Birthday Party at The Hen House, Haslemere

What a couple of weeks it’s been. We’ve had an awesome Easter, with fabulous weather, amazing days out, lots of fun and lots of love. The best thing by far about the Easter Holidays though has to be Oscar’s 3rd Birthday party. We chose The Hen House in Haslemere as the venue for his party months ago, and you can read about why here. I have to say in the run up to his birthday, I was much more excited than he was. I just knew how much fun he was going to have and that made me really happy.

On the day, I had my hair cut in the morning, leaving Oscar at home with Ben. Seriously you’d have thought it was me having the party, I was so excited (although that could have been the giddiness I always get when I spend time alone!) As we’d chosen exclusive use of The Hen House, we arrived at 2.30pm, just as they were closing to the public. We were immediately made to feel welcome as the staff busied around cleaning up, tidying the soft play and rearranging the tables. I was asked how I wanted the tables laid out and as I wanted as much floor space as possible, the tables were laid out in two long lines. This gave plenty of seating, but also tonnes of milling/running around (depending on your age I guess) space. We didn’t have to arrange any extra decoration, but as I’d decided on a loose Farmyard theme, I had ordered 20 cow print helium balloons, from a local party shop who delivered them to The Hen House for us. The most I had to do in terms of preparation of the venue on the day, was tie weights to the balloons, place them artfully strategically round the floor and fill some bowls with the M&Ms and Haribo I’d bought with me. Job done!

A very tidy Hen House, ready to party!

A very tidy Hen House, ready to party!

Oscar found the M&Ms

Oscar found the M&Ms

Guests started to arrive bang on 3pm. We’d decided to take full advantage of the Hen House’s licence and bought prosecco and larger for our adult guests. To be honest I wasn’t sure how this would go down. Would people be driving? Would people think it was weird to drink at a children’s party? Well, I can categorically tell you it went down a storm! I had people tell me this was definitely the way ahead in children’s parties and the prosecco went down so well, one of the staff had to run out and grab us some more bottles. All before anyone realised we were running low though! Smooth!

It was a prosecco and Haribo kinda party

It was a prosecco and Haribo kinda party

The kids had an absolute BLAST! I have never seen Oscar play for so long and so hard and sooooooo well with everyone there. He could run, he could throw himself down the slide, he laughed. Some of the dad’s got well and truly roped into playing with the children and Ben got adopted by our friend’s daughter, Charlotte, for the day. She wouldn’t let him leave her side. It was the sweetest thing.

Come with me Ben!

Come with me Ben!

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Note the Daddy at the top of the slide. To be fair I did find a group of them hiding up there later on!

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Oscar and his buddy Cecily playing and laughing

Oscar taking a rare moment of rest on the light up disco floor. I chose the "light up when you step on it" setting and the kids loved it!

Oscar taking a rare moment of rest on the light up disco floor. I chose the “light up when you step on it” setting and the kids loved it!

Because the number of children was a very manageable ten (plus two babies), there was plenty of space and fun to be had without a single altercation happening. Don’t get me wrong, we could have had more (up to 30 at an exclusive party), but I felt for Oscar (and for me to be fair) ten was plenty and I think I was right. It meant the adults (or at least those who weren’t being held prisoner at the top of the slide 😉 ) got to well and truly relax. It’s also a venue that really understands little people, meaning we were able to feel relaxed about their safety. This allowed us to have a good old catch up and it really did feel as much as a party for us as it was for them. The music was a playlist I’d put together myself and played through The Hen House computer (they did offer to make one for me, but I have a very specific taste in cheesy music and it was best for me to do it myself 😉 ). I got to talk to friends I hadn’t seen in weeks and introduce friends from different areas of my life to one another. This was fab and some great conversations were had. All while the children played happily and safely.

There were children at the party - honest!

There were children at the party – honest!

