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10 Ways to Throw Birthday Celebrations for Kids While Social Distancing

10 Ways to Throw Birthday Celebrations for Kids While Social Distancing

Celebrate your kid’s birthday with a socially distant in-person celebration or keep it virtual with these party planning tips and ideas

In this strange time of hesitant social gatherings, kids’ birthday parties are in flux. Should your kid have a celebration this year? If so, what kind? What safety precautions need to be taken? Should you invite friends and family? While birthday celebrations for kids are not exactly essential, they are developmentally important. “Social distancing does not mean social isolation,” says Graziella Simonetti, a parenting coach on Long Island. “Celebrating is injecting something joyful into a time that is tough,” she adds. “We’re so inundated with negative news, a birthday is something positive to celebrate.”

So assuming your little one is eager to party, how should you approach it, and what are the guidelines for how to throw one?

Safety Guidelines for Hosting a Birthday Party

For in-person birthday celebrations for kids, guests should follow CDC guidelines and wear masks or other face-coverings. Non-family members should remain 6 feet apart. Everyone at the party should wash their hands frequently, and surfaces should be disinfected on a regular basis, especially after the party is over. If those rules are strictly followed, parties are not impossible, as long as they are small (gatherings of up to 50 people are now allowed in New York) and they happen outdoors where there is less risk of infection.

Seri Kertzner of New York City’s Little Miss Party Planner recommends setting chairs up 6 feet apart on a nice day. “You can even mark the ground with tape or chalk to make sure everyone is aware of the perimeters.” She also urges party-throwers to set out hand sanitizer where it’s easily accessible for guests.

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If you plan to feed your guests, “either make it BYOE (bring your own everything!) or set out (in advance of your guests coming over) snacks and drinks that can be tossed right into the recycling bin or trash: Water bottles (make them special with cute water bottle labels ), individual bags of snacks, and disposable festive plates and cups,” Kertzner suggests. Make a trash can available for guests to toss their own garbage. And if you’re okay with guests using the bathroom in your home, choose one to sanitize and provide paper hand towels rather than cloth hand towels.

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If you plan to have a birthday cake, “there is no known evidence that the coronavirus is transmitted through baked goods, but when baking at home, always follow general food safety guidelines: wash hands before preparing foods and prepare foods in a clean environment,” according to Melanie Newkirk, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Nutritional Services Clinical Manager.

Whatever small gathering idea you come up with, it’s a good idea to poll guests before the invite goes out in order to make sure everyone is okay with the setup. Also, let other parents know about your intention to follow safety procedures.

10 Ideas to Throw a Socially Distant Birthday Party

Some people may still be uneasy about actually gathering kids together—and that’s perfectly okay! There are so many ways you can throw a unique celebration, whether in person (while social distancing) or virtual.

If you do choose to host a virtual celebration, the most important elements are a theme (think rainbow, farm party, unicorn, superhero) and a plan. “Nothing is worse than a boring or chaotic Zoom party!” Kertzner says. She also suggests sending out a detailed email with all relevant information and links, and perhaps asking guests to bring a specific kind of snack or drink to the party. (Or drop off treats for guests at their homes.) Finally, decorate: Use streamers, banners, and balloons to create a festive backdrop and encourage guests to do the same.

So, how will you celebrate your birthday child this year? Try one of the below ideas!

Host a Backyard Celebration

Within the above safety parameters, there are lots of possibilities to host a party at home. For example, kids can go on a scavenger hunt and meet up with their finds at a chosen location for a socially distanced celebration. One family in Westchester invited the local ice cream truck to park in their driveway to distribute ice cream cones to guests (who then mingled at a safe distance nearby). Kertzner also suggests “gathering around a bonfire with a make-your-own s’mores bar or setting beach towels or picnic blankets 6 feet apart and giving each guest their own picnic basket full of goodies to enjoy.” You could add a socially distanced Hula-Hoop contest or create targets using sidewalk chalk for a water balloon competition.

See a Drive-in Movie

Or take advantage of the newly popular summer trend: drive-in movie theaters, which are popping up all over New York. Families can arrange to meet up at a local drive-in and park near each other. Or if you have a small projector and a white sheet, set up your own outdoor movie theater for kids where they can watch from chairs or blankets placed 6 feet apart.

