Birthday at the MFA
We love going to birthday parties. Esmé has a great time playing with her friends and we love talking to everyone. When Esmé turned 4, I knew that she would love a party--and that we'd love to give her one--but I've never really considered myself a birthday party person. Even though it sounds easy (kids + pizza + cake + goodie bags), I could see myself getting stressed out hosting a party and trying to keep 20 kids happy--and what good is that? I needed to find a little structure so I didn't have to worry, and everyone would have a good time.
In our hunt for something just a little different and Esmé-style, I listened to how she talked to her friends and neighbors. She's forever asking people to come along with us places, to share in her fun (and I absolutely love this about her). She'll tell someone about our activities and say, "You should come with us next time! Tomorrow!" That's when the idea hit. We could take her and her friends someplace that she considers "special" so she can have the joy of sharing it with them. It couldn't be too precious because not all kids are as activity-focused as our girl, and some kids really need to move around.
One of her favorite "special" places to go is the Museum of Fine Arts. We've been members since she was a baby and we go in short bursts so no one ever gets worn out. She loves art, coloring, and drawing and the museum is the place where she imagines that she's a great artist who fills the walls and floors with her work. It's kind of adorable to watch her look at the art. The museum is the kickstarter for fantastic stories about animals, flowers, people, fairytales, and so much more.
I remembered reading that the MFA education department hosts birthday parties for kids age 4 and older, for up to 30 kids ($250 for up to 20 kids, and $350 for 21-30 kids). Perfect. The parties are on Sundays and last about two hours, beginning at 10am or at 2pm. I knew instantly that Esmé would be thrilled to take her friends along to this place.
We picked 10am, so as not to conflict with anyone's nap time. I talked to the educators leading up to the party to come up with a theme and go over activities. They have a good handle on what kids of different ages like to do, so I let their advice lead me. There are themes like animals, royalty, mythology, Egyptian art, and many more--and the activities relate to the theme.
We arrived early (before opening time, so we got to see behind-the-scenes!) and greeted our guests inside the Fenway entrance. The teachers started with a little warm-up game in the visitors' center, then they led the kids on a scavenger hunt through the rooms and hidden corners of the museum. We chose an animal theme, and the educators, Kaitlyn and Diptesh, led the kids around the museum in two groups, trying to spot and count the animals in the art and check them off their list of animals. Kaitlyn and Diptesh were fantastic and playful and it was wonderful to see the kids peering around and trying to find the horses, dogs, geese, or deer in the art. The museum is not crowded at all on a Sunday morning and I think the kids (and parents) felt like they owned the space a bit--which is a delightful rarity if you're only 4 years old.
After the scavenger hunt, we went down to the education studio and the kids made their own art. When I planned it out with Kaitlyn ahead of time, we chose clay over painting because it's more hands-on and a bit more accessible to kids who don't usually sit and color quietly. Kaitlyn and Diptesh had the materials prepped ahead of time and the kids dove right in, shaping the clay and pressing in mosaic tiles. The teachers were there helping with ideas and techniques and the kids loved it.
After our little sculptors finished, one of the teachers took the kids out of the studio to read a story while the other cleaned up and got the place ready for lunch. After story time, the studio became our lunch room with pizza and veggies and cupcakes, all made by the museum catering staff. You can choose from a fairly big menu, including sandwiches and pasta salad. The cupcakes were huge and very chocolate-y. Mmm. I ordered more than one per person, but they were like small cakes, so that wasn't really necessary. After lunch, the party was over, the kids were happy, and Esmé was thrilled.
The party includes free admission for the day for each child and the parents/chaperones, so they can stay longer and enjoy the exhibits afterward. For Esmé's party, since the kids were only 4, all of the parents stayed with the kids--we all like to hang out and talk, and the kids still need significant supervision. For older kids, the parents who aren't chaperoning can wander the museum and meet up with everyone from time to time.
The kids seemed to love the quiet of the museum on a Sunday morning. They had space to have fun with the creative and energetic teachers. They really got into the craft and the story and it was a sweet party. The parents seemed to love the party, too, and several said that they were going to come back to the museum more often, because it really is a great place for kids. As one person said, "Hey, a bunch of 4-year-olds in a room full of priceless artwork? What can go wrong?" The answer is nothing at all.
Best of all, Esmé was beaming. She handed out the goodie bags we made filled with art supplies and watercolors and paintbrushes, perfect for all of the little artists. She loved sharing with her friends and she felt so proud that they came along to one of her favorite places.