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How to Throw a Virtual Birthday Party

When kids can't be together to celebrate, these ideas can help make the day special.

Topics: Recommendations

Cake, presents, and friends singing "Happy Birthday" -- those are the essentials to celebrate kids' birthdays. And just because many of us are still sheltering in place doesn't mean we can't make birthdays special. Some families are going all out with tons of balloons or elaborate cakes. And some are getting super creative when it comes to involving friends and family, even when far apart. Check out these ideas we've gathered from members of the Common Sense Parents Facebook group and others:

Video-chat with family

One silver lining of the pandemic has been the opportunity to connect with folks who live far away. It's not like we couldn't do it before, but now that we're doing everything virtually, physical distance no longer feels like a barrier. Here are some ways to bring family into the birthday celebration whether you're using Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, or something else:

  • Cake call. Schedule a video call with the whole family during the cake cutting. Expect that the "Happy Birthday" song will be delightfully choppy and off-key.

  • Extend the fun. Set up times throughout the day for small-group video calls to keep the party going (and make conversation more manageable).

  • Presents! Open gifts during chats with the gift-givers.

  • Make it funny. Install Snap Camera and play with funny filters (a pickle! A cute deer! A blowfish!) during the calls (no Snapchat account necessary). Bonus: Send family members the link to download before the call so everyone can look silly together. (Make sure your video-chatting app is updated to the latest version, too.)

  • Who's got talent? Throw a talent show by asking family members to prepare a song, poem, rap, joke, or dance to perform during an all-family Zoom.

Throw a party

Really, there's no substitute for in-person parties and sleepovers with wrestling, whispering, and staying up all night. But thanks to technology, and parental ingenuity, we're finding some close approximations. Here are some ideas that work with video chatting:

  • Game time. Little kids can play with Legos. Big kids might enjoy Kahoot quizzes or Jackbox Party Pack games that use individual devices and shared screens.

  • Trivia. Invite friends to compete and either come up with your own questions (or have kids make them up) or use one of the many collections online to compile age-appropriate picks.

  • Karaoke. Don't expect perfection, but sites like Watch2Gether can be fun experiments in going with the flow (and the glitches). Have kids dress up and select karaoke favorites from YouTube. Make sure there's a backup plan in case the technical difficulties pile up.

  • Movie night. Netflix Party is a Chrome extension you can use to watch shows or movies together. Everyone needs to download the extension, and then the host shares a link with partygoers. Text chat along the side of the screen might not be enough to keep kids engaged, so consider a simultaneous video chat. Bonus: Mail or drop off microwave popcorn packets and candy in advance.

  • Virtual sleepover. Combine a game and movie night and finish it off with a video-chat spa sesh (mail out face masks, nail polish, temporary tattoos, etc., ahead of time).

  • Appreciation session. Get friends (and/or family) to put together slide presentations celebrating the birthday kid. They can include photos, videos, collages, quotes, and memories. Friends can use PowerPoint, Google Slides, Prezi, or whatever they're comfortable with. Schedule a video chat and share screens.

  • Dance party. Start out with an organized activity -- perhaps one person leads the group in learning a TikTok dance. But then let it descend into beautiful chaos with different kids choosing the music. Works best if all kids have Bluetooth headphones.

Get creative

Sometimes the awkwardness of video-chatting isn't a good fit for your family. In that case, there are tons of other options -- some tech-based and some not. See what you think:

  • Video cards. Ask friends and family to record birthday video messages. Show individual ones to the birthday kid throughout the day. Or use a tool that stitches them all together like VidHug. Spice things up by asking each person to compliment your kid with a specific letter, and then put all the videos together to spell their name (ex.: John is jolly. John is original. John is healthy. And John is nice.)

  • Drive-bys. Send out invitations to local folks who can drive or bike by during a specific time period (make it fairly short) and stand outside to receive the hoots and hollers. Put on birthday hats and hold balloons to make it special -- and don't forget to record everything and share with faraway folks on social media or via email/text.

  • Serenades. Set an appointed time for everyone to gather outside your home (this won't work if you live on the 22nd floor!) and sing a favorite song. Appoint one person to bring a speaker (Say Anything-style). And don't forget to encourage masks and staying in family units.

  • Picnics. Set up Hula-Hoops six feet apart in a park or large yard (secure them into the ground, if possible) and assign spots. Have kids grab prepackaged food and drink from a table one at a time, or tell families to bring their own snacks. Might be a little weird, but it could be better than nothing!

Sierra Filucci
Sierra is a journalist with a special interest in media and families. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley, and she's been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade. As her kids get older, Sierra has developed a special fascination with youth culture, including YouTubers, gamers, social media, and slang. When she's not watching Marvel movies and Parks and Recreation with her kids, she enjoys reading young adult books, walking her dog, and streaming dystopian thrillers late at night.