Birthday party alternatives for toddlers

Simple First Birthday Ideas Without a Party: Alternatives Your Baby Will Love

Simple First Birthday Ideas

After my daughter’s 1st birthday, I wrote this post on how to host your baby’s first birthday party on a budget.

While it was a fun and memorable party, I’ve been thinking about how with my second child, I will probably go even simpler and not even have a party.

It’ll be fun to make it a little bit different than with our first. Other reasons we want to keep it simple are:

  • My 1 year old will likely not remember any of it anyways.
  • I’ll save even more money than with my first child’s budget birthday party. I can use that money towards more important expenses like my children’s food and education.
  • A first birthday party is a lot of work with all of the cooking and cleaning involved. Having no party is so simple and easy!
  • You can spend the time just focusing on having fun memories with your loved ones.

How do you celebrate your baby’s first birthday without a party?

Here are simple first birthday ideas if you’re wondering what to do instead of having a birthday party.

Simple 1st birthday

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14 Simple First Birthday Ideas

1. Visit animals on your baby’s first birthday

With all of the animal books your 1 year old has read, going to the zoo or aquarium to see the animals up close can be an exhilarating first birthday experience for the whole family!

Your little one’s eyes might light up and you’ll have fun watching his or her reactions.

Make sure you visit any of the exhibits where your 1 year old gets a chance to touch the animals like at the petting zoo. Take pictures or videos of the experience!

Even if you’ve gone with your baby before, it will still be a great idea to go again. He or she will likely pick up new sights and sounds this time around. You can have fun making animal noises together!

Don’t forget to bring a carrier or stroller and lots of snacks and water as it will be a full day’s event. Your 1 year old will likely nap at some point and you want to take your time.

For the zoo, I would aim to go in the morning as the animals are more active and it’s less crowded. For the aquarium, I would avoid holidays and also aim for an early morning visit.

One really great thing about the zoo or aquarium is that usually 1 year olds are free!

In preparation to go, I would read all of your baby’s favorite animal books a week or so beforehand. When my daughter was 1, these were her favorites for reference:

  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?: This book has many different types of animals including a horse, dog, cat, sheep and duck. It’s easy to follow along. We’ve likely read this book over 100 times. She always requests it.
  • From Head to Toe: She loved interacting with the book and copying the animal’s actions. For example, on one page a gorilla thumps its chest and invites you to do it. It’s a fun read for all of us!
  • Hello World! books: These books were handpicked by an Amazon kids’ books editor for the Prime Book Box. They’re informative, simple, and colorful! They’re perfect for babies and toddlers. Hello World has a variety of books including Ocean Life.

Note: Sometimes babies don’t like animals and that’s okay.

When my daughter was 1, we took her to the zoo and she frowned the whole time we were there.

When she touched the giraffe, she squirmed and turned away in disgust. I’m still glad we went.

It was a new experience for all of us to go together as a family. I think my daughter also felt a bit overwhelmed by all the new sights.

Interestingly, we went again when she was 2 and it was entirely different. She walked around eagerly from exhibit to exhibit and kept saying things like “Wow, it’s a giraffe. Such long legs!”.

That said, I have friends with babies who loved going to the zoo before they turned 1.

2. Paint a picture for the first birthday

Painting a picture with your baby is a simple, special and creative way to celebrate your baby’s first birthday.

You expose your baby to the new textures of paint and using a paint brush. It’s a great way to inform your 1 year old about colors.

You have a keepsake at the end of the session where you can note that this is your baby’s first painting – painted on his or her first birthday.

This activity is easy to execute. You just need to buy some canvasses, paint and brushes and you can do it at home!

Dress your baby up in an old shirt. Put newspapers or magazines down so you don’t get paint on counters or the floor.

Keep a cup of water close by so you can clean the brush and use a new color.

You can focus on painting something birthday-related like a birthday cake or birthday balloons.

Paint your 1 year old’s favorite animal or object. Or you can just let your 1 year old freestyle with the colors.

This activity is cost-effective. If you want to do a paint activity every now and then, you’ll only have to buy the canvasses.

3. Celebrate at the park or beach

Going to the park, splash pad or beach might seem like an everyday event and not for first birthdays.

