With four little ones to celebrate for, we are always rather grateful that their birthdays each fall three months from the previous and within a different season of the year. Our love of home-made parties stemmed from needing to squeeze guests into a small two up two down cottage early on in our parenting journey.
However, as our family grew, it developed into needing to watch the pennies, as well as a growing awareness of the environment and wanting each member of the family, down to the littlest in a baby sling, to be at the celebration too.
Nature inspired art and craft parties at home have become a bit of a tradition with our children.
It all starts with excited family discussions, copious lists of which natural and recycled materials the children would like to collect, how this might fit into a theme, and what they could shape, fashion and create out of the materials we will have collected.
A few crazy months of saving everything and anything recyclable and reusable then ensues, coupled with scavenger hunts to local woods and parks to collect pine cones, twigs, sticks and such like.
The night before usually sees me organising our collections into the largest recycled containers I can find, alongside some old art and craft staple supplies – twine, scissors, glue and pens. On the day, the children are always really keen to get on and make, explore and chat.
At some point we break for something to eat, then they continue, eager to finish their creations and be able to take them home to display. As they leave, imploring mum or dad to please carry their pine cone hedgehog carefully so that it can be displayed at home, no one even notices the lack of customary party bags or sugary treats.
We have many family favourites, chosen time and again.
Salt dough is amazingly easy to make and lends itself to so many creations as it can be manipulated and shaped by the children, left to dry on a warm windowsill or baked in a low oven. We especially love salt dough woodland sprite faces or salt dough mice, complete with twigs, sticks and stones to show facial expressions or to make ears, eyes, nose and tail.
We have experimented with small rounds of rolled out salt dough, stamping them before air drying to create pendants or decorative embellishments for the fronts of cards.
Another favourite is collecting twigs of similar length and tying the corners together to create a frame which can then be decorated or ‘hung’ with leaves, sprigs of flowers, pine cones, feathers and conkers. These look especially beautiful hung by themselves inside or out, with a small piece of twine or coloured raffia and they also make gorgeous gifts.
We love planting too. Whether it be seeds or bulbs, the sense of anticipation in taking home a small pot adorned with a personalised twiggy plant label is just too exciting and the children all love to keep you up to date with how their project is coming along!
I love being a presence at these parties, where the children’s creative language comes to the fore intent on describing to each other what their creations are all about. Not only does creating with nature intensify their descriptive language and observational skills, but also draws out in the children a sense of collaboration and sharing, helping each other to shape a piece of salt dough or cut the twine to the right length.
There is a sense of calm and an opportunity to ground themselves, talk, share ideas and relax. A sense of peace and of being at one with the world.
This year sees a change for us as our eldest daughter moves onto secondary school and birthday celebrations are already feeling as if they will need to take on a different feel.
We are up for the challenge though. Watch this space!