I love putting together parties. Obviously, there’s the cake, but building the world in which the cake lives? That’s exciting to me.
Recently, my son turned 3-years-old. While I wasn’t looking forward to losing my baby boy to yet another year, I was excited to throw another party where I call the shots, pull the strings, and set the budget! But that’s not to say that the means were infinite. And especially not when you have a guest list that includes almost 30 kids and their parents (this was my version of ‘downsizing’, by the way). It was certainly going to require quite a bit of creativity and DIY to stretch every dollar. Not only that, but my nephew who had recently arrived from the Philippines was celebrating his 4th birthday a few days after, so I went ahead and made the party for them both.
DECOR: To start with, I set up the party in the garage as opposed to the indoor multipurpose room and used the workbench, ladders, and visible tools to my advantage! Most of the decor were $1 items. Tiny traffic cones at Dollar Tree, caution tape from Michaels’ Fun Finds section, tin pails from Target’s $1 Spot, $1 frames from Ikea. The traffic signs were made from posterboards from Dollar tree (2/$1), letters cut from the home cutting machine, and electrical tape. The tables were covered in $1 kraft paper, accented with the free paper measuring tape from Ikea. I downloaded about 5 or 6 difference blueprint stock photos and printed them on plain white paper to serve as placemats. To top off the tablescape, I ordered plain canvas aprons and stenciled each child’s name on it then put their forks and spoons in the pocket. This, along with a plastic hardhat serves as their favors as well. Thanks to Pinterest, I got the idea to hammer the names with nails. The box of nails cost a little over $2 and the wood I got for free at the home improvement store just by asking for their cutting remnants. Found some leftover spray paint in the garage and stenciled their ages too.
ACTIVITIES: What kinds of activities do you plan for a group of 20-30 kids whose ages range from 1 to 12? Most games will be too advanced for the toddlers, and since the celebrants are part of that group, I didn’t want to leave them out. Meanwhile, the older kids can easily get bored and retreat to their iPods for 3 hours. I’ve learned, that for me, organized games don’t work. Believe me, I’ve tried and failed, and I can never estimate how many prizes I’ll need for them. Jumpers are fantastic. But so are play structures and lawn games. And never underestimate the mass appeal of regular ol’ sports and beach balls. These things are also cheap, if not free if you already own or borrow. But when I choose a theme, I milk it for all it’s worth! I decided to have six activity stations that the kids could freely roam about. Let me tell you, this was a HIT. The kids weren’t bored or over-structured. They could play at their own level, at their own leisure. And best of all, the
party hostess parents didn’t have to work too hard to keep them in line.
Cardboard brick building and demolition. I bought two sets of 12 of these cardboard brick blocks. Similar products easily go for $35-50 a set at educational supply stores, but I found these at Walmart for $9/doz. After the kids built their towers, they threw balls at them to knock it down. Real life Angry Birds. The 6 and up crowd really enjoyed this activity! Total cost: $20 (and reusable bricks for the kid)
Sandbox “Quarry.” Free cardboard box (I suggest reinforcing the bottom), lined with a trash bag, covered in woodgrain contact paper, and filled with $5 play sand from the home improvement store. Throw in some inexpensive sand toys or toy trucks and the little ones will be busy for hours. Total cost: $5 (not including the sand toys that I already had)
Cardboard box tunnel maze – hands down, the best activity! The Mr. brought home nine boxes from work in various sizes. I just fiddled around a couple weeks before until I found a good configuration, then wrote numbers and arrows at the top (to indicate orientation and order of the boxes and cut a few holes throughout to let in some light. On party day, I just followed my markings and used packaging tape to fasten. Additionally, I used the crumpled packing paper that came with the box, spray painted a little texture and stapled to the tunnel entrance to look like rock. Then I wrapped some toilet paper rolls with red paper, added a little string to make dynamite. What kid doesn’t love a cardboard box house or tunnel? Best part? Total cost: $0.
Toothpick and marshmallow bridges were intended to entertain and challenge the older kids. I was afraid this activity would be too difficult for them, but you know what happened? All the kids did it! Even the 2-year-olds (granted, they ate most of their marshmallows, but they still built recognizable structures, even if not bridges)! Kids as young as 7 were coming up with bridge designs that were standing successfully! Total cost: $2
Hammer and nails station – kids use toy hammers to drive golf tee “nails” into a styrofoam board. I used more of the woodgrain contact paper to cover the foam. I have that around because I’m always finding a use for the stuff. If you don’t need much, they sell it at Dollar Tree. My son had some tools, but I had to buy a few more hammers. $3 for bag of 90 tees, $4 for 2′x4′ sheet of styrofoam at Home Depot, $3 for 3 plastic hammers. Total cost – $10
Probably the least popular activity was the Toolbox craft (example not shown). I got these craft packets that are pretty easy to follow, but these kids didn’t seem too interested in them. Out of the 20+ kids roaming around, only about five of them did the craft. I have lots of extras, so I’ll probably just donate the rest to the church school. Total cost – about $8/doz
The one organized activity we did was the punch boxes. I, personally, detest piñatas. Choosing your favorite characters then beating the life out of them? Also, logistically speaking, they require an exorbitant amount of
money candy to fill, they’re dangerous for toddlers to participate in, and they can’t even eat the candy they get! So I made these punch boxes to look like brick walls. I have 75 openings to give each child three punches. Inside, I stuffed pencils, stickers, balls, candy, rice krispy treats, and goldfish crackers. They each took turns hammering through the tissue paper to access the prizes inside. It was a great success, but if I’m completely honest, I’ll probably never do this again. At least not to this degree. It was A LOT of work. I don’t remember how much I spent on the prizes inside because I’d always get things on clearance whenever I see them. The punch boxes themselves, which required 6 foam core boards, a pack of red tissue, paper lunch sacks (and well as hot glue and toothpicks) cost me $9 and about 12 hours to make. Downsizing would’ve been helpful.
FOOD: Well, no Filipino party would be complete without way too much food. Plus, my mom and mother-in-law are great cooks, so it was a given that they would cook up a storm. But me being the control freak that I am, I gave them free rein to cook for the adults, but I would take care of the kids and the dessert. I went the easy route with pizza, but gave each kid a “lunchbox” with a juice pouch, fruit cup, and treat.
“Truck Tires” - homemade Oreo cookies
“Sand Buckets” - banana & pudding trifle topped with wafer crumbs served in a miniature pail (made from bathroom size cups, floral wire, and a piece of a coffee stirrer)
And of course, cake! I didn’t get a picture of it sliced open, but I used this striped design on the inside with yellow and dark chocolate cake. Now, this might not be the best place to admit this, but this was not a nice cake! I’m very sad that of all the cakes I make, my own son’s is not up to my standards, but I had too many things to prepare to stress over it, so it is what it is!
Overall, the party was a huge success! The kids had a fantastic time and many did not even want to go home! Most importantly, the birthday celebrants were satisfied!