When you become a parent one of the tricky things that starts appearing into your life planner once a year is the dilemma of your child’s birthday party.
You want them to have a great time to remember and celebrate something they like a lot as children, growing up (!), but at the same time you may feel overwhelmed to invite and entertain 20 kids in your tiny flat or be concerned they will destroy your house or garden!
Here are a few local ideas I used for my kids. They were born in the spring but weather is always a question mark in the UK so I used lots of indoor options as well 🙂
Picninc – For their first birthday is nice to keep it simple and gather a few little friends from nursery and children groups they attend and take a few snaps for them to treasure when they are older, despite they will not remember a thing, they won’t even realise it’s their party on the day! My son has a picture where you can clearly see he kept on helping himself with grapes, pizza and baby bell for the whole duration of the picnic, not very interested in toys or other kids around 🙂
Renting a children’s room – For their second birthday they are still at an age they may not be really conscious of what’s happening but they definitively interact more with their mates and want to play with new toys. That’s why for us it worked really well to rent 1 o’clock clubs rooms, such as Hill Side Gardens (£25 an hour at the time) or Trinity Rise Church crypt (we made a donation of £50 to the church for 2 hours usage). Those places may not be available for renting anymore, however I am sure it’s worth asking your local children groups if they have similar arrangements at weekends. I would personally avoid Brockwell Park 1 o’clock club – they were very rude and the rate was ridiculously high! However if you are organizing a unique party for 2 siblings born around the same period it may be a good solution as you can get the place for 3 hours for £180 with no limit on the number of friends for both siblings you can invite 🙂 Papa’s Park cafe has a small room you can rent just next to the playground but it’s a bit of a risk if it rains as it is really tiny and with no toys, just some space to put the food on small tables and some chairs…
Soft play area – Around the age of 3 they start to get very active and having to entertain a group of that age can be very challenging (we were inviting 10 to 15 kids). Renting a soft play area, followed by lunch boxes or food provided by the structure, can be a very convenient solution. Birthday arrangements start to get more expensive at this stage but if you plan in advance you can easily save the amount you need ( consider £150-200 in total). We were very happy with Blossom Jungle Gym on Streatham High street which charged us £12 per child (75 mins soft play and 45 minutes food included – but they were very flexible as we actually stayed a bit longer as it was not too busy). We have also been guests in Streatham Better Leisure Centre soft play area and that was a nice 2 hours party (for a bit less than £200 for 15 kids I was told).
Bouncy castle – Renting one of them in a large space (or your own garden) can be a very good alternative to the soft play, even if often you have to plan the party food yourself though. It is also a good option for 3 or 4 years old as they like jumping as much as running around as they do in the soft play areas! Jags sports centre in Dulwich was very well organised for that: £130 per 60 minutes use of the bouncy castle and toys in their sports hall and 30 minutes at the table around food and cake (which we had to bring ourselves). You can also rent empty spaces in several locations between Brixton and Herne hill (I am thinking of James Wilson Coffee Shop to name one if still available) and hire the bouncy castle yourself from All Season Hire.
Discovering activity such as feeding animals at Vauxhall city farm or preparing food at Pizza Express – When they get to the age of 4 or 5 years old and they start going to school more regularly like council nurseries and reception, they get used to do things for themselves, explore around and go on little school trips. Those 2 activities I mentioned are very popular amongst the kids of that age! The downside at Vauxhall city farm is that the room hire for the food and cake (not included) is 2 hours minimum (£100 when 1 hour for £50 would be enough time to eat) and it can result in being too expensive if you have to add on top the fee for the farm tour (£70) which is what all the fun is for the little ones… We had our cake in the playground next door and saved quite some money on a lovely June afternoon: but it would have been a disaster if it started raining, we just risked it! Pizza express offers a very good price, £12 per child for a 2 hours entertainment: in the end they eat the pizza they just prepared and they have icecream!
Active parties such as Swimming pool / Football / Sports – At the age of 6 when they start primary school properly they tend to do much more sitting through the week so they often have a lot of energy to burn. Most kids will have attended regular swimming lessons by then so Streatham Leisure centre offer a great variety of options for 15 kids at £200 roughly, lunch boxes included, you just have to organise the cake 🙂
Special experiences: Treasure hunt / Climbing / Ice skating – We discovered a special nature garden for kids in Stockwell and I was tempted not to spread the word too much about it as we absolutely love it! It’s called Oasis play and they organise parties for 2 hours on Sundays at £165 with one activity such as treasure hunt or fire (like in forest schools) and they have a small indoor space with toilets and kitchen to organise food and cake there, so we are thinking to book it this year for my son… But Climbing at Jags Sports Centre or Ice Skating in Streatham Leisure Centre are also a very special experience to share with their little friends for their birthday (those activities are a bit more expensive – it must go up in price with age and challenge?!- about £200 for 10 kids only).
Gender related (maybe not!) such as Pottery painting or Go Karting – I don’t have kids that age yet but I can imagine how it will be important to do something cool during those pre-teens years, from 8 years old onward (I heard they start having puberty attitudes younger and younger nowadays!). The cheapest option for what sounds really suitable for a girl party is Funky Potters is based in Streatham (£10 per child – no food included), though there is a more expensive version in Dulwich at Punk me up Ceramic Caffe (£20 per child food included). For the Go Karting, the supposed activity for boys, again the ones in Dulwich College and Jags Sports Centre seem to be more expensive (over £300 no food included) that the one at Oasis Play in Stockwell (this last one is from 8 years old and above only though: check prices with them for parties but it’s normally £15 per child).
Go Ape in Battersea Park – I took my son there last October and I went with him on the track. They say they can go on their own from 6 years old but I can tell you it is really high, quite difficult to balance and my son got really scared (luckily I was on it with him), despite he was excited about the whole experience. He definitively wants to have a party there at some point but I have decided we will leave it for a few more years, and I would not suggest in general any earlier than 8, even 9 or 10 years old would be really good. It’s £20 a child, they also have a room to rent for the cake, despite it’s worth risking it and make the most of the beauty of Battersea park with a picnic weather permitting!
I hope that by sharing my own researches, I have inspired your kids for a special celebration and it will be a bit less of a burden task for the mums (and dads) to find something fun to book 🙂