Plan a Drive-By Parade

Another idea? If you want to get out of the house, a drive-by is a great way to garner lots of celebratory enthusiasm. Ask guests to bring balloons, or messages for a bulletin board. Have a sign competition. Set up a table for gifts and one for goodie bags so guests can pick up and drop off without making contact. You can also ask friends to drive up to your house to sing “Happy Birthday” from a safe distance away—while the birthday girl sits on a decorated chair or throne in the front yard. For city kids, revelers can shout out their birthday wishes or hold up signs in view of an apartment window or from across the street. Or do a reverse drive-by, where the birthday kid is driven around town, stopping at friends’ houses to hear well wishes and exchange gifts.

Schedule a Video Chat Party

Invite your kid’s friends to be on a Zoom, House Party, Facetime, or Google Hangouts to wish him a happy day. You can also consider one of these easy-to-use video chat devices for connecting with loved ones from afar on a birthday or other celebration. For younger kids, family members can be the invitees—we can guarantee that very few will have other plans. Let the party-viewers watch while the birthday boy blows out his candles and opens his gifts. In addition, ask friends and relative to record their birthday wishes on video and email them to you. Or better yet, use the Marco Polo app for group cards that you can create with different visual filters and voice effects. You can even download fun Zoom background templates from Canva to 'transform' your kids' birthday celebration to the location or theme of choice.

Host a Virtual Game Night

Virtually gather your kids’ friends at a designated time on a video game system (such as a Playstation or XBox). If you don’t own one, Facebook’s Instant Games offers games like Scrabble, Uno, and Cribbage that kids can play online together. Or try your hands at Crazy 8s, Checkers, or Go Fish with which allows for chatting and a Zoom video linkup. Or challenge your child and his friends to solve a virtual escape room. House Party also offers a variety of games to play over video chat that are appropriate for all ages.

Livestream a Performance

If you were already planning to hire a party performer, inquire whether that person could live-stream her show or provide a previously taped performance. Then invite friends with a video-call link. Even if you hadn’t intended to go in this direction, ask around to see if someone somewhere (geography doesn’t matter here) can stream a live performance of, say, a magic show or a clown stunt. One idea—Ever After Princess supplies a prince or princess to MC the virtual hang or you can schedule a free, personalized birthday message with NYC Birthday Clowns. You can even have a Disney princess Zoom your little one 1-on-1 for a special birthday surprise.

Invite Friends to the Virtual Theater

Invite a group of buddies to a planned event and encourage them to grab delicious snacks and settle in for a show. Watch2gether allows you to create a room where kids can simultaneously watch a video or listen to music—while chatting or using a webcam to video conference. (It also offers a karaoke version—type in “karaoke” with the chosen song so participants can sing along.) Netflix Party synchronizes a video playback and adds a group chat option during streaming so kids can watch the same film together.

Plan a Special Day at Home

Even if you want to keep it simple, there are many ways to make your kid's birthday celebration special at home. Set up a scavenger hunt or a tent in the backyard to camp out for the night. Make his favorite dessert or do a creative project together. Take an online trip to the zoo or a famous museum—if you’re feeling comfortable take him to the zoo or an aquarium for the afternoon now that they’re reopening with limited capacity. Or let your little one be king or queen for a day or maybe just an afternoon. Being stuck at home doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate.

Order from Your Kid's Favorite Restaurant

In light of the coronavirus crisis, many restaurants in the New York metro area are offering free delivery and even free kids meals, so you can order a special birthday meal for your little one without breaking the bank. In addition to take-out and curbside pickup, Blue Moon Mexican Cafe locations are offering two Birthday Fiesta To-Go options, which include food for six (tacos or fajitas), a dessert platter, beverages, sombreros, and birthday candles. And with our area continuing to reopen, make it an extra-special day by choosing a restaurant that has outdoor dining (and your kids favorite meal!).

Book a Virtual Group Class

If chatting over Zoom just doesn't cut it, book a virtual group class for your little one and her friends so they can participate in an activity together. Clay Art Center is offering Kids Clay Virtual Parties via Zoom for birthday parties. Instructors will guide kids through a fun clay project of your choosing. If you want the kids up and moving, look into Fhitting Room's group fitness class birthday parties.

Whatever kind of celebration you choose, make sure your birthday boy or girl is happy with the plan and that it makes your kid feel special—and be sure to reassure everyone that next year things will hopefully be very different.

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Shana Liebman


Shana Liebman is the features editor of NYMP. She’s a writer and editor who has worked for magazines including New York MagazineSalon, and Travel & Leisure—and she is the mom of two energetic little boys.

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