I’ve found the start of preschool birthday parties to be a little overwhelming. The kindness and love from parents is always so clear in the time they have spent organising the party and in the huge costs involved. The hire of the village hall and, in my case, the extra cost to hire the kitchen so you can prepare the food or offer the parents a drink. The party food, party bags, sweets, gifts, books. The entertainment, whether it be in the form of an entertainer or a bouncy castle. Ruth has adored every party she has been to, most of which have included a bouncy castle. I’m lucky in that she has always stuck fairly close to me and has never had an accident. Even the child climbing on to the very top of the castle, as a parent switched it on to inflate it, escaped unharmed.
It was about eight months ago that Ruth started planning her party, and the one thing she was sure of, was that it was going to included a bouncy castle. She talked about her party often. At least once a day. I thought I would grit my teeth and go with the flow, but as I research and costed it out, I felt very uneasy about being responsible for twenty children bouncing around and the money it would involve.
So I decided to pull the ‘I’m the mother card’. Of course I didn’t tell Ruth that (I hope, naively, never to actually say those words!) but I decided that I needed to be happy with the party that I was throwing for her. I have hugely fond memories of my parties as a child. All were at home and all were organised and catered for by my Mum. She was the invitation maker, cake baker, party decorator and entertainer. And I never wanted for anything else.
All my plans were given more fuel when, before Christmas, Ruth was invited to a totally magical party… a Bear Hunt. We stomped round our village and the nearby fields finding little things the bear had left (mini tubs of play dough, a little bag of chocolate biscuits, a snowman template to decorate later) singing at the tops of our voices the words from the book and searching for the bear. We found the bear (the lovely daddy of the birthday girl) and he gave each child some ear muffs. We did some crafting and had a homecooked tea. I was buzzing from the magic of it all. I knew that an ‘old’ days’ party could be just as good as a bouncy castle one.
Ruth adores the mud kitchen at preschool, so we braved the weather and planned to have the party outside and in our greenhouse. The weather was drizzly…all day, but that was absolutely fine and didn’t stop us from doing anything we had planned. We are really lucky in that we have a beautiful, big greenhouse with electricity. It was big enough to hold seven children and nine adults and we spent a couple of weekends preparing it by cleaning windows (honestly, as if four year olds would have noticed that!) and decorating it. We got some flower window stickers from eBay (which are actually to prevent birds flying into the windows) and I found some hanging butterflies in Home Bargains. Ruth has some fake flowers in her room which I brought down and put in some glass bottles.
I bought each child a little terracotta pot (69p each) from our local garden centre and wrote their names on it with glitter glue. They decorated their pots with stickers when they arrived. I thought stickers would work best as the children might smuge other crafty things when they potted up their pots, but I would advise having some glue sticks handy because not all stickers are very sticky!
Each little person then filled their pot with soil and planted a couple of daffodil bulbs and a purple viola. I found some little Easter felt flower stakes to pop in the pot to make it look extra cheerful. We then made a little cardboard and pipe cleaner spider/bug to walk over our flowers. I’d found the idea on pinterest when searching for ‘crafts using pipecleaners’ as we have quite the stash!
We had a big urn of hot chocolate and the children had some fun with the toppings they wanted. We had squirty cream, white chocolate chips, mini chocolate jazzies and marshmallows. Just be careful of the temperature of the hot chocolate! We also had a kettle and some tea and coffee supplies for parents.
We then went on a treasure hunt in the garden to find a little chocolate treat and a dinosaur aeroplane. After an aeroplane throwing contest we came inside to make homemade pizzas for tea.
Each child got a piece of non stick baking paper with the rolled out dough on and they could top it with whatever they liked. While we cooked them in our aga, the plan was to do face painting and animal mask making. I bought some snazaroo face paints for Ruth for Christmas and got some stencils for the party to make it quicker. I totally forgot to use them. In hindsight, they would have been much better to do as the kids arrived. They still had fun making the animal masks though.
The kids loved the pizza and had birthday cake and icecream after. I bought some plain white party bags big enough to hold their pots, the dinosaur aeroplane and a small chocolate treat. Ruth got quite upset at the end of the party… it seemed to come as a shock to her that people started to leave after tea. I wish I had prepared her with a whisper in her ear. She cried, but once people went and I could sit her down and listen more carefully to what she was saying, she said that she was so sad her party was over and that it was such a wonderful party. And that…well that made my day totally. It made made all the worry over whether it would be good enough and whether the children or parents would enjoy it melt away. There was my little girl…thanking me for her party. And my heart almost burst with pride.