How to Host a Virtual Birthday Party During Quarantine

A New Normal

Her face hung in disappointment and fat tears began to roll quietly down her cheeks as our new reality sunk in. Not only were we not going to celebrate her 9th birthday in New Zealand, but now she would be unable to see any of her friends. It was early March and talk of social distancing was just beginning to circulate. The situation with coronavirus was escalating quickly and a physical party didn’t feel like the responsible thing to do. Still, I wanted her to feel special and decided a virtual party was better than no party.

birthday party bags

Virtual Party Planning

With only a few days to prepare, we made what would be our last Target run for a while to pick up party and baking supplies. We assembled party packs for each guest that contained small trinkets (erasers, stickers, Kinder eggs, party hats, etc.), a piece of birthday cake in a Mason jar, and game supplies. We delivered party packs to friend’s doorsteps and headed home to wait for party time.

However, after learning that coronavirus can live on surfaces for up to three days, I would have delivered them three days before the party so they could be quarantined or packaged them in a way that was easier for recipients to sterilize. Or, I could have omitted the packs altogether. You can find a helpful video on sterilizing goods here.

girl using zoom during a virtual birthday party during coronavirus quarantine

Using Zoom

I have used Zoom for meetings and conferences in the past and thought the free software would work for a virtual birthday party as well. Set up is fairly simple. You set a date and time for your event and invite people to join via email or telephone number. Everyone needs to download the Zoom software or app before they can join by phone, tablet, or computer. Anything with a camera will work but a large screen makes it easier to see everyone.

assembling games to play for a virtual birthday party

The Games

I spent a bit of time brainstorming games that could work over video conference and came up with five that I estimated would take about an hour in total to play. For each game, I added instructions and anything they would need to play to their party pack (paper, pens, prompts).

Fact or Fiction

For this game, you tell two truths about yourself and one lie. Everyone has to guess which is the lie. This was a fun game but it was hard to hear everyone talking at once. It might work best if everyone writes their choice on paper and holds it up at the same time.


This is an official card game, but you can easily make up your own version. To play, you draw a card that has a ridiculous drawing prompt. Everyone draws their interpretation in a designated time limit. It’s a family favorite with easy instructions and it translates to Zoom well. I recommend using markers so it’s easier to see everyone’s finished drawings on the camera.


There are apparently different ways to play charades. When I explained it to Mila – act out the title of a book, a movie, etc., hold your fingers up to indicate the number of words, tug on your ear for sounds like – she told me I was playing it wrong. In school, they play a simplified version where they pick a noun in a category like animals to act out. However, I had spent time brainstorming ideas for books, movies, and songs that an 8 to 9-year-old girl would know and cutting them into little strips to add to the party pack. So, I stubbornly insisted on moving forward with my version of charades. The kids struggled to follow the instructions and the game was abandoned after one prompt and much confusion.

Scavenger Hunt

As a child, I loved scavenger hunts. I remember the rush of racing from house to house to acquire the list of obscure objects. A group of sweaty kids would breathlessly inquire on each doorstep “Do you have a band-aid?! A white button?!” An ice cube was always the final item to race back. As an adult, it’s remarkable how patient strangers were in the face of such frantic, demanding children.

In comparison, my hunt was quite tame. I kept it open-ended with a 5-minute time limit and promise of a prize. They had to find something that …

  1. is soft
  2. bounces
  3. is alive
  4. reflects
  5. is delicious
  6. moves but isn’t alive
  7. is loud
  8. you can wear on your head
  9. is frozen
  10. you love
  11. is denser than water
  12. is purple
  13. that floats
  14. is magnetic
  15. you got on a trip
  16. is new
  17. lights up
  18. is shiny
  19. has lines
  20. is triangular

Questions Only

Improv was popular when I was in undergrad. Maybe it was the proximity to Chicago, but there was an improv group performing on campus any given night of the week. I thought the kids might enjoy some of the dorky fun so I picked the only game I could remember – Questions only. To play, someone suggests a scene (a beach, an airplane, a grocery store) and you and one other person act it out. You keep the conversation going using only questions.

