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How to Host an Eco-Friendly Adventure Birthday Party for Kids

New challenges abound when trying to go without plastic on a day to day basis.  Bigger challenges present themselves when guests arrive.  Mountainous issues tower over you when planning a kid's birthday party, but it can be done.

Kids Using Compasses to Find the Next Clue 


What is an Adventure Party?

For my daughter's 8th birthday, we invited 9 kids over for an outdoor "Adventure Party".  It included map & compass navigation, geo-caching (sort of), team building, communication skill building and exercise - all without creating waste.  The kids have fun while working on important social skills, and they learn how to use a compass.  The Adventure works like a scavenger hunt.  Kids are given a starting point and a note with a direction in degrees (go 160° for 45 steps) Here's how I did it:

Guests Invitation

We live near excellent parks, so we decided we'd have the adventure start from our house, to make drop-off easy, and then bike to the park from there.  The invitation asked that guests bring bikes, helmets & compasses.  Compasses are actually fairly spendy, so getting kids to bring one or more to share is a good idea.

Location & Course Prep

Several days in advance, I went to the park alone to assess all the features and get the coordinates and steps.  With kids as young as 7, you can give them coordinates, but they will need significant focus points.  I chose 5 - a cherry tree, concrete stairs, an oak tree, a manhole in the field and a cypress tree.  

When choosing the course, add a little extra by using inconspicuous flags to mark the correct location and then hide the next clue "nearby" the flag, but not in plain sight.  I hid tiny watermelons in the bushes with the next clue.  Kids knew to always start their next reading at the flag, but they had fun 'hunting' for the actual note.  

Choose a starting point, then use your compass to find the coordinates to each of your stations.  All you need to know is how many degrees and how many steps it takes to get there.  Kid steps are smaller, so keep that in mind when pacing off the distances. 


Swamp of Sorrow Team Building Activity

Write a list of each kid's name and then while planning activities, think of one thing each kid can carry in a backpack.  At the beginning of the adventure, each person is assigned an "Adventure Essential Item", and this makes them feel special and included (kind of like a super power).  

Find 5 activities the kids will work on as a team.  I found a great resource in the Ultimate Camp Resource website.  I modified my activities to work with our park and with the least amount of set-up possible.  

Hunting for the Watermelon as a Group

Next, I created a map of the park with a sharpie and a big sheet of butcher paper.  The map would help the kids get excited about the "Stairs of Doom", the "Hole to Nowhere" and other silly named objects.  It also helped me to visualize where I wanted them to go.  Having a map oriented fairly correctly helped immensely in writing the story.

Clues Attached to Mini Watermelons Make them Easy to Hide & Find

Next, I started with the simplest and started writing the story-line.  I decided what each kid could contribute to the team and created an entire "creepy" story to go along with the course.  At each checkpoint, I had a plan for a "Creature Keeper" person to come out of the bushes and explain the challenge.  I'm fortunate to have very enthusiastic neighbors who eagerly helped out with this part by dressing up and playing up the characters.

Example of a Clue with Coordinates to the Next Checkpoint

A list of all the props, games and storyline can be found here.

"Treasure" Creation without Plastic

Give Jar filled with $0.88 and Mini Neccos

This one had me stumped for quite some time.  How do you create a "treasure" worth finding that is 1) Not cheap plastic doomed for the garbage 2) inexpensive or free 3) not loads of candy? 

With some serious focused thought, I came up with the idea of decorating a jar for each kid.  That idea morphed into a "Give Jar", which goes along with the idea of "Save", "Spend" "Share" - a money management technique commonly taught to kids.  We happened to have 12 of these awesome flip-top jars leftover from our wedding, so with a cleaning, a little paint (we already had gold paint), exactly $0.88  and a couple packs of plastic-free Neccos, we had a treasure!   

I had other ideas such as supplies for an outdoor craft project, glass beads, painted rocks ingredients for a baking project, cotton bags, books and metal jewelry  & coins from Goodwill.  

Give Jar with Coins and Necco Wafers

A little candy goes a long ways, and fortunately Necco still wraps its product in paper.  Here are a few other plastic-free winners if you can find them in bulk:  Bit O' Honey, Mentos, Rollo, saltwater taffy,  Milk Duds, Peppermint Patty.  Keep in mind they still probably come in a plastic bag to the store, but at least they're not individually wrapped in plastic.

Menu & Dishes

 BittyMugs Make Excellent Birthday Party Cups - Every Kid Knows Their Mug and Their Spot at the Table

How can you create a menu that will require the least amount of dirty dishes?  Limit the number of dishes each person gets and give them grazing foods.  Each kid had an identified mug (BittyMugs with and without ribbon on them) and one plate.  For the entire party, they knew which mug was theirs and we used them for water, juice, goldfish, grapes, punch and dessert.  I put a pitcher of water on the table and they could help themselves all day long.  Here are the snackfoods I put out:

  • Multigrain Goldfish
  • Watermelon
  • Broccoli/Cauliflower/Carrot/Mini-Corn/Olive dish with homemade yogurt dip
  • Homemade hummus
  • Celery, Cucumber & Carrot sticks
  • Chips & Guacamole
  • Popcorn with Powdered Cheese (from bulk)
  • Grapes

For dinner we made enough pizza crust for 3 pizzas and topped them with mozzerella, pepperoni (from deli in my own container), onion, bell pepper and anchovies (for the daring).

For Punch, I bought $10 worth of Dairy Free Grapefruit Gelato from a local store and mixed it with Blood Orange and Lemonade Soda I found in Glass bottles.  This was a delicious tropical float.  

Compass Lesson

Following Compass Bearings in the Backyard

After most of the kids arrived for the party, they were milling around nervously and not knowing what to do.  I took that opportunity to have everyone get out their compasses and did a quick lesson in our backyard.  This pre-lesson is essential to a successful navigation adventure.  

  1. Explain the parts of a compass.  Distinguish the difference between "Red" (the magnetic compass arrow) and "Fred" (the direction arrow).  Fred always points away from your body.
  2. Ask about directions "What are the 4 directions?"  "What direction is Seattle from here?"  "How about Canada?" 
  3. Explain how kids can remember the 4 directions "Never Eat Sour Watermelons", for example.  Have each kid find N,E,S,W on their compasses.
  4. Give kids a coordinate such as 20° and have all of them turn their dials to that reading.  This gives you time to go to each kid and make sure they are getting it.
  5. Now have everyone slowly turn their bodies until "Red is in the Shed"
  6. Have kids point to an object they can touch that Fred is pointing toward.  
  7. Ask kids to put down their compasses and walk 10 steps toward the object they picked "Put Red in the Shed and follow Fred"
  8. Repeat giving kids a coordinate and # of steps until all of them are comfortable with the concept.

Start off the Adventure on Bikes with a Treasure Map - Just Like The Goonies!

As soon as you're ready, gather all the kids with helmets and bikes, make a big deal out of giving them their "Essential Gear" and read off the first note that takes them to the first checkpoint.  

Have fun with your adventure!!

Heather is the founder of Wildini™, a zero waste company dedicated to supporting animal conservation through eco-friendly products for kids. "As a kid I always wanted to help save wild animals and Wildini is a vehicle to living that dream." says Heather. Heather writes about minimizing waste, animal conservation successes and clever products at Wildini.com.

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