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Service Focused Birthday Parties: The Planning

We have been talking up a storm at my house recently about birthday parties.  Both of our boys have birthdays coming up, and we love to plan and decide what to do.  My oldest would really like a friend birthday party this year.

What about a service birthday party?  Service is fun!  (no groaning, really, it is!)  And, given the right planning:  I think that a service birthday party can be just as fun as a traditional birthday party . . . and it is more meaningful.  This is the first time I have planned one for my kids and I’ve spent quite a bit of time figuring out how to plan it.  That’s okay.  Our “Pennies of  Time” Adventures have taught us that it will be worth the effort.  Here is the process we are going through to do this.

Step 1.  Gifts: To Be or Not To Be.  For us, the first thing was to address the issue of “presents” with the birthday boy.  What are his expectations?  What about the idea that the presents from friends go towards helping someone or a group that needs help?

(On donating:  We don’t want it to be a meaningless drop-off of items into a cardboard box for the kids.  Most kids I know really try to buy a gift that the birthday kid would like. If we do a drop-off donation type of thing, I want it to be meaning for all the kids.  As we have found, especially for younger children, the drop-off would be best at the place receiving the donation.  And, there is always the option for the guests to bring nothing at all.)

Step 2.  Brainstorm Service Ideas. Just make a list of what your child likes to do.  Add to that ways in which your child is special.  Maybe also add anything that made his day of birth special.

For My Son, It Looked Like This: superheros, animals/nature, transformers, drawing, sharing, earning money, ladybugs in the hospital, a week in the NICU

From that, we thought of service ideas:

  • Superheros–Helping firefighters, policemen
  • Animals/Nature–Helping a shelter/nature center, plant trees, put compost from our composter on garden areas
  • Transformers–Helping other kids that like Transformers
  • Drawing–Giving art projects to places that need cheering up
  • Sharing–Sharing with kids that need help
  • Earning money–Giving away money I earn (he said with a question mark voice)
  • Ladybugs in the hospital–Making a ladybug habitat
  • A week in the NICU–Take stuff to the NICU

Then, pick the one (or a couple) that would work best for your child and party-goers.

Step 3.  Pick a Framework to PARTY

  • Party with “Service Centers” (small activities) that the children rotate through during the party.
    • Depending on the interest of the birthday child and the guests, you could have centers that are all about one theme, or not.
    • Here are some center ideas:
      • Write a note to a firefighter
      • Make bird feeders (like pine cones, peanut butter, birdseed) for the children to put in their backyards
      • Assemble a hygiene kid (party goers could bring items to add to the kits)
      • Write Happy Mail
      • Pick from a “Penny of Time” Adventure, as most are simple and can be done in a center.
      • Have a “special guest” to talk about the special service interest, like a firefighter!
  • Party with a Large Service Project.  At the beginning or end of the party, complete a service project at the service project site.  (Depending on the service project, it may be more comfortable to have cake festivities at the house.)  No matter what the service project is, throw some fun games into the mix.  Here is our family favorite.  Clean Your Room (we use our bag of mismatched socks)
    • Drop off donations at an animal shelter or food pantry
    • Go pick up litter at a park or school
    • Rake up the yard for someone who needs extra help
    • Visit a facility with older patients. In one of the community rooms or somewhere else beforehand, make notes for several residents with the party goers. After that, visit 4-5 of the residents sharing the notes and talking with them.
    • Create “Birthday Party Boxes” for homeless shelters that support children that include all the items needed for a traditional birthday party.
  • Party with a Donation Box.  This would be your typical birthday party with the typical games/activities we are familiar with having.  The service part comes in with the guests bringing something to donate.
    • For a surprise party for my husband a couple of years ago, we had a book drive and collected a hundred books, just from people bringing gently used books to his party.
    • You can tie it to the child’s interest:  For a birthday boy who likes airplanes, ask the party goers bring a book on airplanes to donate.
  • Party AT the Service Venue.  There are organizations that will host (for a fee) a birthday party, provide a tour of the facility, and then cake/present time.  And then everyone goes home.  Some examples that I have seen in my area:
    • Party at a local nature preserve.
    • Party at a local animal shelter.
    • Party at the fire station.
    • Party at a museum.

Once you have your service ideas and what kind of framework would work best for you, then you have the basics of what you need to finish planning it out.  You’ll probably need to make a couple of phone calls or visits to organizations to find the most appropriate one.  We’ve been doing that this week and the boys have enjoyed learning about the different places.

Don’t Forget: 

  • Intersperse the serving with elements of a traditional fun birthday party.
  • Plan games!  (one more plug for one of our favorites for kids:  Clean Your Room)
  • Plan fun and yummy food!  (if needed and appropriate)
  • Have a bright and cheerful attitude and the children will follow along and have fun, too!
Want more great ideas on how to celebrate with a purpose?

15 Ways To Give Your Child The “Gift of Giving” On Their Birthday by Moments A Day