How to throw a great zoom party for your kid’s birthday party during a pandemic is…not a sentence I ever thought I would write.
Dealing with the disappointing reality of birthdays during COVID-19 is totally a drag. However, it also builds the grit, the resilience and flexible thinking that can actually fortify our kids with amazing life-skills long after the pandemic is a distant memory. I can’t wait for that! But in the meantime – you have to make a party.
The good news is, it is not as hard as it seems. These days, anything that lifts us out of the mundane is welcome. And parties – even over Zoom – can do just that.
Virtual hangs for kids are super hard. As they connect with friends online, they are sorely missing the things that bonded them together in the first place: the Bey-blades, the basketballs, the Shopkins. Those virtual show-and-tells are like the sad ghost of a time when they could play with a thing together in person…
But don’t despair! The key here then is in the live games and the interactive moments where things are happening in real-time and silliness abounds. And it IS possible to do this over Zoom.
After hosting parties with my children’s theater company, and my own son’s 8th birthday party this weekend, I thought I’d share some of the tips – and their inverse pitfalls – in case your kid has a birthday during the pandemic! That said, it is new terrain for all of us, so please do chime in below with any suggestions for success that you have had in throwing your own party! #Weareallinthistogether.
Empower Kids with the Technology
Zoom was thrust upon us when the pandemic started. Unlike messenger kids or YouTube it wasn’t a platform kids needed to know or cared to love. That lack of familiarity can feel disempowering. So, the first thing is to make sure your kid knows their way around Zoom.
Here’s a little checklist of stuff to master before the party:
- Change virtual backgrounds
- Let friends in from the waiting room
- Share their screen – and make sure that the host is the only one who can do this!
- Mute and unmute participants
This tech mastery can go a long way toward empowering the birthday kid. Then it really feels like they are the host of their own party.
Pick a Party Theme that Makes Your Kid Happy
While, of course, you can certainly just simply gather kids and play some fun games, I do suggest that there is a unifying theme. Figuring out what this should be can be a fun way to bond with your soon-to-be-birthday kid. Get out a pen and paper (or crayon, or that ever-present white board) and make a list of beloved stuff.
These can be songs, locations, shows, characters! There is no need for one tidy umbrella for stuff to fit under. Just a big ol’ brainstorm of stuff that they love is all that is required. When the days of remote parties are all but a distant memory, this is still an awesome thing to do to prep for the party.
- Favorite book – ideally one where there’s lots of characters and a great plot/drama to hook into
- Favorite how, play or movie
- Inspiring nature/science theme
Mash-ups are Welcome
I also am a big fan of the theme mash-up. Think: Scooby Doo + Disco Party. Or Fairy Tale + Tea Party, even Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs + Singing in the Rain.
These combinations are where the unique interests and passions of your kid can shine forth!
Get specific and then more specific
My next suggestion is to go deep inside the theme. Questions I always as parents:
- What is their favorite part of _______?
- What’s their favorite song in _______?
- If you could be any character in _______ who would you be?
From there you can make games, virtual backgrounds or do songs that really speak to your kid’s enthusiasm. Some of their answers may even surprise you.
When I asked my son about his favorite characters from Harry Potter – he said Harry (of course) and also Dobby! For folks who may not know, Dobby is a “house elf” who only gets freed if his master gives him an article of clothing. So based on this very specific intel, we made up a game! It was a sock scavenger hunt that turned out to be the most fun, and memorable activity of the party!
Designate a Leader for the Party
Just like in “real life” it is helpful to designate a person in charge of the party games.
It could be:
- You or your partner on a different device than the birthday kid.
- A fun aunt or uncle
- A great babysitter,
- A beloved music teacher
- A former classroom teacher
- A company that your kid loves like soccer, music, theater or tech that can bring teachers to your party.
Something to note: If you choose to lead the party yourself, I do suggest to be on a different device. That way you aren’t hovering – or disappearing into the virtual background. When you get on your different device, make sure you are far enough away to eliminate an echo or feedback. Alternatively, you can mute yourself so that only one account is picking up the sound.
Characters Can Get Invited Too!
The coolest thing about Zoom is the ability to teleport in a character for a really brief time to lead a game!
From a different device, a parent, friend or teacher can log on and pretend to be a character.
Kids get captivated and transported and the new adult adds a freshness. Alternatively, a simple costume on the person already leading the party can work just as well. Here’s the thing – kids want to suspend disbelief, to imagine, make-believe and play. This gives them the opportunity!
I suggest having some good improv at the ready, a fun accent and a simple costume! The character can lead a game or two and disappear. That shift of perspective is an awesome way to add variety and keep the kids engaged. Here are some ideas:
- Snape can lead a potions class
- The kids can pitch their candy to Willy Wonka
- Elsa can get them showing off their own magic powers
You really don’t need to hire a fancy company to do the make-believe. Just enlist a family friend, relative or babysitter. You can give them the zoom link and keep them in the waiting room until you are ready for them to make their magical appearance!
Get a Zoom Account That Works For You
One step in the party planning is deciding how long you want the call to go on for. With young kids, ages 3-5, a game or two may be sufficient. With a free Zoom account, you can host a party for 40 minutes. If you want more time, you’ll need to upgrade the plan.
