Charlotte standing under her homemade decorations in her party outfit from the local thrift store!
Charlotte standing under her homemade decorations in her party outfit from the local thrift store!

by Robyn Moore

Many parents are faced with a dilemma when trying to plan their child’s birthday party. They want a party that is not only fun, but one that doesn’t contribute to the suffering of animals, harm the environment or include products made using unethical labor practices. This is the birthday party of the future. Read below for some suggestions on how ….

As a current graduate student of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE), I recently attended residency in Maine.

I gave a presentation about how to throw a MOGO (Most Good, Least Harm) birthday party. Together, with my peers, we came up with tons of creative ideas on how to do this. I was able to use many of these ideas for my daughter’s party this past summer.

The venue was a pavilion at the beach. We covered the picnic tables with fabric tablecloths and scarves that my mom had in her closet, instead of using disposable, plastic tablecloths (which are full of potential nasty chemicals) that would end up in a landfill after the party.

Decorations usually consist of balloons, streamers, and other one-time use items that thrown away. I used one of the many ideas from my IHE classmates and decided to decorate with what was available in nature.

With my parent’s help, I gathered sticks and vines from their yard.

I found an old bag of colorful pipe cleaners in my craft bin, and we twisted those around the branches. My daughter was able to help, which made it that much more special!

We hung these one-of-a-kind pieces of art in the pavilion; they looked beautiful. We also had flowers on the tables.

More ideas from my classmates for decorating the space included: having the guests at the party paint pictures to hang up (or having your child do this beforehand); creating centerpieces using flowers from your yard, found objects, painted rocks, or recycled materials; and making confetti using a hole puncher and old wrapping paper or greeting cards.

You can also use old wrapping paper for tablecloths. Another idea was to hang kites, wind chimes, pinwheels, and shells and see them flutter in the wind. If you end up buying a set of decorations, reuse them again the following year.

cake with Merida on itThe food at the party was all vegan. No animals harmed in the making of this party!

We had chips, veggies, homemade hummus, and salsa. I just couldn’t get my act together this year to make everything homemade, so we ordered Chinese food for the main meal.

In hindsight, it wasn’t the most eco-friendly option. While the Chinese food was delicious, it came with a lot of plastic packaging; so next year we’ll get back to the basics and make our own food. Live and learn.

Now onto the birthday cake!

We had a vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream frosting from Whole Foods; my daughter requested that Merida from the movie “Brave” be on the cake. It was delicious, and everyone–vegan or not– loved it!

My Mom spoiled us with a homemade vegan peach and strawberry cobbler that we topped with soy whip cream. We also had vegan chocolate chip cookies and fruit.

For plates, cups, and utensils we used the pink, non-toxic, compostable, renewable, and made in North America Susty Party brand. For an outside location, it’s harder to use real silverware and plates, but of course if you’re able to do that, it’s the best option.

kids making nature collagesGoodie bags and party favors are a staple of kids’ birthday parties.

Most are filled with junky, fluorescent, plastic toys made in China that get used for about 10 minutes on the car ride home. After that, they end up in the landfill … along with the tablecloths and decorations! Just think about the amount of birthday parties per year, and how many goodie bags are given out. That’s a lot of stuff!

For my daughter’s party, I combined the goodie bags and the activity, which was a great recommendation from my IHE classmates.

I reused brown paper bags by cutting them down and attaching a handle made from the scraps of the bags. Each child was given a bag to collect whatever they could find in nature. The kids came back with grass, twigs, acorns, rocks, sand, and other interesting items.

They used them to make a collage on construction paper-covered cardboard. They took their finished masterpieces home with them; this served not only as an activity, but also as their goodie bag.

Other ideas for party favors include thrift store toys, homemade vegan treats (kids can make them at the party), or any other craft made before or during the party.

One of my classmates suggested decorating old oatmeal containers (or any type of round container), and using them as drums. When finished, kids can have a drum circle.

Another classmate suggested buying stuffed animals from a thrift store and playing a habitat station game at the party. At the end, each child gets to take home their animal. For the actual bag part of the goodie bag, you can use recycled paper bags, cloth bags, or even old t-shirts tied with shoestring or ribbon.

Charlotte had a wonderful birthday party this year– and the guests did too!

Having a birthday party that’s fun for everyone, and good for the planet and those who inhabit it, is the birthday party of the future.

Birthday parties are just one example of an ingrained system that we can change … family by family. Each year we can learn from the year before and find a way to do it even better.

I hope you’ll join me in helping align birthday parties with our values to create a more sustainable and compassionate world for all!

Share your own ideas for more humane birthdays in the comments!