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Katie Allison Granju is the married mother of five children, ranging in age from toddler to teenager. In addition to blogging for Babble Voices, she also publishes her own blog, Big Good Thing, and she works full time in digital media with a large cable network. When she isn't at work, blogging, or washing someone's socks, Katie enjoys working in her flower garden, riding her bike, and feeding the chickens she keeps in the backyard of her family's large and totally impractical, 113-year-old Victorian house.

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In Praise of the Old-Fashioned, DIY Birthday Party

By Katie Allison Granju |

C with her birthday cake.

I don’t know what the kid-birthday-party-culture is in your own neck of the woods, but around here, parties for little kids are increasingly held somewhere other than at home. And to be sure, my children have loved attending some of the superfun and amazing destination birthday parties to which they’ve been lucky enough to be invited over the years. They’ve been to birthday parties at pools, ice skating rinks, beauty salons (for little girl makeovers), jewelry-making and pottery studios, and gymnastics training centers.  They’ve had a blast at each and every one of these parties, and a couple of times, I’ve planned birthday parties in special places, like J’s 8th birthday party, which was held at the barn where she spent most of her free time for most of her childhood. That party was one of my favorites ever. Henry’s 11th or 12th birthday party was held at the paintball field where he loved playing, and that was a great time as well.

However, as fun as these special parties are, both Jon and I prefer having our own children’s birthday parties at home. We just like how relaxed at-home birthday parties are, with the other kids in the family helping to decorate and blow up balloons. Birthday cakes and cupcakes for our DIY, at-home birthday celebrations are usually made by Jon’s mother Janice, who is kind of famous for her made-from scratch carrot and red velvet cakes, or sometimes from our beloved neighborhood bakery, Magpies, which is owned by an old college pal of mine. This year, as we approached C’s 5th birthday – a big year for a little girl when it comes to planning a birthday party – I worried that she would be disappointed if we had her party at home – that she would find that underwhelming and boring, given that she;s had the chance to go to such great birthday parties for her friends at places like Chuck E. Cheese.

So I tried to think of a way that we could make her at-home party a little more exciting, and I remembered how much fun everyone had a few months back at my friend Jillian’s at-home party for her adorable little guys. In addition to cake, ice cream, and gifts to open, Jillian had also rented  an inflatable bouncy house for her yard, and the kids were just thrilled.

So I asked C if she might like to have a bouncy house at her birthday party, and she couldn’t have been more excited. She’d already explained to me that she wanted her party to have a princes-slash-fairy theme (same as last year’s birthday party), and that she wanted her grandmother to make a carrot birthday cake with pink decorations. The bouncy house, she excitedly announced, would make her 5th birthday party absolutely perfect – exactly what she wanted.

So I got on the phone and called all over town pricing and sizing inflatable bouncy houses, trying to find one at the best price that would be big enough to enjoy but small enough to fit in our small yard. I discovered pretty quickly that there is a very wide variation in how much these things cost to rent dfor a party. The first place I called was going to charge $270, but after asking on Facebook if anyone could recommend a reasonable local rental place, I found one that was just the right size for only $135 with tax, including delivery, full set up and take-down.

SCORE!

In the 24 hours before the party, C and 2 year old G were so excited that the bouncy house was going to be coming to our house that it’s all they talked about. G couldn’t actually say “bouncy house,” so she kept running to the door and looking out to see if it had arrived yet, happily asking, “bumpy house? bumpy house?” over and over.

And the party was a big success! The “bumpy house’ arrived that morning, and a very nice young man got it all set up for us. My four kids and several of J’s friends who were hanging out that day got to play in it for a while before the other guests arrived, and the teenagers enjoyed it as much as the little kids. I think G loved it the most though. She dragged  my mother into the bouncy house immediately, and then corralled Jon’s mother to climb in with her as soon as Janice arrived at the party bearing C’s birthday cake, and insisted that she stay in the inflatable house with her for almost the entire party (which awesome grandma that Janice is, she was happy to do).

