Birthday party alternatives
After your kid’s birthday party, do you ever look at the pile of gifts they got and think, “Wow, that’s a lot of stuff”?
We have twins and while the toys, games, costumes and clothes were great the first year or two, by the time our kids had actual friends, the presents were getting out of control.
Following our kids’ fourth birthday party, my husband and I made the decision that future birthday celebrations would not include gifts. This meant that when their fifth birthday rolled around the invite clearly stated, “In lieu of gifts, please bring a gently used book we can donate to a local charity”.
Before I get too far into our reasoning behind this, I should mention that we do buy our kids birthday gifts, as do their grandparents, a few neighbors and close friends, so its not like they’re not receiving anything to unwrap when the big day comes.
The kids’ fourth birthday took place at a local community center, which had recently built a huge indoor playground and was perfect for the roughly 10 or 12 kids we invited. Usually I’m all about having parties at our house, but we were in the midst of moving, so it wasn’t an option that year. After my children opened all their gifts and people began leaving, we were left with a giant pile of stuff. I’m not talking about a mound of toys and games the size of a sleeping Labrador, I’m talking about a pile of games, toys, costumes and other miscellaneous stuff that rivaled the size of a baby elephant.

The Problem:

Each child who attended the birthday party was friends with both of our kids and bought each one their own, individual present, so instead of a dozen toys to take home, we had two dozen or more. It was ridiculous. We did not need more than 20 new toys in our house, and honestly, they didn’t even play with all of them because there was so much. As we were loading everything into the back of the minivan, my husband and I made the decision to no longer have gifts at the kids’ birthday party.

About six weeks before the kids’ fifth birthday party,

we asked if they’d like to do something nice for local children who may not be as fortunate as them, and if they’d like to give these other kids extra food or books. After some debate, and explaining that hordes of macaroni and cheese and ice cream wasn’t what we had in mind for a food donation, they both agreed that giving books to others sounded like a good plan. Then came the hard part: telling them the books would take the place of wrapped gifts from the friends attending the party. I’d by lying if I said this wasn’t met with some resistance, but the complaining was minimal when we reminded them they’d still get presents from family and a few others. We probably had more than 15 kids at their fifth birthday party, and approximately 50 books or more were given to us to donate to Inside Out Charities, which helps give food, home goods and children’s items to families trying to get on their feet.

When we arrived to deliver our donation,

I was shocked that the children’s bookcase, which was narrow and four shelves tall, had only enough books to filla birthday party give back half a shelf. By the time we left, nearly all the shelves were full and the kids understood that other children would have the chance to take the books home. Our kids love having stories read to them and look forward to our roughly 15-25 minutes of story time before bed each night, and by encouraging them to collect donations for their birthday instead of receiving gifts, they realized they were giving the joy of reading to others.
Laura Barnard is a mom to twin five-year-olds and owner of Sweet Tea Communications, LLC. She operates her own public relations and graphic design business while the kids are at school, but once they get off the bus, its all about keeping the craziness contained. Her kids enjoy dance, Ninja Warrior practice, orchestra and pretending to visit other planets on a regular basis. There’s never a dull moment. 
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