In addition to helping make sure your birthday kid is empowered, take some time on your end to make sure you know the platform. This is especially helpful if Zoom isn’t something you’ve had to be versed in for work, or you haven’t’ had to host yourself.
At my son’s birthday party someone randomly started sharing their screen of some kind of weird tablet drawing in process. I had to quickly make sure that the setting was on so that only the host could share the screen! Also, someone joined the party while a baby was yelling in the background, so knowing your way around muting the participants is crucial.
Make An Invitation
Granted, it may seem like overkill to make an invitation for the party. However, I would argue that these days it is more important than ever to indulge in the celebration however we can. So, go for it! Paperless Post has lots of cool options with varying price-points, and you can add the link on there. I also like that platform since you can track the RSVPs and send a reminder. You can also make a sweet and simple invite with a picture of your birthday kid and send out over email.
Best of all, with making an invitation, you are welcoming your child into the planning process. Make it an occasion, dress up (either costume or fancy – an excuse to get out of PJs either way!) and have a photo shoot for the invite. Building up the expectation and the joyous anticipation is a boon of the birthday!
Get Out of Quarantine with a Virtual Background
One of my absolute favorite things about a Zoom party is that you can create your background look. So, even though you may be quarantining in a city apartment, you can actually give the cinematic illusion of being on a tropical island, in a dragon’s lair, or an enchanted castle!
When you know your theme, you can pick a background or two, or ten. Share some screen saver ideas with your guests so that you all have the same look! Search on the web browser of your choice for images, download them to your computer and then add them to your virtual backgrounds.
Work Your Camera
Before your party, be your own director of photography.
- Make sure your child isn’t too backlit – close curtains behind and set up a light source in front of them
- Frame your kids’ face in the camera – maybe you need to prop the camera up on some books or their body up on some pillows
Basically do what you need to do with lighting and angles to get your child centered and bright in the frame!
Additionally, make sure that there is a little space to move around. I like to have a close-up shot and then a standing shot ready to go. For sneaky freeze games and other things like that, making sure kids can get ou tof their chair (or bed) and move around is important! You can even make a note of that in the invite. For example, “We’ll be playing games that get kids moving, so make sure you have some space around you to stand and dance!”
Get inspired by the theme of your party to build a special playlist! For instance, a dinosaur themed party gets Jurassic Park, Good Dinosaur and Land Before Time soundtrack. Frozen parties obviously get your kid’s favorite songs from Frozen. You can play around with the score as well – not just the recognizable songs.
If you play the music through the phone or a speaker, it is likely that the sound will be muddled.
An awesome Zoom hack for clearer sound is to share your computer’s audio so the music comes out clear. This is especially important for a sneaky tag game or something like a freeze dance. It can even come in handy for the birthday song at the end!
Zoom Party Game Tips
- Make a list so you have a game plan at the ready!
- Balance out any moving games with any stationary guessing games.
- Find something really simple for the start so kids joining in at staggered times feel included and not confused.
- End with a bang and the cake so that kids don’t sign off before that happens.
- Have some games as a back-burner in case some go quicker than you expected.
Great Games to Play Over Zoom
There are a ton of games I love to play that we learned from the online classes and the parties we’ve led so far that work so well over zoom. Here’s a sampling of what we love that can be tailored to any theme. However, as I mentioned with the Dobby-sock-scavenger-hunt, part of the fun is digging into the theme your child loves and getting specific from there!
- Jokes or Riddles (this is great as kids are entering the room)
- Freeze dance
- Who started the motion?
- Sneaky Tag
- What are you doing?
- Scavenger hunts
- Guessing games
Be flexible as you play, taking into account kids’ attention spans. Also, if something is really fun and working well, you can play a second round or return to it at the end. In general, keep the games fast-paced and keep ‘em rolling too!
Celebrate Your Child with a Spotlight Shout-Out or A Video
If you are feeling ambitious, you can ask family and friends to send in a little “happy birthday” message and edit this all together. At the end of the party you can screen share the video and end on a totally celebratory and personal note. Short of that, kids can go around the “room” and share something that they love about the birthday kid. This is a really special way to spotlight everyone while still making it all about your kids’ special day. You can record the zoom call too and edit THAT into a little thing to have for posterity!
Ending the Party
Singing is not great over zoom – but who cares…
Your options are to either
1) hear everyone at slightly different times, or
2) mute everyone, have them sing, but spotlight only one singer.
I prefer the former, but you do what feels right for your family!
Ask parents in the invite to have a little treat or a snack at the ready, so when you bring your cake out in your house, they can all dig into something on their end too.
Kids may want to stick around and chat with each other in an unstructured way. But when your kid is ready to end the party, do it. At my son’s party there were girls left sharing pictures of the Yule Ball from Harry Potter and comparing wands. My instinct was to let them keep chatting, but really, it was time to go and my kid knew it. Letting the birthday kid have that modicum of control and deciding when to tap the “End Meeting” button is also important.
Don’t Forget to Thank the Guests
They may not have brought presents, they may have come in their pjs, but showing up for stuff – on any level these days – is a big ask! Thank your guests after the party with a follow up note through the invitation platform or an email to the guests. The birthday kid gets a little gratitude practice and it makes the friends feel great too!
Please share your strategies for successful parties below and reach out if you’d like support for your party!