If you are as poor a planner as I am, perhaps you have a child who was born in the dog days of summer. If you are as ambitious a parent as I pretend to be, maybe you’re determined to weather the heat and humidity and have your kid’s birthday party out in the yard. If so, I’d like to extend a few pointers I’ve picked up along my way that might help you too avoid a big day meltdown.
1. Seek Shelter – If your backyard isn’t blessed with enough trees to make a rain forest jealous, create some live-saving, sanity-preserving shade. Borrow if you can, rent if you must, but get your hands on a decent-sized canopy. Breaks from the sun are critical for both kids (physically) and parents (mentally). Bonus: a canopy allows you to keep all those dirty feet out of your house should it rain.
2. Invite the Parents – Entice them to stay with beer and wine and the rare opportunity to hang out with other adults for a change. Instant army of babysitters.
3. Water Down the Punch – Juice boxes are fun. Finding those little straw wrappers in the grass for the next six months is not. Bottles of juice and cans of soda may be handy but no kid will finish one before he sets it down, forgets about it, grabs another one, sets that one down, forgets about it… Combat the waste; pour a big bottle of fruit juice into a punch bowl, add ice and a few liters of seltzer water. Drop some grapes in there and you have a refreshing, healthy winner.
4. Cup Decorating – Get the kids to reuse their cups not merely by having them write their names on them but by letting them color and put stickers on them. They’ll not want to lose their creations (probably); they might even take them home.
5. (Semi-)Healthy Snack Buffet – Have a table with munchies the kids can grab any time. I mix in as much good stuff as I can get away with: grapes, apple slices, tangerine wedges, maybe baby carrots and sliced peppers with dip, or even cucumbers in fun cookie-cutter shapes (labor-intensive I know, but anything to avoid a yard full of sugared-up kids). Reduce waste and clean-up time by not putting out plates for the snacks; just let the kids (and adults) grab and go.
6. Watermelon Smash – Called ‘suika-wari’ in Japanese, this is a candy-free, on-a-tarp-on-the-ground version of a piñata. Each kid, after spinning around three times and following the other kids’ cries of ‘Left! Right! Go straight! STOP!‘, gets one whack. Rarely does the watermelon split open before everyone has had a turn. This game helps nicely in tiring the kids out. Then everyone gets to eat some. (Hint: Watermelon is fantastically messy; instead of napkins have a big damp towel on hand.)
7. School Days – A summertime party is a great way to let your child catch up with his classmates from school. Capitalize on the theme by suggesting school supplies for gifts, and send his friends home with the same. Only those parents who like taking their kids back-to-school shopping will be upset about it.
8. Keep it Loose – I can’t control my own three kids, I don’t expect anyone to be able to manage a dozen or more. Have a water balloon toss when the snacks run low, otherwise let the munchkins run amok and get back to your adult conversations about the kids.
If you have a pool in the yard you have an easy way to keep the little creatures occupied, and with their parents there you have an entire team of lifeguards to watch them in shifts. Just be aware of the one dad who has been planted next to the beer cooler. Put some music on, set up a fan, keep the kids (and adults) hydrated, and you’ll not only survive your kid’s party, you might actually enjoy yourself.