How to make a child's birthday party special in the year of covid?
November 10, 2020 6:42 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for creative ideas for how to make my son's 4th birthday special when many of our options are limited due to coronavirus.

My son's 4th birthday is coming up at the end of November. I'm wondering if anyone has any suggestions for how they've managed to make their child's birthday special in the year of covid. Before covid hit, my wife and I were expecting that this would be his first real birthday party with friends from school - but obviously that won't be happening. I'm trying to think of creative ways to make it special since we're limited in that we won't really be able to do things like go to the movies, or out to a restaurant or play place or many of the other activities that I'd traditionally associate with birthdays. Any ideas?

(In case it matters, we're in Ontario, Canada)
posted by NoneOfTheAbove to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you can cook, Eyebrows McGee's family feast days are extremely fun and inspiring.
posted by phunniemee at 6:48 AM on November 10 [2 favorites]

Sorry, a link or context would probably be useful. Here's the family feast instagram.
posted by phunniemee at 6:49 AM on November 10 [1 favorite]

A friend's five-year old had a drive-by birthday party a few weeks ago. My friend L put up signs near their suburban house, Burma Shave style, encouraging people to make her son's day. L had also emailed a bunch of friends like me to invite us to drive through, wave, and chat for a few minutes. (They stood on the sidewalk.) I was there for about twenty minutes and saw at least three cheerful strangers drive by, wave at him, and shout well wishes.
posted by knile at 6:51 AM on November 10 [2 favorites]

A four year old doesn’t know they are missing their birthday yet, just have a nice time together that is fun for you as parents too, chilled parents is a good day for a kid.
posted by Iteki at 6:52 AM on November 10 [15 favorites]

scavenger hunt? Our 2.5 year old had a very simple one for Halloween that she LOVED and I think at 4 you could even do clues or a map.
posted by brilliantine at 6:52 AM on November 10 [4 favorites]

Do you have an adult or older kid who could surprise him with a virtual storytime? I know a lot of children's booksellers and librarians have been driven to Zoom and YouTube to keep up with their storytime fans. Maybe there is one in your area who would do a personalized one. (Or a magician or a clown or someone like that.)
posted by BibiRose at 6:54 AM on November 10

Four's a lot easier than nine or ten would be. Make a cake together and get some balloons, have a special family movie night, ask friends to send cards--most kids that age really love getting mail--and maybe let them stay up late. They'll be thrilled.

If you can stand it, putting a crown on the kid and letting them be "in charge" for a day (with some health and safety boundaries defined ahead of time) is also really delightful for kids that age. They want autonomy but typically have so little control over their lives. Let them choose what to make for dinner, even if it means you end up eating macaroni with M&Ms in it, go all in with whatever weird make-believe games they want to play, etc.
posted by xylothek at 7:00 AM on November 10 [1 favorite]

Ours is turning 5 next week and luckily we imported a grandma into our pod in time for this auspicious event.

Our complications include: her preschool being closed for a covid outbreak; grandma and her 77-year-old immune system; our own paranoia. We'll find a way to work around it. The important part: you are all together, you love each other, your kid is special and is having a special day.

If the weather holds dry, we may try to organize a friend or two to join us at an outdoor event, just running around the yard. We can do paper bag snacks and favors.

I plan to bake a cake - that's an event all on its own, and your child is old enough to help mix ingredients - they are great at mixing things.

There will be presents, and possibly a movie. She will be made much of. She understands that "the sickness" means we can't have the blowout party we had last year.

You could still do a piñata or scavenger hunt for one.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:00 AM on November 10

We hired a magician to do a Zoom performance for the birthday party and invited every kids across the country that we knew. There are a lot of children's performers that have moved online - and you aren't limited to location right now.

