My secondborn girl, the lovely Miss E, had her 7th birthday party yesterday. (Her actual birthday is Monday). Her party this year was an art-themed party.
E loves art and craft. She loves to draw, paint, create and decorate. When we were thinking about her party this year, a few options got tossed around - a gymnastics party at her gym, a swimming party at the local pool, and a roller skating party among them - but as soon as she heard that her new second-cousin-in-law (my cousin's wife) was starting to offer art parties, she was sold. An art party it was!
The art theme originally had us thinking in terms of an artist's palette, with cut-out squares of different coloured fondant for the paints, but K, genius that she is, soon came up with an even better idea - to use edible markers and let E create her cake entirely by herself, drawing pictures on white fondant. E thought this was an awesome plan, so she and I baked a double mudcake, then K came over for dinner and we made a lot of buttercream, smothered the cake with it, then K rolled out a packet of white icing (the Orchard brand one you can get in Coles) and we applied it to the cake.
After that, it was over to E to draw a master-work on her blank canvas, and she did a lovely job :-) It was also the easiest decorated cake we've ever made, by some margin - K and I were sitting down sipping tea by 8:30, as opposed to the 1am galloping finish with the elements cakes. I think we are getting this kids-birthday-cakes thing down at last!
The actual party entertainment was provided by my cousin-in-law, Pereena, who is a primary school art teacher and a very talented one at that. Her party plan, Active Art, sounds really simple - Pereena guides the kids through the creation of an oil pastel artwork. I admit that I wondered how engaging the kids would find it, and whether they would all go with the program.
Well, my doubts were emphatically laid to rest within minutes, as Pereena helped the kids select an artwork to copy (they chose a pink fish) and set up her easel. Of the twelve kids at the party, only two - our single boy guest and my 3 year old, C - were unable to or uninterested in following Pereena's guidance and direction as they created their own versions of the fish. (C did still enjoy having a free-range scribble with the pastels, as my Dad valiantly tried to draw a fish on her paper with her!)
What I really admired about this activity was the way that Pereena showed the kids how to build up a picture from base elements. Taking them step by step through the process, encouraging them at each turn, she helped them all create artworks that were both objectively attractive and quite astonishingly close to the picture they were copying.
They were all totally engrossed for over an hour, concentrating on their work, and boy were they proud of their results, especially later when parents started to arrive to collect them and were genuinely impressed with what the kids had made. (More than one expressed an intention to frame the pictures!)
E was thrilled, both because she produced a beautiful picture herself, but also because she got to keep Pereena's sample artwork for her own. Pereena even signed it, much to E's delight :-) E got a good set of pastels as part of her birthday present this year, she she got to road-test them too (I bought smaller cheap boxes of pastels from Big W for the other kids to use).
Cost-wise, this was a pretty inexpensive party theme too. Had we gone with a gymnastics party, it would've cost about $3 more per head than this did, for a shorter amount of "entertainment". All up, with the art activity (including buying the cheap pastels), party food, cake, decorations, party bags & contents, a pass the parcel, and E's box of good quality pastels, this party cost me around $350, which puts it solidly in the middle rank of parties cost-wise for us (slightly pricier than a playcentre party, where food is included, but cheaper than E's fairy party two years ago, A's science party or dance centre party, or any of their gala first birthdays, to which we invited everyone we knew).
I tend to make a deal of birthdays - I budget about $400-$500 for the whole birthday experience (including presents), and I save for it. The flipside is we go fairly minimalist at Christmastime, Easter etc. This year, as well as her pastels, E received several books from us and a fairy dress which was ostensibly from her sisters but which I helped paid for (her elder sister chipped in $20 saved from her pocket money, which was nice).
I also paid half of the cost of a new camera for E - she lost her previous one and we had a deal that if she could earn & save 50% of the price, I'd match her as a birthday gift. (Her godmother, learning this, helped her get there a lot faster by giving her a JB HiFi voucher as a gift :-) I was very impressed, in fact, with the quality of camera we could get for our combined $120 - cameras are so incredibly affordable these days. Altogether I reckon I spent around $120 on her gifts this year, with the camera being the big-ticket item. I'm fairly satisfied with that overall.
Her haul of gifts was quite modest by the standards of her friends, but she was very happy with it. She's not a particularly acquisitive child, although she has her moments of whining for "stuff" like they all do. Basically, though, what E craves is experiences; she wants to do things and try things, surrounded by her friends. The balance of spending on her birthday, weighted towards her party, reflected this, and it was a good decision for her.
If you are Melbourne-based and looking for a great idea for a kids' party, consider Active Art - Pereena really knows her stuff and you will not be disappointed. And I'm not just saying that because she's my cousin-in-law :-) Let me know in comments if you want contact details and I'll email you directly.