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Plan A Volunteer Project for Your Child's Birthday Party

by Jamie Littlefield
The Challenge

Excessive children's birthday parties are becoming all too common. Simple birthday party celebrations with cake and a few friends are quickly being replaced by over-the-top displays of lavishness. Parents and children compete to "keep up with the Joneses." Over-stuffed loot bags, extravagant venues, piles of gifts, and hired entertainers promote materialism and overstimulate children who would otherwise be happy with cupcakes and time to play. TV shows such as MTV's "My Sweet Sixteen" and TLC’s “Outrageous Kid Parties” promote excessive celebrations by showing children's birthday parties where tens of thousands of dollars are spent, hundreds of guests are invited, and luxury cars are expected as gifts.

By continuing to throw indulgent, "bigger and better" children's birthday parties, parents do a great disservice to their kids. Extravagant children's birthday parties cause kids to develop feelings of entitlement and jealousy, according to the parent group Birthdays Without Pressure. Instead of having fun on their birthdays, children begin to experience disappointment — there can never be enough.

You can make a difference by helping your child have a happy, fun birthday celebration — without the excess: Consider planning a volunteer project for your child's birthday party. Your child's birthday party will be unique and will reinforce the message that helping others is important.

Children taught to volunteer at a young age will be more likely to help others when they get older, according to an Independent Sector / Gallop Poll. Not only will your child's birthday party make a difference to the recipient of your volunteerism, your child and his or her guests will learn that doing good can be fun. It can be challenging to break the cycle of materialistic, indulgent parties. But, your child's birthday party can be the first step in creating healthy, non-materialistic birthday party attitudes in your neighborhood.

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It's easy to plan a volunteer project to your child's birthday party. Here are a few children's birthday party ideas to consider:

Make a Service Project the Main Birthday Party Attraction

Instead of games or expensive outings, make a volunteerism project the main attraction of your child's birthday party. Talk to your child and choose a service project that is fun and fits his interests. For example:

  • Plant native trees: Give each child a seedling or a packet of seeds and a small shovel. Let the children plant the trees in a park or other public area (with permission, of course). Consider asking a park ranger to take the children on a nature walk.
  • Make cards for critically-ill children. Set up a table with bright colored paper, stickers, glitter, crayons, and markers. Turn on the party music and let the children make personalized cards for hospitalized children.
  • Assemble supply kits for the needy. Before the party, purchase or collect supplies for people in need. During the party, let kids assemble military care packages, baby supply kits, or hygiene kits.
  • Create teddy bears for children in need. Older partygoers can learn how to knit or crochet teddy bears (the project may need to be completed at home). Younger children can stuff pre-sewn teddy bears. Donate the completed bears to hospitals, fire stations, or charity organizations.

There are dozens of other volunteer birthday party ideas that can be completed in 15 minutes or less. Whatever volunteerism project you choose, be sure to make the party fun. Compliment the children for their hard work and let them know that they are making a big difference.

In Lieu of Gifts, Collect Toys, Food, or Clothes for Charity

If you child's playroom is already full of expensive toys and games, consider requesting donations in lieu of presents. You may ask guests to donate a toy (new or old), bring a canned food donation, or donate a piece of clothing they no longer wear. Be sure to discuss this idea with your child ahead of time, and do give your child a special birthday present from the family. Let the birthday child choose the charity and take an active role in dropping off the donation.

Instead of Goodie Bags, Make a Charitable Donation in Guests' Names

  • Goodie bags are overrated. Most "loot bags" filled with bouncy balls and fancy pencils are forgotten the next day. But if you still want to do something special for the children attending, consider making a charitable donation in guests' names.
  • Many local charitable organizations are happy to print personalized certificates with children's names. These can be presented to children as a birthday party favor. Alternatively, CharityGiftCertificates.org offers printable gift certificates that can be redeemed for donations to over 1,000 charities. The minimum donation ($5) costs about the same amount as a goodie bag. TisBest.org allows users to upload their own images for recycled plastic donation gift cards. Both options offer a tax deduction for the parent who makes the original purchase.

When you plan service-oriented activities for your child's birthday party, you're giving your child and his or her friends the opportunity to make a difference. At the end of the celebration, your guests will go home with a smile in their hearts, happy memories, and the confidence that comes from helping others. That's worth more than anything money can buy.

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