Are Favors Even Necessary?
My pre-mom self would have said that it's absolutely unnecessary to provide favors at a two-year-old's birthday party. In fact, she might have even said that the party was unnecessary. I no longer know that person, because I became borderline obsessed with figuring out the perfect party favors for my son's second birthday party. Part of this obsession stemmed from the fact that some of his favorite toys were actually favors from other birthday parties, and the other part stemmed from a crazy urge to do all the classic mom things like make fresh cookies and hand out adorably wrapped favors to all his little friends. Whatever the reason, I have committed to getting favors for his party.
That being said, I don't think they are at all necessary. They are fun, and if you put a little bit of thought into what you're getting, it can really be a nice gift for both the kids and parents. At the same time, if you go overboard or just load up the kids with tons of plastic junk, they and their parents may not find it to be much of a favor at all. And if you simply don't feel like it, no one will notice or enjoy the party any less. I think favors are an optional part of a birthday party, especially at such a young age.
What to Consider When Choosing Favors
I have considered the following factors when trying to decide on the perfect favors for my son's second birthday party.
- Expense/Price: I wanted them to be cheap! Not only is this good for saving your own money but it also might be awkward to provide expensive favors, especially if you've been to parties or plan to go to parties of the other kids. No one likes the person who sets the bar ridiculously high. We also had a larger party and said that gifts are not expected—both of these factors weighed in favor of taking the more inexpensive road.
- Age: The other guests were between six months and eight years old. This posed a bit of a challenge to find favors that all would like. Obviously, small items that would be a choking hazard were not an option. Since it was a two-year-old's birthday party, I was more comfortable making sure that the favors were appropriate for two-year-olds—hopefully, the eight-year-olds liked them too.
- Dietary restrictions: If the favors will include any candy or food, it's good to think about the group of children and parents you're inviting. We have a number of friends who don't like their kids to eat much sugar or chocolate. I, on the other hand, want my child to eat almost exclusively sugar and chocolate. This puts me in the minority, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area. But in all honesty, even though I'm fine with my son eating sugar and chocolate when it's around, I think it's respectful and considerate not to include these items as part of a favor.
- Eco-friendliness: This is the one I struggled with the most, especially as it related to the first factor, price. I felt some regret about all the plastic junk we accumulated in just two short years, and I didn't want to contribute to that problem for other families. If you do end up going with something plastic (because of price), at least try to make sure it's something that isn't disposable but that they can keep playing with over time.
The one factor I did not and would not consider is the gender of the children attending. I have to say I was pretty appalled when I was searching for ideas for party favors and saw how many are already separated out into favors for boys and favors for girls—at the age of two!! Now I do have to disclose my credentials as a child of a super feminist who had me in an "uppity women unite" t-shirt as a toddler, and who let my brother wear his hair in pig-tails until he got over it, but we need to re-think whether we want to be sending two-year-olds the message that boys and girls play with different toys.
Just listing out the factors I wanted to consider helped me narrow down my search for the perfect party favor.
Ideas for Favors by Category
After doing some serious web-searching and online forum reading, I broke the hundreds of ideas for favors down into some general categories. If you're having a themed birthday party, it obviously makes sense for the favors to go with that theme. And many of the below favors could also be personalized if you are so inclined (e.g., put a label on the bubbles with your child's name and the birth date, or a note that says thanks for coming to my party).
Hats, tiaras, wreaths, you name it! There are lots of cheap cardboard hats you can find at dollar or party stores. They do have the advantage of being easily recycled, even if they are only used once. Tiaras would be more expensive, and I also don't particularly like the fact that they are pretty gendered. Wreaths could be great, especially if you're going to make homemade ones, but that takes a lot of time and energy. For me, that was enough to knock it out of the running.
Drawing and Painting Supplies
These include notepads, crayons, pens, finger paints, face paints, etc. Needless to say, you would want to get washable versions of these mediums. I think these rate pretty highly on all of the factors—you can use them a lot, they aren't plastic, and they are fairly cheap. More eco-friendly and creative, but also more expensive, there are also some very cool homemade crayons on Etsy.
