Reclaiming the Home Birthday Party


As of Sunday, I’m on a mission to reclaim the old-fashioned, have-it-at-home birthday party.

It seems like every party we go to these days is a “destination” party: Chuck E Cheese, Bonkers, Little Gym, etc. And I definitely see the perks to having it off-site. Namely, you don’t have to clean up! Still, there’s just something about the experience of a party with activities and games that sets it apart. Besides, our house needs to be cleaned. And a party at home is definitely a party on a budget.

We negotiated with Alex for months about his birthday, and finally decided that he could invite as many friends as he wanted, on condition that no one brought gifts. (I’m really big on this one. I think kids have Too Much Stuff, and I was absolutely not going to have a party with the expectation that fifteen little kids had to bring my kid more loot.) Once Alex agreed to that, we began.

Bat Symbol

Need I say more?

Activity #1: When the kids arrived, we had them sit down at the table and make themselves superhero masks. I used dessert-sized paper plates and cut the masks out. Each plate makes two. We used glue, glitter, stickers and beads. Oh yes, and crayons. Cost: about $6.

Activity #2: Pin the Monocle on the Penguin. Yes, this one required some time in preparation from Mommy and Daddy. Most of which was done between 10 and 11p.m. the night before:

Delay timer on the camera is a wonderful thing. In case you're wondering.

The monocles I cut out from construction paper using my Creative Memories tools, and then mounted them on posterboard. Cost $1 and time.

"Blast! I've lost my monocle and I need it to defeat Batman!" (Credit to Christian for the drawing and the quote.)

This was also the only activity we gave prizes for. Cost: $5 for coloring books.

Activity #3: Treasure Hunt. “Treasure” being cake and ice cream. Christian gathered all the children and told them that the Riddler had stolen them. Then we divided them into two groups–we each went along with one to help decipher the riddles, which Christian had written on yellow and green folded construction paper with question marks on the outside. Here’s a taste of his first clue, which he read to everyone:

“So you’re trying to celebrate a birthday? Not if I can help it! You’ll never find your treats if you can’t solve my riddles! HA HA HA!” (Envision the best maniacal laugh you’ve ever heard. Five grownups nearly fell on the floor. My husband ROCKS.) “I like hot marshmallows just like anybody. But what do you need to roast them after you have your marshmallow and your stick? Be careful, it’s hot!”

And they were off to the fire pit. One group searched for the cake, the other for the ice cream. Cost: about 15 cents.

The cake is all me (but let’s not talk about having to make it twice b/c I forgot to grease the pans the first time…):

In the oven at the end of the treasure hunt

On the subject of money, I feel compelled to add that I went shopping for Wilton cake pans and assorted gadgets to make this cake. Apparently I’m about to embark on a new hobby (as if I have time for it): cake decorating. This is not a professional-looking cake, and yet I am very proud of it, because I managed to ice it WITHOUT pulling crumbs everywhere.

N.B.: black icing does not taste good. Consider yourself warned.

Also, the recipe is called “One Two Three Four Cake,” and although I’ve linked it on the web, it comes from Mary Meade’s Country Cookbook, and it is without question the best cake recipe out there, bar none. I’m also on a quest to reclaim baking your own darned (fill in the blank: pancakes, waffles, cakes, cookies)…it just doesn’t save that much time to use a box mix, and they are nowhere near as good!

Anyway, cost of cake and ice cream (not including the Wilton expedition, since I’ll use all that in the future): about $10. Cost of plates, cups etc: about $6.

Success of the party? Phenomenal! And now I’m all over doing parties at home.

Look online for party ideas in whatever theme you are planning. This was our best source for gathering ideas.

How about you? Have you done home parties?  Please share!

15 thoughts on “Reclaiming the Home Birthday Party

  1. Kelley

    Emma’s this year was a Princess and the Frog party. We had Emma and 5 girls from school. They came dressed as princesses. Each girl decorated a foam tiara with glitter glue and stick on jewels. Little brother and his little friend made frog visors. We all played pin the kiss on the frog. We had a homemade princess cake and the boys had frog cupcakes. The kids got treat bags with pink and green m&m’s, plastic bracelets, and a princess wand (a beanie frog for the boys).

    It was definitely more exhausting than a “destination party”, but cheaper and fun.

