In the early days, being pregnant with a winter baby seemed strategic. The hot summer months passed by before I felt huge, and I got to use all those cute accessories for my end-of-January newborn. I could pile the blankets on under the snuggly fleece car seat cover. I fondly remember hilarious attempts to wrangle a very tiny floppy baby into a snowsuit.That quickly ended when I had to plan my first winter birthday party. My other three children have spring and summer birthdays. Birthdays that make way for endless cheap, no-stress, or outdoor options. Not so for the winter baby. His first two birthdays were easy. My best friend brought her baby over for his first birthday, and the second was just family.But then he went to preschool and had little friends, and I haven’t been able to stop him from making more ever since. We’ve tried to find ways to celebrate the big day without making cracks in our sanity or piggy banks. At-home parties invite throngs of over-excited young children into your home, and off-site indoor parties can be ridiculously expensive.

Over the years, we’ve had parties of both kinds, to varying levels of success. Along the way, we’ve learned a few lessons that might be helpful to other winter parents.

  1. When in-house, always have a plan. I’m normally a proponent of free play for kids but having more than 20 of them running around your house without a plan can be a disaster. To craft a plan, chunk the party into 15 to 30 minute segments (younger ages need smaller chunks), and allow some time to play freely, but not enough time where things can reach dangerous levels of chaos.
  2. When inside, consider rotating. For bigger crowds, we’ve used “stations” where kids rotate in small groups through three or four activities. Our Lego party had kids making mini-kits that doubled as their party favors, necklace-making, minifigure design, and a brick-building contest.
  3. Make preparing food or materials part of the party. Decorating cupcakes, designing their party bags, making slime or playdough or brewing ginger beer (non-alcoholic unless your winter baby is 21) help to focus the madness and keep kids occupied. The end result doesn’t have to look Pinterest-worthy. In fact, none of it does. Step away from Pinterest, and you’ll all be much happier.
  4. Watch a movie. Popcorn boxes, lights out, 3D glasses, some cushions and pillows from around the house, and a little wad of chewing gum under each chair can transform movie time. BYOD (bring-your-own-device) Minecraft marathons work similarly well.
  5. They can still play outdoors. While you must have a plan B in case it’s really nasty, kids love playing outside in cold weather as long as there’s enough motivation. So going to a park to have play spies is a blast, even in cooler temps. If there’s snow on the ground, going sledding, having a snowball fight, and building a fort can be really memorable. Then come inside, have cake and hot chocolate, and call it a day.
  6. Set up a photobooth. This is super easy, cheap, and especially fun for the school age/tween crowd. Gather some of those old Halloween costumes, cheap dollar store glasses, hats and necklaces, and create a fun backdrop. Then just use a camera, phone, or computer and go. We also had chalkboard, markers and paper so they could make goofy signs. Simply share the photos with parents and kids electronically after the party.
  7. Rent or throw a party off-site. There are places you can go to have fun indoors without forking over your paycheck. Fire stations will often host parties for fire-truck loving kids for a donation. Scavenger hunts are fun to do in malls with tweens and teens, and if you plan ahead, you can do a meet-up at a free local event at a museum. Let go of the idea that every party has to have children seated a long table with birthday hats and cake, and many more options will open up to you.
  8. Brave a slumber party, but always, always, always save this as a last resort.

How do you celebrate (survive) winter kid birthdays? Please leave your tips below.