Turns out, it’s not easy to do well. We did a trial run before the party to test it out and had a great time seeing how long we could go and buzzing each other obnoxiously when we failed to ask a question. This game didn’t translate to Zoom. It was too hard to follow what was happening. However, there must be another improv game that works.

assembling cake in mason jars for a virtual birthday party package

Lessons Learned

With seven kids, a virtual birthday party is a surprisingly loud, chaotic ordeal. Maybe louder than actually having the kids in our house because you could hear the noise from each of their houses. Bored siblings would wander into the party to chat or play instruments loudly in the background. Kids would drop off and re-enter the party randomly. It was hard to follow what was happening.

The games lasted for 90 minutes and then we sang happy birthday and ate cake together. To end, they joined each other in a favorite computer game. Mila said it was fun but trying to explain the games and keep everyone interested was stressful. This is what we recommend if you attempt your own virtual birthday party –

  1. Make sure all attendees have the necessary games supplies beforehand
  2. Make sure they know how to play the games in advance. It’s really hard to explain a game during the party.
  3. Make sure they know what to expect beforehand. Some attendees thought we were going to play computer games and were frustrated.
  4. Assign a party director to facilitate the games and troubleshoot technical issues.
  5. Keep games simple and short.
  6. Limit the number of attendees if it’s your first virtual gathering.
a girl blowing out candles during a virtual birthday party due to coronavirus quarantine

A Video Birthday Card

To extend the virtual birthday party love, I sent out a (very last-minute) request to family and friends to text me a video birthday wish. It was fun to see all the variations which I edited together into a short video and played for Mila while we ate birthday cake. It was the perfect way to end the day. As much as I would love to share the final video with you, I don’t think anyone will ever send me a video again if I do.

Looking for Outdoor Activities in Hawaii

If you’re on Oahu attempting to home-school stir-crazy kids like me, you can still social distance outdoors. We’ve been staying in the Kailua area with lots of beach walks, bike rides, and hikes like Likeke Falls, but if you’re looking for something different check out my Oahu for Kids blog archives.

Kalama Beach Family Portraits | Celebrating One

Returning Home

This Oahu family has been enjoying a temporary residence in Japan. They’re having an amazing time exploring the cities and countryside and even snow, but when you have small children it’s hard to be away from family. They make regular trips home, but this particular one was special. They were celebrating a first birthday. An epic milestone. They even brought a cake to smash with a special banner made by her auntie. She wore a new outfit and was presented with a bright pink cake on a lovely platter. We stepped back and waited. All of us eager with anticipation. She blinked slowly at the presentation and slowly her face began to twist and contort. She emitted a loud wale as fat tears streamed down her face.

Fun fact, half of the babies I photograph cry when presented with a cake to smash. I asked other photographers and it seems universal. If you really want those joyous photos of baby stuffing their mouth with cake and frosting, you may have to ease them into it. Offer a small cupcake or muffin a couple of weeks in advance in a familiar environment.

About the Session

We met at Kalama Beach Park for a sunrise photoshoot. We were only planning to meet for a short time – 30 minutes, maybe an hour. But Kaylee, joyful Kaylee, with a grin stretching from ear to ear is a hard one to leave. Her little sister was supposed to be the star of the show (she was celebrating her first birthday after all), but the beach was an intense experience for the littlest explorer. She was unsure about the sand and less sure about the waves. She took in the scene with quiet contemplation. In the meantime, Kaylee skipped and danced along the shore hugging everyone in sight. It was her happy place and happiness is infectious.

family walking toward the ocean at kalama beach in kailua oahu
first birthday portraits at kailua beach
portrait of a happy girl at kalama beach park by little bird photography
dad and daughter at kalama beach park in kailua
mom and daughter playing at the beach during a photo session
dad and daughters walking into the surf in kailua
sisters about to hug during a family photoshoot at kalama beach park in hawaii
family beach portrait in kailua
toddler girl holding dads face in her hands
mom and toddler laugh during a fun family photography session in hawaii
closeup portrait of a toddler from above during a family beach photo shoot
dad and toddler daughter at kailua beach oahu
baby girl learning to walk on the beach
toddler pulling dad along the beach
dad holding a baby and toddler at kalama beach park
toddler looking out at the water
Toddler portrait during Kalama Beach Family Portraits in hawaii

Are You Returning Home?

Find out more about my fun and easy family photo sessions here.

