The light Summer breeze pushed the scent of the sizzling fajita steaks towards the bench tables, where our party guests sat chatting under the shade of the old oak trees. The children were playing on the swings and a few had wandered off to feed tortillas to the geese at the pond. The day was beautiful and I was thankful to have decided to throw my daughter’s birthday party at the Germantown Municipal Park.
The advantages of throwing your children’s birthday party outside are obvious: more space, no valuables or family heirlooms to be broken, tranquil atmosphere, and less clean up. Of course weather is an important factor when planning and you should try to check the local predictions. However, some parks have pavilions that can be utilized in case of rain, and can be reserved in advance of your party. I decided to throw the party at the Germantown Municipal Park because of its central location and facilities. The park was easy to access and had bathrooms, a large pavilion, 5 free standing Grills, a small fish pond, large shady oak trees, and a playground. More information about this park and others like it in Germantown, Tn can be found at: http://www.ci.germantown.tn.us/parks.html.
Choosing a Park and Making Invitations
It is important to have your guests feeling comfortable (especially during the Summer months) so visit several parks during the hours you think of having the party to see what areas of the parks are more shady than others. Check the park facilities and restrooms to make sure they will meet your needs and those of your guests. If you want to grill your food for the party, make sure there are grills or places where you can put your own. Once you have decided in which park you will be having your party, check with your local city’s Parks and Recreation office for a list of rules and regulations. Some cities require that you tell them in advance that you will be throwing a party in their park, and if you will be occupying a pavilion they may require a deposit and rental fee.
After you have got your location decided and everything cleared with the park officials it’s time to make invitations. Keep them simple. Some people like to include a theme for the party and buy special invitations which include designs and fancy graphics. I prefer simple invitations that say Birthday on the front and have space inside to write the information. Put the date, time, and place of the party, the age of your child so that the guests can bring age appropriate gifts, and a map of where the park is, along with a phone number to someone who can give directions if a guest gets lost. You can draw a map or get on line and type the address of the park into a map or data base search engine, then print out the map and make copies. Try to send the invitations out two weeks in advance of the party so that your guests can make plans to attend. If you send them too far in advance they could lose the invitations or forget.
Deciding the Menu and Preparation for the Tables
Another advantage of having a party in a park is being able to prepare the food on a grill. I personally enjoy and prefer to grill rather than to be couped up in the kitchen. However, it is just as easy to have pizza or fast food delivered to the park if you don’t want to grill. If your guests are meat eaters and you plan on grilling out, make sure you get plenty of meat, fresh from a butcher shop, a day in advance. I have found that a pound of pre-marinated fajita steak and a package of 30 tortillas will feed about 5 people. We only expected about 30 to 35 people so we bought 7 pounds of meat and 200 tortillas; it was sufficient. Remember how many invitations you sent out and how many people will be coming when buying your meat. If you have vegetarians that are coming, prepare to grill some fresh vegetables separate from the meat in another part of the grill or another grill entirely. This is respectful. Be sure to bring plenty of charcoal. Start the charcoal 30 minutes before the party starts so they will be hot and ready to start cooking. As far as drinks go . . . prepare to keep those coolers filled. Bring several coolers full of ice. We decided to get generic brand two liters of coke, diet coke, juice, punch, sprite and paper cups.
We kept ice for the drinks separate from the cooler with the drinks, and another cooler for food items. When the two liters were gone we had a back up supply of two liters that went on ice as soon as possible. It is important to keep everyone hydrated. The tables were all equipped with cheap vinyl table cloths(which were taped down and weighted down to keep from blowing away), paper towels(also weighted down), plastic forks and spoons, and balloons. It is important to have everything the guests need already at the table, especially if there are a lot of children, to make meal time easier. Have a separate table put aside for the cake, and another for gifts to keep the party better organized and the cake in better condition. Also make sure that the garbage receptacles are close to the tables to encourage the guests to pick up after them selves.
Piñatas and Games
Since you will be having the party in a park you won’t have to worry too much about keeping the children entertained. Let the kids run wild! If you would still like to have something extra for the children to do, consider bringing water balloons and pistols, or having a scavenger hunt where children can go around and find objects that you have hidden around the park. Piñatas have been a birthday tradition for many families. Children always look forward to collecting the sweets and novelties inside. Consider having several Piñatas if you will be having a lot of children attending the party.
More than one Piñata gives all the children a chance to whack it open and collect the sweets inside. Make sure that you bring enough goody bags to pass out to the children before the Piñata festivity begins so that they have somewhere to put the candy and toys. Also, make sure that you bring a long enough rope to suspend the Piñatas over the children from a tree. If the trees are too high, or there are no trees, try using the supporting poles of the swing set at the play ground(this works well). Don’t forget to bring a baseball bat or wooden broom handle to break them open. Be careful to make sure that the children are far enough from the person who is attempting to break open the Piñata to avoid injuries. Bring garbage bags and have them handy so that you can get the children to help clean up the broken Piñata pieces after wards. It is important to keep your local parks clean and leave them the way you found them so that others can enjoy the scenery as well!
Use common sense and get to the park an hour before the party starts to set up the tables and grill. Set aside 30 minutes after the guests leave to clean up anything that may have been left behind or dropped. Relax, and have fun! You won’t regret that you have decided to have your children’s birthday in a park as long as you follow the advice that I have given you here.