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Mendo Lake Family Life

Unique Birthdays For Kids

By Calleen Petersen

Traditional birthday parties can be difficult for our family as we have a son with special needs. I struggled with how to make his day a success without the typical “having friends over” party and finally hit on the perfect solution: We would have “birthday experiences” rather than parties.

My son, LOVES pirates. So, I planned a pirate-themed day for the family. I found a “pirate cruise” on a local lake that I bought tickets to surprise him with. The latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie had just come out before his birthday, so with a pirate cruise, a pirate movie, and lunch, we had a birthday planned. We spent the day with our pirate loving every minute of it and he was SO happy.

My daughter, whose birthday was coming up, decided she also needed an experience activity because of how well her brother’s birthday had gone. As her special day approached, we discussed lots of possibilities. (She is someone who likes having all her options open.) Finally, she settled on having her hair highlighted and a spa day. I took her to a local beauty school and had her hair done for $50. I didn’t have to deal with a dozen preteen girls and all the drama that comes with, or cleaning up after, a party. We painted each other’s nails and picked up her favorite takeout for dinner. For me it was a win-win situation. My daughter was thrilled with her hair and spa day, it wasn’t too expensive, and I enjoyed the quality time it allowed us to have together.

The next year for my son’s birthday, his requested experience was to go to a Renaissance fair. There were a couple in our area. It’s a great way to help him experience and learn new things, as well as a cool adventure for the whole family. While we looked forward to it, he got busy planning his own costume. 

Birthdays don’t have to be the traditional party, cake, and presents. Make new traditions and memories if the old ones don’t work for your family. The most important part of a birthday is making that special someone feel seen on their day and that can be done in lots of ways.

Here are a few other suggestions for an “experience birthday” …

Tea Party Experience: Dress up and take your child to the local tea shop.

Cowboy Experience: Spend the day at a ranch learning how to rope and ride.

Fisherman Experience: Wear your best fishing duds, pack a picnic lunch, and get out on the water. Take Grandpa, too, because chances are he’d love to show you how to cast that line.

On-Ice Experience: Channel your inner Elsa and go ice skating in princess attire or locate a Disney on Ice! show.

Educational Experience: Is there something your child is passionate about like art, cooking or sports? Find local classes, exhibits or camps to enroll them in as their gift. Spend a day leading up to those activities prepping for them, like making a meal at home with them choosing the menu and overseeing the cooking, drawing together in the park or having a family pickup game!

Take your child’s interests and turn them into a day they will never forget. Birthdays don’t have to be expensive and huge. They should be about making memories and celebrating the life of that special person. 

Calleen Petersen is a writer, an aspiring therapist, and a parent of two children, one of whom has special needs.