When we started thinking about N’s birthday party it was all a bit of a blur. Unless your child has a particular yearning for one theme, you can come unstuck with all the offers out there. We joined up with his best friend as their birthdays are only a few weeks apart and they’d be inviting the same people from school and NCT, and then it was on to party planning.
The party theme
You’d think 2 boys the same age, it would be easy. In an ideal world, you’d have something outside to let them run around, but with a January party, you never know what the weather would be like. An outdoor adventure, forest school idea would be great if you had one nearby, but I’d be mortified if we’d done something like that and then it had snowed and everyone had just been way too cold. Maybe when he’s older.
After asking the boys what they wanted, we got pirates and cars. Given that a pirate party would be the same as one we went to last year where N refused to join in the games and activities, and that N doesn’t do dressing up, and what do you do for a cars party unless we went to a car museum? We gave up on those ideas.
The other mum and I tossed around ideas:
Lego party – the company wouldn’t travel 10 miles outside their area
Magic party – possibility with an hour’s magic and then they’d do dancing and games. But very expensive
Karting – no halls are big enough and they’re maybe a bit young, probably better with fewer people.
I knew that N loved the bubble show at The Science Museum last summer, so thought that would be a goer, and his friend liked the idea. Of course, over the couple of months of organising, N veered from not wanting a party at all, not wanting a joint one, wanting one with 5 people, wanting to go to the pub, and not wanting a science party, we ended up just going with it and luckily he came round in the end.
In Oxfordshire there’s a few science party companies, but they’re all in the south of the county, and therefore charge a lot for mileage on top of their pricy (generally over £200) parties. Then a friend found Mad Science (West Midlands) which was cheaper but looked like they offered the same as the others. We had no problems booking the date and time we wanted, then it was ready for detailed planning.
I designed the invites, with the logo of Mad Science and a science image on in nice bright colours, then we just needed to add the child’s name and send them.
I wrote about the potential nightmare of party rsvps previously, but our rsvps went surprisingly calmly. Only 2 didn’t get the invites and one was delayed because the mum was ill (and the dad said ‘it’s not my remit’ when asked). But all replied with no problems.
Venue and decorations
We decided to keep things fairly straight forward. Our village hall is a suitable size (and cheap for locals), has a great kitchen, plenty of tables and chairs and a number of toilets. I did panic a bit when I realised that the church service was on around the same time when lots of cars started arriving and parking outside, but in the end people did manage to park ok.
Finding science themed party decorations is hard, so we kept it simple. Just some birthday banners, a few balloons and my home made science bunting. I love bunting but only have a home made fabric blue, red and white version so I decided to try and make my own.
To make science bunting
Paper (or card)
String (or ribbon)
Stapler (or double sided sticky tape or sewing thread/needle)
1, Draw a card template for science themed shapes. I did test tubes, science bottles of various shapes and a ‘pop’ explosion
2, Use the templates to cut out lots of shapes from paper – I was lazy and put a few pieces of paper together and cut out shapes in one go.
3, Colour in – I coloured ‘water’ and added bubbles to some of them
4, Folder over the top of each shape, over the top of a length of string then staple the fold down. You can either leave the string loose or staple over the string to hold it in place. Make sure all the fronts are the same way (or double side it if you’re hanging the bunting where both sides will be seen)
5, repeat at intervals along the string leaving enough at either end to hang up.
6, Hang up, then stand back and admire your bunting
We opted for lunch boxes for food. N is obsessed with places like National Trust who have kids lunchboxes, and at last year’s party it worked quite well. For party bags and lunch boxes we found a local bag and box supplier who we bought plain white lunch boxes and white party bags from, then ordered science stickers from ebay. We could even personalise those with the boy’s names and age, and we used the stickers to decorate the bags and boxes.
