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Chicago birthday party experts: What makes a party stand out

When it comes to party themes, parents and kids are limited only by their imaginations.

Luckily, the Chicago area is filled with party places that help them let their imaginations loose.

The Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn is open to lots of party ideas.

“We had mom rent the entire museum and booked Nature’s Creatures. The theme was ‘Giving Back.’ Instead of giving presents to the birthday child, the mom asked the guests to bring food for Erin’s animals. There were several lessons learned. The kids had to find out what kind of food the animals eat and learned about taking care of animals. And they learned that it is better to give than to receive,” says Executive Director Adam Woodworth.

Leah Kroeger, owner of EcoManiacs in La Grange, says she and her staff can come up with creative eco-friendly ideas for any birthday party theme a child could ever want. She recalls one child who was really into Ghostbusters so she and the staff used empty 2-liter plastic bottles to make jet packs and created the ghost slime from glow-in-the-dark thinking putty made of organic silicone.

In general, the parties are filled with ideas for kids to learn about the environment in a fun way, including girls making decoupage jewelry out of recycled wood pieces and boys making spinning tops out of reclaimed wood.

Sweet P Doll Studio in Elmhurst is all about girls and their dolls. It includes a space where the girls make something for their dolls, including a sleeping bag and throne chair, says owner Paula Breunig. One especially fun theme is the birthday pajama parties – the girls arrive dressed in their PJs, get their hair done and decorate pajamas for their doll, she says.

The party decorations are matched to the birthday girl’s favorite theme.

A highlight for everyone at the two-hour parties is the giant 7-foot-tall, 14-foot-wide three-story doll house with an outside play set, tiki hut and lemonade stand for the dolls. The girls love redecorating the house, she says.

At Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor in Forest Park, kids love the old-fashioned ice cream social theme, says owner Connie Brown. “For our typical parties, the kids dress up like soda jerks, learn a little bit about ice cream and get to make their own ice cream sundae masterpieces.”

But sometimes kids and parents want to do things a little differently. Brown especially remembers a superhero party Brown Cow hosted. “We made a custom super girl ice cream cake for a young lady

and all the kids came dressed as their favorite superheroes. Even mom and dad sported spandex and capes! The room was decorated with royal blue, red, yellow and green balloons to complement the superhero-themed napkins. If a child didn’t have a cape, we handed out our employee aprons and tied them on backwards like a cape so no one felt left out.”

At another, a princess tea and ice cream party, “the kids arrived dressed like princesses or knights and Brown Cow made ice cream sundaes in a hodgepodge of thrift store tea cups and served sweet iced tea to drink. …All the kids left with a make your own sundae kit inside a teacup with a balloon tied to the handle prepared by The Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor party staff,” she says.

In the Mt. Prospect Park District, parents can pick any of the themes offered and build on them with food and decorations. Roxanne Van Housen says the most popular themes include the floor hockey parties with obstacle

courses and scrimmages, sports parties that feature any number of sports and cosmic skate parties where kids get to pick the music. One of the best things: The party staff entertains the kids.

“The family can kick back and relax and know that we are going to take care of it,” she says.

Swim parties lend themselves to all sorts of themes, particularly those involving water. All of the parties are fun, but one that stands out for Jillian Bowler of Bear Paddle Swim School, which has locations in Aurora, Woodridge and Orland Park, was a superhero party where the mom went all out with capes for all of the guests.

At Dolphin Swim School, one party Facility Manager Vicky Plaza really remembers had a Hawaiian theme.

“The party mom brought in leis, hula skirts, beach towels, fruit trays, and coconut cups for the drinks. She also brought in some tiki torches and palm trees to use as decoration. We did a ‘surfing’ competition in the pool and after swimming the kids did a hula dance tryout.”

Trains are the focus at The Junction Diner in Forest Park, says Brad Crawford.

He remembers one mom brought in a cake shaped like a multi-car train while another decorated boxes with colored paper and markers to create a train the kids could play in. “The kids went crazy over it,” he says. “We’re open to any options.”

Part of Celebrations, a special advertising birthday party guide.

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