Were you lucky enough to have a spring or summer baby? That is, do birthday-month temperatures accommodate the budget-friendly option of an outdoor playground celebration? An especially good choice for the toddler set (because, just add cake and friends) a playground party be a real cost-saver, loads of fun and even, with a little planning, easy to pull off. Here’s our guide to throwing the best New York City playground birthday party ever.
Choose Your Birthday Party Venue Wisely
You can have a party at any NYC public playground. You’ll want to suss out your options carefully before deciding on the perfect location. Look for a playground with age-appropriate equipment and a fence that locks securely. You’ll want the playground to be big enough to hold all the kids at the party, but not so big that you can’t see where your kid is at all times. If your party is in the summer, look for one that will be shaded at the time of your party.
A few other things to consider about your venue: does it have tables you can use? Are there bathrooms? A water supply? Does it have sprinklers to cool kids down? How busy does the playground get? And one very important detail to consider - how far away from is the playground from your home? Don't forget that you’ll be trekking there and back with a lot of stuff, so the closer the better.
Have a Rainy Day Backup Plan
You can never rely on the big party day being sunny and dry, so get your rainy day plan in order. Can you hold it in your home in a pinch? Is there a room in your apartment building you could use if needed? If not, you might want to consider an alternate day subsequent to forecasting, letting guests know ahead of time - and while there’s still time to change the food arrangements. In the worst case scenario, you'll be left with a ton of perishable food, and you'll have to eat cupcakes for the next week (hey, maybe that’s not actually so bad after all!).
Get a Permit for Your Party
If you plan to have 20 people or more in a NYC park, or want to reserve a specific area, you'll need a Special Events Permit. The permit is easy to get and costs $25. Just head to this page on the NYC Parks Department web site, create an account and apply online at least a month in advance. Be advised: permits are not issued on major holiday weekends.
Playground Party Decorating Tips
Obviously it’s a lot different decorating a shared outdoor space, than your home, but it can be done. Print out a birthday banner and tie it on the playground's fence. Attach balloons behind the table so people can find you. Turn the food into decorations with cute cupcake toppers (which can also be stuck into other food, like fruit). Gift bags also add color and festivity to the area, as do little stuffed animals placed on the table (which make great take-home gifts for kids who get particularly attached to them by the way!). Here's a lesson we learned the hard way: spend a few dollars on balloon weights—or make them yourself using rocks and decorative bags—to keep items that might blow away (plates, napkins, tablecloths) in place.
Playground Party Extras
Consider bringing some fun things for kids to play with around the party area like balls, chalk and bubbles. Michael's is great for inexpensive options or a simple craft if you're feeling ambitious. These ideas are great for keeping little kids occupied so you and the other parents don’t have to chase them around the playground the whole time. If there’s a sandbox, bring a few buckets and shovels. At the end of the party, give these items to the kids who enjoyed them the most - they'll be excited to take home something new, and you'll have less stuff to cart back home.
Playground Birthday Party Food
Don’t get carried away with food, unless you’re having it delivered. Carefully assess how you’re going to get everything there first. One easy idea is to host an afternoon tea party because you can get away with simply offering cupcakes, fruit and crackers. Finger food is the easiest to supply and the easiest for busy parents to grab and eat with one hand. Offering cupcakes instead of a cake eliminates the need for forks and plates. FYI: If you're celebrating in the afternoon and you're thinking about providing parents some adult beverages, that's not allowed.
Transportation To and From the Party
If you don’t have a car or don’t want to hire a car service, you can get creative with transporting your party supplies. One idea: load up your stroller with the party goods. Your child can be put in a carrier if they’re not old enough to walk the distance on their own.
— Christine Knight
photos: Kristy May Photography