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Maximize Anticipation with a Birthday Countdown for Your Child

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Repurpose a pill organizer to make a fun countdown!

Because it’s birthday season at our house, today I’m starting a series on traditions to make the big day fun, meaningful, and memorable. First off? How to make a birthday countdown!

3 Birthdays in 5 Weeks!

Here’s a little background: on Thursday Nate turned six. His birthday falls between Bennett’s, which was earlier in March, and Evan’s, which is later in April.

Clearly without planning it this way 🥴, our three boys’ birthdays all fall within a 5-week period.

For me, that’s meant trying to strike a delicate balance — doing my best to make each kid’s birthday special without running myself ragged in an attempt to do so.

If it’s a year where we say yes to a kid birthday party, then that plus a joint family party definitely feels like enough.

But if it’s a year where neither kid has a party, or if only does one — which thankfully has been every year so far, as I really can’t imagine throwing two different parties in the course of three weeks! — then I want to stage another grand gesture to properly celebrate the day.

After all, what day is more important to a child than their birthday?

Maximize Anticipation – Make a Birthday Countdown!

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya, obtained via Pexels

With this goal in mind, I sat down a few weeks ago to start brainstorming all the different ways we could celebrate.

I’m not saying the typical traditions — balloons, favorite foods, cakes, and presents — aren’t important. Of course every kid wants to open some presents and blow out candles!

But I wanted to give some thought to other rituals we could add for a couple reasons.

First, during the rest of the year, we aim not to giving in to too many requests at a time or focus a ton of attention on just one of them.

A birthday provides a once-a-year chance to guilt-lessly spoil a child, which is delightful for child and parents alike.

Second, the festive elements I named above concentrate on just one day.

Obviously a child’s actual birthday should feel special, different from all the other days, but what about the stretch of time leading UP to the birthday?

My kids start talking about their birthdays months ahead of time — what’s on their present wish list, what kind of cake they’ll have, etc. I vividly remember doing the same thing when I was a kid.

Anticipation and counting down the days is such a huge part of kids’ birthdays — how do we capitalize on that?

A Simple Tool to Make a Birthday Countdown

Enter, for the second time in recent months, the humble daily pill organizer. We used it to make a birthday countdown for Nate the week before his sixth birthday.

Repurpose a pill organizer to make a fun countdown!

(Random side note: to open this organizer from Target, you push a little button and the corresponding door pops open with a satisfying little click!

In contrast, the one we used for activities during the strike had lids you had to pry open and the kids sometimes struggled. Pop-up lids are definitely the way to go.)

Tips for Making a Birthday Countdown for Your Child

1. Focus on activities that lead to meaningful time together.

Most parents can attest how random, crappy, plastic trinkets seem to multiply like rabbits, arriving through holidays, birthday parties, kids’ meals, festivals, etc.

We don’t want celebrating our kids to mean creating more clutter and more environmental damage (this piece from the Onion hits way too close to home).

Instead, fill each little box with a fun activity either exclusively for the birthday child or, given the reality of having multiple kids, with a twist specific to that child (see #3 for examples).

In a family where there’s a lot going on, one-on-one attention and/or getting to make choices without consulting your siblings are definitely not the norm. A whole week of special attention will be a huge gift for for your child in and of itself.

2. Ensure each activity can take place the day it’s assigned.

When choosing activities, focus on activities that can take place the same day.

Here’s why – if you give little vouchers that can be traded in later, timing is going to be an issue. If your household is similar to mine, your child will inevitably ask to cash in their science museum coupon the day you have a repair person coming or have plans to go shoe shopping or whatever.

To keep things simple, better to make the gratification instant in this case.

3. Choose mostly small, simple activities.

When you make a birthday countdown for your child, the activities can be mostly little things, stuff you can do at home. You know your child best and personalization is the point, but here’s some inspiration to get started:

  • movie night – birthday child picks the movies and where they want to sit (Is who gets what spot on the couch as contentious in your family as it is in mine?!?)
  • 30 minutes of one-one-one time with a parent – a walk or bike ride, a few rounds of Uno, playing superheroes, pretending to be dogs (I hate being the mama dog as much as you do, but dig deep for the love of your kiddo!), reading a book, doing a science experiment, making art, etc.
  • special foods – make one of your child’s favorite meals for dinner, bake cookies together, assemble homemade trail mix, etc.
  • dance party – birthday child picks the playlist

4. Throw in a couple bigger activities.

Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva, obtained via Pexels.

Though the beauty of this birthday countdown is that most of the activities can be cheap and simple, it’s also fun to throw in a couple outings.

We gave Nate a visit to the Children’s Museum, which was the first time he’d been there in years (and we sadly realized he and his older brother are starting to outgrow it, but they still had fun).

We also brought him to Wild Rumpus, an awesome children’s bookstore, where he got to pick out any book he wanted, followed by ice cream at a favorite local shop, Sebastian Joe’s.

Whether it’s a trampoline park, bowling, the Lego Store, or something else, choose an outing that will make your child’s eyes light up when it’s announced.

5. Choose activities of specific interest to the birthday child.

In the weeks leading up to your child’s birthday, pay extra attention to your child’s specific interests and incorporate them when you make a birthday countdown.

For example, Nate’s been interested in doing science experiments, so one of our activities was using the chemical reaction of vinegar and baking soda to blow up a balloon.

It was straightforward, dirt-cheap, and a big hit.

When we do a countdown calendar for Evan in a couple of weeks, the activities will vary quite a bit from Nate’s because their interests are totally different.

And that’s the point! The customization element is something I really like about this activity because it says to each kid, “I SEE you and VALUE you for the unique kid you are.”

6. Be thoughtful in your planning, and keep track of what’s coming each day.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto, obtained via Pexels.

One night I was lying in bed when I realized the plan for the next day was a bust. Nate was supposed to get 30 minutes of one-one-one play time with one of us, but that wouldn’t be possible due to schedule conflicts.

Fortunately, the beauty of revealing one day at a time is not only do you get to capitalize on kids’ love of anticipation and surprise, but you can also change up the plan as needed.

I scrambled out of bed, crossed out the play time, and replaced it with having one of his favorite meals for dinner.

A different day, I had to try out the science experiment on my own before Nate got home from school; I’m glad I did, as I’d misjudged both the proper bottle size and amount of baking soda (which would have made my vinegar and baking soda experiment fizzle – ha ha, get my terrible pun?!?).

Similarly, Nate going on a walk with Mike required decent weather, and we would have needed to figure out plan B had it been too cold or rainy. 

You’ll want to brainstorm activities and plan out the whole week in advance, but be ready to adjust if necessary.

Make Your Own Birthday Countdown!

Ready to create seven days of fun and anticipation in the lead-up to your kiddo’s big day? Enjoy yourself and I’d love to hear how it goes!

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