Author Topic: Play dates / Birthday Parties  (Read 5768 times)

FireOnTheMuffin

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Play dates / Birthday Parties
« on: May 10, 2024, 04:50:48 PM »
My oldest mini is turning 4 soon and we’ve been to a few of her friends’ bday parties, as well as a play date now at her friends’ house.  I realized I’m having a lot of anxiety around entertaining kids… In raising my kids, we actively try to withhold, mainly because we don’t want to teach a life of constant consumption.  But when we went to her friends’ house, they had so much space and so many toys… it was like what I feel the typical American envisions for their kids.  Along the way, we learned they are renting, while we own our smaller house.  But kids don’t get that stuff and are not impressed by that stuff.  My kids really don’t have that many toys.  Mainly books because my 3 year old reads voraciously at a much older child’s level.  But she has been asking for these same friends to come on a play date at our house now.  I don’t know what to do with/for them…. Ideas?  I keep imagining that they will tell her they’re bored and she’ll cry.

Also, for a while I was having anxiety about all these other kids having bday parties with hired bounce houses and tons of decorations.  We have settled on cupcakes at the playground outside of her daycare center, which 1 of her other friends also did.  She seems happy with this.  But not sure how long I can get away with this, as other families ramp up their birthday shenanigans.

How have you all navigated these issues?

reeshau

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Re: Play dates / Birthday Parties
« Reply #1 on: May 10, 2024, 05:38:02 PM »
Definitely, there are extremes that you will encounter through school.  You are right, that kids don't need much to be happy.  Afternoons at a playground are perfect.  So could group art / creative time.  For the kids that just play with their toys, this could be a novel adventure!

We've run the gamut from parents who had an adult area / bar setup while kids are playing, to meeting at a playground, or in the backyard.  I've never seen a parent be a jerk about it, looking for reciprocation or "standards."  But who knows what people say behind others' back?  But really, so what?  If their spoiled materialistic kid ends up not spending time with yours, maybe that's one less bad influence.  There are plenty of kids to be friends with.

We have done everything from a backyard pool party to the local trampoline park--which seems to be the most frequently chosen option.  We have tried to do no presents; at the pool party, we asked for food donations (actually DS's idea!!) and then just "bring yourself," but then half the parents brought presents anyway.

You can try to mitigate things, but in the end you can't control the behavior of other parents, any more than you can control the behavior of your kid's grandparents.  To keep it to a dull roar, we tell DS that he needs to retire a toy if he wants to keep one from his party.  Otherwise, we can return and/ or donate it.  (And use the cash from the return on a puzzle / books / art supplies, all of which he loves)

The world out there is going to be just like the other parents.  Teaching your kids to cope with it is going to be one of the best things you can do for them, and much better than sheltering them.  Eventually, they will have to come to grips with it, and the sooner, the better.  It might seem like she is too young, but whatever age you start, it will seem that way.

As I told DW when we walked out of the hospital to the car, "it's 18 years of gradually letting go."

Good luck, and keep the faith!

jeninco

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Re: Play dates / Birthday Parties
« Reply #2 on: May 10, 2024, 05:47:25 PM »
When my older kid was about that age, he went over to a friend's house, where there was an entire large room with the walls literally lined with boxes of toys. I think he enjoyed playing there, but was happy to return home where there were .. I'd say "adequate, but not overflowing" toys. We tried to keep an eye on his interests and have a few high-quality toys that fit with those, and various grandparents gave him some stuff too.

Go ahead and have a playdate (or a birthday party) at your house, or at a park! Have a theme ("theme") and some stuff for kids to do -- it doesn't have to be complicated:
bring trowels and kid-sized shovels and rakes and some water and have them play in a sandy area
Bring bubble-blowing toys (you can make your own bubble solution, or buy some) and have them blow bubbles
bring sidewalk chalk and have them draw on the pavement. Immortalize the drawings with some photos.
I'm pretty sure there are some science-themed ideas that would be fun.
We had one birthday party where we asked each kid to bring a book (preferably used) they liked, with a note about why. Everyone selected a book from the pile, and that was their favor.

