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Great green kids parties

by Lynn and Corey

Celebrating an eco-friendly birthday can be loads of fun and cost next to nothing. All it takes is a little thought and planning.

Once you and your child (assuming she’s old enough), have chosen a theme, look at each aspect of the event: decor, food, activities and gifts, and ask yourself the following questions. (We’re talking about children’s birthdays here, but the same principles apply no matter the age of the honoree.)

1. Can I reuse or re-purpose items I already own for decor? Avoid purchasing paper goods like tablecloths, even napkins. If you’re crafty, take a plain white sheet and color in animals, pirates, tea cups or whatever matches your theme, or visit a thrift store and see if they have some fabric that could be used. The most practical solution for napkins is washcloths. If you don’t have enough, you can pick up a dozen for less than $10 in many discount stores. These can be used as every day napkins until they totally deteriorate at which time they transform nicely into dust rags.

For table decorations, check your house, especially your child’s room, assuming it’s her party. Among her toys, we bet you can find enough items related to the party theme to create a unique tablescape. If she’s old enough, she can set it up on her own.

There’s no need for conventional balloons which, unless disposed of properly, can be a threat to wildlife and also post a choking hazard to children. Instead, make a few pinatas with recycled paper and fill them with some healthy treats or treasures.

2. What can we eat that everyone will enjoy but that’s healthier than the usual birthday fare? Avoid planning a full meal. Much of the food goes to waste as kids are notoriously picky or just too excited to eat. Instead, lay a table with a choice of healthier snacks (depending on children’s ages), like raisins, peanut butter (be sure to ask parents beforehand whether their children are free of allergies), fruit, 100% fruit leathers, or organic “bars.” Instead of juice or soda, put out pitchers of cold filtered water, homemade lemonade, or if it’s a winter birthday, how about making real organic hot chocolate?

When it comes to the cake, save money and create something healthier by making one yourself. It’s not that difficult or time consuming. If you have a small group, donning chef hats and making the cake can be a fun part of the celebration.

Another option for do-it-yourself fun is cookie baking and decorating. Individually decorated cookies make great no-waste party favors.

Be sure to set out a container for composting leftovers.

3. Do we really have to haul the gang to an amusement park, restaurant or skating rink to enjoy a memorable party? The answer is absolutely not! Think about what your kids love doing daily. For instance, one four-year-old we know lives and breathes hide ‘n seek. Why shouldn’t her party involve several variations on the game? Not only can all the partygoers play, but how about hide ‘n seek with some gifts, both for the birthday girl and the guests? Or why not hide and seek for objects instead of people?

If your child loves animals, call your local 4H club and see if a teenager will bring a rabbit or other animal for the children to learn about and pet.

We’re betting that no matter what your child enjoys, he’ll love integrating activities based on his passion into the party.

Neither of ideas the above costs a penny. And remember that when you focus on the child instead of the event, magic can happen.

4. How do we take the focus off gifts? At the same time parents may decry our nation’s emphasis on overconsumption, they equate a great birthday (or Christmas or Halloween for that matter), with giving and receiving lots of stuff. But more people are beginning to believe that children’s birthday parties, especially the gift giving parts, have gotten out of control. Parents and children alike, are starting to look at the whole gift giving idea in a new light. Some parents are asking for gently used or homemade (by the guest, not the parent)items. Others are opting out of asking other children to bring gifts to parties, while keeping family gift giving intact. Many have started donating to charities in the child’s name, or a combination of these ideas. For a terrific list of alternatives, visit www.BirthdaysWithoutPressure.org.

The birthday child isn’t the only one who is showered with gifts, though. At many events, tiny guests return home laden with so many items, you’d think it was their birthday! Downsizing prizes and party favors is not difficult. Every game does not have to have a winner who is rewarded with a trinket. How about making a craft project the centerpiece of the party, with the children taking home what they make? Even better,donate the projects to a children’s hospital.

Birthday parties should be fun for everyone and there is no reason to create waste and shower anyone with carloads of stuff. Instead, aim to create a memorable event that focuses on simple pleasures.

For more simply green children’s birthday ideas, check out this post.

Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and authors of  Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, and founders of Green Halloween®.

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