Idea No.


Cave Adventure Party 8yr - Bats & Bugs



February 2009


Holly in Albany, CA, USA

February 2009 Winner


During our last summer vacation our family went on a commercial cave tour and my son was fascinated by the caves themselves and by the plastic helmet with a front-mounted light that we got in the gift shop. He decided that for his next birthday party we should turn our house into a cave!

INVITATION: We boughtgranite (speckled grey) paper at an office supply store and I printed the invitations on my computer. Based on some examples I found online I drew a large cave mouth - with stalactites and stalagmites and a forbidding black opening beyond - and scanned it. That drawing went on the front of the invitation - which was formed into a half-sheet size card by folding the paper in half. Above the picture of the cave mouth it read: Enter if you dare  The inside read: And you will find a party there! [Name] is turning 8 and we are going to celebrate/ We're going caving - don't be late/ Join the adventure in the earth's deeps/ explore places where you must crawl and creep/ You might find some treasure that's for keeps! / Expedition date is [date]/ Meet at the trailhead to [Our last name] Caverns [address] at 2:00. If we haven't emerged by 5:00 alert the cave rescue unit! /Please respond to the outfitter [contact info] to ensure sufficient gear and supplies are available The inside also had a caver graphic - a stylized crawling person wearing a caving helmet. I included a note that said we weren't really going anywhere but would be at our house the whole time - so we wouldn't need real safety gear but we would be crawling (so dress accordingly) and to bring a headlamp if you happened to own one.

DECORATIONS: We turned our dining room into a cave by hanging black plastic tablecover (300 ft roll from party supply store) on all the walls - right over the windows and over furniture - so it was dark and the draping and wrinkles in the plastic really gave the impression of cave walls; hanging photos of rock formations (printed from the Internet) around the walls; and wrapping rock wall print decorating paper around the archway between the dining room and our living room so it looked like a rocky cave mouth. We hung lots of rubber bats (Halloween décor from Oriental Trading) in various places and used paperboard strips printed with rocks (meant for science classroom bulletin boards) as decoration in the entry and living room. We used black plastic over various tables as well and had a couple of posters relating to cave formations and cave life (found online and printed from my computer) on the living room walls. Out in the backyard we created a huge cave system out of cardboard boxes - more on that below. (For this party I decided we could use the backyard where there was more space even though my son's birthday is in the winter. Even if it rained that would just add to the realism because caves are damp! And the kids wouldn't get too wet inside the tarp-covered boxes. It turned out we had dry weather anyway.)

Finally we had a couple of cavers practice box things which we were able to borrow from a local grotto - chapter of the National Speleological Society - through a friend who's a member. These are big boxes made of grey-painted plywood for the frame and PVC pipes to represent stalactites and other rock formations. One has pipes hanging from the top and the object is to crawl underneath without knocking any of them down. We assembled that in our living room. The other is the trench challenge which has a series of pipes running between two plywood walls and the object is to thread your body over and under the pipes following a line painted on the wall. That one we had outside in the yard.

COSTUMES: We created a caver outfit as my son's Halloween costume and he wore it for the party. He had the helmet from the cave tour shop mentioned above, hiking boots and a red nylon coverall. The coverall was meant as a race car driver costume but it was a fairly plain one with only one small racing logo on the chest. So we covered that up with a plastic sticker from Café Press that read Speleologists Rock!  We also made kneepads out of foam rubber and an old pair of black socks (with feet cut off).

ACTIVITIES: As the kids arrived at the party we gave each of them a helmet (white plastic construction hat from OTC) and a pack (drawstring sack from OTC) full of caving gear (small flashlight; Clif bar; bottled water; carabiners) and invited them to decorate the helmet with markers; we also told them to put their names or initials on their helmet and pack so they could keep track of their stuff. We had the caver practice boxes for the kids to crawl on/under/through. And we had put out an assortment of books about caves and coloring pages and mazes.

After everyone was there we announced the first activity and had them all gather around while I demonstrated how to make a model of a cave. We talked about how limestone caves form by the filtering of rainwater through topsoil where it forms carbonic acid which dissolves the limestone. To make our models we used a stack of sugar cubes (arranged however they wanted - each child got 10 cubes to use (or eat!)) covered with clay (I bought a large tub of Crayola air-dry clay at Target and other parents helped me parcel out a lump to each kid). I showed them how to leave cracks or poke holes in the clay so that the rain water (poured from a pitcher) could filter through and dissolve the sugar cubes - leaving the clay cave behind. As a platform for the model we used an inverted styrofoam dessert plate with holes drilled through; on top of a larger plastic plate with fairly deep sides. That way the water poured over it drained through the foam plate and collected in the plastic plate. The kids were given some time to create their structures and then they lined up for rain. I did the pouring in the kitchen so that most of the water could then be drained off into the sink. Each kid then took the plate with his/her model outside and set it in the sun to dry.

After everyone was done with the models we played a pin the tail type game. We gathered the children in the dining room cave and talked about the gear that real cavers use and the caver's creed (Take nothing but photographs; Leave nothing but footprints; Kill nothing but time.) Of course the most important gear is lights especially the helmet-mounted headlamp. I had printed a large picture of a caver and made paper cutouts of copies of her helmet. On the poster I blacked out her light and told the kids they needed to help her get her light back on. Each kid got a paper helmet with double-sided tape on the back and they lined up to be blindfolded and attempt to stick the helmet and light on the caver. The five kids who got closest to the right place were issued headlamps (I bought them for $6 each which is a good price for the toy but too much for me to buy enough for all 20 or so kids!) and got the first chance to go into our backyard cavern system!

