Celebrating Birthdays During COVID-19

November 13, 2020

Beit Rabban parents Miri Pomerentz and Rachel Feinerman share their experiences with hosting a safe and enjoyable celebration!

Not to overstate it, but in a good year, birthday parties may just be the bane of my existence. It’s potentially weeks of trying to figure out how to entertain a group of small people in a way that will be minimally destructive, maximally fun, and that will make your child happy -- all while dealing with the realities of living in New York City that include small spaces and high prices. And then there’s this year. 

So on the plus side, I didn’t have to clean my apartment before OR after the party. My oldest son Eli’s birthday is the first in his class, which means we don’t get to sit back and watch for ideas from other birthday parties. A few weeks into school, Eli started thinking about how to celebrate his 8th birthday. He really wanted to do an in-person, outdoor, socially distant party, but the logistics and hurdles just seemed too much. Trying to figure out how to keep everyone safely distant and also engaged, dealing with bathrooms or the lack of them at the park area closest to us, not to mention the unreliability of the weather in late October led us to the decision to do a Zoom birthday party. 

And it went well! 

To mitigate the virtual part of the party a bit, we wanted to find ways to bring some of the party to the kids IRL. So we prepared goody bags in advance of the party, and Eli distributed them to his classmates on his actual birthday in school. This let him do something exciting and birthday-related in person--in addition to what his amazing teachers and class did to celebrate in class--and also gave us the opportunity to give out materials for the party itself. The bags included party favors (Harry Potter-themed), balloons to decorate the kids’ own spaces for the party, recipes of some favorite treats, and things that they would need for one of the party activities (a white face mask with fabric markers). Our party line-up was starting off with decorating the face masks as kids signed on, then a magician, followed by a scavenger hunt (an idea that we got from Ilana and Nicky, who did a few last year in Shorashim B’anan), and finally bringing out a cake for some “Happy birthday.” The party ended with the kids all eating their own treats while chatting. 

Things that worked for us*:

  • It helps to have an adult on a separate computer from the birthday child to do the hosting (which may include admitting participants, spotlighting someone, muting, unmuting, monitoring the chat, asking kids not to share their screens, and giving directions).
  • Have a waiting room so the beginning of the party is less chaotic.
  • Plan on 45 minutes to an hour in length, but not more (though you can always give yourself some padding when you set up the virtual meeting to use if it’s going well).
  • One or two main activities (15ish minutes each), plus two or three shorter activities (and always have a back-up one in case one of your plans doesn’t work out as you thought or goes quicker than expected). 
  • If you are giving instructions in the chat, have them typed out before the party so you can just cut and paste during the party (this is something that I didn’t do, but should have known better -- I do it when I run events for work all the time). 
  • Find some ways to involve the guests, whether that’s having them make a treat during the party, teaching them something new (origami, magic, balloon animals), or asking them to go find random silly objects around their house to bring back and show. 

*given that 2nd graders are still on the younger side, and that structured time tends to work better for my kid than unstructured. 


 

My older child’s birthday is March 14th which meant that this year, his birthday was completely cancelled. I was really hoping to avoid the same situation for Alex (3rd grade). A group of my friends have been meeting on Zoom every Thursday night throughout the pandemic and one of them sent a birthday party in a box to each of us to help celebrate a milestone birthday in the group. It was such a great experience that I tried to replicate it for Alex’s party. I assembled individual party boxes--individually packaged treats, party hats, and various party favors (I favored stress balls and the like for obvious reasons.) We decided to attempt the party outdoors even though we had never done it before because of his late October birthday but everyone seems more willing to try and have events in all types of weather these days. So I let our class Whatsapp group know we would cancel if it was pouring but were going to try and hold it no matter what. We got together on the Great Hill (which all the kids know from school) on a Monday afternoon. It was misty, in the high 50’s, so not perfect weather by any means but we didn’t need it. Everyone came, got their own individual party box, and got down to playing outdoors together with masks on. We stopped briefly to say (not sing) Happy Birthday and eat some mini-cupcakes and then everyone went right back to playing in the grass and leaves. It was probably an hour total but it felt like a celebration and the kids (and adults) had a great time just running around outdoors together. It was less structured than some other birthday parties I’ve thrown but it completely worked. The party-in-a-box idea can also be replicated for an indoor Zoom party with everyone opening the box at the same time. I would definitely limit it to an hour at most. The birthday boy definitely felt celebrated and that was the goal.