Sure, a new Lego set makes a good birthday present, but does your child really need it? Friends bring piles of presents that are fun for a month or two, but ultimately end up forgotten. It would be simple to host a birthday party and provide a gift or two your child really wants or needs, while also teaching a lesson about charity, service and issues happening in the world around us. Here are some ideas:
Your animal-loving kid would love the chance to help out animals that don't have homes. Instead of friends bringing presents, have everyone bring a bag of cat food, dog toys, dog treats or other items to donate to a local animal shelter. Shelters might also need laundry soap or monetary donations as well. Some shelters have an 18 years or older age policy when it comes to actually handling the animals, but donating supplies is also extremely helpful. This idea goes great with a zoo-themed party, or a safari theme.
Ready? Set? Serve!
Before the cake and ice cream, switch out "pin the tail on the donkey" for a fun and fast service project. Create an assembly line of packaged soaps, toothbrushes, washcloths, deodorant and other supplies with Ziploc bags. See who can put together a care package the fastest or see how many each child can complete in 10 minutes. Put on some fun music, have a prize at the end, and see how fun it is to serve.
Give a Goat
Several Christmases ago, I unwrapped a rather unique present: I had been given a goat. Though unwrapping an actual goat would have been quite surprising, a small card provided some of the same excitement. A small picture and a description was on the card that let me know my grandfather had purchased a goat in my name for a family abroad. A little confused at first, I now look back with so much appreciation and gratitude for my goat. This organization allows you to purchase chickens, goats or pigs to help families generate an income for themselves.
Presents of peanut butter
Instead of opening presents, have guests wrap nonperishable food items for the birthday girl or boy. Put the presents in the middle and have a guessing game to see if anyone can guess what's under the wrapping paper. Swap presents, have everyone open a gift or two and then place all the food items in a box to be donated to a local food bank or homeless shelter.
Spend a few minutes in between games and cake and make scarves to donate to a local homeless shelter. Have friends bring fabric instead of presents or supply the fleece as the party host. This easy tutorial is simple and straightforward, making it easy for kids to follow along. Throw a quick fashion show with the finished scarves before boxing them up to be donated.
Charity with computers
For a video game or robot-themed party, ask guests to bring a tablet or laptop (with parental permission, of course) and have a few minutes to play games! Answering a question correctly on the website Free Ricegives 10 grains to help end world hunger. Make a score chart to see how many grains of rice have been donated at the end of the party.
Shoes for Uganda
For older kids, have guests bring old pairs of jeans to your party and spend some time talking, listening to music, and cutting out forms from jeans to be made into shoes for children in Uganda. These shoes will protect feet from the infection caused by jiggers living in the sand. This website provides the patterns needed, and also streams a video for the cause (caution: the video discusses some mature themes about poverty, and does have a somewhat graphic scene of a jigger being removed).
It's simple to host a party that is both fun, memorable and charitable. Your kids won't forget the time they used their birthday to make a difference in someone else's life.