My kids love to attend ANY kind of birthday party – fancy princesses, McDonald’s play-ground, bounce houses and face painters, even Chuck E. Cheese, but in our own family we love to throw “home-made” birthday parties. It’s just become our tradition. Now by “home-made”, I don’t necessarily mean the cake (that part I often do out-source.) What I mean is backyard/ playroom, kid-centered, kid-decorated, kid (and Mommy) – planned, as simple and inexpensive as possible to celebrate kid birthdays. (And by “simple”, I don’t necessarily mean easy, but based on simple ideas!) This year, MJ had first talked about wanting a camping a party, but when we thought about how the sun wouldn’t be going down until after everyone’s bed-time (on the day before Easter Sunday), we decided we would save that idea for another year. He then decided he wanted to sell hand-painted Easter eggs for his b’day, inspired by a favorite Easter book we check out every year, “The Eater Egg Artists” by Adrienne Adams.
When I suggested that most people don’t sell things at their b’day parties, he insisted that he would be donating the money. After deciding that Heifer International chickens would be a good and related cause, the fun chicken and egg ideas started flowing! In addition to helping decorate eggs, there were lots of other fun and unique “chicken and egg” activities for the kiddos! We colored chick and egg pics to hand out to our “customers”, we did the chicken dance, we did an egg relay (with real eggs on spoons), we decorated our cupcakes (made from a box) with egg-shaped jelly beans, we hunted for eggs in the backyard, we played “Egg, egg, chicken” (instead of duck, duck, goose), we ate green eggs and ham, and we colored with egg-shaped sidewalk chalk. But it was the unplanned activity that was the most fun, the egg toss and throw! Nobody dropped their eggs in the relay, so since all the eggs survived, we donned garbage sacks and tried a toss. Many of them survived this, too, landing on the grass. So the kids had lots of fun pitching them for GareBear to hit with a bat! SPLAT! As we were sitting around enjoying ice cream on the deck in our messy clothes, one little boy said, “I love birthday parties because something always explodes!” Well, you can’t get a much better review than that from a 6-year-old boy! The party was definitely a success!
But perhaps the best part was the giving part, the lessons gained and values reinforced, not to mention the people we helped in honor of Michael James. It has been our tradition to collect items for charity in lieu of gifts at parties, but as we were making part preparations on Saturday morning (the day of), MJ asked, “Am I gonna get gifts at my party?” I had assumed he understood the concept when we planned the party, but I obviously should have been more direct about it, getting him on board sooner. After the initial protest and tears, he calmed down enough for us to talk about it, and I was so proud (and relieved) at what a quick convert he was to the idea! Of course, I reminded him that he would get gifts (and plenty of them) from his family later, and we ended up making a fun family trip to the toy store together where he had fun choosing a few gifts. (This may be a new tradition to follow up the charitable parties!)
We talked about how in our family, we already have enough, and we believe in sharing with others who don’t have enough. We also snuggled and took a look at the Heifer International Website, learning about the flocks of chicks that were going to be purchased in his name – where they would go, who they would go to, how they would help, the training they give to families, the way one gift like a flock of chicks can be passed on to benefit an entire village living in poverty. He could understand and see the picture of a little girl who could receive daily nourishment from a chicken’s egg.
This helped tremendously, and he became very interested in looking at the other animals that could be purchased from the gift catalog – a pair of rabbits, a whole cow or water buffalo, even a camel. His excitement and enthusiasm quickly spread to his friends as they arrived to help sell the eggs in the driveway. (The bullhorn also helped to motivate them! “Eggs for sale, eggs for sale!”)
A few stopped by, but mostly it was the parents of the party-goers. While some of the kids initially thought that MJ would soon be raising dozens of chickens himself in our backyard, they soon understood the concept, and got on board. They were thrilled to give him their own money from their piggy banks! When the party was over, MJ and I counted the money, and discovered we had enough to buy 10 flocks of chicks! (at $20 each) He turned to Ellie and said, “Ellie, just think of how many people that is going to help!” My heart swelled, and then he began marching around the house chanting, “Donate, donate, donate!” That’s the philanthropic spirit I was looking for! Later that day, he asked if he could do a ‘refreshment” stand in the driveway – he wanted to start raising money for the big ticket item, the “ARK” ($5,000), which includes 2 of every kind! Someday…
Go ahead, take my idea! Get inspired – throw your own Animal Birthday party benefiting impoverished families around the world. Not only is it a “good thing”, it teaches cooperation, teamwork, perspective, helpfulness, leadership, gratefulness, and mindfulness. It makes us all stop and consider how we have what we have, whether it be food or clothes or opportunity.
Other ideas? We did a “Teddy Bear Picnic” party for MJ’s 2nd and collected new teddy bears for children in a local shelter, which MJ delivered with me. At last year’s dinosaur party, we collected dino books for needy kids. At Ellie’s cat party, we collected new stuffed animals for kids. Want your kid to get more gifts? Alternate giving and receiving years. (Ellie received gifts at her 2nd b’day because poor girl had never really had anything of her own before, and she needed to stock up a bit.) Ask your kids – you never know what great idea they’ll come up with!
Read more about our journey to being a family that gives together…“Giving and Getting”, “Wee Volunteer, Do You?”, “Looking Back on Giving Back” , Our First Family Good Deeds Week, Top 10 Reasons to Volunteer with your Children