30+ Free Ways to Celebrate Your Kid's Birthday at Home
Ready to spoil your kid for their birthday? We love to make our kids feel special on their big day, and our readers have helped come up with dozens of completely FREE ways to show the birthday star how much they mean to us, from a "Yes" day to a special breakfast surprise.
With a little bit of imagination—and this handy list for inspiration—your family might just create new traditions that don't involve forking over next month's rent with a pricey party. Most of these birthday party ideas work especially well during these days of continued social distancing and immediate-family-only celebrations. Check out our Birthday Party Guide for more ideas or find a virtual party entertainer on Poppins@Home.
Completely FREE Birthday Fun
1. Birthday Salute
Is your little one an early riser? Start the day with a salute to the sunrise—preferably from an unusual perch or shorefront. Or watch the sunset the night before the big day, and wave goodbye to being 4 (or 5, or 6...). Dream aloud about good things that might happen in the coming year, and the perks of being a year older.
Waking up to a favorite breakfast starts the birthday off right!.
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2. Birthday Breakfast
Dish up a special birthday breakfast complete with candles and a round of "Happy Birthday." Ice cream on cereal? Why not? If possible, get up early and make your kid's favorite breakfast or find the time to make it together.
3. Boss for the Day
Let the birthday child call the shots for the day. Call it "yes" day or "boss for the day." Let them choose dinner or the day's activities, within reason, and to make up the rules. Maybe let them break a couple of rules, too, or stay up past bedtime.
4. Birth-moment Party!
Celebrate the exact minute of your child's birth as if it were midnight on New Year's Eve. Bang pots and pans, throw confetti and blow horns.
5. Wear Costumes...All Day
Take cues from your child’s imagination and put on outfits that reflect the serious celebratory style. Feather boas, top hats—the sky’s the limit.
6. Take a Stroll
Weather permitting, take a stroll in your favorite park (yes, in costume!) and visit a fab playground. Let the birthday kid pick the destination.
7. Free Events
Check the MommyPoppins events calendar for a list of all the free events happening on your child's birthday, including virtual fêtes.
Sneak a love note into their lunch box. Photo by Mommy Poppins.
8. Pass a Note
Put a surprise birthday note or card in your child's lunch bag, backpack, or coat pocket telling them how much you love them.
9. Birthday Letter
Write your child a birthday letter every year. Wrap up the year; say how you've seen them grow and change and why they are so special. If your child isn't yet old enough to cherish the letters, save them. Read them together every year.
Mask-up and head to a museum, like the MET! Photo by Orianna Riley
10. Free Field Trip
Your library card might give you access to an amazing Museum Pass or a Culture Pass to top nearby attractions, allowing you to plan a FREE birthday field trip to an art museum, zoo, children's museum, or one of the other awesome participating venues.
11. Scavenger Hunt
Set up a scavenger hunt in a local park. Write up age-appropriate clues (or create an audio file on your smartphone), and see how long it takes the birthday child to find all the items.
12. Play Hooky
We may catch flak for this, but if possible, play hooky with your child (or pick them up early) and do something fun together.
Virtually visit with family to pay play games, sing, and more.
13. Family Zoom Party
Design a Zoom-friendly round-robin trivia game with friends and family. Each house is a team. Have guests select from four to five kid-friendly categories to earn points. Don't forget to make a category all about the birthday kid!
14. Volunteer or Donate
Spend an hour or so of the special day contributing to the community. Look into local opportunities with community gardens, the ASPCA, hospitals, and retirement homes. Doinggoodtogether.org is a great resource. (There may be food distribution or donation opportunities during the pandemic when in-person volunteering is less available.) Give a gift to a kid in need by donating unwanted books and toys to charity. It's a great way to bond while helping others, and you're also making room for the inevitable presents.
15. Kindness List
Make a list of "kind things," matching the number of things to your child's age (five kind things for a 5-year-old), and then do those kind things together. The list might include giving a hug to a friend, or writing a note to someone you love, or reading to a younger sibling. Let your little one think about how to share and create gratitude.
