Meltdown-Free Birthday Parties – Tips from Monkey Monkey Music with Meredith LeVande

Bean's Birthday

So trying to raise a family New York City is kinda cuckoo. Surely I have mentioned that in the past. Our kids have to interview for Preschool.  A first haircut will run you $35.  And birthday parties…well they are nearly as legendary as NYC Bar Mitzvahs.  Tales of extravagant birthday bashes complete with moon bounces, ponies and slushy machines are legendary among moms who frequent NYC playgrounds.  I put off hosting a NYC birthday party for my Little Bean until this year when she turned three.  And even then, I must say, I felt some pressure.  Our party was small, simple (we had a “Whale of a Birthday” and met at a playground complete with a sprinkler “spout”)  and largely successful, but it did leave me with some questions.  We have all attended birthday parties in which the over-stimulated birthday boy or girl absolutely fell apart.  My Little Bean jammed her head into my legs when everyone sang Happy Birthday to her.  So what are the secrets to planning a successful birthday bash for your favorite little toddler or preschooler?

The BIrthday Girl

Meredith LeVande, educational children’s musician, singer and birthday party entertainer, has been chosen as one of New York’s best affordable children’s performers by Time Out New York Kids.  This is a gal who knows birthday parties.  I had a chance to ask her a few questions recently and got some great advice for foolproofing your kiddo’s big day.

Monkey Monkey Music with Meredith LeVande

I have attended several toddler and preschooler parties that were just enormous–so many children and grown-ups that even I felt overwhelmed.  So what is the ideal number of kids for a young child’s birthday party?  According to Meredith, when it comes to guests, less really is more.  “If I had to come up with a magic number,” Meredith says, “between eight and ten is the perfect amount of children.  I’ve done great parties with as few as five children.”  Meredith specializes in musical birthday parties for children.  I asked her why she thinks this theme is particularly effective for preschoolers and toddlers.  Traditional children’s party entertainers are clowns, magicians and face painters, but Meredith explains that toddlers are really too young to follow narrative or sit still for such events.  However, “music is universal, and even babies and toddlers can feel rhythm, dance and just experience a sense of joy singing and dancing.”

Musical birthday parties are especially good for bringing children together in a shared experience, but there are other birthday activities that Meredith also believes work well.  “I’ve seen young children really enjoy arts and crafts parties and gym parties.  I think things that are more tactile rather than narrative work well for this age.”  Activities to avoid?  “I recommend steering away from inflatable toys.  Kids usually will start hitting each other with them.  When a parent gets involved in something as simple as musical chairs or duck duck goose, kids love it.  I recently saw a mom playing pin the tail on the donkey, and the kids had so much fun.  I say the simpler the better.”

Meredith suggests that parties run no longer than 2 hours, with at least a half an hour budgeted for people to arrive, mingle and get settled. She suggests starting out with your music (or whatever activity you have planned) and then moving on to food and cake.  So how to avoid that birthday kid meltdown?

According to Meredith, “First and foremost, less is definitely more.  The more variables you introduce into a preschooler party, the more likely it is your child will become overwhelmed and over-stimulated.  Also the time of day can help you out.  If you know that your child is better at 11 am than, say, 5 pm, do the party earlier in the day.”

As for the overall feel of the event?  Meredith says, “I strive for what I call ‘organized chaos.’  You want kids having fun and getting kooky, but they can only do that in a structured environment that enables them to.”

If you think you might want to have a musical birthday party but you live outside of the NYC area, consider picking up one of Meredith’s CDs “Monkey Monkey Music” or “What Are the Odds,” throw in funny hats, balloons and a whole lot of musical instruments, and let your birthday kid lead the dancing.  Her songs are upbeat, cheerful, and many of them weave dance moves clearly and simply right in to the lyrics–your kids will be “Jumping High” and “Making Circles” to the beat (I have Meredith’s site open right now and “Hello” is playing…my daughter is currently leaping around the room following the dance moves in the song–totally unprompted–no joke).  And just in time for the holidays, check out Meredith’s new DVD, “Monkey Monkey Music: The Videos with Meredith LeVande” available December 1st.

Happy Birthday Baby!


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