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story.lead_photo.caption Ten-year-old twins Charlie Belle and Addison Cole enjoy their front yard birthday party April 4 as "guests" motor past to drop off gifts and honk. (Democrat-Gazette photo illustration/Celia Storey)

Time has seemed to slow down during this work- and school-at-home socially distancing period of the covid-19 pandemic, but according to the calendar, children are still getting older.

With large gatherings officially discouraged, the traditional, raucous kids' birthday party scene isn't today's reality, but as birthdays inevitably roll around, families still want to celebrate.

With a little creativity, parties in isolation might be the ones kids remember as the best they ever had. Here are a few ideas.

SIGNS OF THE TIMES

Ashley Pointer, owner of Card My Yard in Fayetteville, offers 24-hour rental of lawn signs customized to the birthday boy or girl. Orders are placed online, and customers can choose colors and fonts along with "graphics," like a birthday cake, candle or hat, a soccer ball or a game controller.

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April 24, Haley Heath's front yard spelled out "Happy 3rd Birthday, Elise" in tall letter signs, and there were stars and a unicorn, too. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)

Pointer and her crew install the signs after dark so that the person with a birthday can be surprised first thing in the morning.

"That's the best part of it ... waking up on the morning of your birthday and looking outside and seeing the big sign," Pointer says.

Her business has grown exponentially since the beginning of the pandemic because it is a no-contact way to celebrate.

"We had kind of a devoted following, but since coronavirus has started, we've really started seeing a lot of new customers because parties and celebrating all of a sudden have to look very different," Pointer says. "People can't have friends over, they can't go out to eat, so we're finding that parents are having to be a little bit more creative with how they celebrate."

Drive-by parades are the default birthday party mode of late, with guests invited to drive past the birthday boy or girl's home and honk, wave or shake a sign in honor of the big day. In Little Rock, though, Mayor Frank Scott issued a prohibition against recreational caravans of five or more vehicles within city limits, at least for people whose intention it is to leave those vehicles for recreational purposes.

Pointer says she has heard of party organizers in her area asking people to drive by armed with Nerf guns they can use to shoot at the birthday star — and sometimes the birthday star shoots Nerf balls back.

Another drive-by party idea is a scavenger hunt, with some object "hidden" on the front lawn for passers-by to spot. Organizers just need to send guests a list — with or without pictures of the item to be found — and they can offer prizes for guests who can offer photographic proof that they found it. Or the thrill of the hunt could serve as its own reward.

BRACE YOURSELF FOR FUN

Guests can connect with the birthday honoree online to make jewelry (and show it off) with kits from Bella Vita Artisan Jewelry in Little Rock.

Brandy McNair, Bella Vita's owner, says she is working on a more formal virtual birthday setup and expected to have details available soon, but that the kits would be "totally appropriate for a birthday."

"They could order x-amount, and then there's a video online that shows them how to make the jewelry," McNair says.

Kits are $20 and include hemp — enough for two bracelets — an assortment of small glass beads, two metal charms and two antique buttons to use as closures.

Bella Vita is known for its charms, McNair says. She recently hosted her first virtual charm bar, an event that also could be transformed into a unique socially distanced party theme. Charm bar customers made appointments to join her in a Zoom call so they could peruse some of the store's charms. Customers had a chance to order their favorites online; the selections could be shipped or customers could pick them up later. As a totally charming party focus, birthday guests could shop, virtually, for themselves or for the party honoree.

CAKE IT FROM US

Alexander Bakery in Rogers recently delivered individual cupcakes, each one with a balloon, to 30 guests in Bentonville and Rogers.

Those deliveries were for adults, says Alexander Bakery's Jovanna Lopez, but the same could be done for a children's party, giving the birthday boy or girl a chance to blow out a candle on a cupcake while guests sing via teleconference. And then everyone can enjoy their treats at the same time.

The bakery is also scheduling virtual cookie-decorating parties. Kits for cookie decorating, a sweet birthday party activity, are $25 to $35 each, with a minimum of six guests. Kits include cookies, icing bags and sprinkles and can be picked up curbside the day before the scheduled party.

JUMP FOR JOY

Though the nearest location is in Memphis, Sky Zone Trampoline Park is offering free virtual birthday parties with party professionals who walk guests through 20 minutes of age-appropriate activities. Sky Zone even sends out digital party invitations.

Sky Zone parties are in big demand, so there are limited openings, but they do have a waiting list at skyzone.com/virtual-birthday-party.

Little Rock trampoline park Defy is not hosting virtual parties, but general manager Michael Jared says park staff are ready to offer salutations.

"If you have a birthday coming up soon, I'd be more than happy to have a Defy group do a FaceTime call and sing 'Happy Birthday' if we can help celebrate. We miss seeing all your faces every day," Jared says.

PAINT A PICTURE FOR THE PERFECT DAY

Studio 17:20 owner Alli Fitzhugh of Benton has long hosted birthday parties in her studio but when she had to close at the start of the covid-19 social distancing, she began making whimsical wooden cutout door-hanger painting kits, available for pickup.

Kits include a cutout, paint, a bow and string for hanging. Selections are ever-changing, but choices have included patriotic cows, popsicles, mason jars with messages, a gnome and a mermaid.

Several of her customers have ordered kits and made painting the center of their parties, Fitzhugh says. She does live video tutorials and uploads them to the Studio 17:20 Facebook page for anyone who needs step-by-step instructions.

B-I-N-G-O

◼️ Bingo is a winner in the category of games easily played while socially distanced. Cards can be distributed to party guests electronically, and the host can call the numbers remotely. Partygoers (or, this case, "partystayers") just need to print their cards and gather something to use to mark their spaces.[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

◼️ Party hosts could choose music and challenge guests to a dance-off, either on teleconference or with video uploads to TikTok or some other platform. The host could participate or just watch -- it's their party and they'll dance if they want to.

◼️ Physical challenges, too, can be arranged around a birthday party theme, as evidenced by the Open National Field Day, hosted by the Open National Trainers, that schools around the country participated in even while closed. Socially distanced field day involved competitive games using items found in most households — rolled-up socks, cups, bowls and the like — that guests could do in their own homes.

You can print out cards that describe game options here. Here's a shortcut link to printable cards that describe game options: arkansasonline.com/511field. More information is at openphysed.org, under "National Field Day."

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Collin Scuderi shows off coronavirus-inspired cakes made for his ninth birthday party, whose theme was the pandemic and which was conducted at home April 3. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Noelle Scuderi)

ROLLING WITH IT

Who knows if or when in-person parties will make a safe comeback? But one family embraced the cause for isolation early on, making covid-19 the focus of a socially isolated party.

For Collin Scuderi's 9th birthday April 3, his parents — Noelle and John — had Card My Yard of Little Rock install a sign announcing his big day. They invited friends to drive by and celebrate the occasion.

Inside, they did a Zoom call with extended family and then ate the covid-inspired cake they made for the occasion.

Collin's birthday gifts included Pandemic, a board game that encourages cooperation of team members to fight outbreaks and epidemics.

"Collin loves cooperative games," Noelle Scuderi wrote in the caption of a picture of Collin with his gift. "This one seemed fitting for today."

Style on 05/11/2020

Print Headline: Party on!

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