Fun Family Photo Session | Paradise Cove Beach, Koolina


When we chatted before her session Marianne told me she was awkward in front of the camera and preferred a more candid approach to family photos. “Me too”, I replied. In all honesty, I hate having my photo taken and scheduling photo sessions for my own family is a painful experience. But the resulting images are priceless. I mean, it’s my chosen field so of course, i’m going to geek out over photography, but there’s something undeniably special about a photographer really seeing and capturing who you are as a family.

Still, it’s been a year and a half since our last family photoshoot. I feel time pressing on me, urging me to make it happen. The kids have changed so much in that short time and we’re about to slip into the tween years. Yet I drag my feet on photos. It’s hard to admit, but my excuses are embarrassingly banal – “Things are too hectic right now” and “After I lose those extra pounds.”

To those of you actively searching for a family photographer, I applaud you for making it happen. It’s no easy feat. And I hope you find your person. Someone who can showcase the love and personality and goofiness in your own family. Don’t settle for less.

About the Session

Family vacations and birthdays are both good excuses for photos and Marianne’s family was celebrating both. They made the journey west from Waikiki to Paradise Cove Beach in Koolina where I promised them a mellow day playing under the Hawaiian sun. It was ideal because they wanted to play in the warm blue water and extra special because there were married in Koolina. I eased them into the session with silly games and before long, they were in their own world. Emme, with her gap-toothed smile, helped. On the eve of her seventh birthday, she was full joy and charisma. When she wasn’t mugging for the camera she was happily pulling her parents along to play and explore every inch of the cove. It was an amazing day to celebrate.

Fun Family Photo Session at paradise cove in koolina oahu
portrait of mom and daughter exploring paradise cove by little bird photography
family portrait at paradise cove beach in hawaii
dad and daughter portrait at paradise cove
holding hands
sweet portrait of mom and daughter at koolina beach in hawaii
family looking at hermit crabs during a fun family photo session in hawaii
portrait of a girl with two front teeth missing
portrait of a dad and daughter at the beach
family exploring the inter-tidal zone at paradise cove beach
mom and daughter laugh during a fun family photography session in oahu
underwater family photo session in hawaii
mom and daughter sharing a laugh in koolina lagoon during a family portrait session
dad and daughter getting ready to snorkel at koolina lagoon in oahu
underwater family portrait in hawaii
mom and daughter looking for fish during a fun family photo session in hawaii
mom and daughter floating in the turquoise waters of koolina lagoon in hawaii
childrens portraits at the beach in hawaii by little bird photography
girl in a rainbow inter-tube in hawaii
mom and daughter portraits during a Fun Family Photo Session in hawaii
water portrait of mom and daughter in koolina hawaii
mom and daughter sitting in the intertidal zone
portrait of a girl and her mom in the water of paradise cove in koolina lagoon
girl walking out to the beach with shadow of a palm tree in hawaii
girl swimming under water in hawaii

Are You Awkward in Front of the Camera?

Let’s try something a little different. We’ll talk so I can plan a morning that’s fun for your family. I’ll provide some direction in the beginning to help ease you into your photo session, and soon you will be too busy playing and exploring as a family to worry about photos. All of the fun. None of the awkward. Find out more about family photography sessions here.

Honolulu Family Lifestyle Video | A Family Tradition

A Workshop

We first met at the Honolulu airport many years ago. I kicked the coffee-stained carpet and shifted under the weight of my camera bag as we talked in the waiting area. We were heading to Maui for a workshop and I was nervous. It was my first family photography workshop ever and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Kim became my security blanket. Although we had just met, we were at least traveling together and that felt significant.

The workshop began with us gathered on the carpet with legs crossed like grade-schoolers. It was intense and hard. There was a lot of … squishiness. We spent time digging into our pasts and discussing emotions. We stared into each other’s eyes for an uncomfortably long time. The things we do to become better photographers. I struggled. With a science background, I approach problems with careful research and meticulous note-taking. This approach was foreign and painful. Tears spilled as people shared hard truths and troubled pasts. As much as I wanted to excel, I couldn’t identify a painful memory to draw meaning and inspiration for my work. The experience itself was a bit traumatic, but I was able to meet some wonderful local photographers like Kim. When she asked me to make a film for her family, I was thrilled.

