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Favorite Austin venues rescue kids' birthdays with fun virtual parties

Favorite Austin venues rescue kids' birthdays with fun virtual parties

Boy blowing out candle courtesy of Dallas' Birthday Party Project
Make a wish! Photo courtesy of The Birthday Party Project

Celebrating a birthday while sheltering in place can be a bummer for kids. So entertainment venues — normally hot spots for fun birthday gatherings — are going high-tech to help children mark their big day without leaving the house.

Main Event, which hosts 50,000 birthday parties a year, is moving its celebrations to Instagram, hosting virtual birthday parties and singalongs daily at 2 pm on Instagram Live. Kids may not be able to roll bowling balls or play laser tag now, but they'll still get a birthday serenade and shout-out.

Parents can reach out via comment or direct message on Instagram to have their child included specifically in a celebration. Anyone can tune in and watch for free.

"We are responding to those who reach out via social media and coordinating with parents to surprise their kids on the special day," a Main Event spokesman says. "Those who have not been selected still receive a shout-out during the stream."

Locally, the traveling animal sanctuary Tiny Tails to You has started virtual experiences that include animal facts; songs; games; and of course close-ups of their bunnies, hedgehogs, chicks, blue-tongued skinks, chinchillas, tortoises, guinea pigs, miniature chickens, and bearded dragons. 

The 30-45-minute sessions can be accessed from any device, and the interactions are directed by the birthday child. It all ends with the singing of "Happy Birthday," and each participant receives fun and educational activity and coloring sheets by email.

GameTruck is hosting virtual gaming parties so kids can play together even when they're apart. They create a private chat server that only you and your guests can access, then a GameCoach focuses on keeping the group together while they branch out to games online during the party. It is BYOG though — bring your own games and equipment.

Mad Science has started virtual experiences that include slimy, explosive, bubbling projects; favor bags; lab coats; and birthday posters, with all accoutrements delivered right to your doorstep.

And Improv theater The Hideout has taken all its programming online, and that includes the kid-friendly shows that used to precede a birthday party in the game room. The shows are broadcast on Twitch, and you can sign up for a free Twitch account if your child wants to interact and provide suggestions.

Tips for celebrating at home
Steve Kemble, renowned Dallas party-planner-to-the-stars, says that with a little creativity, children's birthday celebrations at home can be a blast. He offers the following tips for making their day special.

1. Birthday parade
Encourage friends, relatives, and neighbors to drive by the birthday boy or girl's house at a designated time in a “car parade.” They can hold up written signs or tape balloons to car windows, honk their horns, and yell well-wishes out the window. "You can also just place a sign in your front yard asking people to 'HONK' for the person’s birthday," he says.

2. Birthday videos
With resources like Zoom, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts, friends can say and sing "Happy Birthday" and then watch the honoree blow out her or his birthday candles. "Additionally, encourage people to send themed birthday videos and photos and upload them to an online gallery," he adds.

3. Order a cake for pick-up or delivery
Many bakeries are still making cakes for pick-up or delivery. Getting kids involved in baking a birthday cake at home can be a fun family activity, too, he says.

4. Card writing is back
While birthday cards have never fallen out of fashion, they are back in a big way more than ever now. "You can even hide them around the house and create clues for a scavenger hunt for your child to find them," Kemble suggests.

5. Fun activities to celebrate without a party

  • Balloon waterfall: Tape a sheet to the door frame and stuff balloons between the sheet and the door so that when the child opens it, the child gets a birthday balloon "waterfall."
  • Scavenger hunt: You can place all the gifts in one room, then tie a string to the presents; then give the string a long and winding path through the house. Then give the string to the guest of honor for following it back to the presents.
  • Princess or prince for a day: Create an in-house “spa.” Prepare special meals and pamper the birthday girl or boy all day.
  • Themed dinners: Prepare the birthday girl or boy's favorite themed meal (Italian, Chinese, Tex-Mex, barbecue) and ask each family member to come to the table wearing something that matches the theme, such as cowboy boots, or dressed in the colors of the flag from which the cuisine originates.
  • Birthday messages: Write birthday messages on mirrors all over your house. You can use a White-Board (dry erase) marker that will come off with the swipe of a tissue or washcloth.
  • Take it outdoors: If you can take activities to the backyard, do cookouts with s’mores and more. Each family member can spread out his or her own picnic blanket in the grass. You can even stream favorite music via Bluetooth speaker for ambiance.
  • 'Yes' day: Ice cream for breakfast? Yes! Cookies after lunch? Yes! Watch your favorite movie three times? Yes! Go ahead and bend the rules a little for the birthday girl or boy's special day indoors.