Partytime! (Again…)

BigSmall’s social life continues at a far more exciting pace than my own, and he has not one but TWO parties coming up.

And I am starting to feel the present pressure a little now…

It would be quite easy to just make everyone a set of beanbags, but I think that would be cheating you all a little bit, and would make for fairly dull reading.

So with each party invite that BigSmall brings home, the pressure is on. And I spend the next few days deperately trying to think of something different and original to make. I usually end up consulting all the ingenious people of social media land, and they invariably come up with lots of great suggestions.

This time around, the first party is for a little boy, and he will be 4.
The boy in question is, I think, tractor and digger mad (seems to be compulsory for all Small boys), so I scratched my head for digger and tractor related things to make. The added difficulty comes with not being able to buy anything new-personalised cushions are a great present (although not sure how chuffed a 4 year old would be with it…) but I would have to try and find secondhand cushion inners that were in good/new condition-nobody wants dubious stains on their cushion inners.

And then I struck gold! We were returning a puzzle to a charity shop as it had only 18 of the necessary 42 pieces in the box (I naively assumed they checked this sort of thing. I did feel bad taking something back to a charity shop, and had it been 50p I probably wouldn’t have bothered, but it was £1.50, and also the principle of the thing), and we were invited to see if there was anything else we might like instead. This particular charity shop is fab for grown up clothes, but not so hot on things for the Smalls, but then my eye was caught by this big sack of……


And a cunning plan began to form.

Last summer BigSmall and I spent a happy afternoon making a marble run from a cardboard box and some cardboard tubes,

Marble run1

and we had lots of fun with it subsequently. So I I decided to make a new little drawstring bag (personalised with the recipient’s initial) for the marbles, (I roughly followed this tutorial here from from


and included a sheet of paper with some ideas of games to play/things to do with marbles:


It is too small to read, but the ideas included:

  • make a marble run from junk
  • have a marble race down two long cardboard tubes of equal length
  • painting with marble

I have pinned more ideas to my new “Marbles” Pinterest board-check them out!

And then BigSmall made a card 🙂

It's a tractor with caterpillar wheels, and smoke coming out, and the birthday boy at the wheel! I am ridiculously proud of this!

It’s a tractor with caterpillar wheels, and smoke coming out, and the birthday boy at the wheel! I am ridiculously proud of this!

I did have a bit of a ‘moment’ after making it, that it looked a bit ‘mean’. And that the birthday boy (or actually, I am more worried about the parent’s response-kids, as we know, are usually happy with anything!) would think it was a bit of cheapo gift. And it was-the marbles cost £1.50, and there were enough to mean that BigSmall could keep some too, but I spent an hour or two of one of my precious evenings personalising the gift, and that has to count for more than money. Doesn’t it..?

49 thoughts on “Partytime! (Again…)

  1. It certainly does. I think home made gifts are great and there is nothing wrong with charity shop gifts. At least you can buy them knowing that they aren’t adding to sweat shops and land fills.

  2. I think it was a really good idea! My children always used to like to make things with cardboard boxes and tubes and a marble run would have been seen as a wonderful idea. So often presents are just more plastic with no need to use the imagination! Keep up the good work!

  3. I can’t comment for other people, but in my opinion, a present that’s been made, and thought about, and loved, is far better than one bought in 2 seconds flat off a shelf. Marbles rock! That present would please me any day 😉

  4. Jen, for what it’s worth (after 14 years of parties and 3 children) I dread the children getting birthday presents from their friends. It’s usually cheap plastic, and though I know I’m probably in a minority in thinking of the environmental impact, most of my friends admit their hearts sink at the thought of yet more stuff to find a home for.

    It sounds very ungrateful, and I’m not, honestly, it’s just that if someone’s going to spend their hard earned cash on a gift I’d rather it was something that would last. I’d love it if they got a homemade present instead. I’ve bought second hand books for my youngest’s friends before- she loves some old books of mine that are now out of print and we found some cheap online. I did feel I had to check with their mums first as they were obviously used but they were all thrilled that she/we’d put some thought into it.

