My little boy turned six this year, and also started kindergarten. Which means the arrival of whole-class birthday parties! You know, the dreaded, "If you invite one, you invite them all" rule. Don't get me wrong, we don't know any of his classmates well enough to even know which ones we would want to exclude. It's just that the thought of 20 five and six year-olds running through my house gives me nightmares, as does forking over $300 to pay for them to run around at the pizza arcade, bowling alley, or bouncy house place. My shy little guy was a bit overwhelmed at the thought as well.
I asked him what he really wanted to do for his birthday and he responded he wanted to go to the zoo and see the tigers. Done!
I called or emailed the mothers of his closest friends- he was limited to a list of 4 because that is how many I could fit in my van for the 60 minute drive to the zoo. There was no arguing or negotiating or scrambling at the last minute to accommodate tag along siblings. You simply cannot change the number of seat belts in the car!
The day before the party I went to the party goods store and picked up a stack of plastic safari hats, binoculars, tiny toy compasses, and big bag of small plastic jungle animals. There is no outside food or drink allowed in the zoo, so I didn't have to worry about cake or candles, and no one seemed to mind at all.
On the day of our party, I picked up our band of safari hunters and my son passed out the hats, binoculars, and compasses. I carried a bag with water bottles, sunscreen, and a small first aid kit. We have a membership at the zoo, so we used our passes to get in free.
Each explorer was armed with a map, and I let them take the lead by having each boy choose one "must-see" animal. We then located each on the map and marked a trail to follow. I tried to arrange our route so that we would end up at the restaurant about lunch time, and end near the ice cream shop and exit. Their job was to get us from one animal to another, stopping to see whatever we passed in between. Mid-morning we stopped for an icee break, hit the cafe at lunch time to sing happy birthday over hot dogs and fries, and ended with ice cream cones on the way to the parking lot.