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How to Make Every Birthday Special

Today Melissa & Doug are sponsoring a little chat all about birthdays (and giving away one mega prize pack too!).  I’m curious – how do you celebrate your littles’ birthdays?  Here in Seattle, birthday parties are big business.

It probably has a lot to do with the weather – nine months out of the year the chances of rain on any given weekend are fairly high.  That means folks who don’t have a home suitable for hosting a big bash are often left scrambling for other indoor alternatives.  The result is a going rate for party venues of around $350!

I’ll admit, we went for it once (for C’s second birthday). While the kids did have a great time, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the whole thing wasn’t making much more of an impression then any other run-of-the-mill play date would have.  Since then we’ve changed our birthday philosophy a bit. Instead of focusing on picture perfect decorations, party favors, and cake – we focus on making a special memory.  And instead of collecting a haul of toys from friends that (frankly) we don’t need, we focus on selecting one or two high quality and engaging toys to gift our kids ourselves.


Our formula for birthday success now consists of three things:


  1. Including family – We’re fortunate to have the grandparents nearby so they always make the trip over for the day.  Both aunts also always get a special phone call.
  2. An edible treat – Instead of slaving away on an over-the-top work of art, I let the kids pick what type of birthday dessert they want and – here’s the key – let them help me make it.  It’s so much more fun for everyone when we’re concentrating on having fun rather than making something perfect.  Last year C chose cake pops (did you know they sell easy-peasy kits at the grocery store?) and the year before that a dug up construction cake.
  3. An extra special adventure – It dawned on me a few years ago that since having S, neither of our kids really get alone time with both parents.  So now our tradition is for both parents and the birthday kid to go on a special excursion in the morning.  Both sets of grandparents hang out with the other child so there’s no shortage of attention for them and then we all reconvene for dessert and presents in the afternoon.  Both of our kids absolutely adore the individual time with both mommy and daddy and we leave the activity up to the birthday boy or girl.  Last year C chose a trip to the Space Needle and a ride on the Monorail.  The three of us had a great time and, before heading home, we picked up a small Space Needle for his train table so he could remember the day.

So that’s the day – how about the presents?  As I said, we prefer a few high quality items to lots of things we know won’t last long.


In no particular order, our top 10 birthday gifts for both boys and girls include:

  1. puzzles
  2. cleaning tools
  3. a train track set
  4. stackable geometric shapes (for young toddlers)
  5. a tea set
  6. cuttable wooden food
  7. a large set of basic building blocks
  8. a doctor kit
  9. musical instruments
  10. a tool kit

You can find all of these things and more at Melissa & Doug’s “Best Toys for Birthday” page (which is conveniently categorized by age).  But wait, wanna win some cash to spend at M&D before heading over? Good news, they’re giving away $500 to do just that!


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Even if you don’t win the $500 prize, don’t forget that anyone can get 10% off their next Melissa & Doug order, as well as 15% off birthday orders, by signing up for the Loyalty & Birthday Club.

Finally, if you need some additional ideas for how to make birthdays a little more family centered, check out what we did for S’s 2nd birthday (spoiler: it involves an unbelievably awesome outdoor activity) as well as our post “Starting a Birthday Custom“.


How do you celebrate your kids’ birthdays?  Any special family traditions?



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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathy C. April 16, 2013 at 8:35 am

I’m in the process of planning my son’s first birthday! Being that he’s our only kid, you can imagine how long I’ve been slaving to have all the details be amazing! I love the advice given in this post! Starting next year, I really want to try and incorporate a “special adventure” into the birthday traditions. :) Thanks for sharing…and loving the blog! (I’m new!)


Steph (MPMK Founder) April 16, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Hi Kathy,

Hope the birthday goes off without a hitch – and thank for finding your way here ;).



Emma April 16, 2013 at 9:26 am

We tie balloons that we have written birthday messages and drawn a silly face on, on the end of their beds so it’s the first thing that they see when they wake up. We also decorate the birthday boy’s chair with streamers, balloons etc. Simple little things, but they look forward to starting their day like as they feel special from the moment their eyes open.


Steph (MPMK Founder) April 16, 2013 at 6:08 pm

We’ve done the balloon thing too Emma! Our kids dont read yet so we snuck in while they were sleeping and covered the floor with them. Love the idea of messages when they get a bit older.


Lisa April 18, 2013 at 4:22 pm

We’ve decorated the den in the past so when they wake up and head that way, they get a room bursting with balloons and streamers and usually a banner just for them. It puts a smile on their face right away. :o)


gina April 16, 2013 at 10:58 am

Oh I love birthdays!!! The day of their actual birthday I decorate the whole house with balloons and streamers – they eat off the special birthday plate and we just have fun! As for a party age 1-3 is with just family and super close friends. When my son turned 4 last year he had his first “friend” bday party – we had it at our home – which is not the norm around here (everyone goes to the bounce house or gym or chuck-e-cheese) but I wasnt shelling out $350 for a kids bday party. We had a dinosaur dig and it lasted 1.5 hours. It was fun and perfect – we had 4 kids plus the birthday boy – my son is already planning his next party =)

As a side note – this year just for fun I celebrated my son’s half birthday – the day he officially turned 4.5. We made cookies and and I put 4 and 1/2 candles in them – he was soooo excited and now tells everyone he is 4.5! It was fun!


Steph (MPMK Founder) April 16, 2013 at 6:09 pm

I’ve always loved the idea of a special birthday plate Gina – thanks for reminding me.


Meg April 16, 2013 at 8:23 pm

We do simple, small, and meaningful birthdays. We let our kiddos help in the planning, from the theme, the cake, the invitations,and the activities. We try to make the favor an activity at the party, for my daughters art party, the guests took home the smocks they decorated as an activity. To limit the amount of gifts, we do a book swap, where each guest brings a wrapped book to swap at the end of the party. We also donate money to a charity in honor of each guest. For one jungle themed party, my daughter chose to donate to Jane Goodalls foundation, Roots and Shoots.


Steph (MPMK Founder) April 16, 2013 at 11:10 pm

Love those ideas Meg – thanks for sharing!


Leigh April 17, 2013 at 7:10 pm

I grew up with home made, we helped make it pinatas for birthdays and for my sons fourth birthday, that was the element he deemed essential. He also remembers every birthday (cup)cake and so I go to some effort. On a preschooler, not Martha Stewart scale. This year it was a robot pinata, and monster cupcakes (very messy icing and Wilton eyes). He loved it.


Steph (MPMK Founder) April 17, 2013 at 7:13 pm

A birthday pinata tradition sounds awesome!


ella April 18, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Love all of these! i have been suffering from no creative ideas-itis! =) So these are a huge help. Thanks ladies.


Kristie April 18, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Last year we took our 4 year old out of school and to her first movie at the theater…and she can’t wait to do it again this year. She had a year of BIG friends birthdays….bounce houses, chuck e cheese, party places…so I think we might have a “Friend” party too, I’m hoping to host it at the house and have an outdoor obstacle course.


Lisa April 18, 2013 at 4:26 pm

These are great ideas and timely too! My #3, boy, turns 10 on Sunday April 21st. I love the idea of one on one time but I’m not sure if my hubby will go for it. I think just the family going out for a meal at a nice restaurant (we are 6 so we don’t do that too often) is a special treat for them.


Sarah April 18, 2013 at 10:16 pm

I absolutely love this. I narrowly avoided an over-the-top party for my 3 year old this year, but thanks to a freak late March snow storm, we ended up canceling the whole thing st e last minute and just getting together with family. It was perfect, and all my other plans were just me trying to do a pretty like the ones my friends throw for their kids.


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