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A Creative Celebration

Tired of a red-haired clown or gigantic gray mouse leading the party parade? A little ingenuity will make your child’s birthday celebration an event to remember.

First, consider whether to host the party at home or take the gang to an outside venue. At-home parties provide greater flexibility, let you tailor the theme to suit your child and save money.

The essential element for an exciting party is creativity. Select a theme that fits your child’s interests, then bring it to life by making props or decorations that leap beyond the printed paper goods available at party outlets. Use large (refrigerator-sized) appliance boxes to make lightweight and simple cutout props and paint with tempera to transform an ordinary living room or back yard into an imaginative playscape.

For a Knight or Princess Party, go wild in the kingdom by handing out scrolled paper invitations tied with glittery ribbons. Cut castles, turrets and towers out of cardboard, adding details like drawbridges and iron grates (with cardboard tubes). Decorate the party room with banners made of inexpensive fabric, using felt to spell out your child’s name.

Set the table for a feast using clear plastic goblets and plates. Serve your child’s favorite foods on plastic “silver” or “crystal” platters that you can buy from the dollar store. Fill shimmery fabric bags with party favors. Treasure boxes from craft stores can be spray-painted gold for guests to decorate with glue-on “jewels” as a craft activity.

Start your Pirate Party theme with handmade invitations. Dye crumpled white paper by dipping in a weak tea solution, dry and iron out for an “aged” look; then roll and tie with a black ribbon. The little mateys will enjoy partying around their own pirate ship cutout, with portholes and skull-and-crossbones flags. Give each guest his or her own bandanna (inexpensive at fabric stores), or you can opt for pirate-inspired gear like spotting scopes and eye patches. Plan to dig for buried treasure in a plastic wading pool or go on a scavenger hunt using treasure maps. Toss gold-foil chocolate coins around to be scooped into loot bags.

Let your child be host or hostess for an elegantly creative Backyard Tea Party. Invite guests to wear dressy clothes if they wish, but be prepared to provide fancy hats (as party favors) onto which you’ve hot-glued flowers. Serve pots of peach iced tea, lemonade or apple juice and offer food on stylish unbreakable luncheon plates and tea cups. Play hot teapot (hot potato) while sitting in a circle on a large quilt or blanket spread on the lawn (you don’t want grass stains on fancy clothes!) or play croquet or badminton.

Live reptiles are a sure crowd-pleaser when you invite MaxMan Reptile Rescue to a party. Diana Sleiertin of MaxMan brings eight to 10 real snakes, lizards, turtles and tortoises to your home for an up-close look (and feel) of these exotic animals. The interactive experience lets the birthday child handle each of the exotics, with an expert on watch.

Sleiertin has worked with rescued reptiles for many years and offers a safe and educational way to learn about respecting animals. She provides each child with a world map showing where her reptiles have come from and a goody bag. The birthday child gets a commemorative baseball cap. The cost for 10 children is $175, with all proceeds going to the care and upkeep of the animal stars.

If you’d rather not face the after-party mess or don’t have the space to host an at-home bash, look into offbeat activity-oriented venues. Consider the Museum of Science and Technology (MOST), located on South Franklin Street in Syracuse’s Armory Square, which combines party celebrations with cool science learning. The basic party is $75 (only $25 for members, with individual membership at $39) and includes 90 minutes in a private party room, admission for 10 (including birthday child), and unlimited time in the exhibits. For $105 ($55 for members), wow your guests with the Science Demo Party, which includes the basics plus one 15-minute science demonstration. Choose from liquid nitrogen, giant cockroaches, optical illusions or other topics. You can also opt for extra treats like motion simulator rides ($2 each) or goody bags ($3 each).

“It’s a very memorable place to have a party, and we keep the cost economical to introduce new families to the museum as a place to learn and have fun,” says Ann Nagle, director of marketing and public relations. The party room has magnetic walls (magnets provided) to hang your decorations easily. The room is set with chairs, tables, plastic tablecloths; just bring your own paper goods, food and drinks.

A visit to the Everson Museum of Art on Harrison Street is sure to put the “a-r-t” in “party.” Admission is free (donations accepted) to check out the gallery and have fun in the innovative Children’s Interactive Gallery. With school-age kids, follow the museum with a stroll to nearby Armory Square for munchies at Nick’s Tomato Pie or lattes at the funky Freedom of Espresso.      

Practical planning tips

• Begin planning four to five weeks in advance to allow time for making reservations on space, ordering a cake, preparing props or obtaining party favors.

• Keep in mind that children remember what they did at a party more than what they ate or what color the plates were.

• Invite a manageable number of guests. Some people use the rule of the child’s age plus 1 (example: age 5 + 1 = 6 guests).

• If you are not inviting every child in your kid’s class, consider mailing the invitations so that no one feels left out.

• Avoid win-or-lose party games and go for activities where everyone gets to have fun.

• Set up as much in advance as possible and ask a friend or relative to lend a hand. The more adults you have, the less stressed you’ll be.

• Focus more on creativity and imagination than on store-bought items. This will make the party memorable and interactive.

• Remind your child to say “thank you” to his or her guests for coming to the party.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York