A Toddler Birthday Party Picnic

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Untitled design

On August 1, my tiny baby who was basically born yesterday turned 3.

To celebrate, we invited family and some toddler friends to a nearby park for a low-key birthday party.

Truthfully, I didn’t go too far down the road of a “theme.” In fact, I was kind of like, meh, party in the park, everyone show up, we’ll bring the food. But then, I asked my friend Jennifer of Flying Pinwheel to design the invitation, and when she showed me the colorful picnic invite, I knew I had a theme to run with.

But let’s talk about this invitation first.

toddler picnic theme birthday

Isn’t it adorable?

Jennifer sells several reasonably priced printable invitations in her Etsy shop (I was actually torn between this one, this one and the eventual winner). She has 14 design templates available — covering many themes perfect for little kid parties — but she’s also able to custom design an invite if you have something specific in mind.

The process was stress-free and smooth — Jennifer and I exchanged a few emails, and she made updates to the text and a few tweaks to the design to make sure it was special for Emme’s day. She sent me a proof to approve and then final files — one PDF version with that could be printed with the invitations two-up, and one jpeg, so I could email the invite as well. I actually did both, so having the jpeg file was a nice bonus.

Going this route cost me about a third of what I’ve spent on invitations in the past. It also meant I could skip the hassle of waiting for personalized invitations to ship and could do all the printing at home or take the file to the local whatever-Kinkos-is-called-now and have them print it. (I, of course, chose the latter… and it took about 20 minutes). Yay for less hassle!

For the actual birthday, we kept it pretty simple — mostly because I waited until the last minute to do anything other than the invitations. We covered picnic tables in the park with gingham table covers. This was cheaper than buying separate tablecloths; I could cut them to whatever size I needed, and I still have the majority of the roll leftover. I also purchased tablecloth clips, which held the table covers in place and were tremendously helpful as it ended up being a windy day.

Because we were in a section of the park that was far from the playground, we brought toys for the kids to play with, including a few hula hoops and beach balls. We sprang for a bubble machine, which was a big hit (if you ever purchase one of these, make sure you get the refill; the bubbles go fast). For favors, we gave out novelty sunglasses, which proved popular among the toddler set as well.

Joey grilled burgers and hotdogs, and we had a princess cake, off-theme per the birthday girl’s request, from Costco — which got rave reviews, FYI. 


Despite a quick costume change because the birthday girl fell in the one muddy spot in the entire park, the party was a success. And I’m glad it’s over.

toddler picnic theme birthday

This was my punishment for buying her a new dress for her birthday.

How to Simplify Your Toddler Birthday Gift Giving

I remember the first 1-year-old and 2-year-old birthday parties I attended — they were B.E. (Before Emme), and I had no clue what kind of gift I should bring for a baby-child. For one of the parties, I  ‘phoned a friend,’ aka I called a friend of mine who was already a mom — one of the few ‘mom friends’ I had at the time — and said, ‘What kind of gift should I get for a 1-year-old?” She recommended this toy, which did not cost upwards of $150.00 at the time (seriously, WTF is up with that?). But for other toddler birthday gifts, I wandered aimlessly around Toys “R” Us, lost and confused in a sea of Bratz dolls, Lego sets, and age requirements that somehow always seemed too old or too young.

Emme's First Birthday - Toddler Birthday Gifts - Ideas and Tips

I wanted a Pinterest-y first birthday photo of Emme. She would have none of it.

These days, the process of toddler birthday gift buying must be simplified for the sake of saving things… things like time and sanity. And, as the mom of a young child who has thrown a birthday or two for her kid (two, to be exact), I have some additional insight into the toddler birthday gift giving dilemma.

So if you’re stuck, start here.

5 Tips that will simplify shopping for toddler birthday gifts. Toddler birthday gift ideas and tips to make your shopping trip easier.

Set a budget.

For young kids, I do my best to stay under $25. There are more than enough gift options for toddlers in this price range — from clothing to toys to books to art supplies. Set a budget and stick to it.

Have a ‘signature’ gift.

Just like the signature cocktail you had at your wedding — only legal to give to a child. A signature gift basically solves every problem ever when it comes to giving toddler birthday gifts. You choose a gift and that’s what you give at every birthday party you attend. My sister does this, and to make it personal, she gives a name train, which is completely adorable and universally loved because every child is obsessed with trains at some point.

Ask the parents what they would like the child to have.

This is my m.o. Why? Because most young kids do not actually need anything, and, especially if they are among the only grandchildren in the family, they probably have plenty of toys. Trust me on this one (I know). If you ask the parents, they can tell you exactly what the child can use or what they would like the child to have. Problem solved.

Shop boutique or local toy stores.

Toys “R” Us is overwhelming. There are too many options, especially for the novice toddler gift-giver. Find a local or boutique toy store, and breath a sigh of relief. There will be less options, the toys will typically be higher quality, and the clerks will be able to help you because they will actually have knowledge of the products they sell.

When in doubt: Pajamas. Seriously.

Most party guests will likely gift a toy, so stand out from the crowd a bit with pajamas. Cute pajamas for kiddos are available at every price point. And at this age, sizing shouldn’t be too difficult since sizes correspond to age. To be safe, size up — buy 18-month pajamas for a 1-year-old; buy 2Ts for a 2-year-old. If they can’t wear them to bed immediately post-party, that’s OK. They’ll grow into them, but include the gift receipt just in case.

How do you handle birthday gifts for young children? Do you have signature gift? Are you good about sticking within a certain budget?

For my daughter's second birthday, we threw a party at Peekaboo Playroom in Oak Park. Peekaboo Playroom is one of my favorite indoor toddler play spaces. Gift Ideas to Celebrate Baby No. 2 How to Throw a Baby Sprinkle