mad hattersThe Concept: This was a party for my daughter’s second birthday so we kept it small with a gentle but delightful Mad Hatter’s Tea Party theme. Guests were invited to wear a mad hat and more ornate costumes if they wished. The theme would also work well for an older child. We live close to Oxford so could nip into the original Alice’s Shop to buy items such as Alice in Wonderland bookmarks and tea bags.

The Invitation: I scanned in the spine of an old book and wrote the invitation as if it was an English classic along with an illustration of the White Rabbit. It was Chapter 2 of course as my daughter was turning two.

Our Party: This was a family party with a few friends, grandparents and older siblings who enjoyed dressing up as the Cheshire cat and The White Rabbit. My older daughter made maps for everyone to hunt in the garden for their treasure and as she was only 4, the maps were certainly in the spirit of Alice in Wonderland – nonsensical and slightly mad! We found our treasure after a fashion (pencils and bookmarks) and returned indoors to play ‘stick the heart on the tart’ – little ones were not blindfolded and it was hilarious to see them still not grasp the idea while parents loved the double entendre. Children’s croquet was set up in deference to the book for older children to enjoy – until the mallets became weapons! I had fun designing ‘playing card’ table mats and place names and adults received a mad hatter tea bag to take home.

Top Tips: For little ones keep it low-key with easy games and not too many guests. Allow older siblings to become involved in the planning and running of the party as it is hard for them to see a younger sibling being the centre of attention. Keep adults amused with a few touches so that parties for tinys don’t become too saccharine. The cake was easy this time – a sponge cake decorated with a miniature mouse and a tea party.mad hatters2  mad hatters3 mad hatters4 mad hatters1This post is part of a mini theme on children’s birthdays. Feel free to share your ideas as comments.

woods1The Concept: As my son became older we needed more space for ten mad 8-year olds to run around so we decided to have his party in a local wood. There was a conference room we could use as a base and as a contingency plan for bad weather. He wanted a Star Wars party, I wanted woodland fun – so we fudged it and combined the two.

The Invitation: A photograph of the woods with the details. An invitation like this could also be emailed although I still prefer to post them.

Our Party: Even with a ‘Star Wars’ theme, I kept it homemade and we started by making our own light sabres. I bought pool noodles which I cut in half and each child added duct tape to create a handle. They then went outside to do Jedi Knight training where they whacked each other with great abandon. The next game was to free Han Solo who was frozen in carbonite. Each child received a cup with a lego man frozen in ice, and using water defrosted the ice to release the man – first one out was the winner. I gave them chalk to draw the Death Star on the patio and then handed out water balloons to destroy the Death Star. The woods were brilliant for hiding games and running around in. We ended with food and decorating individual meringues (planets) and yes, I let them smash the creamy meringue in their own faces! There was plenty of water, high-octane excitement and much hilarity and we pulled it off  – ‘Party in the Woods with Star Wars’.

Top Tips: Cakes can stress me out – but this one was simple. A new Star Wars model on top of a cake. Do a few web searches, there are some great ideas for games and that is what inspired my ‘light sabres’. Listen to your child as they become older and try to incorporate their ideas. At the age of 7 or 8 children prefer single sex parties, that is fine, let them. I aim to be low-tech and not to have films, computer and wii games just yet – I am sure parties in the teens will incorporate these items. It may be simpler to invite a group of children who all know each other as parties can be stressful enough for a birthday child without mixing up his different groups of friends. woods2 woods4woods3This post is part of a mini theme on children’s birthdays. Feel free to share your ideas as comments.

dog party1The Concept: Every child has crazes and my daughter is mad about dogs – so that was the theme. Everything from food to dress to games to party bags was dog related. You could probably use many of these ideas and tie them in with your child’s own fixation.

The Invitation: My daughter drew a beautiful dog and I added a few spots of colour and text to make a simple but delightful invitation.

Our Party: For some unknown reason, many of  the friends have dog costumes which was hilarious when 8 or 9 dalmatians turned up! As the children arrived, there was ‘dog grooming’ and I face painted a nose and whiskers on each child. After a few ice breakers, we went outside to tackle the dog agility course. I had lots of fun with this one – borrowing hay bales for the dogs to climb, setting up a mini trampoline and a plank see-saw. And then there was the slalom course with traffic cones. Food was hot dogs of course. I had removed the labels off the juice bottles and made personalised doggy ones.The ‘party bags’ were china bowls from Waitrose pies on which I wrote each child’s name and filled with bone-shaped ginger biscuits so the children took home their own ‘doggy’ bowl.

Top Tips: Keep it homemade as there is no need to spend a fortune and discuss your needs with friends. The china bowls were from a friend as were the hay bales. I promise I didn’t steal traffic cones, they were my son’s present when he turned three and have given us much pleasure over the years. Write a detailed timetable so you have a plan and timings to refer to. Also write out a list of all the food as it is annoying to have forgotten something. Have a few complex games but also allow time for the children to play freely. Try not to have too many games where there is only one winner and don’t be surprised if birthday child misbehaves if they don’t win! Don’t get stressed if things don’t work out as you planned, it will spoil the party for you and to be frank children are easy to please. Have fun and be creative!dog party4dog party3dog party2This post is part of a mini theme on children’s birthdays. Feel free to share your ideas as comments.

treasureparty1The Concept: Set up a treasure hunt using photographic clues for a circular route of about 1-2kms. As the children reach the photographed item – a gate, an odd-shaped tree or a sign, you give them the next photo and have about 25 photos. The final clue is where the treasure is hidden or buried. This is brilliant way to use lots of energy and after the hunt you can return to base for party food.

