When I carried Madeleine into her playroom at 6.30 on the morning of her second birthday party she breathed "The park!" in wide-eyed wonder. I put her little sock-feet down on the grass where she was used to feeling floor-boards and she slowly spun around, taking in my dodgily-drawn toadstools, wonky painted fir trees and floppy crepe-paper grass. "Wowwww. The park!" she whispered. And just like that I felt like Picasso.
Winter in Melbourne means Madeleine will probably always have her birthday parties indoors. But she loves - she really loves - the park. So we created the a picnic-in-the-park party for her in our home. It wasn't that difficult, or that expensive, and I imagine you could make this bringing-the-outside-in scheme work for all kinds of woodsy party themes, like a teddy-bears' picnic, a fairy kingdom, or a woodland creatures party.
1. On a budget
Most of our decorations were home-made for just the cost of cardboard, paint and some masking tape; or found around the house:
* A back-drop of fir-trees painted onto butchers' paper
* A green trim of crepe-paper grass around the skirting boards
* Red and white toadstools painted onto cardboard and stuck around the room
* Cardboard cut-outs of bees, butterflies and ladybirds, also stuck around the room
* Blue and white cardboard clouds, strung from door frames and other high places
* Red and white polka dot paper cups and plates
* Red and white paper bunting, on loan from the lovely lady at Mint Jelly
* Autumn leaves, collected from the park with Madeleine several weeks earlier
* A picnic rug
* Two fibre-glass toadstool stools, on loan from my Mum
2. A little bit more
If you can spend just a little more, helium balloons will always be well appreciated by little ones. We (and by we I mean my generous parents who wouldn't let me pay them back) purchased a helium kit from Spotlight. I chose to use only yellow balloons as I wanted to create a "sunny sky" effect and blue would have made the room too dark (that's why the clouds were partly blue instead). I dangled some of the bees, butterflies and ladybirds I had made from the balloons, to make it look as though they were flying around the room. As you can imagine, these were very popular.
3. Your one extravagance
Our one big splurge was three sheets of 1m x 3m synthetic grass, and we went back and forth in the lead-up to the party as to whether or not we would go there. Originally, I thought my idea to use the synthetic grass was genius. I figured that off-cuts would be a super-cheap, easy way to create a "wow factor" in the room (I REALLY wanted to earn that soft "Wow" from Madeleine), and make it a snatch to clean up. I was right about the wow-factor, and the easy clean-up. But this grass is surprisingly expensive. At one point, we were thinking it would be cheaper to just lay real turf in the playroom!
In the end we decided to go ahead and get the grass because we would use it afterwards in our courtyard, to create a bit of a softer, 'garden' area for the children to play until we could afford to pull up the tiles out there and landscape (that could be years).
So there you have it. Madeleine's "winter woodland picnic" themed birthday party. Games were mostly parallel play (because have you ever tried to get a bunch of two-year-olds to do the same thing when you want them to?), with a bit of stop-start dancing and a mini treasure hunt thrown in. Add some cake and chocolate and surprisingly-popular healthy snacks into the mix, and your party is done and dusted, right there.