The children played until they were red in the face (or was that just my son?). The food was bought out around 4ish and the children all sat to a set table. I was a bit concerned whether Oscar would want to join in with this (who’d want to eat where there’s soft play to be throwing your little body down?) But sit he did! The party package comes with food included and we had all the usual suspects of freshly made sandwiches (for which I was able to chose three different fillings), sausage rolls, crisps and vegetable sticks. When we booked the party I’d explained to Henri, the owner, that Oscar is eating a gluten free diet at the moment. She wasn’t fazed in the slightest and couldn’t have been more accommodating. Some of the sandwiches were made using (good) gluten free bread and despite my suggestion that we swap sausage rolls for plain GF sausages, Henri insisted on making her own delicious GF sausage rolls for everyone! The crisps and snacks were all corn or potato based (as opposed to wheat based Cheddars or similar). The children took a break from wearing themselves out and tucked in happily. And there was plenty enough for the toddlers to eat their fill and for the parents to grab a bite too.

All the children sat and tucked in happily

All the children sat and tucked in happily

Yup thats my boy sitting with the other children and eating. Happy Mummy Moment!

Yup that’s my boy sitting with the other children and eating. Happy Mummy Moment!

Myred faced boy. I swear the wine is not his!

My red faced boy. I swear the wine is not his!

The absolute icing on the proverbial cake was in fact the cake. Or more to the point the cake/candle blowing moment. Instead of one large birthday cake, Hen had made Oscar a pile of his favourite GF Brownies (the ones he badgers me for every time we visit The Hen House). The staff asked if I would like to hold the cake, while every one sang Happy Birthday, which was a lovely touch. He’s not really done the whole blowing candles thing before and despite practising at home for days before (so he knew what to do), I was a little nervous as to how he’d react. So Ben held Oscar and I held the cake(s). Everyone sang to him and he took it all his stride, looking to me for assurance when the time came to blow. It was a perfect, perfect moment! We then handed round the gorgeous Brownies and every one was taken or devoured!

Perfect

Look at those happy chops! Perfect.

 

The children started to leave around 5, happy and tired, with a cow print balloon in one hand and a farm themed party bag in the other. I had real fun putting the party bags together and although The Hen House did offer to do them for me, I’m glad I did my own. They had a Milky Bar Cow, a farm animal toy, a farmer’s neckerchief/bandana and a packet of seeds for them to plant and grow. This all came in a brown paper bag, with a farm animal mask to decorate. Putting the fun back into functional, that’s me!

Balloons!

Balloons!

Farm themed party bags

Farm themed party bags

We had so many compliments on the way out. The children all told us how much fun they’d had and the parents did the same. It was such an amazing feeling. We got to take the credit for the most amazing party, when really, we did so little towards it. The staff at The Hen House, did everything and made the whole day go without a single hitch. We didn’t even have to tidy up! We just packed up his pressies, grabbed the remaining balloons and left! Bliss.

We have had such a bumpy few months recently, what with Oscar’s ASD diagnosis and the stress that has put us under as a family. But we were able to give our special little guy the most amazing birthday party, exactly as he needed it, to have as much fun as is humanly possible for any three year old to have.

And for that, I can’t thank The Hen House enough.

 

 

 

We’d like to thank Henri and everyone at The Hen House for their amazing hospitality and generosity in hosting Oscar’s birthday for us. You can find out more about hiring the venue, either exclusively or non exclusively, on their website www.thehen-house.com.

I was not paid to write this review and as always all opinions are my own.

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Birthday trip to Thames Valley Adventure Playground

So as you know, last week was Oscar’s third birthday. I don’t know where the time has gone either! Anywho, we planned a party for him and all his chums for the Saturday after his birthday, but wanted to do something actually on the day, just the three of us. It’s something we’ve always done. For his first birthday we went to Marwell Zoo, which worked out well, as he was still happy to be carried around in the baby rucksack thing. Last year we went to The Aquarium at Southsea. Whilst a great idea in theory, it really didn’t work in reality. It wasn’t busy, but it just wasn’t him and we left not long after we arrived. So this year we wanted to do something he would enjoy, and be able to cope with. Unfortunately his birthday fell in the first week of the Easter holidays, meaning the possibility of ‘attractions’ being busy was high. This might not have been an issue (you never can tell), but we wanted to find somewhere that would give him a sporting chance of having a good time.

