Carnival 4yr - Balloons & Popcorn Bags
Gabrielle in Quakertown, PA, USA
For my daughter's 4th birthday, we had about 20 2-10 year olds over for a carnival party from 12 to 3 on the last Saturday in June (I've always had good luck with the weather!) I got the inspiration for this party the year before, when my husband gave me a popcorn cart for my birthday (the day before my daughter's). I also found many great ideas on this website.
WARNING: You need a lot of helpers and a lot of folding tables for this party!!
HELPERS: That summer before my sister also went to "Clown Camp" to be a clown in the Macy's Thanksgiving parade. I enlisted her as clown for the party, and she decided to learn how to do balloon animals. (She bought a kit with balloons and the pump- I also saw kits on Oriental Trading Co.'s sight. I also found squirty flowers at the dollar store- she'd tell the kids to smell then squirt them!) When I found out my daughter's best friend's dad could juggle, I enlisted him too. All niece and nephews 12 and older as well as guests' older siblings and my step-son and his mom were put in charge of the carnival games.
Since it was the summer, my step daughter was home from college. She did face-painting (we do a big haunted house on halloween, so we had plenty of make up- if you plan ahead, there's always a lot on clearance after halloween or you can order face-paint crayons online), my sister did tattoos (oriental trading company), and my next-door neighbor also home from college was in charge of spin art (I bought two at Michael's and ordered extra paper and paint from Oriental. I tied a length of ribbon along the porch and used clothespins to hang the art to dry. Make sure you write the kids' names on the back first!) My mom and mother-in-law manned the prize booth and my-sisters and brothers-in-law worked the snack bar (more on prizes and snacks in a minute…)
CRAFT: I like to have kids do a craft at the beginning of a party. This entertains them while everyone arrives and the crafts can dry during the rest of the party. For this party I had "clown hats" for them to decorate with stickers, sparkly stars, yarn, and mini-pompoms. Two long tables and chairs were set up with everything in the garage (which would then be cleared to eat at). I bought plain party hats (dollar or party store). A few days ahead of time, my step-daughter made pipe cleaner flowers. We hot-glued these to the sides of the hats so they stuck out and glued big pom-poms to the tops. The hats were cute, but this party did not need a craft, especially since we had spin art as part of the carnival. A lot of kids forgot to take their hats home and a few spin arts were also left behind.
GAMES: (Note, when I say "I", I really mean me and my helpers- my husband, step-son, step-daughter, and sisters!) I set up all the "booths" on my front yard, driveway and sidewalk (no room in the back yard.) When needed I drew lines with sidewalk chalk for where the kids should stand for bowling, can toss, bean bag toss, etc- these games where on the driveway and sidewalk. I drew lines closer and farther for younger/older kids. Kids could win 1,2, or 3 tickets (I bought a roll of tickets at Walmart) at each game depending how many bean bags they got it, cans they knocked down, etc. Everyone got at least one for playing. My step-daughter drew a poster with the name of the game and what you had to do to get tickets for each game- she's very artistic! At the beginning of the party, each child got a small handle bag to put their tickets in as they won them, then to hold the prizes when they traded in their tickets. The bags had several bills of fake money for the snack bar. (I found fake money sets at Walmart and the dollar store, but this isn't really necessary- not everyone used the money, but some kids thought it was fun. The bags were from Oriental and had balloon decoration from. I'd written they're names in permanent marker on one of the handles.) For the booths, I had some square and some rectangle folding tables (we have a few and I borrowed the rest from my mom and a neighbor). I used the smaller ones for the clown's balloon making station, tattoo and face paint were together, and spin art. The longer ones were for balloon shave and pingpong toss. I bought a pack of 10 different colored rectangle table cloths (Oriental or party store) and cut some in half for the smaller tables. We hung the poster for each game (or taped it to the sidewalk/driveway if there was no table) and taped balloons around the poster or on the corners of the tables. Yes, balloons were popping all day long! I borrowed a ring toss, bean bag toss and bowling game from my daughter's pre-school (or try a summer camp, church, YMCA, etc). To make bowling set-up easier, I drew a circle where each pin went. I ordered sponge balls (Oriental again, they also sell bean bag and other carnival games) and put them in a big bucket of water. The kids threw the balls at my stepson (which he enjoyed since it was a hot day). I brought out a small, low coffee table and stacked 6 soup cans (with labels removed- I never got around to wrapping them in bright construction paper) in a pyramid and the kids threw a baseball at them. This was hard for the littlest ones, but the older ones enjoyed it. We had a balloon shave race where kids shaved shaving cream (you could use cool whip) off a balloon with a plastic knife. We blew up 3 trash bags of balloons ahead of time and drew on faces with permanent markers. (Don't blow up too much or they'll pop too easily, especially in the heat.) I ordered colored ducks from Oriental and wrote 1, 2, or 3 on the bottoms. The kids picked one from a kiddy pool and got that many tickets. I bought 9 small glass bowls for $1 each at walmart and filled them halfway with water. The kids threw ping-pong balls until they got one in. This won them a goldfish, not tickets. (Feeder fish are very cheap at pet stores. I bought one bottle of food and put some in small baggies for each kid. The fish were in a big bucket that I usually keep basketballs, etc. in in the garage. I was going to put them out in the bowls for the game, but was afraid they'd die! The kids got to scoop a fish and water into a gallon plastic bag and take a packet of food before they left. Some parents opted not to take the fish. Others called me the next day cursing me cause they're kid's fish died. A few are still alive, though, 9 months later!)
