My family just had our first birthday in 2020. This is a year without parties, bounce houses, or adventures. This year, birthdays are something most of us get to spend at home. But, how do you make a child’s birthday special this year?
Spend the Day with Them
First off, consider taking the day off work to be with them! Does your job provide vacation days that you can’t use in the usual ways does your spouse’s? This is a great excuse to take a random day off of work. Even if you’ve both been working from home, and your child sees you all the time, putting down work and making your child the priority of the day, will be special.
Now, what to do with this extra time? I suggest getting your child a gift that is a project you can spend time together that day. This is not the year to give up on consumerism. I know you want “experiences not gifts.” This year, consider gifts that will result in experiences. For younger children, this could be a train set, Legos, or other blocks you will spend time building. A new sandbox with toys or a kiddie pool also make a normal day feel very special and can be enjoyed for far more than today. Older kids can enjoy a set of tools and a kit to build. Our ever open hardware stores should have some options. A sewing machine with fabric and thread also results in a day of project and learning. Just be sure you purchase all they will need to get started. There is nothing like having a sewing machine ready to go but no fabric. Kits with clay, leatherwork, or painting are also great ideas. The important thing here though is that you get enough to do it with them, and spend that time together.
Teens and Tweens
For teens and tweens, this might be the right time to consider a computer upgrade. While we might have all worried about too much screen time before, it is necessary now to stay connected. For my family, this is a year to seriously consider tech gifts. I like it even better if we can build it, so the child learns how to put together a computer. But if you lack the skills on this, don’t jump in without help. My husband spent time getting recommendations from a friend to plan a gift for our son that would set him up both to play the games he loves, and to be able to do more on-line learning this fall. It was a huge project that we never would have taken on in a normal year. This year is different.
This is also a great year to gift your child with board or card games. All this time locked in the house together means that there is time for playing together. These games, also become your party games! Get something that your family can play together, however many of you there are. Games like Bop-It! and Twister are good for a kid that likes to move. Catan or Flux may be better for the teen who would rather strategize, and both have several varieties to choose from. This might also be a great year to invest in regular cards and learn Gin Rummy or Poker.
Put down the sourdough starter and see what kind of special birthday cake you can make. Involve your child if they like to cook. If you’ve never baked a cake, the box mixes have lots of choices you can handle. If you’ve made a few, talk to your child about if they would like to try something different. Pineapple Upside Down cake is different and fun. What about old family recipes or even having pie instead? With no guests, you can do literally anything the birthday child wants. Would your child really rather have a batch of homemade cookies? Do it! Would your child rather have a broccoli and cheese casserole because they don’t like sweets? Stick some candles in the casserole this year! All the rules are gone this year. Do what makes your child happy.
Setting up a time for family and friends to zoom call, can also break up the day and be fun. Because free zoom accounts limit the length of calls between more than 3 people to only 45 minutes- think carefully about who to call when. For an introvert, having the call cut everyone off my feel like a gift. But, if your child is an extrovert, you may want to plan how to handle this obstacle. Do you schedule separate calls for family and friends? Do you set up someone one on one calls at an appointed time throughout the day? Put some planning into when and who to talk to, to maximize your use of Zoom.
Some family movies or television time is another good way to let your child choose a family activity you can all do together. My son chooses a Netflix show that we all watched 2 episodes of on his birthday. We enjoyed it, and are now making time to watch a few episodes each week together. It is a comedy show, that we can all relax and watch without any stress, which is nice. Despite all the options, we weren’t watching much as a family, so this is a nice new habit for us.
Whatever you do, remember that birthdays are really about celebrating your child and the awesome person you are raising. Take time to appreciate this cool person you have and to focus on them for the day.
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.