Were you lucky enough to have a spring or summer, or even early fall 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. (Psst: if you do want to but a cake, we think these are NYC’s best!)
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 at least partially-shaded at the time of your party. (For both you, and the kids.)
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 a rain date. Either way, make sure you tell your guests your backup plan, and let them know as soon as you can if you are switching dates or location.
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 (or buy) 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. Activities a key 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. Buy enough of one simple craft or activity so that it can serve as the favor, which is nice and simple and lightens the load of what you have to carry back to your place.
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. Even easier (to serve and clean up)? Individually-wrapped snacks like mini bags cheddar bunnies, fig bars, etc. For slightly older kids (and parents) many places will deliver pizza to parks. Call the nearest pizza place and ask—chances are they've done it before.
An easy drink is juice boxes in bulk, or bottled water. The economical (and environmental) choice is of course to bring a pitcher and fill it up on site. (Bring cups if that's the case.) Also recommended is some water, seltzer, etc. for steamy adults. FYI: If you're celebrating in the afternoon and you're thinking about providing parents some adult beverages, that's not allowed. (i.e. it's illegal.)
For sweets, offering cupcakes instead of a cake eliminates the need for forks and plates, which is helpful. If you think your kid will be heartbroken without a cake, make a small one for the big song-and-candle moment, and do cupcakes, etc. for the rest. (If you don't own a cupcake and/or cake carrier and collapsible display stand, it might be a good idea to get them. Even if you're not super PTA mom, they come in handy, and will prevent infuriating and heartbreaking mishaps with baked good in the future. The stand is just cute and will take your party game up a notch.)
Playground Birthday Party Music
Boring But Important
There are several things you don't want to be caught without and others that will be nice to have. Make yourself a "go-bag" of these essentials and just-in-case items.
Garbage and recycling bags (those trash cans in playgrounds get full, fast.)
Scissors and tape
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