We had a couple of parties for slightly older kids where they went on scavenger hunts (carefully laid out by us). Clues included being able to read a compass ("take five giant steps north from this point"), use a mirror to read mirror-writing (THAT's a fun exercise to prepare) using a watercolor wash to make a message appear that was written on white paper with white crayon,   etc. We arranged it so they picked up, say, the compass at station 1 and used it at station 3.

My point here is that kids will largely entertain themselves, and you can prepare a couple of things that will give them something to do if they run out of ideas. And it's great for both your kid and others to see that different families live in different ways.

Construction toys -- legos are the ones everyone knows, but there are also K'nects, and tinker toys, and loads of others -- are also fun, because you can build all kinds of crazy things with them! For kids that age, you can also go to a thrift shop and pick up a bunch of giant scarves and the kids can use them both for dress-up and for creating forts, with just a bit of something to provide structure beneath.

Maybe ask your daughter what her friends like to do? But don't take it too seriously: most of the activities above will be fun for nearly everyone (including you!)

Oh -- forgot a favorite: bake cookies, and put out stuff for the kids to decorate them! It'll make a mess, though :^)

LaineyAZ

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Re: Play dates / Birthday Parties
« Reply #3 on: May 10, 2024, 06:46:33 PM »
My little grandkids just went to a birthday party for a 5 year-old where the theme was Bugs.  Someone - a professional entomologist or enthusiast? - had trays of insects encased in plastic which the kids loved. 
The cake and decorations was also bug-related.  It was a big hit with that age group, and inexpensive.

And as a grandma, I'd echo the idea that too much is too much - I remember reading about nannies who come to the U.S. from abroad and one of the first things they mention is how many houses are overflowing with kids' toys.   
Even if your house isn't like that, it's still a good idea to rotate toys.  Have fun, these days go by quickly!

Morning Glory

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Re: Play dates / Birthday Parties
« Reply #4 on: May 10, 2024, 06:51:26 PM »
^
Yep I just read somewhere that the USA has 6% of the world's children but consumes 40% of the world's toys.

englishteacheralex

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Re: Play dates / Birthday Parties
« Reply #5 on: May 10, 2024, 07:16:10 PM »
I'm a teacher at a very expensive private school, and my kids go to this school at a massive discount. This creates an odd situation where most of my kids' friends are fairly wealthy, but our family is not.

I feel strongly that most children have way too many toys, and that it's actually detrimental for kids to have too many toys. So for many years I've actively worked to make sure our toy level is pretty low. Until two years ago our apartment was 850 sf, and now we live in a 1400 sf townhouse, so we don't have the storage space for excess toys. I use "The Container Concept" from A Slob Comes Clean and reinforced by The Minimal Mom on Youtube. We have designated areas for toys and books and periodically we cull through them to make sure the toys we have are the ones the kids still really like.

I don't worry about my kids receiving lots of toys as gifts for their birthdays. To me, telling people what to bring as a gift (or to bring no gift) has always felt awkward, so I don't bother. I have thrown some cheap birthday parties and some more expensive birthday parties, and we always receive gifts, and they just go into the rotation with the other toys and the kids decide what they want to keep according to how much space they have.

I also don't worry about the gifts we give to the birthday parties we've gone to...some of which have been quite lavish. I have a hard $20 cap on gifts, which is probably pretty high relative to Mustachian standards, but that's actually pretty low relative to the standards of the kids at my school. It doesn't really bother me to give--$20 is an amount I'm comfortable with. We typically give gift cards, although sometimes I'll find something generic that my own kids like a lot and I'll buy a couple of them and keep them in the closet so we have something to give on short notice.

As far as play dates...we have a pretty big collection of fun board/card games and my daughter (she's 7) keeps her room very tidy, so when we have her friends over they always have an awesome time playing with our games. They love playing in the woods behind our house, and also painting/sidewalk chalk in the carport. I also like to do little baking projects with the girls when she has friends over, so they always love that.

