Seattle's Child

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This family went for a casual, unstructured gathering at Carkeek Park in Seattle. Still, some planning makes things go better. (Photos by Ellie White)

How to throw a child’s birthday party at a park

Toddler and preschoolers will love a party at the park

Confession: I love friends, gatherings, and celebrating — but as my kids reach the age where birthday parties begin, I’m really not looking forward to going to countless kids’ parties. Call me a party pooper, but sitting around, having cake, and watching kids get overwhelmed doesn’t sound like my idea of fun.

These sentiments put me in a conundrum as I considered what to do for my twins’ third birthdays. My answer wasn’t to not celebrate but rather to incorporate a celebration into what our family and friends would likely do on a Saturday morning anyway.

And that’s how we ended up at Carkeek Park on a beautiful Saturday morning in March to celebrate our twins’ third birthdays.

birthday party at a park

Birthday party at a park: Reserve a spot

You don’t need a reservation to have a party in a park, but if you want to ensure that you will have a spot and access to some undercover space (rain, anyone?), make a reservation through Seattle Parks and Recreation.

The website has a map of reservable parks and includes a helpful chart listing price, capacity, covered options, park descriptions, and photos for each reservable site.

We chose a park our family frequents, so we knew what to expect as we planned the party, such as the parking situation and proximity to play fields and playgrounds. If you want to host your party at a park you’ve never been to, use the website to get information or perhaps schedule an outing to scope out the park before making your reservation (and have a fun park adventure along the way!).

When you’ve decided on a spot for your party, fill out an online application. Once you’ve confirmed your reservation, you’re all set!

On the day of our party, no other group wanted to use the space we reserved. I had the confirmation information in my email, though, in case we needed to show our reservation details to anyone.

This scavenger hunt was perfect for Carkeek Park but did not get used as the kids in attendance found other ways to keep busy.

Birthday party at a park: Agenda

Our party was extremely casual. We had no formal schedule: no singing, no presents, and no structured games. We wanted people to gather, grab a treat, and enjoy the park with friends. We wanted folks to feel like they could come at any time during the party, explore the park, and stay for as long or as little as they liked (we included these details in the invitation).

I did want to provide some activity options beyond playing at the playground, though. We brought sidewalk chalk, a soccer ball, and ladder golf. A friend got some hula hoops and flag balls and brought them to the park. And I created a simple scavenger hunt to find items around the park.

We used everything (except the scavenger hunt) at different times throughout the party. It seemed to work well to have these independent and self-paced activities instead of trying to gather folks for a formal game.

But it’s your (kid’s) party, so do whatever you like! I encourage you to think through the logistics beforehand: Perhaps let folks know about an agenda as they arrive, have some method of communicating when you want everyone to gather, or choose to have your party in a smaller park if you want guests to stay close by.

Birthday party at a park: Food and drink

Again, we kept it very simple. Their grandma and I made a few sweet treats; we picked up coffee boxes from the grocery store and brought tea bags and thermoses filled with hot water.

We made sure that there was always one party helper (in our case, Grandma or Grandpa) at the food table, using tongs to pass out goodies, answering questions about potential allergens, and keeping any park critters away.

Hula hoops, sidewalk chalk and plenty of outdoor room to run: the perfect toddler birthday party!

Birthday party at a park: More tips

Unfortunately, one thing you can never plan is the weather. Rain was predicted all week ahead of our party, but we ended up with the most beautiful Saturday morning: blue skies and the Olympic Mountains shining at us from across the Sound. The gorgeous weather made the party so much better, but we had the undercover shelter in case it rained. Prepare for the worst weather as you plan your party, but hope for the best!

My daughter got a bit overwhelmed as the party wore on. I hadn’t brought anything for this situation and was grateful that a guest had brought some books as a gift. We opened them, and she got some quiet reading time with Grandma as the party wound down. For a future event, I might bring an activity that kids can do if they need a little break from the larger group.

Our party at a park worked out just great, and I wholeheartedly recommend it for your next birthday party!

Published April 2022

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About the Author

Ellie White

Ellie had the privilege of growing up in our beautiful Pacific Northwest. She currently lives in the Green Lake neighborhood with her husband and twin toddlers.