Fun and Inexpensive Birthday Party Favors for 2 Year Olds
Are Favors Even Necessary?
My pre-mom self would have said that it's absolutely unnecessary to provide favors at a 2 year old's birthday party. In fact, she might have even said that the party was unnecessary. I no longer know that person, and I am now borderline obsessed with figuring out the perfect party favors for my son's upcoming 2nd birthday party. Part of this obsession stems from the fact that some of his current favorite toys are actually favors from other birthday parties. Part of it stems I think from that crazy urge to do all the classic mom things like make fresh cookies (the nice part about that one is he's still small enough that I get to eat most of them) and hand out adorably wrapped favors to all his little friends. Whatever the reason, I have committed to getting favors for his party.
That said, I don't think they are at all necessary. I think they are fun, and I think if you put a little bit of thought into what you're getting, it can really be a nice gift for both the kids and parents. At the same time, I think if you go overboard or just load up the kids with tons of plastic junk, they and their parents may not find it to be much of a favor at all. And if you just don't feel like it, no one will notice or enjoy the party any less. I think favors are truly an optional part of a birthday party, especially at this young age.
Factors to Consider in Choosing Favors
I have been considering the following factors in trying to decide on the perfect favors for my son's 2nd birthday party.
- Expense/Price - I want them to be cheap! I don't think I need to go into why, but I think not only is it good for saving your own money, it also might be awkward to provide expensive favors, especially if you've been to parties or plan to go to parties of the other kids. No one likes the person who sets the bar ridiculously high. We are also having a larger party, and have said that gifts are not expected - both of these factors weigh in favor (pun slightly intended) of taking the more inexpensive road.
- Age - The other child guests will be between 6 months and 8 years old. This poses a bit of a challenge to find favors that all will like. Obviously, small items that would be a choking hazard are completely not an option. Since it is a 2 year old birthday party, I'm more comfortable with making sure the favors are appropriate for 2 year olds, and hopefully the 8 year olds will like them too.
- Dietary restrictions - If the favors will include any candy or food, it's good to think about the group of children and parents you're inviting. We have a number of friends who don't like their kids to eat much sugar or chocolate. I, on the other hand, want my child to eat almost exclusively sugar and chocolate. This puts me in the minority, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area. But in all honesty, even though I'm fine with my son eating sugar and chocolate when it's around, I think it's respectful and considerate not to include these items as part of a favor.
- Eco-friendly-ness - This is the one I've been struggling with the most, especially as it relates to the first factor - price. I do feel some regret about all the plastic junk we've accumulated in just 2 short years, and I don't want to contribute to that problem for other families. If we do end up going with something plastic (because of price), I will at least try to make sure it's something that isn't disposable but that they can keep playing with over time.
The one factor I have not, and will not, consider is the gender of the children attending. I have to say I was pretty appalled when I was searching for ideas for party favors and saw how many are already separated out into favors for boys and favors for girls - at age 2!! Now I do have to disclose my credentials as a child of a super feminist who had me in an "uppity women unite" t-shirt as a toddler, and who let my brother wear his hair in pig-tails until he got over it (which he did), but I really think we need to re-think whether we want to be sending 2 year olds the message that boys and girls play with different toys.
Just listing out the factors I want to consider helped me narrow down my search for the perfect party favor. Now on to actually making a choice...
Drawing and Painting favors
Bath Toy Favors
Ideas for Favors by Category
After doing some serious web-searching and online forum reading, I broke the hundreds of ideas for favors down into some general categories. If you're having a themed birthday party, it obviously makes sense for the favors to go with that theme. And many of the below favors could also be personalized if you are so inclined (e.g., put a label on the bubbles with your child's name and the birth date, or a note that says thanks for coming to my party).
- Wearable - hats, tiaras, wreaths, etc. There are lots of cheap cardboard hats you can find at dollar or party stores. They do have the advantage of being easily recycled, even if they are only used once. Tiaras would be more expensive and I also don't particularly like the fact that they are pretty gendered. Wreaths could be great, especially if you were going to do home made wreaths, but that takes a lot of time and energy. For me, that's enough to knock it out of the running.