    So, go for it! I think BigSmall’s friend and his mum will both love it.

    Wait until you get into the whole primary school party bag thing… None of the other mums liked them, but nobody else would stop doing them, so I’ve knitted wrist warmers, made cookie in a jar mixes, bought bulk sets of books and split them up (ok, that’s buying new) and made bath bombs and bath cookies…

    And I always (well, very nearly always) make birthday cards. I tend to find an idea I can make multiples of and churn them out with the children’s help. I’ll be blowed if I’m going to spend pounds on a card!

    • Thanks Hazel. Oh crikey, don’t get me started on party bags…! Maybe we all need to come up with some kind of party present/bag truce thing. As you say, as the birthday parent there must be a feeling of dread at the influx of yet more plastic tat, and as the buying parent, there is the feeling that you don’t really want to spend much money, but all you can get for not much money is tat…
      You’ve got some great ideas there though Hazel-thankyou 🙂

      • Good luck- I have tried the truce but nobody wants to seem ungenerous. They’re happy for their child not to get one, but to not give them themselves? Not a chance. Not even if we all did it together. 😦

        Last year youngest wanted a ‘strawberry party’ so we moved her party from her winter birthday to the summer and took her friends strawberry picking. The farm has a bouncy slide and playground there too, we had a picnic and the berries they picked were their party bags! Wish I’d thought of that years ago…

  5. Wow! Great idea. Any parent who does not appreciate the hard work you’ve put in doesn’t deserve this brilliant present for their child! The little boy will love it! And FAR more personal than just grabbing something off the shelf in a toy shop.

  6. I think it is a great idea, and would love it if my little ones were given such thoughtful gifts:) One of my closest friends is very delighted for her daughter to receive second hand gifts,we have a budget of £1-£2 per present:) I think making is far more precious, as lot more thought goes into the gift:)

      • Quite, especially when your daughter is in a class with 15 girls who all seem to invite each other to their parties…
        Even when we haven’t made presents I definitely have a budget. I’ve noticed though, that nice sewing kits and things that used to be a fiver are creeping towards a tenner… An incentive to make more of the presents 🙂

      • Sometimes hard to find the time and/or inspiration, but I think worth it in the long run! I think girls are easier to make for-do you agree?

      • Absolutely. Toiletries, hair slides, jewellery…all much easier to make. Haven’t made presents for son’s friends for ages, but try to go for practical stuff- camping/ex-army type things mostly. They all tend to be in to Scouts which makes life easier.

  7. I think it is a fab present and as a parent I would really appreciate the thought and effort that went into it. It is educational and fun, with no packaging. Well done!

  8. This Post made me smile. Delightful. Marbles £1.50, your time and thought £priceless. You were right to take the jigsaw back – a charity shop is still a shop and if they offer poor goods then people won’t return and that would b a shame. With a large-pieced set there would b a problem but a 42 piece set for kids might b worth them checking before putting on the shelf. Having said that next time I go into a charity shop the staff will b too busy to serve me as they will be too occupied checking out all the toys!

    • Thankyou. I did feel a bit bad taking it back but I made BigSmall take it up and explain, and they thought he was very sweet so we got away with it..!

  9. Hi Jen, great present. So much harder to think of homemade boy presents. Well done! On the subject of party bags, we had a party bag tradition for years that made parties really easy. As each guest arrived we would issue them with a brown paper bag, and they would decorate them at the craft table with lots of recycled bits and pieces. Then we’d use the party activities to fill them. The most popular was face biscuits. Plain biscuits that the children slathered with icing, then decorated with sweets to make faces. Monster/alien faces popular with boys. Another fun activity was threading necklaces (pieces of string) with Froot Loops or Cheerios. Anything they found on treasure hunts, the balloon and freddo frog from Pass the Parcel, any craft activities, it all went into the party bag. Then it was all stuffed and ready to take home. Easy peasy.
    Another idea – a friend had an old fashioned afternoon tea party for her little girl, and all the guests took home the thrifted teacups as party favours. And years ago my daughter went to an autumn birthday party, where the party favours were tulip bulbs. We have enjoyed them in the garden for years now. The gift that keeps on giving!

