The evening after my first child’s first birthday party, I’m pretty sure I collapsed on the couch with exhaustion.
It was an awesome Very Hungry Caterpillar-themed birthday party: tons of friends and family, a caterpillar garland of photos from my boy’s first year of life, and cake smashed everywhere.
I went all out, and it was a blast! But I immediately knew that I wouldn’t be able to put in that much effort ever again.
Fortunately, big bashes aren’t essential to making your child’s birthday an exceptional event.
(They can also backfire, since many children find large gatherings overwhelming!)
Here are 15 ways to make birthdays special—and not one of them involves throwing a big party!
15 Ways to Make Birthdays Special (No Big Party Required)
1. Fill their room with balloons.
When your little munchkin is sleeping or away at school for the day, fill her room with balloons—then get ready for squeals of delight when she discovers them!
Related idea: Make a balloon avalanche!
2. Do a birthday countdown.
Make a chart counting down to your little one’s birthday (similar to the popular advent calendars at Christmas time). If you’re feeling ambitious, you could even include treats and toys from the dollar store, so they get a small gift every day leading up to their official birthday.
3. Make a birthday present scavenger hunt.
What’s more fun than getting a birthday present? FINDING a birthday present! Hide the gift and then leave clues all over the house. (Make it easier or harder depending on your child’s age and ability, of course.)
4. Dress them in special birthday attire.
Better yet, have them create and/or decorate their own birthday wear using cheap t-shirts and fabric paint from the craft store.
5. Transform their chair into a birthday throne.
Turn their ordinary place at the table into the seat of honor—with a special chair cover, balloons, or whatever decorations you have on hand.
© Tomsickova/Dollar Photo Club
6. Or make them an entire birthday castle.
Out of pillows, of course! Take all the pillows, cushions, and blankets you can find and build a birthday castle in the middle of the family room.
7. Give them the gift of quality time.
No distractions, no to-do list, just you and your kiddo hanging out together. Because often the best gift we can give a child is our attention, right?
8. Let them choose the dinner menu.
On their birthday, dinner for the whole family is totally at their discretion. Chicken nuggets with a side of mac and cheese, plus cake and ice cream for dessert? Coming right up!
9. Or serve them breakfast in bed.
If you don’t want to give them total control over dinner, how about breakfast? Surprise them with their favorites—a plate of pancakes with plenty of maple syrup, or perhaps a few slices of teddy bear toast—served in their bedroom. An unexpected treat to start the day!
10. Give them a stack of handmade cards.
In a world where greeting cards can cost upwards of $4, handmade cards have sentimental and budget appeal. Imagine your little one sitting down for breakfast and finding a stack of handmade birthday cards on his plate—from siblings, cousins, friends, parents, and perhaps even pets!
11. Re-live their baby days.
Tell them the story of their birth. Show them photos from when they were infants or snapshots of past birthdays. Kids love to hear about those early days!
12. Let them decorate their own cake.
With as many sprinkles as they want.
13. Document their growth since last year.
If you don’t have a growth chart yet, it’s not too late to start one! Measuring how much your son or daughter grew since their last birthday is a fun and easy tradition. (Here are lots of neat DIY growth charts if you want to make your own!)
14. Let them take a special birthday bath.
Balloons in the bathtub? Sure, why not!
image and idea via Growing a Jeweled Rose
15. Share favorite memories.
During the family meal, have everyone share a favorite memory of the birthday kid, or maybe just one or two things they love about her/him. Even shy children usually enjoy that little bit of extra attention from their closest family members.