Fun birthday party ideas with a splash of learning

If you’re tired of birthday parties with inflatables and trampolines and want to try to incorporate something that’s both fun and educational into your child’s birthday party, there are plenty of options, whether you want to host the party yourself or have it at a Chicagoland establishment.

It’s easy to incorporate educational elements into an outdoor birthday party, whether it’s by creating a nature-themed scavenger hunt or just letting the littles practice their large and small motor skills. “Being in nature is a wonderful experience all its own,” says Jessica Prescott-Smith, family programs coordinator for Chicago Botanic Gardens. “They’re learning and they don’t even realize it.”

Places like Chicago Botanic Gardens are available for parties for garden members. (And if you’re not a member, no worries – you can become one when you book your party.) Prescott-Smith likes the project parties for kids 4 and up “where they create a project that relates to the natural world, like making soap out of plant materials, visiting the butterfly exhibit or doing something else that relates to the natural world,” she says.

For toddlers, a Natures Play party might be best because it includes the Regenstein Children’s Play Garden, designed for problem solving and risk taking through play, she says.

At the Kohl Children’s Museum in Glenview, parties include a private party room and a full day of admission for partygoers, says Joe Mampe, the manager of sales and events.

“Kids can go to the Whole Foods grocery store and interact with each other, go shopping, scan things through the checkout,” he says. “Or they can go to the pet-vet area, and put Band-Aids on the stuffed animals and do X-rays. Of course, the Ravinia Music Makers area is popular, where they can play with the musical instruments or they can go to the art studio and do painting or other projects.”

These are really fun, but also educational, he says.

If you’re having a party at home, there are easy, relatively inexpensive ways to incorporate education into your event.

Storytime is always a popular easy thing to do at any age level, says Katherine McHenry, owner of Building Blocks Chicago.

Or, you can do things like have a dance party to incorporate gross motor skills or let them play with musical instruments.

“For little kids, doing things that get them moving their whole body is great, whether it’s dancing around, doing egg-and-spoon racing or shaking a tambourine or using puppets,” she says. “People think educational is always working on the ABC’s, but hand-eye coordination and gross motor skills are important, too.”

Older kids might enjoy project-based art parties like making Wonder Woman cuffs and head pieces, or science parties like making their own slime.

Dress up and role-play parties are popular, too, McHenry says. The book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is incredibly popular with girls, especially in the tween age range.

“The ‘girl party’ used to be getting nails done, and while that’s fun, why not celebrate girl empowerment by dressing up like your favorite female icon, someone you look up to?” she says.

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