Then I read a blog post from AutismMumma about Thames Valley Adventure Playground in Taplow. It’s an enormous indoor and outdoor play facility for children (and adults on a Friday) with all types of Special Needs. You can read more about them on their website. The numbers accepted each day is limited and booking necessary, meaning the place could never get too busy. It also offers a myriad of things which I knew Oscar would love, from space to run, swings, climbing equipment, soft play and an understanding environment for both of us. It looked ideal, so we decided it would be worth the hours drive to Taplow to give it a go.

It’s a really big site and houses all sorts of clever and fun play spaces. The first thing Oscar saw when we arrived through the locked gate was a huge Thomas the Tank Engine, so he was happy straight away. We played for ages in the fully secure, gated and locked outdoor space. All the areas were clearly defined but flowed into one another. He found the giant sand pit straight away and discovered a love of the bucket on the pulley.

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THOMAS! You’re Here!

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Yep I’m happy here.

An engineer in the making

An engineer in the making

Ooo look at that

Pull!

We followed his lead where possible and let him go from place to place in his own time. He chose when to go indoors and seemed happy to discover the soft play. One thing I noticed was although the outdoors was practically empty the inside space was quite busy. I wondered if this would be a problem, but it didn’t seem to faze him in the slightest, and he happily found some toy trains to play with and a buggy to push around.

Balls!!

Balls!!

Up the slide is it?

Up the slide is it?

Seems he'll find toy trains to play with wherever we go

Seems he’ll find toy trains to play with wherever we go

Funky breakfast cereal tables and toast chairs

Funky breakfast cereal tables and toast chairs

So much dressing up - of no interest to the boy but I loved it!

So much dressing up – of no interest to the boy but I loved it!

It was the first time for all of us at an SEN, well, anything really. It can be daunting taking a step into this new world and don’t get me wrong I wasn’t sure how I’d feel. But as it turned out I felt no different than I do when visiting any other play place for the first time. Quick to scope out the safety and aware of where he might get into difficulty. The children all seemed to be having a rare old time and my only concern for Oscar was that he seemed to be the youngest there. It made me see just how small he still is, rather than the big ‘man child’ I see most other days! And the only place this became a real issue was in the bike park. The (fenced and security minded ) playground full of trikes and bikes and things to run with. He would have loved it, but it was full of children much older than himself, whizzing around and so we left that for another time. As for safety, I was really interest to see thoughtful touches here and there that clearly catered for not only the children but also the carers, such as cubby holes for bags, high off the ground, toilets that were easily accessible from the outside, should a child become trapped and a carers/staff toilet with a door handle way out of reach of any child.

A handle out of the reach of any curious hands

A handle out of the reach of any curious hands

Oscar had a wonderful time and there was so much choice of things to do, he was able to move from one thing and back again as comfortably as he liked. I loved the fort and the slide and I particularly liked the wooden rockets and play houses. So much thought and effort had gone into them, some of which were clearly handcrafted. I also really loved the sensory garden, although Oscar wasn’t that bothered. I could have stayed in there all day playing on the chimes and the drums! My favourite piece though, was one I thought was unfinished, until I looked more closely.

What a cool fort!

What a cool fort!

Weeeee!

Weeeee!

Super cool rocket

Super cool rocket

A spinning wheel full of beads. A sensory treat for anyone!

A spinning wheel full of beads. A sensory treat for anyone!

What is it? Look closely. You decide. Love it!

What is it? Look closely. You decide. Love it!