The Invitation: I printed the invitation on the outside of the envelope and placed the first ‘clue’ a photo of our house inside the envelope.

Our Party: My son was very into camouflage so it had a  ‘camo’ theme as well as being a treasure hunt. They loved running the 2km course finding the clues and we ended in the play park where I had hidden the treasure – water pistols and ammonite fossils. We then returned to our house for a sausage BBQ and a very long dessert. The pudding was a ‘WOW’ factor as I had bought a length of guttering and then tasked the children to fill it with ice-cream, bananas, sweets and toppings. Once it was ready, they set to, each armed with a spoon to start eating!

Top Tips: The distance of the course depends on the age of the children and how used to walking they are. It works best in a rural area or where there is not too much traffic. Give each child a (homemade) bandanna to create a ‘team’. By only giving out the next photo on reaching the object photographed, you keep the group together. Keep the treasure simple – I sewed camouflage bags which contained a few items. Keep the food simple as most children like hot dogs with ketchup – don’t waste time with lettuce and onions! treasureparty2 treasureparty3 treasureparty4

cooking birthday1 cooking birthday2The Concept: Cooking is a great theme – the party revolves around food that guests make and then eat so squeeze in as many dishes as possible and choose recipes depending on the age and preference of your child. The youngest age I would recommend for a cooking party would be four years old but this theme will would work well right up to young teens.

The Invitation: Have fun with flour and eggs and photograph the results. Wrap the invitation around a little rolling-pin to deliver to your guests. Invitations are important, they set the tone and the theme – but I am a graphic designer so can’t help going to town.

Our Party: When the children arrived they made caterpillar kebabs from marshmallows. They then concocted their own mini pasta bakes in dinky takeaway containers and any leftovers could be taken away to be eaten at home. These chefs work fast so we moved swiftly on to cookie dough and biscuit cutters, strawberry smoothies and highly decorated cupcakes. The children left happy, floury with a party bag containing a wooden spoon and cookie cutter – aesthetically tasteful and hopefully useful!

Top Tips: Work out what kitchen equipment you will need and have it ready – you need to be organised! Prep up before hand by making the dough for cookies and baking cupcakes in advance. I use this Swedish biscuit recipe. Children can cut biscuits shapes and you can bake them while they decorate the cupcakes. Pizza or pasta is great for a main dish. Have fruit trimmed and ready for smoothies. Have a few simple party games which they can play with one adult if you need time to clear the decks and get ready for the next cooking extravaganza. Have a high proportion of adults to children if very young. Have simple boxes or bags to take home the goodies they don’t manage to birthday3 cooking birthday4 cooking birthday5This post is part of a mini theme on children’s birthdays. Feel free to share your ideas as comments.

birthday1Celebrating children’s birthdays is exciting but don’t allow them to overwhelm you. We alternate between birthday treats and birthday parties. One year will be a treat, for instance a visit to the zoo with one or two friends and the following year is a party. With three children this means I’m not laying on three parties a year and the children really enjoy the novelty of a treat with a fantastic picnic and having a special friend to celebrate with.

Parties are kept simple with about 8 friends so no mass class parties! If you keep the numbers small enough, you are not obliged to invite an entire class and my rule of thumb is to invite the  number of guests of the age your child plus one. Birthdays are emotional times with all the extra attention and your child will cope better if there are not too many friends. For the very young, cousins and grandparents are probably enough. Lavish entertainment is unnecessary and I favour having a theme on which to ‘hang’ the activities and love having traditional party games plus one or two creative ‘wow’ factors. Hiring a bouncy castle at the village hall or trooping off to a soft play centre is unoriginal. If you keep the guest list small enough there is no reason why you can’t entertain and host the party without having to wheel in a professional entertainer. In the next few posts I will suggest 5 party ideas to inspire you.

This post is first of a mini theme on children’s birthdays. Feel free to share your ideas as comments.

flowers2Somehow austerity measures have sunk in and the last two weeks of ‘Buy Nothing New’ weren’t too difficult. Not buying stuff reminds me of when I first arrived in England straight after my studies and lived with two friends – all of us as poor as church mice due to the unfavourable currency exchange with South Africa. We would spend £10 each a week on all groceries including cleaning equipment. And when we went to a pub, the three of us would share a coke as it was all we could afford! I still only use the tiniest amount of toothpaste and little dabs of face cream due to the ingrained habits of scrimping and saving in 1996.

I have found it difficult not to have flowers in the house but found some beautiful paper flowers that the children had made and with some bright red tins, it all looks rather cheerful. We had friends over for supper and they brought lemon yellow tulips which I am enjoying so much – much more than if I had just bought them myself.

I know that some stuff we would have bought has just been postponed but I’m sure we made savings on gifts and by not pouring money on entertainment and easy treats. I did cheat once this week and bought some glue for my daughter who needed to stick sequins.

The challenges over the month were entertaining the children during half term, gifts for others and no flowers in the grim month of February. But it also made me reflect and realise that 100 years ago, people couldn’t buy cut flowers so easily and I have really appreciated the first signs of spring and greenery outside.