Planning a party for a birthday boy or girl can stretch parents' imaginations and schedules – a motivating factor for companies looking to tap the lucrative children's birthday party market.
While figures on the birthday party industry in Canada are hard to come by, Statistics Canada says there are 5.5 million children 13 and under – a huge market for special events companies.
In fact, there has been such a growth in demand for children's birthday party services that the Internet is abuzz with information on the pros and cons of going all-out for a youngster's special day.
For instance, Birthdays Without Pressure, a parent-led group based in St. Paul, Minn., says more parents are outsourcing birthday parties because they're time-squeezed, and are continuing to raise the bar for parties in their community because they're competitive.
Research released in May by Lumos, a U.K. children's charity, found 40 per cent of the 500 parents interviewed admitted to feeling pressure to organize more extravagant birthday parties. Children attended an average of five birthday parties in the last year, according to the survey.
In one of her blog posts, Ottawa-area photographer and mother of three, Danielle Dongers, says she has contracted out her children's birthday parties, "largely because the idea of avoiding 10 caked-up boys drunk on adrenalin on the loose in my house is worth just about any price!"
Children's birthday parties are so in demand that companies and organizations providing other services have added them to their offerings, mostly on weekends when their facilities are typically idle.
The following are just a few of the innovative and affordable offerings in Canada that, in many cases, account for at least 20 per cent of overall business for the companies.
Based in: Ottawa, with franchises in Quebec, Ontario and the Maritimes
Alligators, pythons and tarantulas, oh my!
These and other exotic creatures may not be everyday pets, but they're in high demand at children's at-home birthday parties organized by Little Ray's Reptile Zoo.
Zoo founder Paul Raymond Goulet (nicknamed Little Ray) and his wife Sheri run a company that includes a 650-square-metre rescue zoo near Ottawa's airport.
Mr. Goulet began doing animal presentations in schools and daycares in 1995. The couple's company grew quickly, and by 2000, Mr. Goulet had quit his banking job and his wife had left her restaurant management position to open the zoo.
Home birthday parties offered at the satellite locations now account for about one-fifth of Little Ray's business, conducted with the necessary government permits and inspections.
"The birthday parties are very fun, very interactive and educational," says Mr. Goulet. "One of the things that make us a success is we hire people who love children; our job is being able to speak to children in fun terms and make it educational."
During each hour-long birthday presentation, which can be held in English or French and inside or outside the home, depending on the weather, an animal handler brings a map or globe and does a world tour, bringing out the animals one at a time.
Cost: Packages range from $145 to $195, depending on the type of reptiles or animals shown during the presentation. No restrictions on the number of children or adults who can attend.
Based in: Toronto
Frank Vena and Jerry Massarelli of Boom Recording Studios encourage children to channel their inner pop star at birthday parties at this suburban Toronto facility.
The business partners work with musicians and hold producer-engineering classes at their 11-square-metre studio most of the time.
But birthday parties were added to Boom's weekend services two years ago, after Mr. Vena's own son got the idea to take 10 of his friends into the studio for a karaoke-like birthday event.
The party was so much fun that Boom has been hosting such events ever since, and they've certainly helped boost the bottom line.
Not only do kids get to practise and record a song chosen from a music catalogue during a two-hour party, but they also get help with their vocals from recording artist and record producer Elissa, a Juno Award nominee.
Cost: $350 for two hours/eight children, $15 each additional child, up to a maximum of 12.
Based in: Moncton, N.B.
Marc Paradis promotes health and fitness in everything he does: from his job as an operating room nurse at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre to teaching at his karate and ju-jitsu studio.
So when one of his martial arts students gave Mr. Paradis the idea of expanding his services a couple of years ago, the 42-year-old decided that adding birthday parties might be a great way to put physical activity on children's fun radar while bringing in money to help pay for major renovations to his studio.
Mr. Paradis has been a martial arts athlete for 20 years, and began teaching 15 years ago.
Ten years ago, he put tens of thousands of dollars into building the studio attached to the home he shares with his wife, Lisa, also a nurse and martial arts lover, and their two young children.
While the birthday parties are an added service that also help pay the bills, Mr. Paradis says it's also a way to expose more children to martial arts and healthy active living: "It's all about getting kids to have fun when they're exercising."
Costs: From $249.99 to $499.99.
Based in: Halifax
It's a taste of history that takes youngsters back to "the thunder of artillery, the crack of rifle fire, and the rousing sound of pipes and drums" – all within the confines of a fort that is one of Canada's most important historic sites.
The Halifax Citadel National Historic Site is a restored 19th-century British fortification that hosts numerous events, including daily birthday parties between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. for children age 6 to 12.
For the birthday parties, children get to tour the ramparts and the tunnels, as well as play Victorian games with members of the 78th Highland Regiment, wear kilts and practise marching like a soldier.
Cost: $150 for 12 guests, plus $12.50 for every extra child up to 15.
Based in: North Vancouver
Debby Tonn's culinary bag of tricks is particularly magical during the children's birthday parties she organizes at The Hungry Oven cooking school for children.
Ms. Tonn founded the school after a visit to New York, where she encountered a cooking facility exclusively for kids. Her research found that no such culinary environment for kids was available in her area of Vancouver, so she sank her teeth into creating one of her own.
The Hungry Oven opened in late spring, and offers cooking lessons for children as young as 3, as well as some classes for adults. The birthday parties, for children starting at age 6, are among other activities offered; they account for about 20 per cent of the business.
Ms. Tonn is a graduate of the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts and a mother of two. She says youngsters today are often responsible for cooking or at least helping prepare family meals as well as their own lunches, and television cooking shows are all the rage; these are factors that are driving her business.
Hungry Oven's programs are planned by Ms. Tonn with the help of her executive chef, Johannes Oberbichler, her former Pacific Institute instructor.
The 370-square-metre cooking school has three state-of-the-art kitchens that accommodate the needs and safety requirements of children, including induction cooking surfaces and special knives that cannot cut skin, to keep children's fingers safe. Each class begins with a review of kitchen safety rules.
Cost: $425 for up to 10 guests (plus $25 for each additional child, to a maximum of 15). Party extras include Hungry Oven goody bags ($10 each) and aprons ($15 each, or $20 with embroidered names).