The only problem we had was leaving. We’re working on transitioning more smoothly and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. He was having a great time, but was also getting really tired. So when it came time to leave he had a bit of a melt down. Not that anyone else blinked an eye and we actually left at the same time as another child doing exactly the same thing! The look of understanding was appreciated. Anyway he wailed for about five minutes, then passed out. The sign of a good time had, I think.

All played out!

All played out!

Would we go back? Definitely. I wish it was a bit closer, but he’s a good traveller and he had a ball, making it totally worth the trip. The whole time we were there I just kept thinking “oh his friends would LOVE this” and TVAP do run integrated play days every Saturday for children with and without Special Needs. Hmmm, maybe I’ll have to arrange an outing one day.

Happy Birthday Oscar and thank you Thames Valley Adventure Playground.

Three today!

Three today!

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Its all in the planning

I can’t believe the end of March is fast rolling round. I’m finally starting to get everything in place for Oscar’s birthday, which is lucky, as its on 2nd April. It might not have been, had the induction worked when it started three days earlier, and I still swear he hung on in there for fear of being born an April Fool, but there you go.

His actual birthday is on the Thursday and Ben has taken the day off work. We like to do something just the three of us on his birthday, only I was struggling to think what to do this year. His birthday falls in the first week of the Easter hols and I knew everywhere, even those places he would enjoy and could probably cope with, would be heaving. So we’re taking a leap and going on our first outing to a SEN play facility, the Thames Valley Adventure Playground. I read about it on someone else’s blog and even though it’s an hour away, I knew immediately that I wanted to take him. I’ll write more about our visit when we’ve been, but I’m super excited for him and it’s an adventure for us as a newly diagnosed SEN family. Fingers crossed!

We booked his party for the following Saturday a while ago now and while he doesn’t really understand what’s going to happen yet, we are so excited that we have the exclusive use of our local soft play cafe The Hen House in Haslemere. My plan is to move as many tables and chairs to the side as possible, giving the children as much floor space to charge around in as I can. Other than that, the wonderful team at The Hen House have the entertainment, the food and the drink covered. Which has kind of left me to enjoy planning the little details. Such as what he’s going to wear. As it’s a soft play party there’s little point him getting dressed up too smartly on the day. However I have bought him this Boden t-shirt, a nod to the farm animal theme. I love it.

15BSPR_21770_GRYOther than that, the guests have been invited and most but not all can make it. But then that’s what happens when you book a party both on Easter weekend AND on the day of another boy’s birthday! I completely forgot about it being Rudy’s birthday until the moment I went to tell his mum about the party. Honestly, how could I forget? We were in beds opposite each other in the hospital! Ahh well it was going to happen sooner or later I guess and hopefully we’ll get to celebrate with them another day.

The invites themselves were something of a mission. Once I decided on a farm theme, I saw some beautiful barn invites on Pinterest and was convinced, for weeks, that I was going to make some just like it. Make. Including cutting stuff out and sticking stuff on. It was a lovely thought and all that but seriously? I barely have the time to blow my nose most days! So not wanting to be defeated entirely, I ordered some personalised printables from Etsy (several invitees told me how much they loved them and I think I could have passed them off as my own creation, but I just cant lie that well!) I also bought card to print them out on, wanting ever so much to have physical printed invites. What a palaver! The card wouldn’t go through the printer and when it did the colour wasn’t as I’d hoped. In the end I emailed the invite round and do you know what? I have no idea why I didn’t just do that in the first place. Physical invites are great for a child to take into school and hand out, but really, when it’s going straight the parent, email invites are the way ahead.

invite

As the party’s taking place in the highly decorated Hen House, decorations weren’t really the necessity they might be if I’d been hosting at home. However, in keeping with the theme, and because I have yet to find a child who doesn’t adore them, I have ordered helium filled balloons, in a black and white cow print. My plan is to have them float around the place with strings long enough to reach up and grab. At the end of the party there’ll be a balloon for every child, and hopefully a few for Oscar to take home too!