Freedomin5

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Re: Play dates / Birthday Parties
« Reply #6 on: May 10, 2024, 07:18:51 PM »
We just had the kids play outside at the playground, then served pizza and snacks for lunch. The kids had a blast. Now that DD is older (age 10), we have lots of Lego, mostly random pieces we got from moving away sales or found on the side of the road, and the kids like to build their own houses. For preschoolers, having stacks of white paper, scissors, and crayons/paints available for drawing, painting, and crafts is also a good way to keep them engaged.

FireOnTheMuffin

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Re: Play dates / Birthday Parties
« Reply #7 on: May 10, 2024, 08:29:13 PM »
Thanks for all the ideas!  I like the art and baking ideas for play date.  I’ll give it a shot and try and put my own anxieties away!

MaybeBabyMustache

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Re: Play dates / Birthday Parties
« Reply #8 on: May 10, 2024, 08:56:48 PM »
We live in the bay area & have been to parties ranging from those with "famous" tech folks & their nannies, with a fully stocked bar pouring expensive champagne, to parties at the park with Costco pizza & the kids playing on the playground. We typically limited parties to around $150-200, and often combine for our two (now) teens, as they are 13 months apart & had a similar set of friends. We've done everything from:
-Magic the Gathering
-Cookie decorating
-Playing at the park (harder in the winter)
-Bowling
-Crafts

For DS18's birthday, he asked for Top Golf, which we paid for, as he'd skipped the last few birthdays & didn't want a party. All to say that we customize parties to what our kids are interested in, and not what we think we need to keep up with our neighbors. We set a reasonable budget, and some years spent a minimal amount, and other years spent a bit more. Do what makes you comfortable, and you think your kid will enjoy (and, fits within your family's budget).

shelivesthedream

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Re: Play dates / Birthday Parties
« Reply #9 on: May 11, 2024, 02:38:29 AM »
I find the idea of entertaining a bunch of kids very stressful. We just had my son's sixth birthday party. It went like this:

- Squash and biscuits/tea and coffee for the grown ups
- T shirt decorating (I bought a white t shirt for each kid and a bunch of fabric pens which we now get to keep. The t shirt was the party favour. I love crafts and wanted a semi-structured activity. The t shirts were £3 each and there were 7 kids including mine.)
- Free play.
- Sandwiches, grapes, crisps (for the grown ups too)
- Cake

It went well! We did it at our house as we have a big house. I would follow that format again, though try to choose a cheaper craft (it snuck up on me so I didn't have a whole lot of time to plan!) maybe with supplies we have already. I would guess we spent £100 for everything. I made all the sandwiches myself.

My friend did something super smart which was that she sliced and boxed up the cake for people to take home as their party favour. I think plastic bags full of junk party favours are just the absolute worst and will fight that corner with everything I've got.

We only got two presents because only two families came. One was a puzzle and one was a wooden box with some gel pens and stickers in it. The latter mum asked for suggestions and I said some new art supplies like a pack of stickers. I would like to say no presents but I also want to enable generosity in kids, so I try to make realllllly lowball suggestions like a pack of stickers. We typically give a book that my own children like - almost always under £10 and if I see one in mint condition in a charity shop I'll buy it and keep it in a special box. (Doesnt happen often.) I think if a family is close enough to be invited to my kids birthday party, they know our vibe which is pretty aggressively anti-consumerist. (We homeschool, so no "whole class" situations.)

Honestly, you do you. But tell your kid what your limits are with birthday parties (budget, hassle, plastic junk) and let them choose what's important. Maybe they'll choose to have no party favours or activity so they can have a fancy character cake from a shop. Maybe they want to go all out making decorations but are happy with homemade sandwiches. (We did not, by the way, decorate at all.) Maybe they desperately want to play party games! My son was mainly concerned that he should get the kind of biscuits he wanted, which we don't normally buy. And was really pleased to have his own t shirt that he "made". The rest of it he wasn't bothered by. I LOVED party games and fancy dress as a kid, and the huge treat was having jelly that my parents lovingly made in different e-number-filled colours. I didn't care about decorations or anything like that.

Also, maybe your kid would rather have, for example, two friends to do something more expensive than a huge party with everyone.

