Are you also throwing a 5-year-old virtual birthday party?

Why can a child who sits for hours watching videos only last 2-minutes on Zoom? The question gnawed at me as I planned my daughter’s virtual 5th birthday party.

Memories from my fifth birthday count as early remembrances. As she counted down the days, my anxiety grew. How would I plan a memorable virtual celebration on Zoom?!

The call — like the videos that captivate her — would have to entertain.

Considering a 4-year old’s shorter attention span, I decided to host a series of short interactive games. Like a Peloton instructor each family would watch, follow and play at home.

The games would burst with action. Each burst would last 5–7 minutes — max. That equaled eight short activities in an hour’s time.

Zany ideas zoomed through my mind, which I pitched to the brain trust — my kids aged 11, 9 and the one turning five. We chose activities that got little bodies moving, jumping and competing. We cut complicated activities that ran at a slower tempo like show & tell, nail salon and making slime.

In case you’re in a similar spot, the following are my lessons from what went down.

The Agenda

After welcoming the 19 families in the crowd, we got going with a Scavenger Hunt. In an instant everyone sprinted around their own home searching for dirty toothbrushes and stinky orange socks. The Hunt crowned four winners, one for each round.

Now that everyone was warmed, we danced the limbo — a first for most everyone. Half the group danced to Chubby Checker’s Limbo Rock, while the other half watched. Then we swapped. Dividing the group in two got us all to participate and watch. It kept the Zoom call peppy and fast.

Then children had a chance to present a trick. Like actors accepting an Oscar, each child had 30 seconds to shine before the “get off the stage music” chimed. While the activity gave each the spotlight, it was the most boring activity and took the most time.

To reignite, four rounds of “Survivor Immunity Challenges” gave us flight. Kids competed in a series of challenges. Who can hop on one leg for the longest time? Who can pose as a tabletop? Who can keep three balloons floating all at once? Who could slide a pretzel from forehead to mouth? Madness ensued via the 19 individual Zoom streams we watched. Kids jumped off couches; balloons burst with color and life; and satisfied mouths munched on captured pretzels.

My older two kids then took over the program. Using Post-It notes, my daughter demonstrated how to fashion long, luscious eyelashes; my son how to land a strip goatee. Fanciful birthday guests sported with glee new makeovers across our screen.

From there, we coasted to pinning the nose on Olaf. Everyone blindfolded herself by placing stickers over eyelids, spinning three times and attempting to pin the carrot on Frozen’s snowman.

We landed the 5-year old birthday flight dancing to DJ Snape’s Taki Taki. Muting everyone allowed each family to rock out to our Spotify.

To celebrate our touchdown, we sang Happy Birthday in delight. With a cupcake and candle in each child’s hand, all got to make a birthday wish and blow a candle out.

The Prep Work

To ensure the event was off the charts required prep work on our side. To minimize parental involvement during these stressful shelter-in-place times, we created and delivered party favor bags. For a day, our place turned into an assembling powerhouse.

Bags moving through the line were stuffed with materials each child and sibling needed and a Welcome Note that explained each activity’s design.

Once assembled, came delivery. While initially daunting, delivering the bags turned therapeutic. Over five hours, I briefly visited and commiserated with friends, at a distance. The visits around town lifted my soul and showed me new sites.

Likewise uplifting was building anticipation for the party. Kids received paper and electronic invites. More importantly, each child received their bag of party favors the day before the party, with cupcake peering through enticingly.

Lessons Learned

Planning this party took time. A printed checklist helped with packing the bags. Google maps helped plan the driving route, but the application maxes out at ten stops. Again, a printed checklist helped manually combine two, 10-stop maps.

While organization helped, enlisting my family’s help is what got us past the finish line. My kids helped pack bags, performed sound checks, tested backgrounds, and the camera’s pan.

Likewise, we used multiple family phones to manage the call. One phone dubbed the “Guest 0” phone purely broadcast the show. Production then ran through a second “Host” phone — controlled by my wife. With video and voice feed turned off she managed who could join, answered chats, and controlled whom we could hear on the call.

We found the Mute function pivotal to the call’s flow. Zoom typically spotlights the microphone capturing sound. Consequently, a microphone that picks up a sudden dog bark may easily interrupt a dance party’s music stream. Having someone “off air” control everyone’s microphone had us memorably swimming along a virtual 5th birthday party.

San Francisco stay-at-home dad of 3 writing the next chapter

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