Things That Go
These can be toy cars, trains, planes, motorcycles, or anything else with wheels. These would be a big hit and fairly cheap if you can buy in bulk and just give one or two to each kid. I also think it would be fine to get them from a used toy store, but I'm not sure if other people would find that tacky or unsanitary—though it would be very eco-friendly.
I know my son loves plastic bouncy balls, but I wasn't quite comfortable with him playing with them on his own—I was afraid that he might decide that it looked like food—so your guests are probably still a bit young for them. But larger toy balls make a great favor. We went to a 3-year-old's soccer party and got a little soccer ball that is a bit bigger than a softball, and my son loved it. These are also great for all ages.
For some reason, this had not even occurred to me until I saw someone recommend rubber ducks. I actually think this is genius. I am constantly amazed at how into his various rubber ducks my son is, and he has a seemingly insatiable appetite for different ones. They are plastic, but they can be used forever, and they are small. The downside is that the older kids really might not be into them, but you never know—my 11-year-old niece is very proud of her rubber duck collection.
Sweets or Snacks
As I said above, I think this is a somewhat dangerous territory since many children have restricted diets. That said, I think you probably couldn't go wrong with a packet of Annie's bunny cookies or crackers and a fruit leather—I think those from Trader Joe's or Whole Foods are the best. If you want it to be more personal, you can make cookies cut out into a special shape, such as a train or the number two.
Why not to just do bubbles? All kids love them, and they are cheap. They are in small plastic bottles, but in theory, you could refill them with more bubble liquid.
My son was obsessed with his kazoo at that age, and that could be a very fun party favor. We also got a great egg from a friend's first birthday party that he loved to shake to make music. Just make sure whatever you get doesn't make an annoying sound, or the parents will not be thanking you and may try to get revenge at their child's birthday party.
Cold, Hard Cash
Just kidding, but wouldn't that be awesome? You could hand out hundred dollar bills and then watch the 2-year-olds try to rip them up, or eat them, throw them up in the air and watch them flutter to the ground, or bury them—perhaps the soundest current investment strategy.
I'm sure there are many other categories, but this seems like plenty, and any more options would only contribute to decision fatigue.
Packaging Makes the Party
The final question is how to package them. You can just settle for a basic small brown paper lunch bag with some stickers on the outside as I did and then put the favors in the bag. However, it's a nice idea to give out some sort of reusable bags—that way, the bag itself is part of the gift, and it's more eco-friendly.
I went for a rubber duck, bubbles, and a package of Annie's bunny cookies. The cookies were for the ride home, the duck for the bath that night, and the bubbles for fun the next day. I didn't personalize anything, because to me it's just not worth the time.
If there's only one item for each kid, you also don't need to package or bag them at all! Just lay them out nicely in a basket or on a tray with a sign that says: "Thank you for coming—please take one home!"
Whatever you choose to do, it is a nice way to show appreciation for people coming to the party, and if you involve your two-year-old, they could get a real sense of pleasure and satisfaction from handing out gifts to their friends when they leave.
twoseven (author) from Madison, Wisconsin on April 16, 2015:
Thanks for the comment Ava! I had a very similar experience to your whistle experience just the other day. My son found a bouncing ball that used to light up and was super sad it didn't light up anymore. He now understands that some things are just not well-made, but what a sad lesson to learn!
Ava on April 16, 2015:
Great post, and your sense of humor made me laugh! Thanks! (My daughter recently got a whistle as a favor, and in the afternoon we had a kid come over who found it - but I could hardly take it away from the guest... oh how I cursed that tiny pink piece of plastic junk!!!)
twoseven (author) from Madison, Wisconsin on January 30, 2013:
Thank you for the comments! I am so glad this was helpful. I agree the amount of money you spend does not correlate with how much enjoyment the kids get out of the favors.
Jeremy Rawlings on January 29, 2013:
Bubbles and rubber ducks are fun and inexpensive. Shows showering with money doesn't add value at this age.
Bridget on July 13, 2012:
Thanks for all the great ideas..this really helped me with the favors!!!!
Ames from Oakland on September 03, 2011:
your hubs are great!