Best. Birthday. Party. Ever.
posted by Toddles at 7:02 AM on November 10 [5 favorites]

Another vote for drive by. Stand outside for a specified time and ask friends to drive by. AND if it's appropriate in your neighborhood (that is, not a busy highway): Make a big sign saying "Honk! It's My 4th Birthday!" Most people will be delighted to, and most 4 year olds will be thrilled to have people honking and waving.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:19 AM on November 10

My son turned five this summer. Here's what we did:
1. We organized a drive-around party (we drove to three friends houses and they stood outside and waved and held signs). Three was about all he was up for before he was ready to go home. Bonus points for decorating your car so people honk at you!
2. We spread birthday gifts throughout the day. I think he opened a new gift every two hours or so! Clearly they were not all giant gifts, but the act of opening something is special!
3. We made a cake the night before and spent time that morning decorating it.
4. He got to select the meals for the day.
5. We did cake really early in the day and then continued to eat it throughout the day. (singing and lighting candles each time we had more)
6. We decorated the house with streamers and balloons the night before.

Honestly, it was great. He's well aware of big birthday parties at places with friends (he has an older sister), but the things he most values at this age are time with his family, presents and cake (not in that order), and as long as all three were met he was delighted.
posted by avocado_of_merriment at 7:35 AM on November 10 [5 favorites]

At that age, and actually at older ages, for birthdays and occasionally for giggles when they deserved it, we would give them a "Yes day". We would not tell them it was going to be a yes day, but no matter what, if it was safe or feasible, whatever they asked, we would say "yes". Can we have candy for breakfast? Yes. Can we play in the mud? Yes. Can we have cake first? Yes. Can I play video games? Yes. We also coupled yes days with no days. Do I have to eat my broccoli? No. Do I have to take a bath tonight? No.

They often would not catch on as to the super power they had, but they did always get that something special was happening. "We never get cake first!" Couple a "Yes Day" with some of the ideas above and you have one kick ass birthday for a four year old or a 40 year old.
posted by AugustWest at 7:57 AM on November 10 [5 favorites]

Our kiddo turned five this year. His pre-school friends had already started having birthday parties where lots of kids were invited, so we were worried he would be upset he couldn't have the same. But he didn't really mention it? What we did was give him lots of involvement in the planning and making everything ridiculously five-year-old version of wildly extravagant. The anticipation was half the fun: letting him choose things he thought were totally out of bounds.

So he got his favorite breakfast (pancakes) but he specified he wanted FIVE ENORMOUS PANCAKES COVERED IN SYRUP!!!*

Later we had a birthday lunch. But it involved HAM SANDWICHES WITH NO VEGETABLES!!! plus BLUE CUPCAKES!!! and JELLY!!! and ALL THE SNACKS!!!!**


Add on his favourite movie, presents, balloons and party hats, and decorations put up while he was sleeping the night before -- and most importantly his parents devoting all their attention to him and playing with him non-stop all day -- and it was apparently the BEST BIRTHDAY EVER!!!

All of which is to say, it's pretty easy to make a little kid feel happy and special, even in these crazy times.

*he ate maybe a quarter of it.
**about half way lunch he actually requested vegetables because there was too much sugar.
**most of it is still in the freezer, cut and wrapped into individual slices. Apparently iced cakes freeze remarkably well!
posted by EllaEm at 8:05 AM on November 10 [2 favorites]

I know this seems like a big deal now (been there) but at age 4 it really isn't (not for the kid, anyway.) They literally won't remember it in a year.

One thing that could make it magical would be to fill his room with balloons while he sleeps. And when he wakes up, you have something beautiful waiting for him - his birthday cake maybe, or a special waffle, or his favorite cereal.

Don't say anything apologetic about how you wish it could be different. He'll be happy if you're happy. And a happy family celebration would really be all he needs at age 4 regardless of COVID. Crowds of 4 year olds are not actually all that fun for anyone.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:11 AM on November 10 [8 favorites]

The best present for my kids is to be “king for the day!” So on their birthdays, they get to be king for the day and make all of the decisions. Where to eat (or get take out from, since corona times), what kind of cake they want, what games to play, etc. it’s surprisingly the thing they talk about most when they talk about what they’re looking forward to celebrating.

A 4 year old would LOVE the power that comes along with that. You can get him a crown and cater to his silly whims.
posted by katypickle at 8:13 AM on November 10 [2 favorites]

Just to add to the great ideas, we always decorate the kitchen HUGELY overnight, so our kids walk out into a family wonderland of streamers and balloons (we get the ones that become like little punching balls? Those are huge hit.)

