I am all about themed events for kids. Seriously, I don’t much care if it’s a minor holiday, major holiday, birthday, Sunday, or sunny day, I want to make a themed event for it. I enjoyed sensory bins and games, always, but, since I now have a 15 month old and a 4 month old—I’m even more obsessed! (After all, I have to find some way to channel the older one’s energy so I can tend to the younger one!)
My preference falls into the “invitation to play”/”imaginative play” and sensory activities category. Whereas I think step-by-step instructions and games that require them are fun, since my kids are so young, I find it far more enjoyable to set something up and then allow them to explore it for themselves. Because of this, I’m not huge into scheduling, per se. Instead, I tend to select several themed ideas for large activities and a few smaller ones and watch how the event unfolds. That way, I can adapt to suit whatever the kids are enjoying the most—because, let’s be honest, it usually isn’t what you think it’s going to be. For example, I facilitate a monthly event for young kids called “Traveling Tuesday.” Each Tuesday, we (pretend to!) go someplace different. One week, we were going on safari. I planned and crafted different animals for the kids to feed balls to. There was a lion, a monkey, a kangaroo—in my mind’s eye, this would be the hit of the party! I also used a large cardboard box to make a safari jeep—oh, yes, I could see it in my head! Those two things were going to be the favorites. At the last minute, I decided to make some toilet-paper roll binoculars. I tossed them into the jeep so as not to forget them, and away I went. Of all the activities, of all the crafts and games, above even the jeep—the binoculars were by far the kids’ favorite thing to play with. Instead of feeding the animals, as I’d imagined, we played hide and seek, allowing two kids(or me!) to be on the safari and find the animals. Each time the children posing as animals were seen, the safari goer would yell, “SPOTTED!” and we’d switch. Seriously. We played that for over an hour, and the kids were all about taking those binoculars home. This day taught me the true value of just seeing how things pan out and the need to adjust as the day unfolds.
Obviously, doing a little themed mini-party every week(I started out weekly—recently, we’ve changed to monthly!) could get expensive. At first, I really was sinking my own ship, trying to build different things to suit wherever we happened to be travelling to. That’s when I discovered the GLORY of reuse. At this point, I really think anyone can make anything out cardboard. A cardboard box is a beautiful thing—it can be a jeep, a castle, a car, a ship. Really, whatever you want it to be. And, the wonder of it is this: it doesn’t have to be perfect! When we “traveled” to the Caribbean…geez, my ship looked rough! I painted it and, for my youngest, slapped a Bumbo chair inside. For two weeks, I could set my youngest in the Bumbo, and my eldest daughter would crawl in alongside her and chatter away, clutching little felt fishes tightly. (That’s another great way to theme on the cheap! Felt is like 3 dollars for 12 pieces, and a little can go a long way!)
Finally, thanks to my aunt, the most significant way we save money is making your actual creation re-usable. In order to do this, it has to be something that is easy to store. This week, we travelled to Ireland. Our castle was huge. I mean, massive. With the moat, easily seven feet across. And, thanks to the wonder of Velcro, that thing, moat and all, became condensed enough to fit in the trunk of my car. The moat, made of dyed cloth and pool noodles, folded up. The fish, made of foam and magnets(the fishing poles had washers on the end, so the fish could be caught) went neatly into a plastic bag, and voila! The whole thing is ready to be played with again on some other rainy day! A whole other story waiting to be told(though, today, we mostly played the characters from the movie Brave and had fishing competitions!), this time, cost-free!
This post was inspired by Eventbrite, who specialize in supporting self-created events with event management software. In my opinion, the key to hosting themed, cost-effective parties boils down to three things: flexibility(don’t plan super stringent plans. Toddlers will systematically dismantle them. Besides, it’s fun to see what their little minds come up with!), reusable play ideas, and cardboard. J Happy playing!