How to Celebrate Kids' Birthdays Virtually During Social Distancing in a Way That Doesn't Suck

Kids deserve to have fun on their birthdays, now more than ever. Faced with her daughter's heartbreak over missing out on her birthday party, one Chicago area mom got inventive. Here's how to do the same for your child.

Jennifer Schneff Williamson, a mom from Elgin, Illinois, inspired parents everywhere with an inventive celebration of her daughter's 5th birthday during this global pandemic. After Williamson told her daughter Olivia Grace that they couldn't have family and friends over for her big day, she was heartbroken. That's when she decided to get creative—and planned a drive-by birthday parade for her daughter.

As Olivia's birthday approached, she had begun asking about her party. "I told her that they were not able to because of some germs," says Williamson. "She became sad and didn't fully understand why. Of course, like any kid she was asking about presents too—and wondering if she could get those still."

She was also grappling with not going to school and missing out on seeing her friends and teachers. "We had a plan to have her big brother come to her classroom and read some of her favorite books for her birthday, and obviously, that didn't happen," explains Williamson. "She was also supposed to get a birthday crown from her teachers, and she is still wondering if she will get that when/if school resumes this year."

Wanting to ensure that her daughter enjoyed some semblance of a celebration, Williamson was inspired to post on her neighborhood Facebook page. She asked friends and neighbors to come by between 11 and 11:30 a.m. "honking and waving, all while wearing pajamas and keeping social distance."

"I also sent group texts to her two older brothers baseball and football teams, along with the family that planned on coming to her party anyway," she notes. "I really didn't know how it would turn out. So, we just went outside at 11, and the turn out was incredible."

Jennifer Schneff Williamson olivia
Jennifer Schneff Williamson

All in all, approximately 64 cars filled with whole families drove by to wish Olivia Grace a happy birthday. "They were honking, waving, had signs, some dressed up, many even had handmade cards they tossed out their windows," she says. "The flow of traffic was constant for the entire 30 minutes. So many even stopped and said hello, sang 'Happy Birthday,' blared music and danced. I couldn't believe the amount of people we didn't even know that came together."

Jennifer Schneff Williamson daughter drive by parade
Jennifer Schneff Williamson

Williamson describes the experience as "very humbling." "After the event, I posted a thank you on our Facebook page, and the reactions, comments, shares were amazing—over 17,000 likes and over 12,000 shares!"

Jennifer Schneff Williamson olivia
Jennifer Schneff Williamson

The proud mom says she's received messages from all over the globe wishing her daughter a happy birthday. The event has already inspired additional drive-by celebrations in the neighborhood. "We had two parades in the neighborhood yesterday for other kids and even a birthday parade for a mom on Sunday," notes Williamson.

For now, Olivia Grace doesn't quite understand the magnitude of the moment. "Someday I will share with her about 'these germs' and talk about how the world stood still, yet we kept going," says Williamson. "I can't wait to show her how good things can come out in trying times. Everyone in our neighborhood—and virtually around the world— came together just for her. She really is special in many ways, and I hope she feels that today and every day."

There are plenty of ways to make the most of a celebration while practicing social distancing, says Jamie Kolnick, founder and CEO of Jam With Jamie, which offers daily virtual music lessons and birthday parties. "You can still have your whole shebang — even over the internet," says Kolnick. "It will be simple, it will be lovely, and your child will remember it as one of their favorite family moments, and so will you."

Here are a few of her tips you can put into practice if your little one has a birthday coming up:

Send out e-vites. "Gather your family and friends in a Zoom room," advises Kolnick. "If you want to get fancy, send them a Paperless Post invite. They'll be blown away to get an invitation right now and will LOVE having to have somewhere to be. They might even put on make-up and get dressed up, which let's be honest is good for the soul!"

Make the planning a celebration in itself. You can make the party planning an activity in and of itself. "We all need more activities right now that will keep our kids' attention and this will be it, I promise," says Kolnick. "Make a list of everything you will need for the party and go on a scavenger hunt around the house to find party supplies."

Bake a cake together. "If you need a cake topper, print out your child's favorite character and lay it on top of the cake," advises Kolnick. "Yes, on computer paper, cut out. Your child will still love it, and they will be involved in the making of everything."

Decorate just like you would normally. Because you're at home, you can take a more laid-back, creative, playful approach to decorating. "This could be the least stressful and most enjoyable celebration you've probably ever had," notes Kolnick. "When it comes time for your Zoom event to begin, your friends and family will love to see how you've decorated the place."

Host a performer in the Zoom room. "Yes, this is possible in these virtual times," says Kolnick. "We just recently did a private virtual party and provided 20 minutes of music in a Zoom room and after we finished and Elsa character hopped on the Zoom; the birthday child LOVED it."

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