A Perfect Day Captured

Our first attempt at a family lifestyle video was met with cloudy skies and rain showers. The gloomy weather didn’t quite suit her family. Golden sunshine and the deep blues of the ocean felt like a better fit so we waited. For our second attempt, we planned the afternoon around favorite family activities. We started with a little biking (and unicycling!) at home before heading to nearby Kaimana Beach, a family favorite just outside Waikiki.

A warm breeze blew from the ocean carrying the sound of laughter as the kids played and splashed with abandon. The sun sank slowly and dramatically over the Waianae mountains forcing us to end a perfect day.

Click the play button to watch their family film –

And I couldn’t help but grab a few still images as well …

photos captured during a Honolulu Family Lifestyle Video session in waikiki
footprints in the sand
boy playing in the sand in waikiki with sun flare
hawaii family lifestyle photographer captures a boy near the water at sunset in waikiki

What Does a Perfect Family Day Look Like for You?

Tell me what’s important to you or we can talk about what you have in mind so I can make suggestions for a fun family day. You can book a session just for photos, just for a film, or the best of both. Either way, you will make great memories! Find out more about my easy family photography and film sessions here.

Winter in Hawaii | 4 Reasons Why Winter is Best for Your Hawaii Family Vacation

Cooler Temperatures

What’s that you say? Hawaii has seasons? Well, yes. Yes, it does. Summer and Winter a.k.a hot and less hot with the latter running November to April. As I write, I am currently wearing wool socks, wool pants, two shirts, and a sweater. Despite the layers, I find myself contemplating if I can type with gloves on. How cold is it? Well, I was distraught to discover the temperature is not in the 50s as it seems, but rather a balmy 65F. Still, brrr.

But winter in Hawaii brings more than chilly weather. It also brings rain which magically transforms the island from dusky brown to verdant green. Heavy clouds can settle across the sky for days at a time, but more commonly you’ll just experience a quick shower here and there. Why risk the rain? Well, a sunny winter day in Hawaii is sublime – sparkling blue waters, a light breeze, and gentle sunshine wrapping you in a warm hug.

The cooler temperatures are perfect for hiking especially exposed ridge and crater hikes. You might try hiking Koko Head or it’s smaller cousin Diamond Head to take in big sweeping views without the sweltering heat of summer. Additionally, the upside of rain is flowing waterfalls. Easy options include Manoa Falls and Hamama Falls.

dad and daughter hiking in hawaii
boy enjoying a waterfall in hawaii

Fewer Crowds

Tourism numbers continue to rise in Hawaii with a record of 10 million visitors in 2019. The crowds and traffic reach a zenith in December and just when you start to feel dread to even leave your home, the congestion eases and you can breathe again. That period, after the holidays, that’s when you can move freely around the islands and enjoy a bit of solitude. At least until summertime.

an empty beach on the north shore of oahu

Big Surf

You know those big waves you’ve heard about? The 40-foot monsters that turn surfers into legends? Winter is when you will find them. Head to the north shore of Oahu and visit Banzai Pipeline at Ehukai Beach Park, picture-perfect Sunset Beach or Laniakea, north of Haleiwa. On Maui, Hookipa doubles as both a popular surfing spot with consistent waves and a great windsurfing spot. On Kauai, catch beautiful waves at Hanalei Bay.

Winter in Hawaii with big waves on the north shore
a surfer at waimean bay on oahu's north shore

Humpback Whales!

Hawaii and Alaska share joint custody of humpback whales. The whales fatten up in the nutrient-rich waters around Alaska and in fall travel to the warmth and safety of Hawaii to birth their young. On Oahu, you can search for whales while enjoying the views of the windward coast at Makapuu Lighthouse Trail or adventure to the tip of the island at Kaena Point. All of the islands have boat tours, but the best place to search for whales is off Maui. The clear, shallow waters that connect Maui, Lanai, and Kahoolawe are particularly appealing to whales. Book with the Pacific Whale Foundation for the best experience.

Need Ideas for Your Family Adventure?

If you’re visiting Hawaii in winter and get stuck with one of those rainy days, there are options. Check out this post for family fun despite the wet weather. And sign up for the Little Bird Post for more tips on family fun in Hawaii.

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