Between April 8 and June 16, we have nine family celebrations (birthdays, anniversary, Father’s Day, and Mother’s day). If we aren’t careful, those special days will either go unrecognized or stress us to the max.

As a family, we’ve chosen to make celebrations — especially birthdays — a stress-free situation. The secret to our success is arranging parties that are inexpensive, don’t involve a ton of planning, and let kids be kids. I’m a firm believer in letting kids create their own fun. I know it’s important to provide special moments for our kids, but I don’t think every moment of their lives needs to be magical.

Here are some of our favorite birthday party ideas that have been a hit with both parents and kids.

1. Break Out the Books

Let books provide the essential birthday party entertainment.

  • Encourage everyone who attends the party to bring a book as a gift. After your youngster opens all the presents, the kids will enjoy reading what the others brought.
  • Plan a trip to the library. See if your kiddos can attend story hour. The children’s section of any library always has tons of kid-friendly activities — puppets, puzzles, and stuffed animals. Plop down in a beanbag and let the kids explore.

2. Hit the Gym

Go burn some energy!

  • Does the local gym offer any classes that would be fun for your kids (dance, karate)? If not, could you ask one of the instructors to “teach” a lesson they would enjoy?
  • Sign up for open gym and turn the kids loose with a couple balls. They could be playing basketball, soccer, football, and baseball for hours.
  • See if there are any “extras” the kids might enjoy — a rock climbing wall, inflatable bounce house, or trampolines, etc.

3. Splish, Splash

It’s time to get wet.

  • If the weather doesn’t cooperate, plan an indoor pool party. Ask if any local hotels or gyms will let the kids come swim for a couple hours.
  • Ideally, you could host your pool party outside. Borrow a bunch of baby pools from friends and neighbors. Set up as many different water spots as your backyard will allow.
  • Don’t forget the slip-n-slide and sprinkler!
  • See if you can incorporate any outdoor toys. For example, if you have a portable, plastic slide, put it into the pool. The children will enjoy their kid-friendly water slide. Or set up a basketball hoop at the edge of the pool. 
  • Bring out the water balloons!

4. Experience Nature

Go outside and enjoy natural entertainment.

  • Take the kids to a state park. Hike around and enjoy the natural beauty.
  • A trip to the lake offers swimming and sand castles.
  • Go on an impromptu scavenger hunt. Look for leaves, acorns, pine cones, rocks, fossils, flowers, tree bark, animal tracks, and more.

5. Down on the Farm

What type of agriculture can be found in your community?

  • Visit a produce farm. Depending on the season, pick berries, apples, or pumpkins. Go home and bake something yummy with your purchases.
  • Schedule a tour of a local implement dealer. Climb up in all the different tractors and farm equipment. Learn about the tasks each piece of equipment helps facilitate.
  • Call around to local livestock farmers. Would anyone let your kids come visit the animals? Many farmers would welcome the opportunity to teach city kids a little more about where their food comes from. While an elaborate set-up like a dairy farm would be cool, just petting the sheep and pigs would be a treat for many youngsters.

6. Tour the Parks

Pack up the kids and hit the road.

  • Take a tour of all the local parks. Spend about a half hour at each location. Once the kids start losing interest, move on.
  • Plan a special activity at each park. For example, a jump-rope competition, hopscotch, a three-legged race, and an egg-and-spoon relay.

7. Hit the Road

Go roll around.

  • Ask all the party attendees to bring their favorite wheeled activity—scooter, skateboard, rollerblades, or bike.
  • Have a “car wash” for the vehicles or decorate them for the special occasion.
  • Take a trip through the neighborhood. Or see if you can set-up shop somewhere. For example, find a large parking lot that isn’t in use on the day of your event (a government office building or a church). Put traffic cones at the entrance and exit to keep the kids safely inside.

8. Serve Others

Shine the spotlight on giving back.

  • Find a kid-friendly community service project. For example, an organization that packs food every Saturday to send to third-world countries. The work should be something the kids can easily accomplish.
  • If you can’t find an organized event, plan your own. Rake leaves. Visit the nursing home. Give free car washes.
  • Encourage the kids to give back. For example, ask the party-goers to bring a non-perishable food item instead of a present. Take all the collected items to the local food bank; offer to help organize the shelves while you’re there.

Whether the party attendees are kids or family members, old or young, there are plenty of ways to enjoy each other’s company in a stress-free environment. Appreciate the person, not the effort it takes to make the day great.