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Party DIY: 4 Unique Home Birthday Party Themes

1. Whats Old is New: Vintage. Noticed an influx of retro tunes, toys, and togs lately? Modern parents are coasting on a wave of nostalgia that’s bringing all sorts of vintage into vogue. Nearly any party theme can take on a vintage twist for a fresh, new-again vibe, says mom of one Lauren Isaacs. Isaacs drew on the Little Golden Books she loved as a child to craft a ‘vintage kitten’ theme for daughter Evelyn’s first birthday celebration. “We’re having a throwback moment in parenting and clinging to themes and styles that we liked from our childhoods,” she says. 

How-to: “Most any theme can become old-timey if you just add the word ‘vintage’ in front of it,” says Isaacs, who found Little Golden Book-styled illustrations on and that helped her hone in on a traditional color scheme for Evelyn’s party. For a little sports nut, create a vintage baseball theme with Cracker Jacks, peanuts, and old baseball trophies. For a tiny bibliophile, search and print images from vintage childhood books to use as decoration.

2. Get Moving: Classic Backyard Games. Got a school-aged child with lots of energy and a large guest list? Head to the backyard or a local park for an outdoor fun-fest filled with classic backyard games: think ring toss, foursquare, capture the flag, Frisbee golf, lawn bowling, marble races, and more. Bonus: party guests’ parents will love you for serving up a dose of fresh air and exercise and giving kids a chance to burn off all that sugar before heading home. Many outdoor games can be set up with little to no out-of-pocket cost, and others that require purchased equipment can be reused for years to come.

How-to: Use yard-marking paint and a large round stencil to create a ‘twister’ board on the grass; make smaller-size dots for younger players, or larger dots for older kids. Cut several holes in varying shapes in a basic blue tarp and outline the cutouts with colored duct tape, then string it up for a ‘passing practice’ game. Craft a homemade cornhole board from basic plywood and a jigsaw; buy or make small bean bags to throw. Hit up your local home improvement store for two inexpensive 2x4 boards to turn into a giant Jenga set for tweens and teens; if you’d like, paint the wood to match the party theme. (No need to saw them yourself since most hardware stores will cut purchased wood to size.)

3. Cinematic: Outdoor Movie. Think all kids’ parties need to be wild and noisy? Think again. If relaxed and low-key is more your family’s style, consider a backyard movie screening complete with a favorite film, movie-theatre snacks, and comfy lounging pillows. This theme can take on a glitzy, awards-show twist with strings of glittering backyard lights, a DIY ‘red carpet’ made from carpet samples, and parental ‘paparazzi’ snapping pics; an old-fashioned lighted movie sign, striped popcorn bags, and classic movie memorabilia give it a vintage vibe.

How-to: A white sheet provides the backdrop for the movie, so find one that’s large and bright, and place it in a spot that won’t get blasted with rays from the setting sun. (Note: Big-box retailers also sell inflatable outdoor movie screens.) Rent a projector from a party-rental store and do a test run beforehand to ensure that your party won’t suffer from an audiovisual malfunction. Search and for coordinated printables like movie tickets, snack labels, even a ‘Concessions Stand’ sign. To take the theme over the top, rent a classic movie popcorn popper; theatre-style popcorn tubs can be purchased inexpensively. 

4. Back to Nature: Scavenger Hunt. If your little one loves mud, bugs, and rocks, why not plan a party that combines treasure-hunting with a little good old-fashioned dirt? A nature-themed scavenger hunt can work for children as young as four, as long as you have other adults to help (and since younger kids’ parents tend to stay for the party, there’s sure to be extra grown-ups on hand, anyway). Pick your location based on the size of your group and the guests’ ages - smaller kids can search your backyard, while older kids may want to spread out over a neighborhood or a local park.

How-to: Create a simple printable chart with pictures of the items kids will search for: a flower, a beautiful rock, an interesting leaf, a pinecone, etc. Tape or glue the charts to simple brown paper lunch bags, and include a pencil or crayon so kids can mark off the treasures they find. Set a time limit, and don’t forget prizes for guests who collect every item. Inexpensive magnifying glasses add a nice touch and serve as a useful take-home treasure for young naturalists. 

Malia is a nationally published journalist and a mom of three.

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