C said it was the best birthday party ever, and that made Jon and me super happy. The weather was lovely, and it was so wonderful to have so many friends there. It was just a great afternoon. The only unhappy moment came when the party ended, and little G realized that the man had come to take “the bumpy house” away. Her big brother tried to cheer her up, but she was VERY unhappy about that inflatable house being removed from her yard, and for several days following, she kept hopefully asking us again and again when “the bumpy house” was coming back.

Here are some pix of C’s special day, including G’s beloved BUMPY HOUSE!

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Photos of my daughter's DIY, at-home 5th birthday party

G, her grandmother and other kiddos in

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So how about you? Do you prefer throwing your kids’ parties at home or at a destination locale?? Tell me about the best kid birthday party you’ve ever thrown, and what made it a success, and I’d also love to hear about any you’ve attended with your child that you thought were really fun. Let’s talk kid birthday parties together in the comments below. 

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About Katie Allison Granju

katie-allison-granju

Katie Allison Granju

Katie Allison Granju is the married mother of five children, ranging in age from toddler to teenager. In addition to blogging for Babble Voices, she also publishes her own blog, Big Good Thing. Katie also enjoys working in her flower garden, riding her bike, and feeding the chickens she keeps in the backyard of her family's large Victorian house. Read bio and latest posts → Read Katie Allison's latest posts →

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20 thoughts on “In Praise of the Old-Fashioned, DIY Birthday Party

  1. Claire R says:

    Because of financial restrictions, we always had at-home birthday parties. My girls were born in May and June, and we always had a cook-out, plenty of sidewalk chalk for games and drawing, and if it was warm enough, bathing suits and the hose. We also lived right next door to a playground so lots of times we spent hours over there. My kids are 20 and 24,and even “back then” lots of their friends went places for their parties.
    I am a huge fan of the at-home party and the home made cake.

  2. BeccaV says:

    We have always had Dylan’s birthday parties at the Cove at Concord Park. It’s an easy way to entertain the kids, although hauling all our stuff there is a little tedious. This year we are having Dylan’s bday party at home. My husband and I always had birthday parties at home growing up and had a blast. Thanks for adding the link to your bouncy house place, we are thinking of getting one for Dylan’s bday party this year.

  3. Debbie says:

    Love C’s long hair, so pretty!!

  4. Danielle says:

    My youngest daughter has had her first two birthday parties at home, but my oldest has only had her first birthday at home. Mostly because she was in preschool/daycare by the time she hit her second birthday, and we wanted to have a simple but big birthday party with lots of kids, and didn’t think we could manage that many people at home. So, our fallback is renting space at a local park for playground and BBQ, which is a relatively inexpensive way to do it.

  5. Alexicographer says:

    I have to admit, you lost me at “bouncy house.” I’m pretty minimalist; we’ve hosted one birthday party for my son that involved kids (same age as C) rather than just family, and that was having a few preschool friends over for waffles one weekend morning (DS’s choice; I did also give him the option of meeting the same friends at our public swimming pool or going out for pizza after a soccer game, ditto).

    Looks like a blast, and more power to you, but definitely more complicated (and expensive) than I want to get!

  6. Leslie says:

    Our typical party is a family party held at home with cake homemade by me. “Friend” parties at outside venues are occasional treats. I actually have a system for this, with so many kids, to make it fair. So, since you asked: First birthday = big deal. We had them all at home (in the party room at our apartment in Emily’s case), and invited not just family but also our current circle of friends. Bakery cake, lots of presents. Third = pizza party. Chuck E. Cheese for the first two, then at home for the third because it had gone out of business right then. (we stopped this after #3). Five = old-fashioned at-home party. Lots of kids’ friends and old-fashioned party games outside. Homemade cake. Eight = outside venue party with everyone in the class invited. We had an Art Party in the Candy Factory, a Nature Party at Ijams, and a Swimming Party at the Downtown Y. #4 was not in school and did not have one of these, but #5 gets hers this year, and is already tossing around those ideas and others. The details of my “system” have grown fuzzy, but at some point we let each kid have a birthday slumber party as well. For 13 #2 asked to have the usual family party but at a restaurant so we did that. Other fun ones we have been to included horseback riding, inflatable water slide, Zuma Fun Center, skating, and so many more I cannot remember them all. I do agree that some people seem to do the destination parties every year and I find that a little much! C’s party sounds absolutely perfect.