Cupcake for breakfast.

A friend of mine did a Zoom birthday scavenger hunt, so the child Zoomed/Facetimed multiple friends and family and each time got a birthday wish and a riddle, and the riddle lead them all around the house and yard to sort of little dollar-store gifts, and then at the end there was a treasure chest with a big present.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:25 AM on November 10 [4 favorites]

our son is five and loves our easter egg hunts. you can do them inside or outside.

this year, we adapted it for halloween and i'm guessing we may do a birthday one too. just take plastic easter eggs and fill them with candy and little toys. if they're into thomas the train engine or pixar's cars, both have extensive series of mini cars/trains that will fit into the eggs.

we're in a bubble with his best friend so they were both able to do the egg hunt and they they took turns dividing up the loot. (we did an indoor one earlier in the day just for our son with a set mini trains)
posted by noloveforned at 8:30 AM on November 10 [1 favorite]

Our indoor treasure hunt with map was great fun this year.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:42 AM on November 10

Just to respond to a few things - sure, he may not remember it in a year. That doesn't matter to me at all. It's still important that he has a special day whether he remembers it or not. And yes, he is old enough to understand that things will be different this year. He will notice that his nonni and aunts and uncles and cousins and his grandma and grandpa aren't there celebrating with him. He has asked if he will see them on his birthday and we've told him no, we can't this year and we've done our best to explain why.

Thanks for all the responses so far!
posted by NoneOfTheAbove at 9:12 AM on November 10 [2 favorites]

My daughter is 3.5 and we did a Zoom party with her friends, which was ok but she lost interest pretty quickly. We had some friends send her video messages which she really liked, less pressure to interact on the spot. And she has had other friends’ parents request video messages for birthdays too. I also let her go ham on decorating her own cake and blow out candles multiple times. She had also been regularly talking about plans for her next birthday when “all the germs go away” and I am now facing the reality that that might not happen in April....
posted by wsquared at 11:54 AM on November 10 [1 favorite]

My son turned 6 over the summer. No party. He has big birthday parties every year so he knew what he was missing out on. But he opened presents, had a special meal, and spent time with his family and that was enough for him.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:12 PM on November 10

"Yes/No" days & "[Monarch] for the day": kudos, these are awesome ideas I'd never considered.

My 13yo nephew got a city wide scavenger hunt with presents and friends-from-a-distance throughout the city. In the end, the effort took all day and was a bit much.

4yo this doesn't really apply because they don't have the same expectations yet, but the other thing I try to encourage for events/travel/maintain sanity experiences is to do things so that you don't actually notice something is missing. Don't have a party at the park just to notice no one is there, travel to do something because your friends wouldn't do that with you on your birthday anyway. Trying to replace social contact with zoom contact is good bc you need social contact, but a zoom birthday party is hard to make into a normal party (though plenty of great zoom games out there, worth the $) so don't try. Do something so that you only notice what you've gained rather than what you're missing.
posted by rubatan at 12:59 PM on November 10

What theme party does your son want?

There are many zoom appearances available. I have seen horses, pigs and sloths join parties.

If you're close with neighbors, you could arrange a picture clue scavenger hunt. They post images that lead him to a treasure hidden in your house. This could also be done with family and friends on zoom.

My kids would have enjoyed diy ice cream sundaes, with no limits on toppings.

You could also send cupcake decorating kits to his friends and family. They could show off their decorating skills and eat up.
posted by jennstra at 2:38 PM on November 10

My daughter's fourth was in April. We have a very active neighborhood list serve, so I asked neighbors for help. She loves unicorns, so they put up pictures of unicorns in their windows or made unicorn cards or unicorn banners. She dressed as a unicorn and went around on a "unicorn hunt." A local group of singers saw the announcement and came by in unicorn costume to sing happy birthday to her and serenade us with a ukulele.

She was definitely sad at certain points during the day about not seeing her friends, but she definitely has positive memories of her fourth birthday.
posted by chaiminda at 3:08 PM on November 10 [2 favorites]

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