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How to Salvage the Kid’s ‘Pandemic Birthday’

kids pandemic birthday special kids pandemic birthday special

When it comes to birthdays, you only need two things: a cake and some people you love to sing “Happy Birthday” around the cake. But, as we know, kids spend all year looking forward to their birthday celebrations. And, in these pandemic days, birthday parties might have to look a little, well, different. If the big party or play gym/art studio/pizza joint isn’t an option this year, all isn’t lost. I promise. It’s just time to simplify, be a bit inventive, and remember that a little planning goes a long way.

Let the kids take the wheel

Kids usually have a general fantasy of what they want to happen on their birthday, so try just asking them what they want to do on their big day. Then embrace the amazing bizarro world of kids and follow their whims.

  • Have a ‘yes’ day where you agree to everything. Within reason, of course. Let’s face it, we use about 70% of our parenting energy saying ‘no’ to our kids. As a general philosophy during COVID era, I’ve been trying to say yes more. Giving my kids a whole day of that magical word would be the ultimate present.
  • Let them choose the menu every meal. Now’s your chance to try the TikTok pancake cereal. Oh, you want that for lunch and dinner, too? Sure, sure, why not.
  • Design a cake together. The world is your Pinterest oyster. Go buck wild here or take it up a notch and have a Nailed It contest together.

Little gestures go a long way 

Kids don’t require a whole lot. They just need to feel like they’re king or queen for the day. So, to that end…

  • Greet them in the morning wearing their favorite themed costume to show them you’re 100% on board with making this day special.
  • Organize a homemade birthday card drive, soliciting cards from friends and family. (Ttake it one step further and hide the cards around the house for your kid to find throughout the day. mwahhh!)
  • Secretly compile birthday greeting videos from friends and family. Vidhug is one app that makes it super easy even if you’ve got no editing chops.
  • No birthday decorations? No problem. Hang Christmas lights around their bedroom, paper flowers leftover from Easter on the walls, or Halloween spiders from the ceiling. Whatever. Kids don’t discriminate.

Here are 20 simple, but happy-making activity ideas

OK, so what to do all day? There’s no need to go crazy here and spend hours scouring Pinterest trying to deliver a 4-year-old’s fantasy land. Just strive to be the ‘good enough mom;’ that is seriously GOOD ENOUGH.

  • Set up a mud kitchen in the backyard. Break out the old kitchen utensils and the hose and let them make the mess of their dreams.
  • I’d sure like to whack a piñata right now. Target and Amazon usually have them.
  • Turn your dining room into a restaurant where you’re the waitress, and take their order. (I know, this activity isn’t too far from real life, but there’s something magical about Mom holding an official pad of paper.)
  • A backyard movie night with cozy blankets and popcorn seems super-special.
  • Turn your living room into a karaoke lounge. This is a fun activity even for kids who are too young to read because obviously they can sing the Frozen songs by heart.
  • Have a family camp out in the backyard. Set up a tent, some sleeping bags, and s’mores.
  • An air mattress on the lawn is a DIY bounce house. Done. You’re not having guests anytime soon anyway.
  • Not to encourage violence, but a Pie Fight could be the most delicious way to release tension.
  • Go on a bike ride scavenger hunt. Have fun with the clues by making them personal and specific to the birthday girl or guy.
  • You can’t go wrong with balloons. One mom comrade I follow sets up a hallway full of balloons for her kids to wake up to on their birthdays. It always makes my morning when she does it, so we can only imagine how her kids feel.
  • Order a DIY pizza kit from your favorite local pizzeria. Yum.
  • Create a homemade ball pit by filling up a baby pool with plastic balls. Even the oldest kid in your group won’t be able to resist jumping in.
  • Send your tweens’ friends a set of friendship-bracelet-making materials ahead of time and they can all do the same activity on the big day then trade bracelets.
  • Two words: Silly String.
  • Order a Cameo call from their favorite celeb. Check out their family-friendly section.
  • I’m pretty squeamish about guns but am planning to host a big water fight in our yard this summer, with the least offensive water guns money can buy and loads of water balloons.
  • Splurge on a fun family activity that’ll last for the whole summer. Try a SlackLine kit, Bumper Balls or a Slip n’ Slide.
  • Have a spa day with mani/pedis, face masks, the whole nine yards. Ooh la la.
  • The birthday drive-by parade is always a hit. Even if it’s just the same few cars driving around the block a few times.
  • If your friends live on the same street, coordinate with the neighbors to have them come out and wave, bang on instruments (pots and pans will do), or write birthday messages with sidewalk chalk. Or ask them to participate in a “safari walk” by having them place stuffed animals in their windows for your kids to spot.

Zoom can be your friend…

Yes, we’re all suffering from Zoom fatigue. But sometimes a birthday calls for it, especially if loved ones are far flung. Some ideas for taking your Zoom call up a notch:

  • Have remote family members decorate their backgrounds so it looks like everybody’s at the same party. Bonus points for handmade signs, Grandma. You can also craft a special Zoom Virtual Background using a template from Canva.
  • Ask everyone to prepare a favorite memory, toast, or joke. (Knock-knock jokes are always a hit with the 7-and-under set.)
  • Play a game: Bingo, Scattergories, or Apples to Apples (so long as each household has their own deck).
  • Dress in costume. Or pick a theme, like pajamas or silly hats. The only thing kids like as much as their birthdays is Halloween.
  • Take a virtual tour of a zoo together, visit Mount Vernon, or even The Louvre.
  • Some fun group party services you can hire out virtually (yes, really): music class, princess playdate, a personalized bubble show, and a fairy hunt.

And, if all else fails, park ‘em in front of the TV, encourage everyone to have another slice of cake, and remember: there’s always next year – and the year after that and the year after that…

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Toby Lowenfels is a writer and mom of three in Culver City, California. Follow her daily musings at @tobyfels.