Our lunch boxes included:
- Sandwiches (choice of cheese or ham)
- Jelly pot
- Mini sausages
- Box of raisins
Then we had veg sticks (pepper, cucumber, carrot) and fruit (blueberries, grapes, raspberries, satsuma) on platters on the tables. We stuck with squash for drinks, and there were little basic cakes for those who wanted something sweet. I find doing lunchboxes mean you have less waste because while some won’t eat certain bits, generally they don’t open the bits they don’t want so they can just be taken away again for our use. The sandwiches were wrapped up in 2s, and any remaining have gone in my freezer because they’re perfect for taking out as snacks when we’re out for the day.
The cake was interesting. A friend of ours used to have a cake business but no longer does that, and neither of us wanted to spend ages making a cake and decorating it. We decided we’d dress the boys up in science gear, take a photo, order a photo rice paper topping and put it on a cake. How hard would it be to buy a plain cake? Harder than you think unless it’s only a small party. For any more than 16 it’s nigh impossible without ordering one especially.
Instead we went to Asda which prints out the toppings and you can choose sponge or chocolate cake. And it’ll get done in 10 minutes while you wait. My trip to Asda wasn’t as smooth as planned because at 4.30 on a Friday, there was no-one around in the bakery section. Luckily a manager was found who could use the machine and cake was done. It’s just a shame we don’t have somewhere closer to do it, although maybe I would make a cake next time if I wanted to have a photo cake again and just order the photo topping to add myself.
I’m not a fan of tat in party bags, so having the children make slime as part of the science party meant the main thing in the party bag was already included. Result! We added noisy balloons, a glow bracelet and then the cake. So not pricy and still with a bit of a science theme including air and light items.
Having never been to a science party or known anyone who’d used Mad Science, it was a leap of faith, but they didn’t disappoint. Ok, the administrative side was a little slow/incorrect at times, but the Mad Scientist who came was friendly, was organised and did a great job of keeping the children listening and taking part. I was expecting some children to get bored in the 45 minutes or so that they would be sitting down and watching, so brought along a big roll of paper and colouring pens in case some wanted a break. But no, they all sat nicely, watched, took part in answering questions and getting up when she wanted volunteers.
I had warned her that N probably wouldn’t want to get up at the front, but the 2 birthday boys went up together, and then another time got to choose some friends to go up too. It was great to see N having some confidence to get up, maybe helped by it being in front of his school friends.
The activities were all based for 5 years and up, but were simple experiments based on sight, sound and feel using water and air. Each was explained in plain language, and many of the children had a go at answering questions. It’s great at this age because they’re happy to try because a lot of the time they don’t know if it’s right or wrong, it’s just having a go.
The final part all the chairs got put away and the children got science kitted up to make their slime. I’d expected slime everywhere but it was all very well contained with only 1 spillage. Gloves and goggles donned, all but one took part and made slime in a colour of their choice. They were so excited to be able to take them home, and labelling party bags for us to put them in was a good idea…next time though, put the bags in alphabetical order for ease of finding them!
Sorting out food afterwards didn’t take much time. That’s the bonus of lunch boxes, there’s very little mess, it’s easy to clear up and separate out for recycling or general waste, and quick to serve. We just asked the kids which sandwiches they wanted and served up squash and it was done.
We did have a party playlist on my ipod for a bit of dancing (read, charging around by the boys), and had wrapped some presents in case we needed an extra activity. But after food putting up a pinata for them to whack to get the sweets out took us almost to the end of the party.
Just a quick run around before children were heading home and it was time to hand out party bags. Getting N and his friend to hand out the bags was a great idea in that it got N talking to the other children. But the 2 of them did end up arguing about whose go it was in handing them out.
A quick clear up afterwards and the hall was looking spick and span….and the cars full of an indecent number of presents. In future I’d definitely put ‘no presents’ – in particular if the party was after N’s birthday. A child only needs so many toys. Having said that, he’s had quite a lot of them out to play with already so they went down well.
So many parents said afterwards that their children really enjoyed the party, and N and L did too, despite N’s moans in the run up.
The only problem is now stopping N dreaming and planning next year’s party. I was hoping just to have a few friends to take out somewhere, but so far he’s decided he wants a Minions party, tennis party and karting party. Maybe by next year he’ll have changed his mind again.
What kind of parties have your children had or been to? Do you do it yourself or go elsewhere and get an entertainer/caterer?