Throw a Nature Themed Birthday Party

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Our kids keep having birthdays every year, and that’s a good thing. But the impact of all those birthday parties isn’t good for the environment. As hikers, skiers, and nature-lovers, we decided to do something about that and make our kids’ parties a little more eco-groovy.

We start by choosing an outdoor setting and playing games that help the kids get to know this amazing place we call home. Then, we serve food that doesn’t require a lot of packaging. We tried instituting a no-gift policy, but that did not go over well with the party-recipients after the age of four.

Hiking to a local waterfall was the activity for a friend’s birthday party.

Here’s what did work.

Choose a location

Whether it’s a Forest Service pavilion, a picnic table in a local park, a blanket alongside a pond, lake or river, or your own backyard, the first step is to reserve a place in a natural setting. Because Montana weather always keeps us guessing, we like pavilions or other structures with roofs. Finn’s third birthday was at the Pine Creek Pavilion in the rain, and it was a big success.

Play natural games

As long as you have a group of kids out in nature, play a few games to hone their senses to their surroundings. Then give them plenty of time to discover what’s out there on their own.

Blind walk: Before the guests arrive, wind string between trees, over logs, and through the forest at kid-height. Blindfold each child, place his or her hand on the string, and have them follow it to the end, paying special attention to the sounds, odors, and feel of the place. If the kids are young, have an un-blindfolded adult travel with them.

Camouflage: One child stands in the trail or in an open area, eyes shut, and counts to 20. The other kids hide. The hiders must be able to see the counter’s head throughout the game. The counter tries to find all the hiders without moving, but he or she can pivot in a circle. The last person found is “it” next time.

Andrew Goldsworthy-inspired art: Goldsworthy is a British artist and sculptor who creates huge pieces of landscape art using all natural objects such as pebbles, twigs, branches, pine cones, mud, leaves and petals. Ask the party-goers to create their own natural art installations with found (not picked) objects.

Campfire: Of course you are going to have a campfire if you are in a location that’s appropriate. Gather round, roast marshmallows, tells stories, and sing Kumbaya.

Food on sticks in fun to eat and leaves minimal trash.

Low-impact food

To keep with the theme of “nature-inspired” try to minimize the trash your party generates.

• Skip the plastic-lined juice boxes and ask guests to bring their own reusable cups, which you fill from gallon-size, glass juice containers.
• Serve food on skewers. Fruit kabobs, caprese sticks (cherry tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil leaves), meat and veggie kabobs, make eating fun and low-trash. The skewers can be composted or tossed into the campfire.
• Roast weenies and marshmallows over a campfire. Finding the right sticks is a game in itself.
• Grill up veggie burgers and dogs and serve on buns—no plates required.
• Cupcakes don’t require plates or plastic forks, and the wrappers can the burned in the fire if they aren’t plastic-coated.
• Stock up on cloth napkins from a thrift store. You can reuse them at every party and backyard barbeque you host for the next twenty years.

Goody bags

We’ve decided to forgo goody bags altogether. No one needs a plastic bag filled with candy and plastic junk. It all ends up in a landfill within a week, or a turtle’s stomach not long after. The goody is the games, cupcakes, campfire, and camaraderie.

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