You don’t have to break the bank to throw your little one a top-notch bash. Free or low-cost places such as public parks are creative alternatives to the more pricey party halls and amusement-type facilities. Even if you aren’t a mom on a budget — lucky you — you can still enjoy the awesome amenities and fresh outdoor air of a sunny spring or summer kids’ park party.
Just because it’s a public park doesn’t mean that your community’s recreational facilities don’t require a reservation. Sure, your preschooler can come and go as she pleases when it comes to using the playground equipment, but if you plan on using a specific structure such as a pavilion, most parks will make you call ahead of time to reserve it. Depending on your local park’s rules you may also have to place a deposit and/or fill out a permit application. If budget-busting is your main goal, check out what free options exist. Consider trading the fancy gazebo for a free grassy area. Throw down a blanket, break out the finger foods and have a pint-sized picnic.
While a party at the playground might sound like the best birthday bash ever, keep your party-goers’ ages in mind before choosing a specific park. While most moms know that sometimes there’s nothing that you can do to avoid that tearful skinned knee or a bump from a toddler tripping over even the lowest of steps, matching age and play structure is a must. For example, some parks have a pint-sized climber for 2- and 3-years olds and a separate structure for bigger kids. This can help to keep the peace between your partying toddlers and a band of wiley 7-year-old intruders. Also remember to look at what’s below your feet. Imagine what a 3-year-old can do with the handfuls of mulch or pebbles that line the ground of some playgrounds vs. a mess-free, flat mat-like system that many parks have.
Sure, play is the main goal of your public park bash, but don’t forget that your little guests have other needs besides running around and squealing with delight. Kids who are in the midst of potty training will need nearby bathroom facilities that they can use with ease. That means that a dirt-covered port-o-potty isn’t the ticket. Although it’s technically a toilet, no mom wants to scare off her potty training 2-year-old from using the bathroom with a mega-messy hole in the ground that is surrounded by grime-covered plastic. Instead, look for park sites that include real — non-movable — bathroom facilities. Also keep in mind that many toddlers are still diaper-wearing tikes. If possible, ask the park management where the nearest restrooms with diaper changing stations are prior to the big day. Some may have a close-by community or rec center with fold-down changing tables.
Fancy party halls and kids’ event spaces aren’t the only places to throw a pretty pink princess or swooping super-hero bash. Whether your birthday boy is a dino fanatic or your celebratory girl can’t get enough of her favorite movie character, you can add almost any theme to a public park party. Dress up a picnic shelter, pavilion or even a play structure to make it match your child’s chosen theme. For example, turn a climber into a pirate ship by adding blue ocean streamers and a few homemade looking glasses using paper towel tubes and provide buried treasure in a nearby sandbox; or make your picnic tables fit for a royal princess by adding pink velvet table runners using bulk fabric from a craft store, a splash of loose sequins and tiaras as wearable table centerpieces.