  7. Chrissy says:

    My son’s birthday is in January (as is mine), so we’ve pretty much done the destination party when we’ve had one. When he was smaller, we just had family parties (with both sets of grandparents driving in from Ohio), but of course as he’s grown older we’ve had more of his friends by. His 6th party was at home, in our small condo with a smaller yard, and it was fun but awfully crowded (again, January!). Last year we did it at Lazer Quest, which was pricey but fun. This year he wants it at home, and we live in a larger house with a nice yard. I figure the kids can bundle up and play outside, even if it’s 40 degrees or something. So hm…prefer it at home, I guess!

  8. heather says:

    I’ve only had 3 of these kid birthday parties to plan. My daughter is the first grandbaby on both sides of the family, so just inviting parents, 3 sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. makes a party of 15 people. You throw a friend or two in there and it’s quite a group. The first year we went to a park but the past two years we’ve done at-home parties. I admit that I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, it’s nice to be in your own home, balloons, cake, ice cream, and there is something so rewarding about seeing our home and backyard full of happy celebrating people. On the other hand, our friends had a party at a local kids playland and they made a phone call to organize it, showed up with their own cake, celebrated and sang happy birthday, wrote a check and walked out. This last party, where I was either setting up for the party or cleaning up from it for about eight hours straight I was thinking about going somewhere else for Party #4.

  9. M says:

    We’ve done a hybrid approach for my son with a November birthday- homemade style, but we have the party at one of the neighborhood parks. It’s easy for people to come and go, we don’t have to worry about whether the house is presentable, and November is good outside weather in Texas. Not sure what we’re going to do about the younger one with a January birthday…

  10. Lo says:

    Looks likes a great time. :) And the garden looks great, by the way!

  11. Clisby says:

    I don’t get year-after-year kid birthday parties. (I don’t mean the family party, with a cake and a few presents after dinner – I mean inviting other people.)

    Each of mine (ages 16 and 10) has had exactly one party that involved non-family members. One was at our house; one was at a local museum. They were fine, and that’s enough.

  12. Timmy's mom says:

    I loved having big birthday bashes for my daughter (she’s almost 21 now)! Up until she was about 12, we would have a family party AND a friend party! One year we had a carnival theme with the bounce house, a mini carousel and carnival games in our backyard. We’ve had parties at the bowling alley, aquarium, movie theater. Because my daughter went to school where class size was below 20, and all the kids were pretty much friends, we would invite the entire class Once we had a sleepover with pizza and movies, but the boys went home, or course. We played Bingo and gave out small prizes. The kids LOVED that!!. We would always have extra adults on hand and parents were welcome to stay or take a few hours to themselves. The two parties that were most fun were age 10 when the real magician/balloon shape guy came, and 13, when we hosted a ‘haunted woods’ on her grandparents’ property. That one took A LOT of hours, and some pretty creative uncles, but boy, was it memorable! Yes, we have put down some serious cash for a couple of those parties, but it was worth every penny!

    With all that said, I think kids can be just as happy with homemade cupcakes and a few friends over to play. There were times when I worried that someone would think I was going overboard (sure I was!), but it was never my intention to try and portray our family as wealthy or privileged (we are NOT!). I just liked big celebrations!! One kid did accuse my daughter’s father of being a rock star once, which had something to do with his mohawk and really cool convertible, but that’s a different story!

    I say celebrate! Let your kid be Princess or Prince for a day! They’re only little once!