  10. Great idea – one of the things we put in the niece & nephew’s “goody bags” at Christmas was marbles – bought from the charity shop in a HUGE bag for about 50p – they were an utter bargain and went down a storm!
    how about varying your beanbag idea by making three small square ones, and popping them in a drawstring bag with printed off “learn to juggle” instructions?

    • I did make some juggling balls at Christmas for a little boy-had no feedback as to whether they have survived being launched at speed…!
      The main issue I have with the marbles at the moment is SmallSmall throwing them across the room and dropping them on our tiled kitchen floor-that is if he’s not trying to put them in his mouth and laughing at me as I panic and try and fish them out. Happy days..!

      • well they’re so smooth that if he DOES swallow one, I suspect it would…ummm, make the trip with no ill effects being suffered! 😉 The tiled floor though may not survive as well!

  11. i love the marble run jen!
    i have made many presents over the years. i was bought up on making cards and presents cos that’s what you did and my parents didn’t have much money. as you point out the problem isn’t the kids response but the parents. putting time and thought into stuff is much more important than just flashing the cash to my mind, though you probably know which parents will appreciate handmade & which not. it is great though to challenge yourself as that’s how ideas and new inventions are born!!
    as for boys pressies, i made my 4yr old godson a tie snake for christmas and he loved it. also made him a teddy bear head softie last birthday (he had a teddy bear party) which he also loved. regarding stuffing… i have a bear (winnie the pooh) that was made by my great aunt 47 years ago… it is stuffed with chopped up small pieces of her laddered stockings… i know this as it is very worn with years of cuddling : )

  12. I love that marbles and instructions on how to make your own run. I’m thinking that my soon to be 6 year old would love that. He is junk modelling mad, so I’m thinking I could save up the modelling stuff for him and we could build it together.

    Also well done on making a present. I admire how well you’re doing on buying nothing new. I’d love to take up this challenge but it’s kids parties that would fill me with the most dread on how to get something now new for other people’s children.

    On a final note about party bags, I’ve told my children (aged 8 and nearly 6) that we don’t believe in plastic rubbish filled party bags and given them the reasons why. So over years I’ve given out books (although they are new), mugs, I’ve made Easter nests and cupcakes with iced Christmas trees on the top. With my youngest’s party looming I’m not sure yet what the party gift will be…. But it’s not going to be plastic landfill rubbish!

    I hope your marbles are well received, I’m sure they will be!

    • Thanks Heather! I am loving all these party bag ideas-must write them down and keep them somewhere safe for BigSmall’s next birthday (he will be at school then-eek!)
      Do have a go at the marble run-great fun!

  13. It’s a fab present 🙂
    Another great one for boys is a hand made pencil roll, but the slots on the roll made bigger for little matchbox style cars (easily picked up at the charity shop) xx

  14. Couldn’t sleep last night, so thought about some homemade presents that 4yr old boys might like. Capes – superheroes. Cape – King, with felt crown. Cape – magician with wand. Pirate bandanna and eyepatch. Those odd monster soft toys with one big eye. Maybe for stuffing you could buy secondhand stuffies and unpick them. Bunting with name, or fave footy team. Cushion with name. Cushion in shape of initial. Pencil case with name.
    Most of these are way beyond my craft capability, but you seem very game, and your projects always look great!

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  16. just read your blog for the first time and love it! I hate party bags too. I have done the craft bag with all their own made goodies inside which works well but one of my favourites was giving them a little plant to take home and look after. Pansies one year went down well and if you planned ahead you could grow these from seed for pence.

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