FOOD: The "snack bar" was set up in the garage (2-car, so pretty roomy). I needed used 4 tables and a couple of extension cords. I lined 2 tables up across the back of the garage, leaving room for my "workers" behind them. We rolled out the popcorn cart and put it next to the "bar". The two tables that had been for arts and crafts were set up perpendicular to the bar with plenty of room between them and the bar. All the tables were covered with colored table clothes and decorated with balloons. Balloon bouquets were the centerpiece: Balloons on sticks in popcorn bags filled with rocks to keep them upright. When the kids were done with the hats, I put them around the centerpieces to dry. The kids and parents could then come in whenever they wanted during the carnival and eat. On the back wall was a menu (a large poster, again thanks to my step-daughter) with all the food and "prices." The kids could use their fake money, but didn't have to. We didn't make the parents pay!
Choices included popcorn, peanuts, nachos, cotton candy, hot dogs, lemonade, iced-tea, and snow-cones. (Sodas, waters, and juice boxes were help-yourself from a big bucket filled with ice.) I bought a cotton candy maker and snowcone maker from Walmart. They were both "old-fashioned" and matched the popcorn cart (in design at least.) These were both BIG hits and not too expensive, plus we still use them. The hotdogs boiled in a crock-pot and we melted cheese for the nachos in an electric fondue pot. We also put out a jar of salsa. The local 7-11 gave me a stack of paper hot-dog trays and slurpee straws for the snow cones. I found cone cups in the camping section of Walmart (smaller and cheaper than the red and white ones they sold near the snowcone makers) and someone recommended putting a mini-marshmallow in first to keep it from dripping through the bottom. Walmart also had extra cotton candy sugar and paper cones. A restaurant at a local flea market gave me some trays for the nachos. Of course you could just use plates or bowls, but I'm a maniac!! There was extra everything in coolers or boxes behind the snack bar. I had a fan set up, but my snack bar crew were hot. My in-laws were AWESOME! My brother-in-law perfected the art of cotton-candy making by the end of the party!
PRIZES: The kids could trade in their tickets anytime during the carnival and while we were clearing room for the juggler. Although they could play games as many times as they wanted, they were only allowed to trade in 30 tickets (I was afraid I would run out of prizes if I didn't limit it, but I had a lot left over- I'm sure I'll use them for other parties though.) After all the kids "shopped," I gave all the kids who worked the booths tickets to get prizes with. (I also gave them gold fish and the small bowls from the ping pong toss as thank-yous for helping out.) The prize booth was a table set up on my porch. (Also with a colored table cloth and balloons, and pinwheels along the pathway to the porch.) Prizes were in boxes with 1, 3, 5, or 10 tickets glued to the box to show how much the items "cost." I ordered most of the prizes from- don't be shocked now- Oriental Trading Co. You can get almost everything you need for this party from their catalog/website. I also used a bunch of kids meal toys. I had things like stickers, double-bubble gum and pixie sticks for 1 ticket; tattoos and bouncy balls for 3; fuzzy pencils, small bottles of bubbles, and pinwheels for 5; and kids meal toys for 10 (they were only allowed to choose 1 10-ticket item so I'd have enough for everyone.)
CAKE: I gave the kids a 10 and 5 minute warning before we "closed" the carnival. We cleared some of the booths right away so the kids had room to sit in a U on the lawn for a juggling show. The dad was great- he brought a bag full of balls and rings to juggle and pulled my step-son up to help him (his birthday is also the day before my daughter's. We celebrate his birthday with family after all the little kids leave.) While the kids were being entertained, I was able to get the cake and ice-cream out to the garage. I switched to dixie cups when I used to throw parties for my step-son's birthday- it's way quicker and easier than scooping and the kids love them. I made the cake the night before the party. I found some ideas for a merry-go-round cake online.
I made a double layer round cake, iced it white, and decorated around the bottom and top edges with alternating bright colors. I made the canopy by cutting an 2 8-in circles from different colored construction paper. I disected one into 6 even sections, cut them out (triangles with a rounded bottom) and glued them on the other circle so the colors alternate. I then cut a slit to the middle of the circle and taped one end under the other to make the canopy. I rested this on top of candy sticks (found these at the flea market- you know the kind that look like a candy cane without the hook part.) I had "glued" animal crackers to the sticks with icing- put them at different levels so it looks like the animals are going up and down. It took awhile, but came out great! After the juggling was done, the kids came in the garage and sang happy birthday and had cake and ice cream before they went home. (The cousins that stayed for my step-son's birthday and a few of his friends who came at 3 then hit the pool in the back yard. Later we sang him happy birthday and had the ice-cream cake he picked out.) With presents for my daughter and step-son and SO many kids, I find it too crazy to open gifts while everyone's still here (unless they ask before they leave, then just that gift is opened) and I'm usually too exhausted by the end of the party, so we usuallly do it the next day.
INVITES and THANK YOU's: I bought printer paper with balloon borders at Walmart and used this for both the invites and thank you's. I folded it in 3 and put it in regular, business-sized peel and seel envelopes (it's worth the extra money to not have to lick them all!). I printed 2 copies of address labels (I have a file I update every year) with carnival tent clip art in the corner. My daughter put stickers (hot dogs, balloons, clowns, etc) on the envelopes to "help." The invitations read something like "Come one, come all, gather around; for food, games and fun when the Carnival's in town." With time, date, and location (Marvelli Fairgrounds and our address) details. I typed up the thank-you's and left space for my daughter to sign. I like to personalize the thank-you's since the guests aren't here when she opens gifts. I try to include something cute she said when she opened the gift (I jot notes down along with who gave what) or whether she opened it first, played with it right away, etc.
FINALLY: This party was alot of work (I'm a teacher, so I don't usually work the 2 weeks before the party), but everyone- including all the helpers and especially my daughter- had a GREAT TIME!!!!
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