How to have the best nature themed birthday party around Chicago

Do you have a child that loves nothing more than getting his or her hands a little dirty, discovering new insects in the backyard or exploring animals and their habitats? Perhaps your child is one that can’t wait to get outside and when you head to an indoor spot such as a museum, he or she is the first one to want to dig deeper (sometimes literally) into the exhibits.

Then your little adventurer will love a nature-themed birthday party with invitations, decorations and food that will match their nature-loving personalities. Here are some ideas for hosting your own nature-themed party:

1 Go wild with wildlife

Nature centers such as the Lake View Nature Center of Oakbrook Terrace Park District offer hands-on experiences for kids ages 4-12 that give them a close-up look at living wildlife such as turtles, snakes, fish, spiders and insects. Kids also can experience natural objects such as furs, feathers and skeletons and examine geological specimens like rocks, minerals and gems.

“Kids love animals, meeting and touching them,” says Marianne Long of the Oakbrook Terrace Park District. “They like to learn about animals and parents like to provide a fun, educational experience.”

2 Get outdoors

Even when the weather is cold or rain starts to fall, partygoers at Skokie Park District’s Emily Oaks Nature Center will still find themselves heading outdoors. Although party packages include use of an indoor program room, “party packages are designed to get kids outdoors regardless of the weather,” says Lee Hansen of the Skokie Park District.

Party packages for various age groups are designed to give kids great exposure and contact to the outdoors. “We want them to discover as much as possible.”

3 Find nature indoors

If your child’s birthday falls during cold weather or he or she would like a break from the outdoors, consider moving the nature fun indoors to a place such as The Field Museum.

The Field Museum offers great birthday party packages that not only include admission to the museum (for 25 children and their parents), but include crafting activities for the kids.

“We have great themed activities for young explorers, such as decorating pith hats with stickers and feathers,” says Heather Scholl of The Field. And, if your young explorer won’t be happy without a visit from something alive? “You can enhance the party experience by adding a visit from some live bugs and insect specialists from our zoology department.”

4 Stay home

For party festivities at home, look for companies that can bring a little nature to you. Sue Johnson of Sue’s Party Animals has eight live animals (think geckos and guinea pigs) that accompany her to birthday parties throughout Chicagoland.

“All of my animals can be pets, so we spend a lot of time talking about how to care for them, how to handle them and what you would feed them,” says Johnson. A former teacher, Johnson loves teaching kids about each animal and really stresses the importance of researching an animal before you bring it into your home. “You really want to find a pet that fits your lifestyle,” Johnson says.

5 Make it personal

Think beyond the traditional party package option and look for ways to personalize the experience for your birthday child. “Parents often decorate our party room around themes of the museum such as Egypt, insects or dinosaurs,” says Scholl.

Also, get creative with the cake or cupcakes. “Parents can order cakes with the child’s picture on it or of a special animal they love,” Long adds.

6 A not-so structured environment

While you may have a time limit for your party room or outdoor adventure, you don’t necessarily have to keep kids on a strict activity schedule. “In warmer weather, we suggest parents let kids play outside in between eating cake and opening presents in our program room,” says Hansen. “This gives them an opportunity to release some energy.”

Sometimes it is just the idea of being in nature that makes the party so fun.

“Extras like the live bug presentation or a dino fossil talk with one of our education staff members are always a hit with the kids,” Scholl says. “But, I think, the best things about a Field Museum birthday party is being in the museum. It’s a great way for friends and family to really make a day of it.”

7 Consider the environment

Since it is a nature-themed party, why not have an ecofriendly theme throughout your planning? Have invitations made on “plantable” paper, use things found in nature (think sticks, flowers and vines) to create unique decorations and give each child a small sapling instead of a goody bag.

8 A preparty chat

Although these types of parties are a little nontraditional, “party manners are expected,” Long says.

While most birthday party locations have staff members on hand to assist and answer questions, parents should make sure their children are prepared to respect the space and listen to staff. Also, you will want to prepare your guests for the party activities as well. “You should let guests know in the invitation if your party is going to be outdoors,” Hansen says. “Let them know they should be prepared for the weather and dress appropriately — we really discourage party dresses and sandals.”

A little pre-party conversation can go a long way towards making sure guests-and their parents-feel comfortable. “It’s funny, but the younger kids are usually way more comfortable with the animals than some of the older kids … or even the adults.”

But, most importantly, Scholl says, “Everyone should be prepared to have fun!”

Part of Celebrations, a special advertising birthday party guide.

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