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  • How to Plan an Italy-Themed Kid's Birthday
    Learn how you can turn your kid's birthday into a fun, educational experience
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    My husband and I are going to be in Ischia, Italy for my son's second birthday. It won't happen until September, but I've begun the planning because I want to make his party with his Italian relatives unforgettable. Frankly, on the small island of Ischia where we stay, you simply can't get anything beyond a couple of balloons and a happy birthday sign. So, I have to get everything and prepare before we leave for Italy in the spring. Since we're going to be in Italy, I've decided to make his party revolve around pizza (his favorite food) and all things Italian. As a result, I've learned this kid's party can have an educational bent. And you can throw one anywhere in the world and learn something about the homeland.

    Here's how to plan an Italian festa that will have the neighborhood kids learning about your culture wherever you live:

    Decorations set the stage for any party. While my party will probably feature some cutouts of chefs and pizza slices, it is also going to include the colors of the Italian flag, and a map of Italy. I'm aiming to make my mother-in-law's kitchen look like a pizzeria. In doing so, I'm going to sneak in some education.

    Paper placemats, intended for kids who are homeschooled, was one of the best finds I uncovered while researching this party. The BnB Home School Store sells two activity placemats featuring Italy. For $0.25 each, your guests can connect the dots of a gondola, learn to count in Italian, see a map of Italy, and read some interesting facts about the country. I plan to place one under each dish at the table and leave a box of crayons at each seat. I'm sure my 2-year-old will just gleefully run his crayon up and down the boot, but I'll read the numbers to him in Italian, and he just might learn a thing or two.

    We're going to be having an authentic Italian pizza made by the local pizzeria. Since Ischia is a Neapolitan island, we will actually be having it very close to pizza's birthplace. Everyone at my party knows the history of the margherita pizza. Essentially, Queen Margherita asked for a patriotic meal and the result was pizza, a dish that featured the colors of the Italian flag red tomato sauce, white mozzarella, and green basil. You can make a sign that shares this story and frame it on your buffet table. (IKEA and your local dollar store are good places to find cheap frames in Italy's colors.)

    To keep up the theme, I'm also planning to make a fruit pizza for dessert. It looks like pizza, but it's made with sugar cookie dough as the base and fresh fruits coated with some jam or drizzled with chocolate. I'm testing recipes to make sure I can do this only with ingredients that are easily found in Ischia. For instance, there are some recipes with cream of tartar and brown sugar, which I've already nixed, because those items would be difficult, if not impossible, to track down.

    Italian parties always include a bomboniere or favor. To keep with the theme, I found a Web site, where you can download and print the bottom and top of a small pizza box. You then fold the box accordingly and glue it together. Finally, I will make a sugar cookie with a round cookie cutter and decorate it with red and white icing to make it look like a pizza and put it in the box. There will be one of each of these at each seat, too.

    This isn't school. It's a kids' birthday party, so it should be entertaining. I'm hoping to make mustache straws, and DIY chef hats, so we can all look like we work in a pizzeria while we eat. (Yes, it's a stereotype, but it's goofy and fun and we should be able to laugh at ourselves.) And I also picked up affordable and easy-to-carry-in-our-luggage photo booth props that include a mustache and some other items to make guests look silly and laugh, so we can get lots of great shots.

    I haven't given much thought to games, but musical chairs with Italian songs, hot tomato (instead of hot potato), and pin the pepperoni (which Italians call hot salami) on the pizza are some ideas I've seen on the Web. I think some old Neopolitan classics, such as "O' Sole Mio," should be playing in the background, so it really feels like an Italian pizzeria in Naples. Now, don't you want to party Italian style right now?

    Di Meglio is the author of Fun with the Family New Jersey (Globe Pequot Press Travel, 2012), and you can follow her life and work at the Two Worlds Web site.

    Article Published 3/13/13


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