Friday, April 13, 2012

Free Play and Birthday Parties

My son turned ten a couple of weeks ago. For several years now, his idea of a great birthday party has been to ask his friends to bring their bikes so they can ride and play together. As they got older, they added simple ramps to their riding to make things even more fun.

When I asked him what he wanted to do for his party this year, I expected the same plan. Instead he replied, "I'm not sure, yet." I told him to think about  it and let me know. When I asked him a few days later if he had decided, he asked, "Can we build a fort in the woods?" I'm sure you know my response... "Of course!"

His invitation simply told kids to be prepared for "fort building in the woods and cake on the porch. Rainy day plan is LEGO's inside." The invitation also said the party would go from 1-3:30 if it rained and 1-4:30 if it were nice.

I'm sure many of you are feeling concerned about hosting a birthday party for a ten-year-old at your house. More and more parties in our area are held in venues that specialize in hosting birthday parties. Places such as arcades, bowling allies, and gymnasiums all offer highly structured programs that include some form of activity followed by pizza and drinks followed by cake and ice cream (or something similar). I understand the draw- the venue handles all of the planning and execution of the party. And, you don't have to clean up afterwards!

But here's what I've found. Planning a party like my son's takes almost no planning on my part. That's the best part- he gets his friends here and they decide what to do together.

On the day of his party it was raining, so we moved the furniture back in our living room to create an open area for LEGO building. Then we brought his bin of LEGOs downstairs. We laid out everything to serve the cake and ice cream and that was it. That was the entire preparation for the party. (My son no longer wants to hang decorations, so that was left off the usual "to do" list).

Including my two kids, we had a total of ten children here. My son only invited his closest school friends and some special family friends. I know it's hard to resist the now common practice of inviting your child's whole class, but that really isn't necessary.

So the day started with ten kids in our living room building with LEGOS. As the rain let up to a light mist, my son asked if they could go outside. He was just busting to build that fort with his friends! Most of the rest of the party was spent building "Fort Awesome" which was later renamed to "Fort Not-Awesome" when it collapsed. But the boys weren't even remotely discouraged- they were smiling, happy, and excited about their "work" together! I don't know exactly what they did or how they worked because we grown-ups just stayed out of it. My husband and one other dad checked in on them a couple of times, but we left them to do what they wanted. I later heard of one 10 year old praising the 5 year old and 6 year old for their "Awesome job" dragging logs closer to the fort. The team work was apparently amazing and we (the grown ups, that is) had nothing to do with it!

Once the fort building found a natural ending point, they had cake and ice cream (inside since it was too cold on the porch). Then my son opened his gifts and they went back to playing with LEGOs for the last half hour or so.

It was a wonderful day. My son had a blast. The adults were relaxed. And clean up was easy.

If you're still skeptical about planning this sort of party for your children, I hope you'll read these earlier posts to see my planning suggestions.

Loose Parts Play Introduces the idea of this kind of party and provides resources for sharing nature with children.
Loose Parts Play, Part 2  Includes my "Top 10 List" for party planning.
Loose Parts Play, Part 3 Offer specific advice for folks who don't have a yard or live in a small apartment.

Have you planned this kind of part or playdate for your children? How did it go? Do you have any suggestions to add to mine?

No comments:

Post a Comment