Last week I was super stressed about Mr. Sensitive’s upcoming birthday party. (See Kindergarten Chronicles: Birthday Blues) Worries ranged from What if no one showed up? to What if no one showed up? (Do you sense a theme here?)
I wanted to maximize social success, so I invited 18 Kindergarteners. We had 8 kindergarteners plus a couple siblings in attendance, I consider it a success. (We can talk about the parents who do not RSVP to say they will not attend; and what I can do to support the RSVP process later. But, I really appreciate the folks who take the time to include us in their lives.)
I originally envisioned the party as a play day in a local park where Hubby and I would lead 20 four year-olds through games and give prizes. Then, I realised this would be a
very bad terrible idea – I can barely deal with one four year old, never mind 20. So we enlisted experts – our local Ontario Early Years Centre (OEYC) will host a birthday party for a fee. OEYCs are non-profit organizations and rely on government funding and charitable donations. The fee I pay is a donation to the OEYC. Our local OEYC does this as a fundraising effort.
The fee is less than I would pay at a for-profit company that specializes in birthdays, but is still a fair chunk of cash. (I also supplied all food, beverages and lootbag treasures.) I consider it a worthwhile investment in preserving my sanity.
Our party host is a veteran of four-year olds, a pre-kindergarten program guru and experienced Early Childhood Educator (ECE). Prior to the party I chatted with her about activities and ‘flow’ of the events. Of course, we over-planned, and had some activities that we never got around to because we were having too much fun.
The best part of the party was the location was familiar to Mr. Sensitive – he’s been attending that particular centre since he was 8 weeks old. Normally OEYCs provide free programs for parents and children ages 0 – 6 years. As a baby, Mr. Sensitive attended infant massage, Mother Goose sing songs, Move and Groove and countless other events. You can also join drop-in free play time anytime.
OEYCs are a community resource, directing parents to other services and supports, and often running special programs in partnership with other agencies such as Public Health. Our centre runs a Post-Partum Mood Disorder program; other centres run programs for Young or Teenaged Mothers, Literacy Programs, Food Bank access, etc… In short, my ‘fee’ goes right back to the community. You can’t beat that.
But, back to the party.
Our party was a ‘private event’ – the centre was closed to the public so it was just our group. Mr. Sensitive was very anxious when a handful of four year olds arrived. I was proud of him for telling me, “I feel shy.” Mr. Sensitive was soon busy wrestling with the other boys. I was happy to see one little guy busy with train tracks and flapping his hands in the middle of the play floor. He was having a great time. I wondered how many other parties he’s been to.
Our two-hour party ran with military precision:
– Guests arrive, free play in play room for 15 minutes
– Then transition to Craft Room, decorate loot bags (with stickers & markers) for 10 minutes
– Return to free play, 10 minutes
– Circle Time Celebration– an amazing experience, led by our expert ECE (see below)
– More free play
– Pizza – I had it delivered. Want to get a bunch of party-crazed four year-olds to sit down? First they sit, then they get a party favour (our ‘silent noise-makers’).
– Free play, then transition to cup cake decorating (Behind the scenes: I filled loot bags while our ECE host set up for cupcake decorating)
– Cupcake decorating – Mr. Sensitive and I baked chocolate and vanilla cupcakes the day before. I had chocolate and vanilla frosting set out in individual Dixie cups and plastic knives for spreading. Add a handful of gummy critters for a DIY Kindergarten desert that keeps them busy. Grown-ups had cupcakes I frosted previously.
– Goodbyes – After cupcakes, I handed out loot bags to departing guests.
Circle Time Celebration – Our expert ECE knew about Mr. Sensitive’s sensory issues and anxiety so the volume was low and we did ‘warm up songs’ while Mr. Sensitive buried his head in my side. By the time Mr. Sensitive had adjusted to the noise and social pressure he was rocking to parachute play and ‘The Bean Bag song.’
Our expert ECE also carefully considered every transition the kindergarteners would go through and balanced their need for movement, free play, structure and sensory demands. She was phenomenal.
It looks like the other kids (and parents!) had a blast.
Overall, the party was an amazing experience – kids were busy and involved in actively constructing their own party experiences. Hands-on activities (loot bag and cupcake decorating) made the event rich and engaging for the Kindergarten crew. It also gave the kids a sense of ‘ownership’ in the day. Activities were physically engaging without being overwhelming in terms of physical or sensory demands. A social success for the Special Needs crowd!
Our party was at:
Mississauga Parent Child Resource Centres http://mpcrc.ca/index.php
101-1801 Lakeshore Rd. West,
Mississauga, Ontario L5J 1J6
Note: I was in no way compensated for writing this post. I just wanted to share my amazing experiences and tell folks about the opportunity to support a non-profit organization. An OEYC party is great for all kids, especially those with Special Needs, and a way to support a charity – this was definitely a win-win situation.
For related articles in this blog see: