As a new parent, I was invited to color-coordinated birthday events for 1-year-olds, complete with cellophane goodie bags. Post-celebration, the toddlers were hyped up on sugar, the floor was strewn with ribbons, and the trash was filled with disposable decorations.
Those experiences left me apathetic about throwing a party for my toddler. I wanted to host an eco-friendly party that wouldn't be expensive, wasteful, and exhausting. Luckily, I knew that my son, Roscoe, would be thrilled to run through a park with his friends and receive a few presents. We added blueberry muffins to the mix and he was in utter bliss.
Would people think I was an unfit mother for my lack of party planning? I quickly realized that our guests were unpretentious, kind, and very connected to my son. And maybe instead of being apologetic, I could actually take pride in our un-Martha Stewart festivities.
Fast-forward seven years, and we’re still throwing parties that emphasize memories instead of stuff. The great news is that a green party can be cheaper and easier than traditional celebrations, but still packed with terrific moments.
If you're hoping to throw your own eco-friendly birthday celebration, here are some helpful hints to get started:
1.) Start small: Little kids have no birthday expectations. When parents throw a huge celebration at an early age, all the future parties have to clear that bar. Keep parties basic with toddlers. Choosing to celebrate in a near-by park where the kids can play and the parents can talk can be just as fun as renting a bouncy house.
2.) Craft an alternative to goodie bags: There are plenty of things to send kids home with that are simple, green, and inexpensive. Guests can pot flowers, make tie-dye T-shirts, or create lightsabers out of recycled pool noodles and electrical tape. And if you're too exhausted to whip up an amazing thematic arts and crafts project, just have paper and crayons out on the tables.
3.) Circumvent the sugar. Serving warm muffins at a morning party lets you bypass loads of sugar, and the time of day is better for toddlers anyway. Have fun picking heaps of organic blueberries together to make a few batches of muffins for the party. As your children get older, frosting might creep onto the scene, but try to balance it with healthy snacks.
4.) Downsize the decorations: Use a striped sheet for a tablecloth, put out fresh flowers, and let the kids decorate the ground with sidewalk chalk while you’re setting up. For an indoor party, have your kids help by making birthday banners or pictures to hang on the walls.
5.) Plant your plates. Rather than plastic or styrofoam plates, silverware, and cups, choose dining ware that is recyclable or compostable. We recommend Chinet, which is made from 100 percent recyclable materials . Guests can dispose of used dishes in a grocery sack, and after a bit of sorting, the whole bag goes into the compost bin.
6.) Plan group activities. There are plenty of ways to entertain whole groups of young children without buying new, expensive toys. At indoor parties, variations on pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey are always a hit (we like “pin the wheels on the monster truck”) or host a dance party for toddlers, complete with a mosh pit. Reading a book aloud or having some homemade play-dough on hand are also crowd-pleasers that don't cost a thing.
7.) Think outside the living room. Pools, school gyms, and parks with covered areas, such as Seward Park or the newer Santos Rodriguez Memorial Park on Beacon Hill, can make for great party locations. Check out our list of 10 great parks for kids or 7 of Seattle's hidden gems for destination ideas. We also love the idea of throwing a “Puddle Party” where kids sport umbrellas and boots and have a blast puddle-jumping while the parents sip coffee under the picnic shelter.
8.) People are the presents. Consider including the phrase, “Your presence is the present,” on invitations. It limits the birthday loot and keeps the focus on people while reducing waste from wrapping paper or packaging.
9.) Experience the gifts. Instead of toys, ask for experiences like a gift card to the zoo, movie tickets, dance lessons, or a certificate to a crafty venue. This is another great way to help kids learn what's really valuable.
Letting go of elaborate, expensive party plans makes for a better birthday for everyone—your child included. Beyond the economic and environmental benefits of a simple, green birthday party, there is the gift of sitting back in the midst of the chaos and enjoying the moment before it disappears (along with two dozen blueberry muffins!).
For more birthday ideas, go here.
Joy Hatch is a Eugene, Oregon-based mom, teacher and co-founder of the Green Baby Guide, a website dedicated to environmentally friendly parenting: greenbabyguide.com