Step right up … for a Carnival Birthday Party!
Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls! Step right up for the greatest show on the … block! When our boys were turning 6 and 3 within three weeks of each other, I decided it was the perfect time for a joint party. I didn’t know how much longer they would have the same friends and the same interests, so this was my big chance to put on the Backyard Birthday Carnival for them that I had pictured in my mind for years! After months of shopping for prizes, painting signs, creating custom tickets for each carnival attraction and convincing my husband to construct several carnival games, it was finally time for the big day, as well as a local thunderstorm. But, alas, the show must go on, so we moved the whole shindig inside and the roof became our “big top” for the day! It was a tight fit, but it all worked and the kids left loaded down with candy, pinwheels, animal balloons, face paint and mile-wide smiles! We recruited grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends to act as carnies, working each game and handing out prizes. I think we’ll be repaying favors for a while! All in all, it was a true success.
We strung brightly-colored streamers and pennant flags all across the house and accented with helium balloons. We created a serve-yourself buffet of circus food, including hot dogs, peanuts, popcorn in adorable paper boxes, chips and iced circus cookies. This organic, all-natural, 100% fruit juice, no-sugar-added kind of a mom took a break from health food and gave my children a plethora of cavity-inducing delights! I attempted to create a candy shoppe look using glass dishes in various sizes filled with colorful sour balls, pixie stix, bright gum balls, twirly lollipops, salt water taffy and packets of cotton candy in green, pink, purple and blue! The kids were encouraged to fill up their treat bags with sweets and treats. Then, we served ice cream cone cupcakes (cake baked into ice cream cones and topped with sprinkles)….what is more fun than that?!
When each guest entered this carnival-themed birthday party, they visited the Ticket Booth and received a paper bag containing tickets for each of the many carnival attractions. They happily trotted off to one of the game stations or the Bounce House on the back porch. At each game, they redeemed a ticket to try their hand at the game and in turn received a prize such as a temporary tattoo, silly band, jump rope, pinwheel, paddle ball, parachute man or twisty lollipop. Next to each attraction, we had created a hand-painted sign to add color and to help the kids figure out where to redeem each ticket. They also took turns in the face painting chair, being transformed into Batman, a clown or a beautiful butterfly.
We re-created one of my favorite carnival games as a child and called it Gone Fishin’. We draped cute fishy fabric over a wooden frame that my husband built, about 5’ tall by 4’ wide with sturdy wooden feet. We fashioned a fishing rod out of a dowel rod with a string attached to it and a clip on the end. When children “casted” over the wall, my very-helpful mother, who was stationed behind it, attached temporary tattoos or silly bands onto the clip! The kids loved the fishing game and wanted to play again and a again!
The next game was Ring-A-Ding, a version of ring-toss, a very traditional carnival game. We built a low wooden platform, spray-painted water bottles white, and attempted to glue them in a grid pattern onto the platform. During our practice rounds, the bottles kept coming unglued, so we decided to fill them with water and just set them in place. The kids tossed rings and had three chances to land a ring on a bottle!
At Hot Shot, our little marksmen tested their aim and concentration as they attempted to shoot plastic golf balls off of tees using only a plastic water gun. Yes, it was a little messy for indoors, but it was worth it. Our 3-year-old got so close to his target that I’m pretty sure the tip of his gun knocked the balls off, but hey, at this carnival, everyone’s a winner! Give the man his prize!
Because we were inside, we had to modify the Duck Pond game. We had originally planned to fill a molded plastic baby pool with water and release floating duckies in the water, each marked on the underside with a code that determined which prize was won. We didn’t want a swimming pool indoors, so we filled a tub with styrofoam peanuts and let the ducks swim in that. Blessed are the flexible, for they will bend and not break!
Plinko, the game of “The Price is Right” fame, was our crowning achievement. My ever-patient husband built this large board with a stand on the back that allowed it to be stable at an angle, then screwed about 150 screws onto the front of the board to create pegs. At the bottom of the board, there were six slots to catch the balls as they bounced down the Plinko board, and two of them were marked with stars, indicating a win!
The final game was Knock Out, a platform with 10 child-size bowling pins on it that allowed the kids to bowl their little hearts out.
The highlight of the carnival was our hired entertainer, Bonkers the Clown! While the kids circulated through the games, he set up a balloon station where he handed out balloon swords, animals, flowers, hats, etc! Then, after we gathered the kids for cake, he put on a wonderful show including juggling and silly clown tricks that delighted the kids!
I’m not sure who enjoyed it more, the kids or me (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t my husband or our loved ones who worked so hard to help out!), but it was a great day with lots of great memories. There’s something about bright colors, yummy junk food, and the thrill of winning cheap little prizes that makes everyone feel like a kid again!
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