Birthday Party Alternatives for Preschoolers

Birthday Party Alternatives for Preschoolers

There are a lot of big developments for kids in the preschool years, but not all kids at this age are necessarily ready for a big birthday bash. Or, parents may be on a tight budget or simply not have the bandwidth to throw a wild birthday party with screaming children. So, how to celebrate a birthday without a party?

I’m here to say that it’s perfectly okay to forego a traditional birthday party. There are so many other ways to make our kids feel special, and that’s really what their big day is all about!

Should I Have a Birthday Party for my Preschooler?

Every child and their family’s situation is unique, so there is no one right answer to the question of whether or not a particular child should have a birthday party. 

Here are some of the factors I considered though, when deciding whether or not to throw a birthday party for my preschooler. 

Social Readiness

The first reason we decided to keep my 4 year old’s birthday low key is that my son is still very much figuring out how to navigate social situations and life with his peers. 

He’s interested in other kids, but he still seems to be more in the observation and parallel play stage of things, rather than in the direct play stage. He also never talks about other kids or requests playdates, so developmentally speaking, having a full on birthday party didn’t seem warranted.

Additionally, playdates usually end up being a lot of work for me. I’m often trying to juggle socializing with the other parent, carting my 10 month old around, and responding to my son who is usually clinging to me. So I’m always completely wiped out after these “playdates”.

So I can’t imagine trying to manage a birthday party, which is basically a playdate on speed.   

Sometimes Less is More

Simple and special do not have to be exclusive of one another! And sometimes less really is more. 

Some basic birthday decorations, small gifts, favorite treats, a family outing, and lots of play time throughout the day can make for a special day for a preschooler. 

While little kids go bananas over extravagant decorations and presents, it’s the feeling of connection and love with others that is going to stick with them as they grow older.

What Can I Do Instead of a Birthday Party for My 4 Year Old?

As I thought of some non birthday party ideas for my son, I thought about what he loves and what makes him happy. And luckily, 3 and 4 year olds get a kick out of relatively simple things; eg balloons, homemade birthday crowns, rainbow sprinkles, and of course lots of attention.

So below are some fun and simple ways to celebrate a birthday without a party.

  • Home Birthday Decorations
  • Favorite Breakfast
  • DIY Birthday Crown 
  • Birthday Interview Questions
  • Simple Presents
  • Family Outing
  • Video Chatting with Friends and Family
  • Baby Pictures Slideshow and Storytime
  • Bedtime Routine with Extra Snuggles and I Love Yous

Home Birthday Decorations

Nothing fancy here, just a birthday banner and balloons. Anything that’s different, colorful and floating is pretty exciting to a 4 year old, so no need to do anything too outrageous or pricey. 

I bought a birthday banner and a pack of colorful balloons from the dollar store, and then a couple fun foil balloons from the grocery store.

My son was absolutely thrilled.

Favorite Breakfast

There’s nothing like starting out a little one’s day with a favorite breakfast. In my son’s case, german pancakes with rainbow sprinkles, a big berry fruit salad and bacon! And of course all sitting together at the table and showering him with attention.

Homemade Birthday Crown

My son loves birthday crowns. And it’s so easy to make an extravagant little crown out of colorful pipe cleaners! You can make all sorts of fun curly cue shapes and the number of how old they’re turning to top it off. 

pipe cleaner diy kids birthday crown

My 4 year old also loved it when we made party crowns to wear ourselves. 

Birthday Interview Questions

I wrote down a bunch of questions on small pieces of paper and put them in a cup for my son to draw from while we ate breakfast. Examples of the types of questions I wrote down were, “What’s your favorite song?”,  “What makes you happy?”, “What do you love to do?”, etc.

4 year old birthday interview questions

I initially got this idea from my son’s preschool. Whenever it is a kid’s birthday, the teachers make the kid a crown, gather everyone in a circle, and ask the birthday kid questions about himself.

I also googled kids’ birthday interview questions and pulled some from Present Profitable Mom. This is such a great way to make kids feel special, seen and heard. 


My husband and I strive to keep presents pretty simple. We don’t like having a billion toys in the house and would rather put money towards experiences and savings/investments. I do love getting my son presents though, so I made sure he had a couple of special gifts.

He got a new set of neon paints ($10) and a mini remote control Tesla Hot Wheels car ($18). Nothing too fancy, but both will provide him with hours and hours of entertainment.  

Family Outing

While my 4 year old really wanted to go to an indoor playground with slides and things to crawl all over for his birthday, said playground was closed. So instead, we headed downtown for some site seeing and a bakery treat. Going downtown is out of the ordinary for us, and my son loves the energy of the city and watching all the tram-trains go by.

downtown family outing as 4 year old birthday party alternative

I think toddlers and kids pick up so much on the energy around them, so the hustle and bustle of a city can be pretty invigorating and stimulating for them.

Or conversely, the serenity and spaciousness of an outing in nature would have also offered a great budget friendly no party birthday experience. Any place that offers a sense of novelty and expansive energy is great for young kids. 

Video Chat with Non-Local Friends/Family

Even though my son is still pretty hesitant around his peers, he sure does love to video chat with friends and family. He doesn’t really say anything to anyone while “chatting”, but he seems to enjoy seeing everyone’s faces and having people talk to him.

Baby Pictures Slideshow and Storytime

So I didn’t actually manage to put a slideshow of baby pictures together, but I still think it would be a great idea for future birthdays. My son loves hearing about being born and what he was like as a baby.

And anytime he sees one of his baby pictures, he is immediately enthralled. So I am going to try to throw this one into the mix for next year. 

Special Treat with Candles and the Happy Birthday Song

What would a birthday be, big party or not, without a cake, some candles and the birthday song.

My 4 year old also requested I sing the birthday song to him earlier in the day as well, so I love that the simple act of singing someone a song can make them feel loved and special.

Bedtime Routine with Extra Snuggles and I Love Yous

Our regular bedtime routine includes jammies, brushing teeth, a book and then a story. So we did all that and then showered him with extra snuggles.

Planning Next Year’s Birthday Party

Next year, I want to continue with the theme of simple is best, but also adapt my son’s birthday celebration to how he is developing socially. If he has established some good little friendships, I want him to have fun celebrating with his buddies. If he still isn’t quite there yet, we will continue our small family celebrations. 

I think birthdays are a great way to help our kids recognize their importance and have fun. So celebrating in a way that honors where they are at developmentally is important. 

And while I don’t want to be an overbearing mama who coddles her child, I am certainly going to do what I can to make my children’s birthdays memorable and full of joy and love!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.