I think the conversations change as they get older, but even when they're young you can ask, "What's most important to you about this party?"

shelivesthedream

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Re: Play dates / Birthday Parties
« Reply #10 on: May 11, 2024, 03:31:10 AM »
I don't entertain children on playdates, typically. I supervise if the children are young enough to need supervising. But we had a 7yo and 9yo over the other day and they all played in the garden and who knows what the game was but they had a blast. When my children talk about the things other children have at their houses, I say, "Well that's the great thing about going to play at other people's houses is they have different toys, and when they come to our house we have different toys for them to play with. It would be boring if everyone had the same thing!" And mine are young enough not to ask any difficult questions yet :)

We also talk about what we choose to spend our money on. We choose to have me stay at home and homeschool, so we can't also choose to XYZ, but that's what work for our family.

When we moved house, we only unpacked toys they asked for. It really wasn't a lot. The rest is still in the cellar, awaiting its fate! They are very inventive. Our toddler's favourite things at the moment are our shopping bags and a wheeled "granny cart". We say they are only allowed to have out as many toys as they can keep tidy. I am fairly flexible with this, but it makes a good threat :)

ROF Expat

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Re: Play dates / Birthday Parties
« Reply #11 on: May 11, 2024, 07:42:59 AM »
I think most of the excessive stuff at birthday parties for very young kids is about the parents more than the kids.  At 4 years old, most kids have as much fun with the box toys came in as they do with the toy itself.  And interacting with other kids is usually more interesting than toys anyway.   

Things change as kids get a little older.  We typically grilled  burgers or dogs for the kids (and usually some fancier stuff for the adults) or made or ordered pizzas.  With pizzas we sometimes let kids "build their own."  My wife and I are serial entertainers and enjoy having people over, so as our daughter got older we let her choose the kind of entertaining she wanted to do.  She chose the kind of food we would serve and the kinds of activities the kids would do (usually crafts of various types). 

By the time our daughter was 9, she agreed (at our suggestion) that all her birthday parties would be "no gift" parties (she gets plenty of gifts from family).  Instead of gifts, she picks a charity that people can support.  She loves animals, so she has always chosen a local animal shelter.  Instead of gifts, kids are invited to bring a bag of dog or cat food or something that the shelter can use.  Some kids bring cash.  My daughter gets the pleasure of loading up the car with loot and taking it to the animal shelter where they fuss over a kid who wants to support animals.  Sometimes she takes another kid with her and they play with puppies and kittens for a while.  At 13, my daughter has learned that she derives a lot more pleasure in giving to charity than in having more plastic junk.  None of my daughters' friends have chosen to emulate her, but she seems happy and has never asked to go back to regular parties. 

LadyLJCO

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Re: Play dates / Birthday Parties
« Reply #12 on: May 22, 2024, 04:11:49 PM »
7 year old’s birthday in March: I bought a bulk package of plain white cheap kids aprons; stencils; and fabric pens. They decorated aprons and then played while the adults hung out and chatted. I made cupcakes and bought sprinkles and a few tins of frosting, then let the kids loose to decorate them as crazy as they wanted. It was perfect. We find that 2-3 hrs max is ideal for the whole party.

5 year old’s birthday in April: I had noticed during the March party that the four year olds weren’t as into a craft so I bought a. Inch of cheap bubble wands and they just ran around in the yard playing with bubbles then they each got a ‘dirt cup’ (cookies and pudding recipe) and got to add gummy worms. They loved it.

Most of the kids’ friends seem to do parties at the local jump/bounce places and invite the whole class. I appreciate the generosity but can’t stomach spending $600 to be rushed through a loud, chaotic two hour window.

Plus, hosting forces us to do a deep clean. :)

Michael in ABQ

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Re: Play dates / Birthday Parties
« Reply #13 on: May 22, 2024, 04:50:39 PM »
We established from the beginning that birthday parties mean you get to pick what we have for dinner, have some homemade cake, and get 1-2 presents. No friends coming over for a big event or going to some entertainment place and dropping $30-50 per kid.

The closest we've come is when our oldest was 14 we went to a public pool with 5-6 of his friends from school (plus his two younger brothers). Afterwards I drove them all to get pizza. Pool cost $15-20 and pizza maybe $30-40 more.

