Birthday parties don’t have to involve a depressing influx of cheap, unwanted (at least by parents!), commercial toys. If you can convince your children that family gifts suffice, you might be able to turn that excess of birthday party gift generosity into birthday giving generosity.
I really believe that children are charitable by nature. They just need to be taught about the needs of others and encouraged to engage in charitable work and giving. My hope is that this will help create more sensitive and socially conscious adults.
My 9 year-old daughter has enjoyed charity birthday parties for many years now. I already wrote about her first Humane Society birthday party (she has had several of these and one of her friends is doing it now too). After a few more years of charity parties, I now have more ideas to share with you.
Today’s idea is the Kids-in-Need Stuffed Animal Party.
One year my daughter had a birthday party where she asked the guests to each bring one, new (tags on) stuffed animal to take to our local hospital Emergency Room. They give them out to very sick or injured children who come in and need a little extra comfort.
I am such a proud mama when I say that she came up with this idea entirely on her own. My sister is a physician in our local Emergency Room and having visited her aunt there, my daughter knew that they handed out stuffed animals.
In keeping with the stuffed animal theme, our party craft was stuffing our own animals with easy and inexpensive kits that I bought on Amazon. The kids LOVED this! My intention was that they add their animals to the donate basket, but this proved to be very unpopular and every single child elected to keep their animal (including my children). That’s OK, at least they had fun and went home with a much-loved party favor.
- Make sure you check with your local Emergency Room first to see if they would even want stuffed animals, and if so, what kind. Ours wanted tags on and no buttons or other things that could be pulled off to become choking hazards.
- Police and Sheriffs also sometimes carry stuffed animals in their cars to comfort any children they meet in accidents or other bad situations. See if your local law enforcement departments might be interested, and what they would want.
- Based on experience, I recommend that the donated animals “disappear” after the party or younger family members might start falling in love with them!
(More ideas to come!)
I am annoyed. My 7 year-old son has begun frequently yelling at his sisters, my 4-going-on-44-year-old is becoming bossier than me, and horror of horrors, I swear I caught my 9 year-old ruffling her feathers and giving me an eye roll! It is clearly time to reinstate our point system which has fallen by the wayside of late.
Here’s how it works: Everyone starts with 5 points. Each child can earn points for “good” behavior and lose points for “bad” behavior. The goal is to reach 30 points at which time that child chooses from a list of non-material rewards, for example a “date” with Mom or Dad, ice cream in the middle of the afternoon, Kids Cook Night, make cookies, etc. (no money or purchases).
If someone gets to 0 points then they must miss the next bi-weekly class ski/swim trip (during the school year), or they must choose a random chore from the chore basket (summertime).
We keep a list of sample point-gaining behaviors and point-losing behaviors posted on the wall next to the point chart. The children and I came up with the list together so they have ownership of the consequences of certain actions. The list is not definitive and I am the final decision-maker as to when a point is earned or deducted.
The system is flexible. For example when I got tired of all three children having “bad dreams” and ending up in my bed every single night, I started the policy that they would lose a point for every night they came into bed with me and earn a point for every night they stayed in their own bed. That didn’t work, so I changed it to losing 2 points for coming into bed with me but earning 1 point for staying in their own beds. Like magic, the “bad dreams” disappeared! (Note: Of course if they REALLY have a bad dream, they can still come to bed with me – for free. Like most mothers, I can tell when the need is real.)
- Flexible to suit changing behavioral goals.
- Not entirely negative/punishment based. The system rewards positive behavior.
- Easy to keep track: I track all points on a dry erase board hung on the pantry wall.
- Does not rely on money, allowances or material goods as an incentive or punishment.
- I can spontaneously say “Go give yourself a point” when I observe (or am told of) a random really kind or helpful behavior.
- Sorry, but in my house this is NOT a democratic process. I am the final judge, jury and arbitrator of points, rewards and sentences, (although the children can make recommendations or defend themselves).
What do you do to maintain order?
