Idea No.


Pirate Party 5yr - Pirate Ship's Manifest



November 2008


Andrea in Brighton, MA, USA

Runner Up

Pirate Girl Party

Pirate Party, 5 yr. old  My daughter Anna had a Peter Pan party for her fourth birthday and by age five, hadn't outgrown her love for that story. Since her best friends were boys, a Tinkerbelle party seemed odd, so we went with a Pirate Party. We bought some inexpensive props at IParty including a glow-in-the-dark skull, a fancy sword for my husband, eye patches for all the kids (you can make them easily enough but we chose to buy cloth ones), mini notebooks with red stripes and a pirate flag on the front, lots of fake gold coins and a large pack of plastic sea creatures. We also bought a pack of black balloons and one of colored balloons.

We already had temporary tattoos in a nautical theme and several real starfish leftover from my older daughter's recent backyard beach party and plenty of solid colored plates and cups. We chose not to buy special paper products but used a blue and red theme from what we already had. We had a tin of pirate bandages in the house with just enough for each child to get one in their goody bag. But the best props of all were the plastic pirate swords we bought earlier that summer in Salem, Massachusetts, at the Pirate Museum there. We already had an inkling that a pirate party might be in the works.   We designed the invitations on our computer starting with a skull and cross bones from a free design site on the Internet. We chose an old-fashioned font  (Algerian condensed) for our script.

The invitations read: Ahoy there Mate'y/ Captain Anna sets sail (date of party)/ (time) sharp/ from pier (our address)/ in search of treasure and cake/Only the bravest among you may join her crew!/ Reply (our phone number) or we'll feed you to the cat ! We didn't actually ask the cat's permission for this; we knew one child was timid around animals and our funny threat defused the situation. At the bottom of the invitation we added the following fine print for parents: Warnings: Dress for mess and wet. Parents who abandon their young past (party end time) face dire consequences. One mom did pick up her child late and her son insisted that she face said consequences in the form of being pelted with balloons. We printed the invitation on thin white paper that we stained at the edges with a damp teabag. After it dried, we rolled it up, tied it with a red ribbon and sealed it with a gold sticker. Since it was a small party for neighborhood friends, the invitations were hand delivered by Anna who wore the Captain Hook costume her grandparents had bought her as a birthday present  red coat, lace collar, hat with feather and of course, hook from which the invitations hung. The guests bugged their parents for two weeks about whether it was pirate day yet! 

For party helpers, we enlisted my two older daughters, Miriam age 9 and Bayla age 7.  Josie who was 2 at the time was a junior crew member. My husband and I and all the girls dressed for wicked success. One girl tied a black bandana over her long hair, created her own vest over a fancy blouse and used scrap material to fashion a holder for her cutlass. Another wore a stripped shirt and cut up an old pair of jeans for that raggedy look. My husband had a full cape, eye patch, and sword plus his natural red beard. I had an old fashioned dress and a stuffed parrot on my shoulder. The birthday girl wore her captain coat, collar and hat but lent her hook to a sister.  

Once dressed, we were ready to welcome our new crew. We used sidewalk chalk to direct guests to our front porch with language such as Pirates Ahead and Turn Back Ye Faint of Heart. We hung a Jolly Roger off the porch with a loop of string so early guests could raise and lower it, and put an inflatable  toy monkey on the porch swing. We set up a child's table in the corner of the porch with the skull (whose eyes glowed green in the shade), scattered coins, a pile of notebooks, tattoos, eye patches and swords, and a Ship's Manifest printed in black script attached to a clipboard. The order of the party was written on it: Enlist the Crew. Swab the Deck. Pirate Practice. Sink the Ship. Cake Island. Find the Loot. Walk the Plank.  

Bayla enlisted the crew at the table on the porch. She and her older sister had scripts to read though they also enjoyed ad libbing. As guests arrived, she asked them Ahoy Mate'y. Are ye here t be a pirate? After they nodded or yelled  Yes! depending on their level of shyness, she'd ask What be yer name? She wrote their names in a large book (we inserted blank pages into an old textbook) and asked the following: Do ye agree to follow all rules set forth by Captain Anna and First Mate Redbeard (my husband)? Do ye agree to not hit people with your sword? Do ye agree to having a jolly good time? If they answered yes to all, which they did with increasing giggles, she said All right then, yer in! Each crew member put a mark by their name in the book and was handed a tattoo and sword and sent in the front door where Miriam greeted them: Welcome to Captain Anna's. I'll take you to the tattoo parlor. She escorted each child to the kitchen and applied the tattoo with water.

Then I took their picture and Miriam escorted them to our back yard. She introduced them to Captain Anna and First Mate Redbeard. Children who wanted chose a pirate name to be introduced by; otherwise they were Mate (name).   Because children arrive at different times, we made sure the first activity was open ended. Anna wanted a water party but didn't want to get too wet, so our first activity was to swab the deck, our large plastic picnic table that we would later use to eat on. It was August, so the weather was hot but we did have a backup rain plan for each activity; the kitchen floor was our backup deck. The  crew had buckets, sponges, rags, bubbly dish soap  and access to our hose under the careful eye of the First Mate. The table was actually dirty and not only did our guests get it completely clean, they insisted on doing all the chairs as well and then drying them.

