Monday, January 30, 2012

birthday party gifts

Thank you for your insightful contributions to calling back the muse in last week's post. Now we all have a docket of ideas for bringing back the inspiration whenever it goes a wondering. Brilliant! And here's that post I had been working on Friday morn when the light bulb started flashing:
I'm always fascinated with how different folks approach gifts at children's birthday parties. We all have unique traditions that are just right for our families. For instance, we don't open packages until guests have departed. I know this wouldn't work for everyone, but we feel it takes the emphasis off of the gifts at the party and keeps everyone present (pun alert!) on celebrating together. This is especially helpful for small children, but we've kept it going as they've grown. 

One good friend of ours always asks for no presents at all. Another prefers to have a donation made out in her name to the local animal shelter. Two wonderful approaches. For my son's fifth party (an outer space theme) we sent out a different paper planet with each invitation and asked if the guest might write a birthday wish on the back. We assembled it into a solar system of wishes during the party. That was a good one!

 Our daughter's birthday invitation has had the same suggestion for the last few years, and I believe it's a keeper, so I'm passing it on:
 "Please consider a gift that is recycled, handmade, or under $5." 

This has been successful because:
  • 3 choices gives different folks varied options in their comfort range
  • it creates a concrete conversation about values at our dinner table
  • it always inspires some sort of creativity or resourcefulness
  • it fulfills the needs of both giver and receiver in the gifting experience
Our daughter was thrilled with the amazing energy and thoughtfulness of her friends at last week's party. Beginning with her first guest who walked in with a handmade and recycled pencil holding contraption and a collection of old and new pencils (my girl is an avid pencil collector) to the the child who decorated her package with plastic bottle caps. One friend made a craft stick frame destined for a picture of the two buddies together. Another had her mother (a master mini knitter create some amazing tiny creatures (that promptly needed mini sleeping bags), and the list goes on... mostly handmade. ALL extremely thoughtful.

And all deserving of prompt thanks. It's not always easy to be faced with a long list of thank you notes, at any age. We've found Bird and Little Bird's free thank you print outs to be the answer to both our holiday and birthday needs this year. Thanks Annie!

Do you have any gifting traditions or suggestions? How about any tips for getting those thank you notes out into the mail? Do share...
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  1. I have been really struggling with this lately (young toddler with Christmas and a birthday practically on top of each other). I feel weird about suggesting things on the invite, but I'm also at my wits end. (And a little grumpy about spending my lunch break returning things today.) Is that just what everyone does these days?

  2. If I only had the courage to write something like that in the party invitations...

  3. unni strand- I totally understand that our suggestion might not work for everyone, but within our community it's not an uncommon request... so it didn't take much courage. Thanks for reminding me that it's not so easy for everyone, but I do encourage you to voice your desires.

  4. My son when he was 5, asked if instead of gifts - can he ask people to help the Seahorses - a new exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. A few friends were convinced I "put him up to it." Some were taken back by his request - and didn't think a 5 year old was capable of wanting that, instead of gifts. The thank you note he received from the Aquarium was his most prized possession - and he will always go through that exhibit feeling like he owns a part of it.
    He asked for donations to go to whales the next year.
    I have found the best way for grown ups to understand - is for the kids to voice the request in their own words - whether they draw a picture or hand write the request. :)

  5. reCREATE donna- leave it to you to have a the perfect suggestion! Love it!

  6. Thank you cards can be such a horrible task, but I find it very fun. I use stamps on blank cards, or I cut out different shapes/designs from cardstock and stamp them. I also do it for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and so on. Need to get on my V-day cards! I had a stamp created for me that says: item, person, expression. Its helpful when doing thank you cards. Lets me remember who its from and what it was. Also I have been told its nice to know that I made the point of remembering that information as to just saying "I loved it", and them not knowing if I even know what THEY sent.

  7. Themes are always fun for birthdays, especially if the child gets to help create the decorations and other items. Makes them feel more special and helps them look foward to the big day.