Meanwhile our kids have been invited to multiple birthday parties at family entertainment centers with trampolines, climbing walls, etc. where the parents are easily spending hundreds of dollars to entertain 8-15 kids for a few hours.

midweststache

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Re: Play dates / Birthday Parties
« Reply #14 on: May 22, 2024, 04:58:12 PM »
I adapt Amy Poehler's advice when it comes to parenting: "Good for them, not for us."

My older kid (7) has been to multiple birthday parties (play places, trampoline parks) where birthday packages are $500+: "Good for them, not for us."
We know families that have ALL the gaming systems and let their kids play on screens as they will: "Good for them, not for us."
We are also playground friends with at least one family who is VERY restrictive on screen time: "Good for them, not for us."
We play at the playground with families who have no problem with kids 'play fighting': "Good for them, not for us."

What's great about parenting like this is you get to introduce your kids to the concept that not all families are alike, and - super important here - that's OK! Some families have different rules, different spaces, different expectations, etc. Setting these expectations of difference when kids are super-young also helps when they get older and start asking other comparative questions: "why don't we go to church/temple/services?" or "why don't we go to Disney World for vacation?" or "why don't we eat at Chick-fil-A?"

Honestly, conversations about gifts and parties have opened up great conversations about family priorities and values that we do our best to navigate at age-appropriate levels.

(We don't do "birthday parties" for our kids until elementary school, invited the whole class and some additional family/community friends, and did the playground/chalk/cupcakes thing - kids loved it. Parties are always explicitly no gifts. We do let each kid pick a special "outing" for their birthday we do as a family, and when it comes to gifts we mirror our personal Christmas policy of want/need/wear/read. If we take a gift to a party, it's a book.)

PoutineLover

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Re: Play dates / Birthday Parties
« Reply #15 on: May 22, 2024, 05:44:55 PM »
I enjoy hosting parties and loved my birthday parties as a kid so it's definitely a tradition we will continue for our kids. Most of the time we'd have friends over in the backyard and do crafts or activities, eat something simple and have dessert. Once in a while we'd do a party at the pool or skating rink. Our rule was always invite as many kids as your age, which kept it reasonably sized based on the amount of attention kids need at various ages.

Luckily our kids will both have summer birthdays so that formula should work well. I'm not big on huge expensive parties. If we get invited we will probably bring a gift like a book or art supplies unless they say no presents.

I'm perfectly fine with living the way we choose to and not worrying about what other kids or parents think. We don't have a tv or tablets, we have a reasonable amount of toys, lots of books, and our kid isn't bored and I don't expect their friends to be when they come over.

Chris Pascale

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Re: Play dates / Birthday Parties
« Reply #16 on: May 28, 2024, 06:28:20 PM »
We've done parties at a party place (they are worth it, but can be expensive) and at the house.

Party place has all the activities in line, and you leave.

At your house, just make sure you have an activity (or person to make balloon animals or paint faces). At the 1-hour mark, break out the food. At the 2-hour mark, serve cupcakes. At the 3-hour mark, tell everyone who hasn't already thanked you for having them over how much you loved meeting them.

Good luck!

rothwem

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Re: Play dates / Birthday Parties
« Reply #17 on: June 07, 2024, 07:25:43 AM »
For what its worth, we rented a bounce house for my son's 4th birthday.  It was $99 for four hours (setup in our yard) and the kids had a blast with it.  Maybe its the hedonic adaptation, but that seems like a pretty solid value to me?   

blikeafox

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Re: Play dates / Birthday Parties
« Reply #18 on: June 07, 2024, 07:14:42 PM »
For playdates, or kids have sometimes worried their friends will be bored at our house, bit that never happens. They always find things to entertain themselves, and we only provide ideas if they ask (which is rare). The toys that we do have, most of which are hand me downs, don't actually get played with a lot. I remember being jealous of kids with more toys, but my kids 6 and 8 don't really seem to care. Not sure if that's because we've done a good job indoctrinating then or or so else.

elliha

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Re: Play dates / Birthday Parties
« Reply #19 on: June 11, 2024, 02:04:27 AM »
Parents may have views but kids usually do not care the same way. They may bluntly ask why your kids have so few toys but then just answer them that she doesn't need more or that she likes books or x (whatever is her favorite toy). As to parties, with younger kids I find that having just an outdoor party is perfectly fine, at the park or in the yard of a house. For older kids we have sometimes opted for a birthday party at a venue despite the cost but the kids have then understood that this cuts into presents and other things and they are fine with that and frankly, it is less hard on you as a parent to let someone else do it and this was of value to me so I am willing to pay for that. With younger kids, I would say wait before you start paying for stuff like birthday parties though, don't start too early.

