I’m not quite sure where my friend got the idea to have her son’s fourth birthday party at the William M. Staerkel Planetarium at Parkland College, but it was genius – especially on the first 90-degree day of the summer.
We went to the Planetarium not knowing what to expect, being that a) we’ve never been before, b) I’m not sure how much she has learned in school about the cosmos and c) my daughter is not really a movie-theater kid. (Toy Story was too scary for her).
A birthday party at the Planetarium is great for this age group, being that our kids are too young for drop-off parties and therefore parents (and entire family units in some cases) attended. The facility is willing to accommodate large groups at a reasonable price.
We went into the theater and found our seats to get ready for the “show,” a 20-30 minute program in the dome featuring a live sky talk (featuring a real person!) under the stars. Many of the grown-ups were set upon having an afternoon nap while sitting in a dark, cool room where you’re supposed to recline and put your head back. But many of them may have been like me and been distracted by the live sky talk, which proved to be interactive, engaging, and fun, while still being educational.
The program was just short enough to capture the kids’ attention, while being long enough to serve their curiosity about the sky and the universe. It also had something for a variety of ages. I’m not sure if my daughter will remember anything about Saturn’s rings of ice or the clouds on Venus, but she will probably recall that you can “connect” the stars to look like a lion, a frying pan or a bear (also known as a constellation).
The end of the program features a five-minute musical “finale” for the birthday child. This is where the kids started to squirm. Some of the graphics and effects were a bit odd and dated, but a few were fun and interesting. Being the geek I am, I would have rather had five more minutes of “sky talk.”
One thing to be aware of: these parties are short. There’s not much time to waste, as the program is 20-30 minutes and the facility makes the lobby area available to do the whole candles, cake and singing routine for another 30 minutes. That means guests must show up on time and it was a bit stressful for the party planners to set up in a short window of time (15 minutes before guest arrive). The only thing the Planetarium provides is tables and chairs; everything else (food and drink, paper goods, decorations, utensils, etc.) must be brought in by the birthday party hosts.
Overall, the 4-year-old, her mom, and her grandmother enjoyed the party. My daughter even wanted to know if she could have her birthday there next time (that’s not uncommon, ha). We’ll put it down on the possibility list.
NOTE: Due to the installation of a new digital system in the summer of 2010, the Planetarium will not be scheduling any birthday parties for the calendar months of June, July or August. Bookings will resume for September.
Need ideas for where to have your child’s birthday party? Check out the Chambanamoms.com Guide to Birthday Parties in Champaign-Urbana.