invitations) outside of regular public skate and lesson times.
• Want something more laid back? Movie theaters like AMC Theatres, Atlas Cinemas and Cleveland Cinemas now offer private auditorium rentals. Prices vary based on movie type (classic or new release), number of people in your group and day of the week. Cedar Lee Theatre and Chagrin Cinemas will let you bring in a favorite DVD or Blu-Ray or watch a film currently playing on screen for a set fee and minimum concessions purchase. Contact them for specific rates and requirements.
• Have an aspiring astronomer or astronaut? Lake Erie Nature & Science Center offers personalized planetarium programs for groups of up to six people ($40 for a half-hour session). Choose between Twinkle Tots (recommended ages 0-3), Stellar Stars (recommended ages 3-7) and Mini Missions (recommended for all ages). Register online.
6. Host a virtual watch party
Not ready for an in-person event? Stream a movie with friends using a platform like Netflix Party, a Chrome Extension that allows you to chat together at the same time, Amazon Watch Party, Hulu Watch Party, Disney+ GroupWatch or Scener. Not sure which service is right for you? There are plenty of tech articles outlining the differences. Note that each person may be required to have an active (paid) account to participate, so you might consider having one person with a subscription stream a show and share their screen via Zoom.
7. Do more décor
Make your celebration more festive than ever with extra decorations inside and out, from bedroom doorway streamers to personalized yard signs with stakes. Splurge on a balloon creation company or party store display, or create an easy DIY balloon arch or banner accented by a giant foil number or character balloon. Hang twinkle lights or create a dance party-like atmosphere with color-changing smart light bulbs and strobe effects. You may know about Philips Hue and its app, but there are other less expensive varieties that work with Alexa and Google Home.
8. Have “weird science” time or “crafty hour”
Do you have a curious scientist or budding artist? The Great Lakes Science Center offers virtual parties and themed kits shipped to your home complete with activities and a personalized badge for the birthday child. Extra kits can be sent to guests for a fee. Each 30-minute party is conducted via Zoom (cost is $100 or $80 for members), and themes range from Rainbow Connection for younger learners to candy and rocket chemistry or circuitry. Canton-based Mad Science of Northeast Ohio also offers virtual party options, including ready-to-go goody bags with science-themed toys. Order craft kits online, or go the DIY route by packaging art supplies from nearby craft or dollar stores. Deliver them to guests or have them pick them up before connecting online for a virtual art party. Be sure to complete a sample craft beforehand to show children what the finished product will look like, then walk them through it step-by-step in a fun video conference.
Get creative, but, remember, plans don’t have to be elaborate to be meaningful. Whether you celebrate together or apart, do it from the heart.
Check out the March Party Guide! See these party opportunities to help you plan a great party!