You can pack a lunch and birthday cupcakes, roll out the picnic blanket or a pop-up tent to provide shade for your 1 year old.

Be sure to bring some outdoor toys like bubble wands.

You can also kick around a beach ball. You can inflate it when you get to the park or beach to save packing space.

If you’re going to a beach, bring out the beach toys!

This set includes a bucket, shovels, sifters, animal and castle molds! It also comes with a bag for storage.

Whenever you’re outdoors, it’s also just a good opportunity for your baby to learn about the outside surroundings and get some exercise! You can point out simple things in nature like different trees, leaves, rocks and animals.

If you bring along plastic containers, you can store all of your 1 year old’s treasures like favorite rocks, leaves and seashells in a bag.

If you have a wagon, you can push your baby around the park or beach on one. I found this is a quick way to change the mood when your boy or girl is starting to get bored and fussy.

4. Have a special birthday meal

You can make it really simple and go to a new restaurant for the first birthday.

Alternatively, you can make your 1 year old’s favorite foods or try new recipes for your baby and family.

Related: There are a lot of free things you can get on your birthday – even kid’s birthdays. Check out this complete list of birthday freebies.

5. Go on a birthday vacation

Making it to the 1 year mark is a celebration for the whole family. Consider going on a relaxing vacation at a child-friendly destination like a resort.

Maybe it’s an overnight, weekend or week long vacation. It’ll be an adventure!

Related: Here’s a post on baby travel products and tips when flying on a plane. You can use most of this list for road trips too!

6. Have a 1 year old birthday photo session

I know a lot of parents who booked a 1 year birthday cake smash session with a photographer. It was such a simple and easy way to celebrate the first year!

All you often have to do is show up at the photographer’s studio and let them take the lead on setting things up and getting some fun, memorable shots!

It’s good times for everyone!

Simple 1st birthday

These types of sessions can cost upwards of $100.

You could easily DIY this. Put up your own happy birthday banner. Make a cupcake or cake. Sit your baby down.

Then photograph or film your 1 year old’s reaction.

If you don’t have a birthday banner, you could use a chalkboard sign. I love chalkboard signs because they’re versatile and can be used for any special occasion or documenting any milestone.

You can also use it to teach your child letters, numbers and words.

Instead of using standard chalk, you can use chalk ink markers like these ones in white and these ones in color.

It comes off easily with a wet paper towel or baby wipe. It’s much clearer and bolder for photos.

7. Have simple baby birthday decorations

Just because you’re not having a party doesn’t mean you can’t put up simple decorations to get the family in a festive mood!

For example, you can put up a colorful happy birthday banner.

This is a great decoration because it’s REUSABLE! It’s gender neutral and appropriate for any age. You can use it for your baby’s first birthday and any other family member’s upcoming birthday.

If you’re looking for something more classic, this burlap birthday banner has a nice rustic look.

To add to the festivities, you can get a cheap pack of 100 balloons. Blow up 6 of them to use on both sides of the birthday banner!

You can save the other balloons for the next party!

You can also blow up 5 more. Put them in your baby’s crib and let him or her run around – supervised of course. It could make for some fun photos!

8. Have a first birthday celebration at home

Staying at home to celebrate a first birthday can be simple and easy.

How do you celebrate a first birthday at home?

You could order some food in or cook a meal. Maybe even invite a few relatives so it’s not a party, but an informal get together where you’re also celebrating your baby’s first birthday.

Put on a playlist from your phone.

You can get Amazon Music for 30 days for FREE for your playlist. This gives you unlimited access to 50 million songs without ads. You can cancel it before the 30 days is up if you don’t want to pay for the subscription.

You could also set up a ball pit to make it a bit more special for your baby.

This ball pit is made out of a soft, foam material. It comes with a removable, washable cover.

You’ll have to buy the balls separately.

If you have or are already planning on getting a baby swimming pool, you could also just fill it with balls.

9. Go camping

Camping might seem overwhelming with a 1 year old.

You have to pack all of your baby’s stuff. You have to deal with keeping bugs off of your baby. If your little one isn’t sleeping well at night, you worry about her waking up everyone on the camp site.