Plugging Along

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Re: Play dates / Birthday Parties
« Reply #20 on: June 11, 2024, 10:47:45 AM »
I loved having parties when the kids were young, and miss them now that they are 15 & 18.  Mine went to a private school when younger, then public.  We have seen the biggest range from little house/park parties to over the top parties.  We have hosted them ourselves. 

Parties don't have to be expensive.  The best ones are the creative ones at home.  In our area, the kids are so used to the expensive play park/organized ones, that when there is a cool home party that is different they love it. 


Every at a young age, we used parties as a way to teach about many skills.  I had my kids help me plan, and we talked about what the purpose of the party was - usually to have celebrate with friends, vs getting presents.  Some random things we did:
-  Gave them a budget and they could help choose how they spent it on the party including number of guests, food, loot bags, activities ect.  We also had to option of money not spent they could keep part of it. 
-  Since my kids bdays are both in Dec, they would get too much stuff and junk.  We always did a five and five.  Instead of guests bring presents (which were optional), we asked if they felt inclined, they could bring two fives.  One would go to a charity of my childs choice, the other for something they were saving for.  Parents LOVED this and pretty much most kids our class did this for a few years.    However, it did start to become a problem as we had really generous guests, and they would give a lot more than the 5-5.  So we put a note, to keep it to that, as every dollar given would be additionally my daughter and me for the charity.   That was something we didn't expect, so just adjusted.  This way no every felt it was a money grab.
-  My kids birthdays are in Dec, and it can get VERY cold (-40) where we live.  So there almost always needs to be an indoor back up.  We would sometimes find cheaper indoor options like skating or swimming.  Our place isn't huge, so we would rent out community centre room, and when they got older and there were less kids we could host at our house.  Little humans seem to need so much more space. 
- For parties that we did plan our own, they were actually the most fun.  I loved hosting play dates which were like small parties where they were little.  They were so cheap too.  We did cupcake/cookie decorating, make your own pizza's, crafts, games, all pretty cheap.  I was a girl scout leader, so it was really easy to find cheap things to do to entertain for a couple of hours.  Our home parties were really creative and fun.
- As my kids got older, and we didn't invite the whole class, we let them have sleepovers with a few friends, mine planned their own things
- I invested in a glitter tattoo and face painting kits we used for years.  I still occasionally glitter tattoo us


We host a school party often because I can send the kids outside, and it's pretty easy. 
- A little bbq makes food easy
- Activities have included:
-  water fights, tye dye  shirts - or tye dye shirt water fights,  we had each kid bring a white top and filled water guns with tye dye, sent them to the field.  Some kids still wear there shirt from 3 years ago. 
- Make marshmallow guns out of PVC pipe,  cut a whole bunch of pipe, and get instructions from the internet. 
- Fire with smore, or campfire cooking, kids love this because they don't do it any more
- Ice cream sundaes bar
- Field games - my absolute favorite is 'cheeto head'.  Get baggies or shower caps on the kids, put shaving cream on the caps, and have the toss cheese balls into  the cap to see how many they can catch
- Painting or drawing activities.  Get cheap canvases, and they can either do their own, we have done Bob Ross videos, if they are younger, we give each kid a sharpie in the different color or paint, and they get two minutes to paint something quick, then they pass it around to the next person who adds.  Just makes sure to watch for  inappropriate body parts, it almost always happens depending on age.  You can also do splatter paint (in a field)
- Minute to win it games,

If one is concerned with cost, it can be offset with creativity


 

Wow, a phone plan for fifteen bucks!