Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Birthday Party!

We had a party for my son's third birthday this weekend (I am still adjusting to the thought that I have a three year old son...).  I spent weeks stressing about this and over-thinking it, because that's what I do.  Our problem was that he hadn't been invited to many parties which may or may not mean that our son is unpopular (OK, even I am not worrying about that this early), but it does mean that we didn't have much basis for comparison.

What are birthday parties like these days?  I remember when I was under five, the parties were all about games: pass the parcel, pin the tail on the donkey, musical chairs... do children still do that these days?  We strongly considered renting a room at the local inflatable play area, just so that we wouldn't have to worry.

In the end, I didn't like the way renting somewhere meant a lot of money, a fixed guest number and a specific time-slot.  I did like the way that having the party at home would mean that we were at home and able to talk to other parents, plus anything we bought for the party, we would get to keep!

Anyway, I didn't opt for party games, since it seemed like it would be a lot of work explaining the rules to two and three year olds.  Instead, I exploited my favourite parenting resource: my neighbour, whose son is in my son's class at school.  She had an inflatable pool.  We both had the Step 2 rollercoasters.  Target had a sale on 150 packs of fun balls.  So for one day, I was going to turn our living/dining room into our very own indoor playground.

For anybody wanting to try this at home... get a smaller pool.  We had 900 balls in that thing, and it still wasn't really enough.  The kids were young enough not to care, and they leapt off the sofas into that thing with no regard for their tailbones, but we either needed twice as many balls or a pool half the size.  Pro-tip: when emptying the pool, use a wastepaper basket or similar container to scoop the balls out.

Putting the two rollercoasters side by side worked surprisingly well.  I took out the stair pieces to get them closer together, which made it a little awkward with the kids' feet knocking against each other, but it was a very effective adaptation.  It allowed for races, and reduced the fighting over whose turn it was, but mostly the children got a kick out of being able to ride with another child.

I had been nervous that this wouldn't be enough so I had a few other toys that could be used in conjunction with them, an air cannon for the balls, cardboard blocks to build crash barriers for the rollercoasters and dancing scarves, just because.  These were completely unnecessary.  They all got played with at some point, but honestly, we'd have been fine with just the pool and the rollercoasters.

Actually, we'd have been fine with just the ball pool.
Ironically, the rollercoaster proved safer for my wandering daughter...
The biggest precaution I took was to eliminate any other toys from the living room (most got shoved in a box and shut in the study), and put the barrier across the stairs to prevent children wandering up to my son's bedroom and the toys there.   There were a few different reasons for this: I didn't want toys migrating into the pool which would lead to broken toys, punctured pool and injured children.

I also didn't want to complicate the cleanup.  It's one thing to have 900 balls strewn across the living room, it's quite another to have balls, pieces of train track, lego, play figures....  Actually, the children were surprisingly good about the balls.  I laid down a rule of not throwing the balls out of the pool.  I wasn't going to enforce it, but they obeyed.  We even managed to establish the habit of gathering escapee balls to throw back in, which was adopted by both children and parents.

Finally, I wanted to keep the children in the living room, so that we parents could sit on the sofas, supervise our offspring and chat amongst ourselves.  All of the parents were just brilliant in this regard.  Everybody was very laid back, but also on the spot about guiding children as needed (when we weren't playing with them ourselves).

Basically, I can highly recommend doing something like this.  We were quite lucky in what we were able to get hold of (having two rollercoasters at our disposal is going to be an unusual circumstance), but I suspect that most people can improvise something for the under five group, if you ask around your friends--if you have a summer party and can go outside, even better!  Changing the room around was a lot of effort for one afternoon, but it's just once a year and it was all the more fun because it was our room.

Of course, the children who don't usually visit our house are now convinced that our son has the best house ever, and are going to be sadly disappointed if they come over for playdates.  Meanwhile, I have started worrying about what we're going to do for his fourth birthday...

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