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Then there’s the party bags. I’ve had a bit of a downer on party bags in the past, primarily because they always seem to be filled with sugar and plastic. Now I’m not saying the boy doesn’t love sugar and plastic, but I wanted to see if I couldn’t pull together a favour bag that carried on the theme, but also had fun and interest for the children. I think I’m getting there, having managed to source plain brown paper lunch style bags from pipii.co.uk. Everything going in it has a nod to the farming and farm theme. There is some sugar, but also some fun and I hope some interest. I just need to figure out if I’m going to decorate the bags somehow. I want to. I really want to! But chances are I won’t and I’ll call it minimalist instead. Ahh well!

Which just about covers everything a three year old could want for their birthday.

What?

A present?

Ahh jeez!

Party Time!

For Oscar’s birthday last year, you may remember, we eschewed a party in favour of a quiet meal out, inviting only one little friend along. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to throw him a party but after organising such a massive one for his first birthday, it felt like a lot of effort, that would have been wasted on a two year old (who may or may not have fallen asleep or had a melt down in the middle of it!). Whereas his first birthday party was for the adults as much as it was for the children, he now has friends he sees regularly. Little people he enjoys hanging out with. And as there was a time last year where I feared that this would never be the case, I want to encourage this as much as I can.

First Birthday Party

First Birthday Party

That’s why this year, I’m totally eating last year’s words and throwing a party for him. Despite his birthday seeming a long way off (it’s in the first week of April), I knew we’d have to get a wriggle on if we were going to book a venue. Because a venue, we are definitely going to need. I love the thought of having a party at home, with games of pass the parcel and jelly and ice cream however:

  1. my house is tiny. I stopped being able to have more than a couple of children in the house at a time once they started walking! If his birthday was in the summer we could throw them out in the garden, but it’s not so we can’t
  2. my boy isn’t the kind of child who likes to sit in a circle, even if prizes are offered. He’s not a game player (yet) and trying to force him to be one is only setting us all up for a fall
  3. while he does like jelly, he’s not that fussed about ice cream

Seems the party in my head will have to wait (and possibly forever!). My boy needs space to run, lots of things to do and cake (gluten free of course). Simple really 😉

It may sounds restrictive, but having a clear idea of what he needs to have a good time was a great starting point for us when it came to choosing the kind of party he’d most enjoy. We looked at the local provision and while there were several interesting options, we needed one that could tick all his boxes effortlessly. And when it came down to it, choosing his beloved Hen House in Haslemere was a no brainer really.

I’ve written before about his love of the soft play cafe, The Hen House. We haven’t been going as often as we used to recently, for various reasons, one of which being that he’s now busy at preschool, but also we’re more aware of the kind of environment he does best in. A room full to the brim with strangers, particularly younger children, pushes all his buttons and while he still enjoys The Hen House on it’s quieter days, a busy day at the soft play just isn’t for us. So the thought of being able to let him run lose, somewhere he knows and loves, with only his very best friends, makes me supremely happy. And call me selfish, but knowing that I really don’t have to do a thing about the organisation, unless I want to, makes me all the happier!

We’ve decided on an ‘exclusive’ party, for which they close the doors to all but party guests. While you can book for non exclusive use, we chose to restrict it as it allows me to control just how many little bodies there will be flying round at any one time and also gives Oscar the most room to play. They say they can cater for up to 30 children per exclusive party (15 for non exclusive), but I know this would be too many for Oscar. And me to be fair. At this age the parents will be staying with their invited children, which will be great (they’re all friends anyway) but it only adds bodies to the room. All things considered, in that case, we’ll be keeping it to around 10-15 guests. I think that sounds like plenty!

