No More Party Bags: 7 Outdoor Kids Party Ideas
Are your children’s parties more chore than cheer? Are they costing you a fortune? Peer pressure from other parents and a desire to please our little birthday girls and boys means we can’t quite go back to how it used to be…with a few sausage rolls, a game of pin on the tail on the donkey and a run around the garden. But we could be more creative, explore nature’s big backyard, and still show the kids a good time…
No more party bags?
In his Man about the House column in Saturday’s Family Guardian, journalist Tim Lott argues children’s parties have now expanded to epic proportions, while the the only ones getting any benefit are the ’the marketeers of happiness.’ And he has a point. How often have you looked at those plastic toys in the party bags, that you’ve also been guilty of sourcing, and felt vaguely nauseous? How often have you wondered if the bouncy castle and magician is really necessary? And what about that confectionery monstrosity that’s bigger than the average wedding cake?
But can you go back to basics, and still keep up with the Jones’s? Well we think you can. Here’s some of our tried and tested outdoor children’s party ideas that are cheap, sometimes high tech, and fun for everyone…
1 The Nature Detectives Party
Themes: Nature, Tracking, Wildlife
Benefits: The children have fun in the outdoors while learning about the natural world. And you learn something too.
Preparation: Buy a pocket tracking guide. Then choose a small patch of land or public footpath and familiarize yourself with what’s there in advance of the party. Identify the trees. Note what animals hang out there. Look for tracks. See what’s in the hedges. Source some cheap reporter’s notebooks and magnifying glasses and give everyone a pen.
How it works: The children get points working as a team or in small groups to identify everything on their walk. Is that an oak, a silver birch or a redwood? Are there any dead things or animal poop to examine? Encourage them to collect things as they go (but nothing that’s still growing or poop!) and make collages on your return. Give everyone their collage and a magnifying glass to take home.
2 Paparazzi Party
Themes: Technology, creativity, photography
Benefits: This party develops the children’s creativity but has an element of competition with a prize at the end.
Preparation: Beg, borrow or steal some digital cameras, phones with cameras or ask the kids to bring their phone or iPod with them. Choose a location and do a bit of research into what’s there.
How it works: The children are split into two groups and given a camera and an adult between them. They are also provided with a list of landmarks to find and photograph. They must take a picture of themselves with the landmark. The activity is timed and the team with the most points wins. You can host this party anywhere, but it works best in pedestrian spaces like the park where the children can tear around looking for benches or mole-holes. We did it on the prom in Morecambe where they had two miles to run around without encountering cars. Then retire to a green spot for a picnic, while you calculate which team has collected the most landmark pictures. If you set up a dropbox for all the photos then children can print off pictures during the party or afterwards as souvenirs.
Expenses: A small prize for winners. A picnic.
3 Geocaching Treasure Trail Party
Themes: Technology, GPS, geography, map-reading
Benefits: The party bag prizes are built in to the ground and wall! Kids love geocaching; some of them will be new to it and might pick up a new interest. If you live in the city it’s a great way to show the kids some history or unusual locations. Geocaching can be done on foot, by bike or even public transport. If you choose sites close together you won’t need a party bus and will fret less about losing other people’s kids, or even your own.
Preparation: Source two or three phones with GPS. Identify some geocaches close together by going to geocaching.com. Check out their suitability for visiting with kids!
How it works: Choose from your geocaches according to location and difficulty level. Plug in the coordinates and off you go; checking to see if there’s a clue. If you prefer you can use the geocaching app to help with locating caches. Go as a whole group or split into teams. When you’ve found the cache, add your name to the list, collect a treasure and put in a small token of your own in return.
Expenses: A few small gifts to go in the geocache boxes. Picnic.
4 Crazy Olympics Party
Theme: Sport, Competition, Wacky games
Benefits: Lots of exercise. Good fun.
Preparation: Borrow a field, a school playground or head to the beach.
How it works: Split into teams and have a series of Olympic events that the children can do; similar to an adult circuit training course. Be imaginative about your events. Remember this is the crazy Olympics. Make them run the 100 metres in wellies. Do shot put with apples and oranges. Have an equestrian event with a hobby horse and home made hurdles.Encourage them to create a waterless synchronised swimming routine. Any Olympic sport is fair game for a daft version.
Expenses: A picnic for the sportsmen and women (not fogetting the Crazy Olympic Committee) and sweeties for the best, or just the whackiest athletes.
5 Camping Party in the Garden
Theme: Overnight Camping, Bushcraft skills
Benefits: Gets the kids uplugged!
Preparation: Clear your garden of all the bikes, buckets, weeds, dog poo etc! Identify your site, and source a tent but don’t set it up beforehand. Make it a timed challenge. Even better if there are camp beds to blow air into. Source some head torches or bike lights so they can see their way to the toilet in the night.
How it works: Take a night hike first to add drama. Have a midnight feast (but probably not at midnight). Make home made catapults with twigs, elastic bands and marshmallows. If it’s raining do indoor camping. If firelighting, take precautions to protect your surroundings and your kids. Remember to leave no trace. Even in your own backyard. Especially in your own backyard.
Expenses: A family bag of marshmallows.
6 Wild Camp Party
Theme: Bushcraft and survival skills, camping, wild places
Benefits: Building your own hut is a creative experience. Teenagers will be especially good at this, if you can persuade them to leave their hair straighteners and Minecraft back home.
Preparation: Get permission from a landowner or neighbour to build a den on their patch. Bring some materials including tarp, wood, cardboard etc. Or if you’re feeeling even braver, identify an island you can swim, canoe or raft to with all this stuff. Do make sure you have permission though. Do some research before you go. Books that may help include Ray Mears Bushcraft and Go Wild. Or for ideas on wild hut construction check out sites like Kevin Langan’s 100 Wild Huts site
How it works: You have to build your own shelter and sleep in it for the night. And cook your own food. Parties don’t get more fun than that. Best done in summer for everyone’s comfort. And if you are nervous you can always have a plan B like a tent in the boot in case the weather throws a tantrum.
7 Mission Impossible Party
Theme: A mission or mystery for everyone to solve with solvable clues and a time limit
Benefits: Fun to set up and fun to do. Keeps them motivated and engaged. No one will say ‘I’m bored.”
Preparation: Set clues, hide envelopes. Think up code names, imaginative rewards and a consequence if they don’t do it on time. We hired a pod on a campsite, with its own little patch of land. And had a Pod Party. With a mission. If you don’t have the time or the ideas, you could try adapting some of the clues in a murder mystery game.
How it works: Have a running theme. Lots of clues, and treasure. It needs some planning to ensure all the little Tom Cruises complete their mission in time for tea or bed. A contained location helps so they can run around searching for clues without getting lost. Here’s the moment our kids opened their final envelope…
Expenses: Paper and envelopes. Treasure you can hide. (We used Kinder eggs). Prize for the winner.