Simple Children's Birthday Parties

How to Keep Birthday Parties Simple and Special



As the years have gone by, it seems like kid’s birthday parties have gotten more and more elaborate. With having 6 kids, I had to set some boundaries fairly early for attending and having birthday parties:

How many birthday parties should my child attend?

When my older kids were young, money was pretty tight and our school had a policy of everyone in the class had to be invited to birthday parties so no one would feel left out. Needless to say, they got a lot of invites. Our budget wasn’t very flexible, and honestly, allowing the kids pick out a $10 gift for their friend meant that other things in the monthly budget had to be juggled and it caused a fair amount of stress.

I had to set some limits. After thinking long and hard, I decided that I would let them attend one birthday party per year. Even after our finances eased up (Thanks to Dave Ramsey!) we still kept with the one birthday party a year rule. Limiting the attendance of parties freed up our schedule. That said, I didn’t limit extended family birthday parties, but our family is huge (I’m the middle child of 10 siblings) and spread out across the country, so we rarely attended family parties anyway.

Our kids did well with choosing one party to attend and they never complained. They had their close friends and knew when their birthday was. They were excited as they looked forward to it. It also meant that they took more time in planning their gift and thinking about what their friend would enjoy.

How much time/energy/money should I put into my own child’s birthday party?

I always felt a bit deprived, not having an extravagant birthday party as a child. But then when I had children of my own, I found out how overwhelming big birthday parties were to children. A 3 year old just wants to be celebrated, they don’t want to open 28 presents and thank each person.

With so much excess, can we blame the child for tearing off the wrapping, discarding the item and demanding the next gift or the child that screams and throws a toy in frustration, simply because it’s not the one he wanted?

My answer is, of course, minimalism.

Just like every other area of our life, minimalism helps us keep balance in our celebrations as well. There is no need for extravagance. I’ve given many a party and I’ve organized large elaborate events for people and organizations, but the ones that bring the most joy are the simple intimate parties. Even for children!

Have bigger parties on bigger birthdays. We allowed friends to be invited to the 5th, 10th and 15th birthdays. The rest of the years were just shared with grandparents and an aunt & uncle, (who graciously attend without giving gifts).

Keep the guest list small. Allow the birthday girl or boy to invite friends. If they tend to get carried away, set a moderate limit: 3-5 friends is good. Just remember, the more children, the more overwhelming.

Play simple games. Part of having a “big party” means party games. (At the age when party games are still enjoyed by all involved!) We’ve done:

  • Pin the tail on the ____. In our case, it was “pin the tail on the dragon” and “pin the horn on the unicorn.”
  • Don’t Pop the Bubbles. Lay out bubble wrap on the floor and have children take turns gently walking across it. Whoever doesn’t pop any bubbles win!
  • Scoop the Cotton Balls. Have a bowl full of cotton balls and an empty bowl in front of the child. Hand them a spoon and blindfold them. Whoever moves the most cotton balls into the empty bowl wins!
  • Make your own pizza. Cooking with friends is so much fun. Have bowls of pizza toppings and individual sized crusts ready for the chefs.

What does the winner get? To say that they won of course! Keep it simple. Just have fun for the sake of fun!

Make birthdays special with traditions. Allow your children to pick their birthday dinner. This gives a great opportunity for learn about your child and get them involved in the planning. Planning and anticipating is the best part!

Make a homemade cake. Have them help you make their birthday cake. They can decide what flavors they want and how they want it decorated. If they’re so inclined, let them decorate their own cake. And if they don’t even care for cake: let them pick their birthday dessert! Ice Cream, Pie, Strawberry Shortcake, Cupcakes, Cheesecake, Cinnamon Rolls, the list is only limited by their imagination.

In the end, it’s the time you took that makes the memories special. To know that their parent took the time to make their favorite dinner and favorite dessert makes them feel special and celebrated.

Nothing has to be perfect! And the great thing about kids: it doesn’t take much to get excited! You can make a sad looking cake with wobbly letters, and they don’t care- if you made it for them, they love it and it’s perfect!

What about gifts?

I recommend keeping gifts simple as well. When we send out invites (which just happen to be a group text message) I make my request:

“No need to bring a gift, but if you want to bring something, please limit it to something homemade or craft supplies.”

This has worked very well for us.

If you have family members who wish to give more, here are a few resources for you:


How do you celebrate your children’s birthdays? Leave a comment and let me know!



