Special Places to Celebrate a Special Day
Like a scene out of a horror movie, the pack descends on your house. They're hungry, wild, ready to tear your home apart and they're demanding ... really, more cake? Yikes. Hosting your child's birthday party at your home is often more trouble than it's worth. Taking the party elsewhere saves you a lot of work and makes your kid feel like the star that she is. Ultimately the guest of honor should get to pick where the party will be, but you can provide some suggestions about local places that you think will work.
Toddlers, tweens and everyone in between: an outdoor space is the perfect venue for any of them. For little kids, it can be as simple as gathering at the local playground. Let the kids play, then do cake and games at the nearby picnic table or pavilion.
Expand the vision as children get older. Take grade-school kids to the local state park and organize for a guide at the nature center to teach them about local flora and fauna. For older kids, hide prizes along easy walking trails at a state or county park and give them maps or GPS coordinates to find them. Alternately, set up a treasure hunt with clues that lead the kids all around the park until they ultimately end up at a picnic table loaded with cake and snacks.
Depending on what's available in your area, a museum may be the right choice for your curious or artistic child. A kids' museum is perfect because it should offer plenty of hands-on activities to keep the party-goers busy for a few hours, and you may get your own tour guide to lead the trip through the venue. An art museum may be appropriate for school-age kids. Give them sketch pads at the beginning of the party so they can let the artwork spark their own creativity, and end the party by handing out goody bags stuffed with markers, pencils and other art supplies.
A Sports Venue
For a kid who loves sports, hosting a birthday party at the home base of the local minor-league baseball or hockey team is a no-brainer. Look into renting a party room for the hour before the game starts, then let the game itself keep the kids entertained. This option is best for kids who are about 7 and older, because littler ones won't be able to sit still for a long game. In any case, be ready with a bag full of travel games and other portable activities to entertain any guests who tire of the high-octane action before the game is over.
The Movie Theater
If your child's birthday lines up with the release of a G-rated gem, count yourself lucky. Many movie theaters offer birthday party packages, including the use of a party space and tickets for all the guests to see a show. What could be easier? Keep the kiddos entertained briefly, then lead everyone into a darkened theater and let the Hollywood pros take over the entertainment duties. As a bonus, invite guests to dress up as their favorite movie characters. Give out movie passes and bags of popcorn as favors.
A Play Place
For the toddler and preschooler set, blowing off steam is a necessary part of any birthday party. All that excitement and all that sugar will backfire if you don't give them a way to run around. Many cities now have indoor party venues complete with bounce houses, inflatable slides, trampolines, low rock walls and other things for kids to climb and jump on. These play spaces are birthday party central, which means the staff can handle everything, possibly even the food and cake. It may work out so that all you have to do is invite the guests and show up.
A Creative Studio
Kids of all ages love to get their hands dirty. Take the group to a paint-your-own pottery place or, if you live in a big city, a cake decorating studio. You may even find a venue that offers children's cooking classes or make-your-own jewelry classes. Some art-supply stores also host birthday parties that include organized craft projects. These party themes are messy for sure—but hey, you're not in charge of cleanup. Opt for a place that lets kids make something to take home and you don't even have to worry about coming up with goody bags.
Kathryn Walsh has more than 20 years of experience working with children and has been writing about children and parenting topics for more than 10 years. Her work has appeared on sites including TheBump, Working Mother and Mamapedia.