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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …
- is soft
- is alive
- is delicious
- moves but isn’t alive
- is loud
- you can wear on your head
- is frozen
- you love
- is denser than water
- is purple
- that floats
- is magnetic
- you got on a trip
- is new
- lights up
- is shiny
- has lines
- is triangular
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.
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 –
- Make sure all attendees have the necessary games supplies beforehand
- Make sure they know how to play the games in advance. It’s really hard to explain a game during the party.
- Make sure they know what to expect beforehand. Some attendees thought we were going to play computer games and were frustrated.
- Assign a party director to facilitate the games and troubleshoot technical issues.
- Keep games simple and short.
- Limit the number of attendees if it’s your first virtual gathering.
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.