About the author, Rachel

Hi there! I’m the Joyful Space Specialist. it’s my desire help others create a joyful space of their own and enjoy their time spent at home.


  1. Amy Benson on 08/26/2014 at 11:48 AM

    We normally have grandparents over for dessert for our kids’ birthdays. Two of the times we had parties with friends, it was only because our child had asked for it. When our oldest son was around 10, money was tight. We had “pin the nose on the snowman”, “drop the clothespin in the jar” and other indoor games, as it was in November in Ohio. Kids played board games and we had different stations going on. Our other son had a “make your own sundae” party. When our daughter was around 7, we had an outdoor party. Really, all they did was play outside! We had hula hoops and jump ropes, and other yard games. (I asked the neighborhood ‘tweens to help watch kids for a big piece of cake.) Both times, I was surprised when parents thanked us profusely for the “delightful and original” parties. Who would have thought these were original?

  2. Alison @ The Petit Cadeau Blog on 07/20/2015 at 8:03 AM

    This is a fabulous post. We have also been trying to keep birthdays simple. We have birthday party invitations coming home from our daughter’s daycare almost weekly, and we choose a very select few to attend. As a parent, I personally find large birthday parties overwhelming and we kept our 4 year old daughter’s birthday very small this year – she invited 3 friends over and we did crafts and played. It was so perfect and she loved it. We have also started birthday traditions – a birthday box with special objects to be used year after year – It’s part of my Slow Gifting philosophy to keep things simple but I often feel like I’m fighting against “the norm” – it’s so wonderful to see other like-minded posts and philosophies out there, thank you for sharing!
    – Alison

  3. Amy on 01/03/2016 at 3:30 PM

    We had our 5 year olds party at our Wednesday night church service. Originally, we had invited the 7 other children in her Sunday school class over for a party but as the day got closer, it was apparent that everyone had conflicts that they were trying to work around (it’s the weekend that school lets out for Christmas break). At the last minute I asked her Wednesday night teacher if it was okay to move the party there – right after dinner but before the evening lesson. She agreed and it was so much fun for our daughter but so not overwhelming for me. They had cupcakes and party hats and balloons and she opened a couple of gifts. Then they moved on to the lesson for the evening. Easy peasy (the whole thing lasted about 15 minutes) and we will definitely do this again next year!

  4. Amanda on 02/28/2016 at 3:16 PM

    My friend often puts “secondhand or homemade gifts appreciated” in invitations to her kids parties, and one time she asked, in lieu of presents, that guests bring an item to donate to the SPCA, and a list of things they needed. That way the other kids got the fun of choosing something. I also would suggest for older kids, putting together kits for a charity could be a party activity. You send out a list of items you will need, and they pick something up (e.g. 10 pairs of socks).

  5. Kate on 06/07/2016 at 10:31 PM

    I think you have some good points but here’s the other side of the coin: Some children with special needs have few/no friends. However, classroom rules about inviting everyone offer a fantastic opportunity for the left out kids to have a small chance to socialize with their peers. If everyone has your your minimalist philosophy on parties many kids will miss out.
    Part of being a compassionate human being is learning to accept others and to “throw a wide net” to make community. Our churches encourage this.

    • Kathie on 12/29/2016 at 11:47 AM

      As an early childhood educator I do see your point and understand your concern about including others, being compassionate & providing opportunities for socializing outside the classroom. Perhaps an alternative to a birthday party might be a class play date at a local park, the zoo, a museuem, or other activity. an invitation for all children could go out inviting families to attend with their child(ren) therefore all classmates would be included & there would be opportunities for children to socialize. Parents could supervise their own child(ren) and come & go as their schedules permitted. This would also enable parents to get to know each other better. Parents New to the area would also benefit because they like their child would have an opportunity to meet new PEOPLe.

  6. Alice on 07/05/2017 at 4:43 PM

    Now that my twin daughters are older (12), instead of gifts, we’ve started requesting donations to various charities on their behalf. The last two years, it was the Malala fund. This allows their guests to donate as much or as little as they can afford, and avoids the acquisition of more STUFF.

    One of their friends started this trend when they were all about 8, and nearly everyone in their friend group has adopted it. I don’t know what a good minimum age for this would be; I think 8 was about right for these girls, but I don’t know if that would work for everyone.

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