RELATED: 10 Goody Bag Ideas for Kids' Parties
Look at old photos and reminisce about funny baby stories. Photo by Sara Marentette
16. Retell Their Birth-story
Tell your child the story of the day he or she was born, or the day he or she joined your family. Look at baby photos, reread any cards you have, watch videos, and share funny memories.
17. Birthday Album
Take an identically posed photo of your child every year on the big day. When you have enough pictures, turn them into a digital slideshow or put them into an album. Review it each year on their birthday.
18. Birthday Video
Take the album up a notch by compiling a bday video with your favorite clips, past and present. If you can swing it, incorporate quick video bday wishes from family and friends.
19. Family Field Day
Take the fun outdoors for a family field day with yard games. If the weather cooperates, end the day with an epic water balloon fight.
20. Campout in the Yard
Go camping in the backyard for a special at-home birthday party night. Don't forget the s'mores (microwave or firepit-style)!
21. Hit the Water
Live by the coast? Take a stroll along the shoreline, take a dip, build a sandcastle, or fly a kite. Inland folks can visit a nearby pond or lake to count the ducks or venture out onto a pedal boat.
22. Escape Room at Home
Turn a room or basement into a mini escape room! Use a combination lock to "seal" a suitcase or bag with treats inside. Drop clues around the room with the single digits (and positions) to the prize lock. Conceal a digit inside a mysterious math problem posted on the wall, hide paper clues inside balloons to pop or a bowl of plastic eggs to open, drop clues leading to numbers hidden in the room...the sky's the limit!
23. Celebrate the Number
Hang paper cut-outs of your child's birthday age all around the house in unexpected places. Put sweet notes to your child on the back of the numbers.
Find local freebies and dine on treats. Photo by Sara Marentette
Mostly FREE Birthday Fun for Kids
Some of these low-key party ideas might cost a few bucks, so we've put them in a separate section to keep it easy for you to read.
24. Restaurant Freebies
Take advantage of one or more of the birthday freebies offered at restaurants around town. You might have to purchase a meal for yourself or the siblings, too!
25. Balloon Surprise
Blow up a bunch of balloons early in the morning while your kid is sleeping; fill a room or the hall with them as a surprise.
Try hair chalk or spray-on hair color for a fun bit of glamour. Photo by Jody Mercier
26. Birthday Makeover
Relax together with a birthday makeover at home with nail painting, hair styling/braiding, foot massaging, and maybe a touch of lip gloss.
27. Free Admission...for the Birthday Kid
Ask your favorite neighborhood haunt (bowling alley, skating rink, indoor play space, or carousel) if they have any special treats or discounts on offer for birthday kids. We’ve found that mom-and-pop shops and chains alike are usually happy to step up to make a child’s day special. It never hurts to ask!
28. Gift Hunt
Elongate the gift-giving with a birthday scavenger hunt! Hide your child's gifts around the house and plant clues that lead him from gift to gift. Some readers also set up birthday tables with surprises or leave them at their door for a morning treat.
29. Mocktail Toast
Serve up dinner with a special beverage like homemade milkshakes, fizzy lemonade (lemonade with a touch of ginger ale), or classic mocktails, such as Shirley Temples, or punch in special cups and swirly straws. Use your special drinks for a mocktail birthday toast!
Who can resist cupcakes?
30. Bake a Birthday Feast
Bake and decorate homemade cupcakes and gobble them up after a round of singing Happy Birthday! If the cake is already purchased, make the meal together or another favorite treat. Check out our kid-friendly Easy Recipes guide for more ideas.
31. Birthday Lawn Sign
Make a ginormous birthday sign for your front lawn or apartment window, or chalk the driveway with a birthday message.
Additional writing by Kaylynn Ebner
This post was originally published in March 2012; it has been updated for 2021