Sunday, 21 July 2013

Woodland birthday party

A couple of months ago I met a lovely mum and her children in my local park.  The children played really well together and we exchanged numbers.  We hadn't seen each other since, but she kindly invited us to her children's birthday party in the woods.  I've never been to a woodland birthday party before - we've not been brave enough to drag other families into the woods for our own boys November and December birthdays - so I didn't know what to expect.  What we found was the most relaxed and fun children's party we've ever been to.

What do you expect from a kids party?  Frazzled parents trying to contain the craziest behaviour of their sugar-fueled offspring to the soundtrack of kids TV themes while small bodies barrel around screaming and bickering over toys?  Not this one.

A warm sunny glade, surrounded by the dappled shade of an ancient woodland.  Wood smoke from the beautiful brick barbecue oven hanging on the air.  Sweet-natured, low-sugar children running around happily looking for trolls and gruffalos and beetles, happily sharing the nets and bug viewers I brought along. Paddling barefoot in a shallow stream, building dams, playing pooh sticks and squelching in the muddy banks.  Parents encouraging children to be as wet and muddy as they liked.  A fallen tree as a bridge, a castle, a high wire.  Parents playing with and helping to watch out for each-others kids.   Back to the 'camp' for a gorgeous vegan barbecue of grilled aubergine, mushrooms and peppers with veggie burgers and sausages.

I'm normally really uncomfortable at barbecues, although most folks are really thoughtful and will buy a pack of something vegetarian to put on the grill.  Even in my pre-veggie days we only ate a small amount of organic meat a couple of times a week, so the kill-fest of a regular barbecue is really unsettling.  I have also accepted that at parties my kids will plow through more sugary food and drink than they normally see in a month and we'll have to just live with the consequences since I don't want to make them stressed with my 'don't eat that, don't do that' nagging (although I draw the line at cola).

To go somewhere where I didn't have a sinking feeling watching what they stuffed themselves full of was really refreshing.  Playing in a natural environment is really de-stressing for children.  It allows them to burn off their energy in creative play and 'safe risk-taking' such as sliding down a slope or walking along a fallen tree.  Ollie enjoyed having new friends to lead in adventures.  Toby bimbled around playing with the children, singing to himself and trying to get Buster the dog to blow bubbles for him.  I even got to spend quality time painting on people which, since taking a face painting course last month, I have discovered to be one of the most fun things ever.  These low-sugar children even sat still for whole faces like tigers and monsters.

My little ones fell in through the door when we got home, filthy, smiling broadly and Ollie already asking if he can go and see his new friends tomorrow.  I can't imagine a nicer birthday party experience than that.