All that said…

Camping is a great way to introduce your little one to the wilderness and activities like roasting marshmallows, singing songs or reading books by the camp fire.

first birthday ideas

Here’s a list of camping-themed books for kids on Amazon that would be fun to read on the trip.

You can put a non-toxic glow stick bracelet on your 1 year old. This is not just fun for your little one, it’s also functional and will help you keep track of where he or she is in the dark.

While camping might present its challenges with a 1 year old, it’s not impossible and can still be enjoyable for everyone with preparation.

Here are my toddler camping essentials that made camping so much easier with a 1 year old.

10. Start a birthday tradition

There are so many different types of birthday traditions you can start on a first birthday.

Here are some ideas:

  • Do a handprint or footprint: Here’s a baby handprint kit that takes your baby’s handprint or footprint WITHOUT the ink touching the skin! There’s no mess! It’s a fun keepsake for the future!
  • Mark your 1 year old’s height: A similar idea is to mark your 1 year old’s height on a growth chart like this one. This birthday tradition is so simple and easy!
  • Plant seeds: Planting a seed every year on his or her birthday teaches your little one about the growth process. They are exposed to concepts like patience (because they have to wait for the seeds to grow) and responsibility (because they have to care for the plant).
  • Volunteer: What better day than a birthday to teach your child about the importance of giving and helping others. You’ll hammer in the value that even though it’s your birthday, it doesn’t mean you should stop doing selfless actions and trying to make the community a better place. While it can be an organized event like volunteering at a soup kitchen, you can also do something really simple like helping a neighbor pick up sticks or leaves in their backyard.

11. Go to a local event

Local events are a great opportunity to teach your 1 year old about art, culture, seasons, nature etc. It’ll be fun times for the whole family on your baby’s first birthday.

Here are some ideas of local events you could be on the lookout for:

  • Festivals: Food festivals are a great way to introduce your 1 year old to new flavors, textures and food.
  • Concerts: There are concerts at the park in my community during the summer. Kids love listening to the music and there’s dancing.
  • Seasonal events – For example, there’s the pumpkin patch during the fall or a tree farm in the winter.

12. Go to an amusement park

If you have a local amusement park (with a baby or toddler section), this will be an entertaining first birthday idea!

We brought my daughter when she was 1 to the amusement park. It looked like she was on sensory overload. It had a carousel, train and car rides, baby rollercoaster rides, a treehouse, a boat ride etc. – all these things she’s never seen before.

They also had kid’s shows where characters performed songs on stage. She danced a bit. Overall, I think she enjoyed herself.

13. Go to a children’s museum

I love how visiting the children’s museum provides so many learning opportunities for a baby on his or her first birthday.

We went to our local Science World with my daughter when she was 1 and she loved it! They had a baby area with sensory activities. We also just went from exhibit to exhibit and saw a show. You could see how it was stimulating her curiosity and development.

14. Visit a farm

There are often so many activities to do at a farm that’s fun for the whole family on a baby’s first birthday.

For example:

  • Fruit picking
  • Visiting animals and seeing a barn
  • Going through a corn maze
  • Going on a tractor or wagon ride

It’s also an informative experience because you and your little one will get to see where food comes from, how it grows, and how much work goes into the process.

In farms, animals are usually more accessible than at the zoo. You can spend a lot of time interacting with animals – petting and feeding them.

Final Thoughts on Simple 1st Birthday Ideas

Happy birthday to your 1 year old! I’m sure whatever you decide, it’ll be an amazing day for everyone!

Let me know in the comments if you have other ideas for simple 1st birthday celebrations. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Recap of Simple First Birthday Ideas for a Girl or Boy

  1. Visit animals on your baby’s first birthday
  2. Paint a picture for the first birthday
  3. Celebrate at the park or beach
  4. Have a special birthday meal
  5. Go on a birthday vacation
  6. Have a 1 year old birthday photo session
  7. Have simple baby birthday decorations
  8. Have a first birthday celebration at home
  9. Go camping
  10. Start a birthday tradition
  11. Go to a local event
  12. Go to an amusement park
  13. Go to a children’s museum
  14. Visit a farm

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First birthday ideas no party
Ideas for Baby's First Birthday No Party

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