    I have thrown a few parties for kids, as I am not a mother, and I find its helpful if everyone feels like they are a little special that day too. I do little gift bags for every guest. They are filled with crayons, small toys, one or two pieces of candy, and a note card. The bags are given out after the cake has been eaten. This lets them feel just as cool, but doesn't take away from the birthday child. Plus thats when we ask that the kids write down their favorite part of the part and put it in a box. This box is given to the birthday child who gets to read how much his/her friends enjoyed being there.
    Most of the parents I have done parties for agree when I put a note at the bottom of the invite: "gifts are welcome, but not required, and please try and keep it under $7" (the price sometimes changes if the child is older or if the parents want it changed)

  8. I love the gift suggestion! My youngest son has the first 2012 birthday, next month, and my husband and I have really been scaling back on toys and clutter. We were a little worried about the upcoming birthday, because we just cleared out and simplified so much, and we really want the kids to be able to take care of and enjoy the toys they do have.

    1. We have a on item in, one item out rule in our house! This really keeps clutter under control!

  9. What an absolutely wonderful idea. Receiving something handmade is so special and I'm sure the girls that made things were very proud. Not everyone is comfortable or confident with crafting so it's great to also suggest something recycled or inexpensive.

    We don't have children but I'm going to share this idea with every parent I know :).

  10. I like your suggestion. For many years, we wrote "No presents necessary" at the bottom of the invitations. This had much the same effect, letting folks know while we understood that sometimes kids really liked to give presents, we weren't going to judge the present by its cost. Over the years there have been many homemade or child chosen presents that were favorites. But, it also allowed some friends who loved to get their shop on to be free to do so.

  11. We do photo email Thank yous and personalize each one with the Birthday girl wearing or holding the gift that was given, or just by writing a special note in the email. We also include a photo of that child at the party in it.
    I blogged not to long ago about it here:
    It also saves on paper! Yay!
    I love your gift idea as well.

  12. we've tried each year to requests no presents for our kids parties and each year everyone comes with a gift. though we appreciate them, we did not want the birthday parties to revolve around the gifts. i like your suggestion of setting some boundaries for gifts. that way if some folks feel inclined to give a gift there is no pressure in spending too much money on the item, and encourages some creativity.

    @meryl-we have had to return gifts before (mostly gifts we've received from christmas), even after we have gently suggested certain things we shy away from (e.g. battery operated toys, plastic, etc.) and certain things we actually would use. sometimes, if the gift is not returnable we save it for the donation box.

  13. I take a photo of the child at the party, print it out with Thank You written on the image and my daughter writes a little message on the back. I have friends who still have these photos from years ago on their fridge - the children love seeing themselves at the party.

    We say for gifts - "please try to make them as earth friendly as possible; no plastic, brands or pink. Handmade or secondhand is great!". Better to write a short note on the invitation rather than perpetuate the cycle of consumption which will inevitably be unappreciated in our house.

    Also I understand your rationale with the presents afterwards, but I do find after very carefully selecting the gift, writing in the card and wrapping it carefully (usually in a big drawing she has drawn herself), my daughter is highly disappointed not to see the recipient's reaction upon opening it. I think it gives a nice conclusion to the giving process which otherwise is just left hanging in the air.

    I encourage her to open the gift when the visitor arrives, so they can enjoy, exclaim and discuss the present together. It also has taught her how to respond graciously and with respect (no matter what the present may be!).

    Wow...that ended up being quite a long comment!

  14. I want to say a word in favor of gift giving. Not extravagant, mind you, but thoughtfully purchased or crafted gifts. My daughter loved finding just the right thing for a friend and I encouraged her generosity. She was always a little disappointed when gifts were not opened during the party. She missed seeing the recipients' reactions.

  15. I'm so glad you're all chiming in with your wonderful suggestions and thoughts around the gifter's desires, as well. Thank you!

  16. lovely ideas-Trey's upcoming birthday may be a great opportunity to try this.

  17. Our family's standard present is a nice used book I know the child will like plus something I or my child handmade. That takes courage, to be the cheap one! But it's what I think the kids really benefit from the most. They love the handmade giftwrap. Our family gift budget of $25/mo including saving for Christmas doesn't go far. We could easily spend twice as much, but where would the $ come from--Retirement? Educational activities? Wholesome food? :)

    There is a website that people can contribute money to for the party. Half goes to a large purchase and half to a charity you choose.