Posted on April 7, 2015 at 6:00 am
There are many unwritten rules of parenting. One of which is, “if you have kids under the age of eight, you will have an obscene amount of cheap, plastic toys in your house.” Ok, I’m not really sure at which age this ends. I just picked eight because I’m hoping the end is in sight.
While we try not to add plastic toys to our kids’ overflowing toy boxes, we still seem to accumulate them. I’ve actually been known to sneak in after my kids are in bed and throw out the plastic toys I’m sure they’ve forgotten about. However, despite my efforts, the plastic just keeps coming. I know we’re partly to blame for this; after all, we do give in to the occasional kid’s meal when we are on vacation. But by far, the biggest offender is the dreaded birthday party goody bag. I know I’m not the only parent that cringes a little when those little bags are being handed out. I get it, though—who wants to spend a lot of money on gifts for attendees when the expenses of a birthday party can add up so fast? Those cheap, plastic dollar store trinkets are the easiest and least expensive way to go.
Although I’m tempted, I’m not quite brave enough to be the first parent to ditch the goody bags all together. So instead, I’ve tried to get creative with what I give in an effort to have fewer plastic items inevitably filling trash cans or giveaway boxes a few weeks (more like days) after the party. If you are ready to join me in banning the plastic, here are a few of my favorite goody bag ideas.
My favorite goody bag ever was one my mom came up with. She collected cookie cutters from second hand stores and then she helped my daughter make homemade Kool-Aid play dough in a variety of colors and scents. Each kid went home with a bag of play dough (the homemade stuff is the best) and a cookie cutter that they picked out. The kids loved it and the moms were thrilled to have new, homemade play dough that they didn’t have to make themselves.
Another goody bag I enjoy doing is an art supply bag. If you stock up during back to school sales you can get 24-packs of crayons for really cheap, as well as other fun art supplies such as different shaped erasers, pencil sharpeners, and decorative pencils. This type of goody bag is perfect for a birthday that falls halfway or more through the school year when everybody’s school supplies are starting to look a little sad. Another fun art supply to include is some large sidewalk chalk. You can buy a big package and then divide it between bags. Another art-related idea is to pick up a bunch of different themed coloring books from the dollar store and let each kid pick a coloring book and take home a new package of crayons.
Including a creative project as part of the entertainment lineup for the party can serve two purposes—it’s fun to make and the result is a perfect takeaway gift. Some simple ideas for this are to help kids make Floam or Oobleck. After the party, let them take it home as a souvenir. You can also pick a craft that goes along with the party’s theme. This past summer we made superhero masks (think The Incredibles) and the kids loved them.
Most of the time, by the end of a party, the kids are full of sugar. Even if it’s just cake, those little bodies don’t take much before they get a little crazy. For this reason, I try to avoid sugary treats for goody bags. I did make an exception one year, and it was worth it. My daughter was having a baseball-themed party and I just happened to see boxes of Cracker Jack popcorn at Dollar Tree. We put the Cracker Jack boxes in red-striped popcorn bags with some baseball-themed temporary tattoos and a foam baseball. Most of the kids had heard of Cracker Jack from singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” but they had no idea what it actually was. I’m all about improving cultural literacy, plus it was cheap, easy and fit the party theme!
One of my daughter’s friends has the dreaded “middle-of-winter” birthday. Instead of having the party at their house, her family held the party at a local dance studio. All the girls were invited to dress in their favorite ballerina clothes and come for a short, fun dance session. Getting a chance to dance and learn from a real instructor was a total treat for the girls. To top it off, instead of leaving with a goody bag, each girl left with a lovely flower and felt like a star ballerina after her big performance.
This last idea is one I haven’t used yet, but am planning to use soon. One thing our family tries to do for birthdays and other holidays is to give experiences rather than gifts. I think the same idea works for a fun “goody bag.” My kids love riding on the Looff Carrousel in Riverfront Park. You get one ride per token, and you can buy 20 tokens for $20.00. This means that for $1.00 I can either give kids a cheap, plastic toy or I can give them a ride on a historic carrousel. For me, the carrousel wins every time. Instead of just handing the kids a token, I’m planning to print off a free carrousel coloring page and tape the token to it. I think this would also be a fun birthday present idea, although I’d definitely add a few more tokens for a present.
I’m not sure at what age the goody bag finally goes away, but if you have any great ideas to get me through the next couple of years I’d love to hear them. Plus, toy bins everywhere will thank you!