The party package is awesome! For one it’s all bookable on the website meaning a few clicks and it was all done. Every party comes with all party food and a birthday cake included. We could have added extras such as pizzas and burgers, but as Oscar eats neither of these things we decided against it. A quick email to the owner, allowed us to swap some of the standard items for gluten free alternatives and instead of a traditional birthday cake, we’re having a mountain of Hen’s gluten free brownies (the boy would bite your hand off for a brownie any day of the week!). And because they have the facilities we can also provide hot drinks for our adult guests. Or perhaps something colder and fizzier – they do have a licence after all. It would be a shame not to take advantage of this 😉

Any day of the week!

Any day of the week!

The food will all be prepared fresh on the day and catering, music and fun will be organised by The Hen House, meaning all I need to worry about now is the guest list, the invites and the party bags (although if I’d wanted, The Hen House would have done these too!). I did think about having a Thomas the Tank Engine theme, but I’m now thinking more of a Farm theme, for two reasons. Firstly its being held in The Hen House (geddit!) but also Oscar can happily say the names of all the farm animals, so it’s a nod to how far his speech is coming along. I’ve started a birthday theme Pinterest board and I tell you it’s probably a good thing I’m not having a hand in the food or decor. I could go nuts with this stuff!

How gorgeous is this Farm Themed party - gorgeous, but bonkers!

How gorgeous is this Farm Themed party – gorgeous, but bonkers!

I’m so excited. I know I was kind of a downer on parties last year, but seriously. A girl can change her mind can’t she? Actually, I find, that with a child it’s imperative to keep changing your mind. To constantly see things from a new perspective. After all, children do. Every day.

I’ll let you know how it goes!!!

Down on the Farm

If you have or have ever had toddlers in your life, you will know just how important it is to have places to go out and about with them. Staying at home all the time does no one any good and in my experience toddlers have far too much energy than they rightfully know what to do with (lucky things! I wish I could say the same). If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know just how much we love The Hen House, a local soft play cafe, and that hasn’t changed. But as the weather becomes a touch more unpredictable, it’s starting to get busier (quite rightly) and that doesn’t always work for us. Recently we’ve started to frequent (when we can get there and when the weather allows) Applegarth Farm in Grayshott. We’ve been going to Applegarth, since he was a tiny baby in his Maxi Cosi handbag car seat (you know, the kind you carry over your arm like a handbag?). They’ve always had a lovely restaurant and shop there. But recently they had something of a makeover (I say recently, it’s probably a year ago now!). They extended the cafe and really juzzhed (is that how you spell it? Zhuzzed, zhusshed… oh sod it, tarted) up the outdoor play area. Not only does it have swings, play houses and a slide, it also has animals, climb on wooden tractor and best of all space. Oh yes and a secure, high latched gate. I can’t tell you how important a secure environment is for any toddler, but when you’ve got a runner/wannabe Houdini (no one ever believes how quick he is, til they’re running after him) it’s essential. We don’t go to unsecure parks near roads for this reason and it is certainly why I’m mighty cautious of the new set up at The Herons (we’ve yet to try it in person, but no gate and electric doors scare the bejesus out of me). Anyway thats not an issue at Applegarth.

He loves a good swing and all the other wooden equipment they have there. He can have a jolly good run around and a look at the animals when he fancies. But most importantly for Oscar, no matter how busy it gets (which in my experience is never heaving) there is always somewhere for him to take himself off on his own for five minutes, allowing him to come back smiling. Everyone’s got their way of coping and that’s Oscar’s. In The Hen House he does it by sitting and playing on my phone for five minutes, but here he goes under the tree house, or down by the rabbit hutch, returning to join his buddies. It works for him and that keeps us going back.

As long as it’s not raining it’s definitely our choice at the moment (and the wonderful coffee and cake they do is by no way an enticement 😉 ) I just wish we could find somewhere more weatherproof that had the same kind of space. If you’ve got any suggestions then please feel free to let us know.

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Chillaxing in the treehouse

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Americano with skimmed milk. And no cake. Of course.

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Playhouse

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Swing

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Tractor

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Five minutes down time