Birthday parties are a big deal. There are a million moving parts and a million decisions to make and the thing is… other people are involved. Like, lots of them. And as birthday parties have changed over the years, so have plenty of birthday party customs and even birthday party etiquette. (My own mom remembers always wearing her “Sunday best” to a birthday party, complete with gloves.) “All etiquette is inherently local, and the way kids’ birthday parties are done in Hollywood, California, is going to be different than Hollywood, Florida,” says Nick Leighton, journalist and host of the etiquette podcast Were You Raised By Wolves? “When in doubt, it’s OK to ask other parents about what’s typical and usual in your area.”

Bottom line: Think about the social skills that happen at a party — like being gracious with receiving gifts, being friendly to people they may not know, and even accepting food they may not have tried before. These principles can help guide you when making decisions about how your own party should go, Leighton advises.

First things first: Do I really have to invite my kid’s whole class?

It’s a hot topic. Do you invite 27 first graders when your kid is only interested in 15? Can you just invite all the boys or all the girls in an effort to make it easier? Like most things, it really truly depends on the situation, and there is no one-rule-fits-all here. “Our rule was that you didn’t have to invite the whole class, but if you got close to inviting the whole class, then you had to invite the whole class. You couldn’t just exclude a couple of people,” says Catherine Newman, author of How to Be A Person, a skill guide for kids.

My Kid Always Has Big Birthday Feelings & I Feel Party Dread

The Good Enough Parent is an advice column for parents who are sick of parenting advice. Romper writer and educational psychologist Sarah Wheeler answers your questions about parenting with humor and humility — and without the guilt trips.

“My kid’s birthday is coming up next month and so is my anxiety. Every year he gets SO excited about having a birthday party and I put all this effort into it, but then the day of, he inevitably ends up hiding for half of it and/or having a meltdown during inopportune moments. In the past, he has told everyone to shut up during the birthday song. I’m already dreading this year’s party, and trying to figure out how I can mix things up (on both our parts). So tell me, GEP, what am I doing wrong?!”

When faced with an intense parenting conundrum like this one, it is best to consult the experts. I’m not talking about Dr. Spock or Dr. Becky, but rather the mother and father of ‘80s child-rearing wisdom, Jan and Stan Berenstain. In Too Much Birthday, one of the most worn issues in the extensive collection of Berenstain Bears books that I still keep, the Bear family wrestle with just this question. How is a thing like a birthday — at once precious and delight-inducing, but also overwhelming and, at times, downright harrowing — to be dealt with?

Making A Birthday Party Magical With Smart Wands

Visitors to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios are able to cast “spells” by waving special interactive wands in the air. Hackers like us understand that there must be some unknown machinations happening behind the scenes to detect how the wands are moving, but for the kids wielding them, it might as well be real magic. So when his son asked to have a Harry Potter themed birthday party, [Adam Thole] decided to try recreating the system used at Universal Studios in his own home.

Components used in the IR streaming camera

The basic idea is that each wand has a reflector in the tip, which coupled with strong IR illumination makes them glow on camera. This allows for easy gesture recognition using computer vision techniques, all without any active components in the wand itself.

[Adam] notes that you can actually buy the official interactive wands from the Universal Studios online store, and they’d even work with his system, but at $50 USD each they were too expensive to distribute to the guests at the birthday party. His solution was to simply 3D print the wands and put a bit of white prismatic reflective tape on the ends.

With the wands out of the way, he turned his attention to the IR imaging side of the system. His final design is a very impressive 3D printed unit which includes four IR illuminators, a Raspberry Pi Zero with the NoIR camera module. [Adam] notes that his software setup specifically locks the camera at 41 FPS, as that triggers it to use a reduced field of view by essentially “zooming in” on the image. If you don’t request a FPS higher than 40, the camera will deliver a wider image which didn’t have any advantage in this particular project.

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