    One more thing. . . because we threw big parties, we always put ‘no gifts – just come celebrate’ on the invitation. Our daughter never felt cheated because her parties were always so much fun, and she would get lots of presents from family. There were always parents who felt weird not bringing a gift so they would bring one anyway.

  13. geri a says:

    darling pictures, C has such a sweet face and smile.

    @clisby-I don’t think kids need a party every year either. My kids each got two, one when they turned five, and then they could have one more, year of their choice, where friends were invited and we either had it in the backyard or at some place. The rest of the time, it was us, and maybe some aunts/uncles/grandparents/cousins who were able to come over for cake and ice cream.

  14. El says:

    No friend parties til kindergarten, and then only as many friends as their age. I invite who I need/want to invite and they invite the allotted number of kids. I include siblings as my extra invitees. every other year they can go out for a party and alternate years are at home.

  15. Jillian says:

    I love a good kiddie birthday party. Our two boys have birthdays ten days apart, and they’re just two and four. We have two parties, but they’re both for both boys. One is family and close friends in the backyard, homemade cake, maybe something fun like a bounce house or a pinata. The second we had last year at a nature center for their preschool buddies. We could have had that at home too (small school) but we couldn’t compete with the chance to pet a tarantula. It wasn’t at all expensive and allowed us to support a local organization we love.And I really didn’t miss having to clean up after 10 little kids.

  16. cbd says:

    I love throwing birthday parties for my girls. We’ve done them at home, except for one at the bowling alley. I’ve done tea parties, craft parties and this year a slip n slide party. My mother never planned birthday parties for me. I had cake and ice cream and one present at home and sometimes not even that. It wasn’t for lack of money, my mother didn’t like to “do those sorts of things” whatever that means.

  17. Monika says:

    All of the birthday parties we’ve had for kids have been DIY, and we’ve loved all of them. Because we’ve moved continents a couple of times right around birthday time, they haven’t had parties every year. My daughter, born in September, has had wonderful birthdays — I remember mostly gloriously sunny days, laughter, and great cake (I’ve been making her red velvet cakes, because nothing else seems as appropriate for a girl named Tallulah). My 5 year old son has only had 2 parties, at 2 and 4, and having been born in November, none of them involved the outdoors. But maybe this year he will get a Halloween party…

    We are usually great friends with the parents of our kids’ friends, and so we always have a fabulous adult party as part of the festivities. I make loads of great food, and usually some nice Sangria for the parents, and everyone loves to hang out and help out, either with some of the games (the best was the carnival party we had one year) or just cleaning up.

    Looking back, I’d say the kids’ birthday parties are some of our best times, ever.

  18. Maria says:

    I had primarily destination birthday parties when I was growing up, but that’s because it was cheaper and easier for my parents. There was a small amusement park by us (more of a permanent carnival) which was mainly a kiddieland, plus one mild roller coaster, a Ferris wheel, and a tilt-a-whirl. All day passes for kids were only a few dollars. Siblings of friends (and parents) were invited. Everyone met up for cake and drinks that we brought in ourselves, and the “goody bag” consisted of a baggie with 4 quarters in it to play games. After that, I had exactly 2 at-home parties before my mother got desperate and began bribing me to not have a party. Many destination parties are over-the-top, but at-home parties can be a huge hassle as well, even ones that don’t include bouncy castles.

  19. victoria says:

    We’ve had one out-of-the-house party (I was on the board of a kid-related nonprofit and a free party was basically the perk for doing that), but mostly we’ve just done the at-home with cake and maybe lunch/dinner. One year we had the kids show up in pajamas and read bedtime stories.

    What’s happened each of the last few years is that my daughter has come up with some elaborate thing to do at home, then just as it’s time to send out the invitation, she changes her mind and decides she wants “a regular party.” Which is kids running around like hooligans, then eating cake, opening presents, and playing with the toys. Suits me fine!

  20. allround fun says:

    I love bounce house and dunk tanks. Though not a kid I literally become a kid in children’s parties and want to jump and hop like them. Kids party rentals

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