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Written by:  Laura Amann
Date: May 1, 2012

If your child is older than 5, you've probably seen your fill of birthday party goodie bags stocked with bouncy balls that land under the couch, cheap games that break by the time you get home and stickers that end up on mirrors forever. The alternative is loads of candy for kids already hopped up on birthday cake and ice cream. But who wants to be the only parent (or only child) to send guests home empty-handed?

If you balk at the time, cost and creativity involved, to say nothing about the impact of goody bags on landfills, then maybe it's time to re-think the treat bag. Take it down a notch and simplify your life — and other parents' lives as well.

Think of less as more

Resist the urge to give out lots of little trinkets and go for one nicer item. Work with your party theme. Try personalizing something

kids will use and enjoy: a cute, reusable water bottle, a flashlight or a fun baseball-type hat. The possibilities are endless once you start brainstorming.

"Dinnerware actually makes a very practical party favor that both young kids and parents love," explains Janet Doherty, who writes a popular kids' birthday party blog at

Doherty also loves two other practical party favor ideas: a bookmark and placemats. "Even kids' paperback books can often be purchased fairly inexpensively," she says. "Just keep your eyes out for a book that coordinates with your child's party theme."

Combine a craft and a treat

Get a two-for-one bang and have kids decorate an item at the party that they take home. They can decorate a T-shirt, pillowcase or tote bag using fabric markers or fabric paint or personalize a doorknob hanger. Embellish the edges of a picture frame or flowerpot with paint, stickers, shells, or foam cut-outs.

Jes Gordon of recommends giving guests small potted plants to take home and  nurture. Or fill the pots they decorated with dirt and small flowers or seeds.

Embrace the old-fashioned

Gordon also suggests digging up a Polaroid camera or borrowing one. "Then just get snap-happy at the party," she says. "Take lots of pictures and let them take the pictures home!"

Watching the film develop and seeing the image emerge is a thrill for party-goers of all ages, especially ones who have grown up in the digital age.

Give a gift card

Gift cards provide a little something special for guests to enjoy later. Think ice cream or other frozen treats, a cookie spot or favorite inexpensive food stops. Your child can personalize the gift card with stickers and a note.

Celebrate the season

Fill a beach bucket with a shovel and sieve and other sand toys. If you have a literary or creative bunch, hand out a small notebook with a pen neatly tied on and add a few stickers for fun. For cold-weather parties, find a cute coffee mug and fill it with hot chocolate, marshmallows in a baggy and a couple of candy canes for stirring.

The idea is to avoid the overload of useless stuff. Most families have enough of that already. Make it easy on yourself and other parents will thank you, too.

Laura Amann is a freelance writer who frequently covers family and parenting topics.


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