- Drawing and painting - note pads, crayons, pens, finger paints, face paints, etc. Needless to say, you would want to get washable versions (though I actually love thinking about what would happen if you handed out permanent markers at a 2 year old birthday party). I think these rate pretty highly on all of the factors - you can use them a lot, they aren't plastic, and they should be fairly cheap. More eco-friendly and creative, but more expensive, there are also some very cool homemade crayons on Etsy.
- Things that go - toy cars, trains, planes, motorcycles, or anything else with wheels. These would probably be a big hit, and if you can buy in bulk and just give one or two to each kid, this would probably be fairly cheap. I also think it would be fine to get them from a used toy store, but I'm not sure if other people would find that tacky or unsanitary - though it would be very eco-friendly.
- Balls - I know my son loves plastic bouncy balls, but I am still not quite comfortable with him playing with them on his own (afraid that he might decide it looked like food), so I think it's probably still a bit young for them. But other larger toy balls make a great favor. We went to a three year old soccer party and got a little soccer ball that is a bit bigger than a softball, and he loves it. These are also great for all ages.
- Bath toys - for some reason this had not even occurred to me until I saw someone recommend rubber ducks. I actually think this is genius. I am constantly amazed at how into his various rubber ducks my son is, and he has a seemingly insatiable appetite for different ones. They are plastic, but they can be used forever, and they are small. The downside is that the older kids really might not be into them, but you never know - my 11 year old niece is very proud of her rubber duck collection.
- Sweets or snacks - as I said above, I think this is somewhat dangerous territory since many children this age have restricted diets (either on their own initiative or by their parents). That said, I think you probably couldn't go wrong with a packet of Annie's bunny cookies or crackers and a fruit leather (I think Trader Joe's or Whole Foods are the best). If you want to go more personal, you can make cookies cut out in a special shape (a train, or the number two are the top two ideas I'm considering).
- Bubbles - it seems hard to think of why not to just do bubbles - all kids love them and they are cheap. They are plastic, but in theory you could refill them with more bubble juice (as we call it), and they are small.
- Musical instruments - my son is way into his kazoo, and that could be a very fun party favor. We also got a great egg from a friend's first birthday party that he loves to shake to make music. Just make sure whatever you get doesn't make an annoying sound, or the parents will not be thanking you, and may try to get revenge at their child's birthday party.
- Cold, hard cash - just kidding, but wouldn't that be awesome? You could hand out hundred dollar bills and then watch the 2 year olds try to rip them up, or eat them, or throw them up in the air and watch them flutter to the ground, or bury them (perhaps the soundest current investment strategy?).
I'm sure there are many other categories, but this seems like plenty, and any more options would only contribute to decision fatigue (I'm all fired up on the excellent recent New York Times article on this).
Give it Away Now...
The final question is how to package them, and this is the one I feel most stumped by for some reason. I think I will just settle for a basic small brown paper lunch bag with some stickers on the outside (oh no, there's a whole additional category I left out - stickers!), and then put the favors in the bag. Though I do think it's a nice idea to give out some sort of re-usable bags - then the bag itself is part of the gift, and it's more eco-friendly.
At this point, I'm leaning towards putting in a rubber duck, bubbles, and a package of Annie's bunny cookies. The cookies can be for the ride home, the duck can be for bath that night, and the bubbles for fun the next day. I won't personalize anything, because to me it's just not worth the time.
And if there's only one item for each kid, you also don't need to package or bag them at all - just lay them out nicely in a basket or on a tray with a sign that says "thank you for coming - please take one home!"
Whatever you choose to do, it is a nice way to show appreciation for people coming to the party, and if you involve your two year old, they could get a real sense of pleasure and satisfaction from handing out gifts to their friends when they leave.
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