  2. Patti Wagnitz

    The trick to frosting a cake and avoiding the crumbs: Dilute the frosting so its thin, and smooth over the cake. Let it dry a few minutes, then coat with the regular frosting. I agree with your home parties. They are so memorable.

  3. Kelley, that sounds totally awesome! Can’t wait till I get to do a girly party. Kelle Hampton (that blog I adore) is doing a fairy party for her daughter. Making fairy dust bottles w/colored sand, that kind of stuff. Ooh, I can’t wait.

    Patti–I tried that before, but never could get it to work. This time I followed the Wilton recipe for buttercream, and although I’m not there yet, it definitely worked better!

  4. Kim Holtmeyer

    I love the “bake your own ??” idea! I haven’t bought a box mix for pancakes or waffles in years. Last weekend we made whole wheat raspberry pancakes that Tess called “The Best Pancakes I’ve Ever Eaten!” Homemade carrot cake with cream cheese frosting was my father-in-laws favorite (note: do not use the bagged carrot shreds). I can’t wait to try the 1-2-3-4 cake.

  5. Hi,

    I have always done home parties. Wish I started the no gift rule when the kids were younger.

    My son’s birthday party this year will be science based. We will be doing a few experiments, so we will see how it goes.

    In the past, we have played the traditional party games, with a craft that goes along with the theme.

    This year for my daughter’s birthday I made gingerbread houses and the kids were able to decorate. We also had a homemade pinata at that party. Not really sure how cheap that one was or wasn’t but fun none the less.

    Also I always have made cakes, but mine do come from box mixes.

    Thanks for your wonderful ideas. Great job

  6. Sarah M.

    Looks like a fun party! I’ve been baking/decorating cakes for about 4 or 5 years now! It is an expensive hobby but it’s a lot of fun! I’m currently taking a Wilton Cake Decorating class all this month at Hobby Lobby. Let me know if you have any questions! I don’t know much, but I have learned a lot through trial and error!

  7. Wow! I don’t really like Batman, but the games sound so fun I am wishing I was your kid’s friend! 🙂

    I loved having home parties as a kid because they were unique, they were very flexible, and my parents’ effort to make it happen made me feel so special! My son is 5, and although he’s been to some venue parties, when I ask what he wants for his party he’s all about homemade cake and planning which toys to have in the living room.

    Here are a couple of easy, frugal games that are good for parties.

  8. Andrea

    I wanna be like Kate. 🙂

    I’ve been wondering what’s the deal with the destination parties. Could it be all about the mess at your own home? Is it because all the kiddos at Eva’s daycare have two working parents and there just isn’t the energy to invest in at-home parties? Could it be tied to privacy and perceived prestige (i.e. If they see my house, they’ll know how much money I (don’t) make)?

    I’ve been planning on doing a back yard party for Eva’s 4th birthday, but haven’t even started planning. I think I need to start with a theme. The most obvious is princesses. But the boys?

  9. I am totally with you on the parties at home. Almost none of Froggy’s friends have parties at home yet we do every year. She has never had a party anywhere else. And she really likes the ones at her house and was very clear that is where she wanted it when we started planning her last one.

  10. We have always done parties at home for our kids (aged 17 – 8 now). They get gifts, but I don’t do the party bag route. We do games too, pass the parcel, musical chairs, pin the tail on the donkey. And making your own cakes, pancakes, waffles, cookies, biscuits and ice-cream — definitely! Though they are allowed a bakery birthday cake, the kids make the rest of their goodies all year. After reading the ingredients lists of shop bought ones a few times, I said “If you want that stuff, make it yourself…” And they do!

  11. burckeri

    I did a home party for my son’s 5th birthday. It just so happened that my grandmother died that week, so I was really distracted. It took about all the mental energy I had to come up with enough things to do to keep 10 kids busy in our tiny house for two hours (his birthday is in February and we live in Canada, so I couldn’t just let them run around and play outside). The party was a great success, but I was so worn out afterwards that we haven’t had one since. For his 6th birthday, we spent the night at a hotel in town that has a pool and a waterslide. For his 7th birthday, his hockey team got to skate on the ice during intermission of the local OHL team’s game and it was on the day of his birthday, so we counted that as doing something special for his birthday. I was pregnant and due any day, so a party was just NOT going to happen (I was just hoping it wouldn’t be the same day–the baby was actually born 5 days later). Maybe next year, when he turns 8, we’ll attempt a party again.

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