A few more Halloween candy ideas:
- Send it to troops overseas for them to pass out to local children. For more info, go to the Operation Gratitude website, but basically just send your candy (plus an optional but very welcome $11 to cover the cost of shipping overseas) before December 8th to:
Operation Gratitude/California Army National Guard
17330 Victory Boulevard
Van Nuys, California 91406
ATTN: Charlie Othold
You can also send it anytime to Operation Shoebox at this address:
8360 E Highway 25
Belleview, FL 34420
(Keep in mind that soft or chocolate candy might not travel so well, especially to a hot climate.)
- Find a local dentist who is participating in a Halloween Candy Buyback program. Participating dentists give your kids $1/pound of candy and then they send it to troops overseas! Go to the Halloween Candy Buyback website to do a zipcode search for participating dentists in your area. Consider encouraging your children to donate their dollars to a charity that interests them.
- Some food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters accept candy. Be sure to call first to find out if yours wants it.
- Buy inexpensive cellophane party favor bags and make pretty little candy packages. Tie the top with a scrap of ribbon or yarn and donate them to your local charitable thrift store for them to sell. Great stocking stuffers for someone!
- Of course you can always do a Candy Bank too, and then use one of these ideas as the final destination for your traded candy!
Get your Candy Bank ready, it’s Halloween tomorrow!
If you are unsure about what to do with an influx of massive amounts of candy into your house, then read on.
If your children are young (younger than maybe 4 or 5?) you can probably get away with the “Hide It and They’ll Forget About It” method.
If you have older children, take it from me, that will not work. Either let them have it all in moderated doses (and “lose” a few bits here and there and hope they don’t notice), or try a Candy Bank.
We have a jar into which all extra candy is put (as well as any junky little toys that somehow show up). We use it throughout the year for birthday party candy, but Halloween is where it really comes in useful.
Once the Candy Bank is full, the kids get money for charity in exchange for the candy. The first time I did this, I let them each choose a small present in exchange for the candy. Ever since then, I have given them $10.00 collectively to donate to a charity of their choice.
I like that it goes to charity (rather than just more junk to fill the house) and I also like that they must agree amongst themselves as to how the money will be applied. I can only hope that this will encourage a lifetime of negotiation and cooperation!
There it is. The Enchanted Bookshelf. It looks pretty ordinary, doesn’t it? And believe me, it is not usually that tidy. Despite its modest appearance, this humble bookshelf has been key in inspiring my 7 year-old son to read.
The bookcase is right next to his bed, within arm’s reach. He doesn’t even have to get out of bed to pull a book off the shelf. I keep it well-stocked with a varied supply of books of different degrees of difficulty.
Obviously I make sure that there are many books at his reading level. I also throw in some that are more difficult in order to pique his interest and tempt him to challenge himself. I add a few that are below his level for those days when he wants to breeze through an old favorite. I’d rather have him read something a little easy on occasion, than read nothing at all. On the bottom shelf I put a few big, heavy kids’ encyclopedias and books with lots of photographs that are fun and interesting to leaf through.
The shelf’s spell has brought my son’s reading level from barely Bob Books last fall to beyond the Magic Tree House Series (by Mary Pope Osborne) in just one year. In fact he recently devoured Vacation Under the Volcano non-stop and proudly announced that he has now read all 28 books in the original Magic Treehouse Series. For the last few nights, he has read The Children of Noisy Village (by Astrid Lindgren). Now he appears to have moved on to Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, which is one of the more challenging temptations on the shelf.
If you want to give this a try, here are some tips:
- Shelf must be within arm’s reach of bed and preferably facing the bed so the titles are easily visible.
- Vary the reading level. Most books should be at your child’s current level, plus some more difficult books, and some easier books.
- A basket of children’s magazines on the top is a nice touch and adds even more variety to the reading selections.
- Don’t let the shelf stagnate. Keep restocking with new books as your child’s skills improve.
- If there is a TV in your child’s room, get rid of it so reading is the ONLY available activity in bed! (Plus, the electromagnetic waves from the TV will suck all the magical energy out of the Enchanted Shelf. :-) )