Once all the guests had arrived, Bayla, Miriam and I joined the party in the back, shouting out appropriate instructions and insisting the crew work harder while threatening them with all sorts of silly punishments. Eventually we had to call an end to deck swabbing (too bad we didn't have a car for them to wash) and move on to pirate practice.   Redbeard taught them how to talk like a pirate, schooling them in Ye and Arrrr and also in volume (loud) and facial expressions (grimace, scowl, maniacal grin). I schooled them in stage fighting. They loved learning how to get stabbed by lifting your arm slightly, clamping it down on the tip of your opponent's  sword and then staggering and falling to your dramatic death. Each child had a chance to clash swords with me and either kill or die. Since this is an age when some children start to watch live action movies or TV, they were extremely interested to learn how stunts are faked and how many safety rules there are on a set.

To fire our practice cannon balls, we headed to the front sidewalk where Bayla volunteered to stand in a bucket; each child had three turns at the front of the line tossing a colored water balloon and trying to soak her. The final pirate skill was the ability to search out treasure which was practiced in the back yard by finding the starfish and sea creatures hidden in the grass. Each child got a black bag to keep what they found and instructions on how to share with one's mates lest there be unhappy feelings on the ship which could doom any mission. They sought, found and shared with gusto.   We lined them up and enumerated their new skills: Talking like a pirate, fighting like a pirate, finding and seeking and sharing like a pirate.

At last we were ready to set sail. We placed two ships (huge cardboard boxes) in the yard and divided the kids into two teams. The girls and I had spent days finding old unmatched socks of just the right colors (black, dark purple, gray) which is pretty hard in a house full of little girls. We stuffed them with other socks and rubber banded the tops so that they were soft balls with cloth tails. These were our cannon balls. The goal of the game was to sink the opposing ship by lobbing cannon balls into it. The rules were, until time was called, you could throw your cannon balls, reach out of the ship and grab those that fell within reach, and throw the ones that fell into your ship back out. You could not leave the ship or tip it over. For ten frenzied minutes the kids screamed and laughed and threw. When we called time, the ship that had the most cannon balls inside of it was told to sink. The children dramatically tipped their box and swam to shore making glub glub sound effects. In this way, both teams were winners because each had something fun to do at the game's end.  

During the battle, my husband was inside getting the cake ready to be brought out and I was setting the very clean table. We decorated the homemade cake with blue frosting for the sea, whitecap waves crashing against a large brown ship deck, and a toy plastic pirate and pirate wheel stuck on top. We also had Pirate's Booty (a puffed corn snack from Trader Joes), pirate punch (red fruit juice), and fruit speared with little cocktail swords available as snacks through the party and again with the cake. We served ice cream with homemade bloody rum, a sauce made by pureeing frozen strawberries with a little orange juice. Before eating, the children were sent to wash in the upstairs galley. As they came back, they were told we were sailing to Cake Island and when they found it, they had to seat themselves at the table and sing Happy Birthday like pirates. The rousing, off-key, rendition came complete with arrrrs and grimaces.  

As the kids ate, my husband and I set up the last activity, the treasure hunt. We had taped together three large cardboard boxes with duct tape to form a tunnel with one turn. We tested a few designs and decided that  2-6 year olds were too young for anything more complex. The boxes had a couple escape hatches in the top just in case a child got scared and were filled with black balloons. At the end after the turn, we placed goody bags filled with pirate notebooks, tattoos, gummy fish, sparkly beads and glass stones, a pirate bandage, and lots of gold coins. As children finished eating, they took turns crawling through the tunnel and digging for a goody bag. The balloons feel wonderful to crawl through and most children wanted a few more go-throughs even without getting another treasure.  

Everyone gathered their goody bags and other pirate gear (they got to keep their swords  we checked with all parents in advance for permission) and headed to the front porch where children were dismissed to their parents by jumping down the steps (walking the plank).  It was pretty hard to get people to leave as they wanted to show their parents all their skills but since it was a pirate theme, we were able to threaten our guests on their way.   Anna's thank you notes were made from the pictures we took throughout the party. She chose her favorite of each child. We printed them out on our computer and cut around the outline of the child. Then we pasted them on a commendation note from the captain honoring the skill displayed in the picture for example, Captain Anna commends Mate Alyssa on her superb sword fighting and thanks her for (party gift). Anna then colored a background around each child's cutout. 

Every member of the family was able to participate and enjoy this party. Usually I run all the parties myself bossing around a grudging husband but he took the lead as Redbeard and most of the decorative touches were his. The sisters got along splendidly. Though many of the guests did not know each other before since Anna invited a mix of preschool friends, family friends, and synagogues friends, they all hit it off, and did not hit each other. Girls and boys were equal as were the various ages. It's been a year and people are still talking about the party and asking for my bloody rum sauce recipe (which for adults can be made with a touch of rum).

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