To this day, the best birthday party I’ve ever had came when I turned four years old—and it’s only gone downhill from there.

Kidding! (Twenty-one was pretty great, too.)

In all sincerity, I treasure the memories of my childhood birthdays. My mother was the queen of themed parties—from decorations to goody bags to the cake, she nailed it every year, and most of them took place in our humble suburban backyard, transformed into little-kid paradise for the space of a summer afternoon.

These five summer birthday party ideas are perfect for a backyard bonanza. Outdoor events are ideal for water games, messy projects, and sticky fingers, and you’ll also save on rental fees for indoor spaces, so you can throw a party the kids will love without having to leave home or bring the mess inside.

Movie Viewing Party for Fenced Backyards

Movie Viewing Party

You could host a movie party indoors (which is a perfectly fine backup plan if it rains), but it won’t have the same novel, drive-in magic as a backyard viewing party under the stars. With a fenced backyard, you won’t need a projector screen, either: a white sheet draped over the fence works just as well.

You will, of course, need a projector, which can run anywhere from $300 to over $1,000. If you aren’t interested in purchasing one, check with public libraries in your area. Chances are they rent projectors by the day for a small fee. In addition, you’ll need a video source (a laptop), speakers, and an auxiliary cord.

Arrange blankets and generous pillows on the lawn around the “screen” for the kids, and set up chairs in the back for any adults in the audience. A table with classic movie refreshments—popcorn, candy, and soda—and strings of lights around the viewing area will complete the backyard theater theme.

Camping Party for Woodsy Backyards

Camping Party

You can pitch a tent anywhere, but next to a fire pit in a cozy, wooded backyard may just be the perfect place. If you don’t have a camping tent, or you want to make something cuter, there are plenty of DIY tutorials for tents, teepees, and play houses the kids will use all summer.

A wooded backyard lends itself to plenty of camp-themed outdoor activities, such as scavenger hunts, sack races, flashlight tag, campfire stories, and—of course—roasting marshmallows. A crafts table for decorating river rocks or birdhouses, or a make-your-own trail mix station, will give your happy campers plenty to do.

Naturally, wooded areas are prone to breeding ticks and mosquitos. Be sure to provide plenty of bug spray, or contact a Best Pick mosquito control professional to keep the party and the rest of your summer bite- and itch-free.

Tea Party for Small Backyards

Tea Party

Tiny yard? A tea party in an enchanted garden is a “fitting” theme for your little aristocrat, since all you really need is room enough for a table and chairs. If you’re truly pressed for space, use the same table for craft activities, like decorating sugar cookies and making bracelets or DIY bubble wands, and simply change out the cloth and setting when it’s time for tea (or Kool-Aid).

Your own house plants, as well as garlands of faux flowers from the local crafts store, gauzy fabric overhead, and strings of fairy lights will transform your small backyard into a magical hideaway. Like all successful tea parties, the menu should be simple: finger sandwiches and sweets you can prep day-of will keep your attendees’ bellies full and your stress level low.

Petting Zoo Party for Big Backyards

Petting Zoo Party

Why all the hassle of coordinating a trip to the zoo when the zoo can come to you? Plenty of petting zoos travel for events if your yard is large enough to accommodate them, and the kids will love getting a visit from cute barnyard animals.

Consider renting a canopy tent to keep your guests—both human and animal—comfortable if your summers are particularly sweltering. Serve cold drinks and simple, kid-friendly refreshments, like mac-n-cheese and corn on the cob, and be sure to set up a hand sanitizing station. As for seating, hay bales are cheap and thematically perfect for a rustic, shabby-chic party.

As an alternative, reach out to your local animal shelter and ask to host an adoption event—the kids will have a blast playing with the puppies, you may help a shelter animal find a loving home.

Mermaids & Pirates Party for Backyards with a Pool

Pool Party

Make a splash this year with a mermaids and pirates themed pool party, and let the kids choose which one they want to be with hats and swords for the swashbuckling types and DIY beach towel tails for the mermaids.

Of course, your party-goers will spend most of their time in the pool, but setting up a bubble-blowing station and/or a walk-the-plank game will ensure everyone stays entertained. Goldfish and chocolate coins are easy, on-theme additions to the snack table, and there are plenty of creative ways to keep the kids fed, like “oyster” cookies made with vanilla wafers and crabby croissant sandwiches.

Remember: Never host with a dirty pool! Before your guests arrive, hire a Best Pick pool service professional to make sure your pool is summer-ready.

Plan a Party Kids Will Love

When planning your party, keep the following in mind:

  • Decor
  • Seating
  • Refreshments
  • Space constraints
  • Weather conditions

The food, drinks, and decorations should reflect your theme, but you don’t need to overspend on catering or custom decor. Ask yourself what you can DIY and what you’ll need to rent or purchase, such as a canopy tent for shade.

Outdoor events are always tricky to plan because you can’t control the weather, so be sure to have a backup plan in case of rain.

No matter the theme, or how much you spend on the details, remember: kids aren’t hard to please. Animal lover or aristocrat, mermaid or pirate, with a little time and effort, they’re sure to love their backyard party.