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Feb 22, 2011 09:55AM

Party on! How to host a kid-friendly, earth-friendly birthday bash

By Leslie Klipsch
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Stephanie Makosky
Eli and Binyam Klipsch enjoy cupcakes at a green kids party.
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Stephanie Makosky / staff
Binyam Klipsch, Ethan Gardner, Tariku Klipsh, Dailah Klipsch and Eli Klipsch celebrate in front of a reusable birthday banner.
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Stephanie Makosky

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Stephanie Makosky / staff
Dailah Klipsch puts the finishing touches on her cape, half of a t-shirt upcycled as a fun birthday-party craft.
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Never one to shy away from special attention, I have always been a birthday person. My motherthrew memorable backyard birthday bashes when I was a child and as an adult, I have beenknown to stun people with a sort of all-or-nothing birthday cake fervor. Since becoming a parentand watching my own family grow, I have realized that hosting kids' birthday parties multipletimes per year comes with a great opportunity to flex our family's "go-green" muscles andendeavor to party responsibly. Here are a few things I've learned along the way:

Earth-friendly Invites

A good, green gathering always begins with paperless invites. Sit down at the computer withyour birthday boy or girl and let them design their own Evite (evite.com) or, for the moredesign-savvy kid, Pingg (pingg.com). Older kidsmight set up a Facebook page to invite their peers, again resulting in zero paper waste. If youprefer to send invitations through the post, opt for those made out of recycled paper. Especiallyappropriate for a younger child's party, simply pick up the phone to call the parent of eachguest — this is both a reassuring and eco-friendly gesture.

D-I-Y Decoration

Several years ago I purchased a hand-made "Happy Birthday" banner from an independentcrafter on Etsy.com. Made with bright and festive fabric, I have happily hung it dozens of timesfor various birthday celebrations and it has quickly become a special tradition in its own right asmy children anticipate its arrival during their respective birthday week. By reusing this simplebanner year after year, we are saving both cash and landfill space.

Decorating for the big event is a great way to involve kids in the party-planning process andcan easily be turned into a lesson in the Three R's (reduce, recycle, reuse). Use recycled paperslike brown grocery bags, newspapers and magazines to create paper chains to hang from theceiling and talk about the importance of reusing items that might seem like trash. Considerreplacing balloons with Chinese paper lanterns as these add an air of celebration, can be usedfor occasion after occasion and don't consume diminishing helium resources.

Eco-Conscious Kid Crafts

A great way to entertain and the perfect opportunity to up-cycle, kids' crafts make a greatbirthday party activity. Scour closets and thrift stores for old T-shirts, cut off the front (leavingthe ring around the neck) and help kids decorate the back, fashioning a personalized super-herocape. Decoupage old yogurt containers and glue on ribbon or fabric scraps to create a windsock for a summer fete or reuse glass jam jars and tiny toys to create snow globes for a winter affair.(Online tutorials are abundant.) One event our family attended encouraged the preschool set todecorate thrifted frames and later sent a photo that they had taken of the children in attendance.The finished product can go home with party-goers and you can consider the "goody-bag" green.

Green Games and Venerable Venues

Do you have a laundry basket or an old box lying around? Cover the top with a large paper orcardboard scrap, cut a hole in the center, roll up some socks and host a sock toss. A personalizedrendition of "Pin the Blank on the Blank" has fantastic party-potential. (Think "Pin the Maskon Batman" or "Pin the Hat on the Cowboy" or "Pin the Pepperoni on the Pizza"—whatevermatches your child's interest and your own artistic capability.) Bring back classics like musicalchairs or charades, both are innocent in terms of content and carbon.

In lieu of a game, warm-weather party-goers will enjoy a nature walk. Or consider car poolingto an organic farm or orchard for a tour. And what preschooler wouldn't love to visit thelocal police or fire station? All of these options are ripe for learning about the local communityand larger world, and fun, too!

An Eco-Savvy Spread

Let's face it, along with lots of great memories, parties traditionally end with a heaping bagof trash. However, this doesn't have to be so. Scrap the plastic serveware and use glass placesettings instead. If you're worried about little fingers breaking something of value, invest inkid-friendly, BPA-free tableware that you'll be able to use, worry-free, time and again. If you'drather not deal with cleanup, you can find compostable utensils and biodegradable tableware.Make your pint-size guests feel fancy for the day with cloth napkins and consider purchasing ormaking a custom tablecloth or runner, an item that could become a birthday tradition as well.

The food served at a party is a great way to entertain with the environment in mind. One ofmy favorite birthday parties had a "locavore" theme, highlighting food purchased primarilyfrom local growers. The result was a pretty fantastic spread of in-season party fare. And as theparty parent, who wants a group of sugar-crazed children on the loose in your home? Skip theprocessed sugar and opt for snacks and dessert with at least some nutritive value. Offer freshfruits and veggies with appealing dips and beverages such as organic chocolate milk or sparklingall-natural fruit juice for a treat. Few will refuse organic carrot cake with cream cheese frostingor the many other delicious desserts that can be made with local and organic ingredients.If you don't find a recipe that suits you, many local bakers and farmers' market vendors arehappy to work with eco-conscious customers.

Giving and Receiving

Though you ultimately cannot control what guests will gift your children, you can guide them togreener pastures. Try subtly suggesting that your child would enjoy gently used toys from theirfriends' collections. One mother I know wrapped up a box of Rescue Heroes that her childrenno longer played with for my son's fourth birthday. This gift stole the show and was a constantfavorite in our home for the better part of the next year. What party-going parent wouldn't loveto get rid of some clutter and save some cash? When shopping for your own birthday booty, trypurchasing wooden toys or toys made from natural materials -- no batteries required.


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