I'd also planned a bat and bugs tag game based on Marco Polo - the bat would be blindfolded and make a squeaky noise which had to echoed by the bugs whom the bat would then try to catch - but decided to skip it because the kids were all so anxious to explore the caverns. For the backyard cavern system: We created the basic structure of it a week in advance using large and medium sized cardboard boxes (including some appliance boxes gleaned from a local store; shipping cartons we had; and moving boxes purchased at Home Depot) and my kids jungle gym/climber toys. We laid it out on a big tarp and taped everything together; we cut irregularly-shaped holes in the boxes where necessary and mixed up the sizes and shapes to create a roughly oblong system with many intersections and chambers of various heights.

The main entrance came up onto the corner of our deck so there was a downward-sloped passage going into the main part of the caverns and the climbing structure created additional areas off the ground level. There was an additional opening on the opposite side and one emergency access area where an adult could get in by just moving aside the corner of a tarp. (I could fit through most of the passageways but it was a lot easier for the kids than for adults!) My son had fun naming all the chambers and passages that week. Also during that weekend before the party we broke up pieces of styrofoam packing material and sponge painted the pieces to look like chunks of rock. During the week we added to the basic structure by gluing the foam rocks to the walls and ceilings; creating papier mache stalactites and stalagmites; taping up crumpled brown packing paper to create curves and draperies in the corners; using expanding foam insulation to fill corners and create rock formations; and taping cracks and corners with black Gorilla Tape to block light. The whole family got involved in this project and it was a lot of work but a lot of fun too! To finish it off we covered the whole thing with several brown tarps which darkened it and gave it more of a natural shape like a rocky ridge.  It really looked great!

Then inside the caves we put rubber bats; rubber snakes; a big plastic rat; and lots of small glow-in-the-dark bugs and reptiles (package of 144 from OTC) which we had charged up in the sun that morning. Also hidden throughout the caves were a couple dozen small treasure boxes (which I'd constructed out of woodgrain patterned paper) containing chocolate coins and plastic craft jewels. So the kids were told that there was an old legend about pirates and smugglers hiding treasure in these caves which they could hunt for - and not to take more than one box until everyone had their turn to find one - and we let them explore. The kids without headlamps played in the plywood caver practice boxes or had a snack while waiting for their turn. As it turned out the plastic helmets were really too flimsy to support the headlamps so most of the kids ended up just using the little flashlights from their gear bags. Which was fine. They were all very good about making sure everyone got treasure (even one of the little sisters who thought going into the caves was too scary) and not crowding each other too much. SNACKS: The party was between mealtimes so we just had simple snacks - the kind of thing you might eat on a hike or other outdoors adventure! Juice; pretzels; energy bars; baby carrots with dip; and cheese and crackers. The sliced cheese was cut into bat shapes using a cookie cutter.

CAKE: After all the kids had some time to explore the caves (and most of them had eaten their treasure!) we brought them in for cake. I made two cakes for this party: a bat cake and a cave cake. The bat cake was formed from one 9 inch round. It's hard to describe exactly how to cut this but the tops of the wings were the rounded sides of the cake and the head and body was the piece left in the middle from cutting the scalloped shape of the bottom of the wings. Additional pieces from the center made ears and legs. Scraps left from shaping the wings gave the head and body a bit of a 3D curve. The whole thing was covered in homemade grey fondant with red hots for eyes. For a cave cake basically you cut a cave mouth out of the side of a Bundt cake and then use the chunk of cake you've cut out to plug the hole in the top. I used two Bundt cakes so the second one had a curve cut from the side in order to nest the two together and that cut-away piece was also used to cover the top.

The two cakes together formed sort of an 8 shape which was appropriate because this was an 8th birthday! On the underside of the piece used for the top of the first cake I made little lumps of frosting that - when the piece was dropped on top of the cake - dripped down and formed stalactites! You could just see these through the cave mouth. I covered the whole cake with light brown, dark brown & grey frosting - heated to make it more pourable - just kind of glopped on so it would look like rocks and dirt. And then added chocolate rocks (from a cake supply store) to decorate. All this was on top of grey fondant covering the cake board for ground. Finally in the cave mouth I inserted a fondant figure of a caver - made the week before to look sort of like my son with a red coverall and green helmet - crawling out of the cave. I was really pleased with how this cake turned out and I enjoyed not having to be careful about smoothing the frosting and not getting it smeared on the board and all that; this one was meant to look kind of sloppy! Both cakes tasted very good too! (The bat cake was orange juice flavored; the cave cake was chocolate.) The kids favorite part was the chocolate rocks.

FAVORS: After cake we opened the presents. As is traditional for us we had my son give out a goody bag to each guest as he opened the gift from that person. For the bags themselves I used the same granite paper as for the invitations - folded over and the edges taped - and in each bag was a rubber bouncy ball that looks like a rock; a packet of Pop Rocks candy; plastic bat rings (bought at Halloween); and one of the same glow-in-the-dark critters we'd put in the caves. The kids also each had their helmet; gear pack; treasure box; and clay cave model. The kids went back into the caverns or practice boxes until it was time to go.

They all had a great time and didn't want to leave! As I write this we are working on the thank-you notes which will go on the same granite paper. Incidentally: most people use the term pelunking for cave exploring but we've learned that the proper term is caving (or peleology for the scientific study of caves and cave ecosystems.) Real cavers use pelunker to mean amateurs who don't have the right gear and don't know what they're doing! We're planning to take our son on a real caving trip soon with that friend through whom we borrowed the practice boxes.

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