Capes & Tutus – 4th Birthday

This party is a good example of planning what suits your child rather than worrying too much about fitting into a theme from the local party store.

My daughter didn’t have a favorite character, but she liked pink and dressing up.  And since the guests would include toddler boys, the party became “Capes and Tutus.”

Also, I’d noticed at other kids’ parties, when the parents corralled everyone together to play a game, Sasha became upset – not knowing what was going on, being squished in a crowd or ushered away from Mom before she’d gotten acclimated just wasn’t her thing.  So I didn’t plan any structured games and I let her know everything we’d be doing.  (I also considered that she might not want a party – she said she did and I was confident that I could plan something she’d enjoy).

She wasn’t aware at all of the character Supergirl, but since her name starts with “S”, pink Supergirl party supplies came in handy.  They’re hard to find now, though.

Timing and Guests
This party was more like a big playdate.  The kids were preschool-age and their moms either didn’t work or were flexible enough in their schedules to come on a weekday afternoon.  In fact, the moms were grateful to have something to do with their kids that didn’t interfere with family time on the weekends.

I took one of my son’s capes into JoAnn Fabric, to use as a pattern, and the ladies there suggested fleece since it doesn’t unravel.  I found pink and blue fleece and they helped me figure out how much I needed and suggested these Velcro Sticky Back Squares because I do not sew.  They were terrific.  The velcro on my son’s cape had to be reattached a year later, but my daughter’s is still perfect after 3 years.

I think it was also the JoAnn ladies who suggested sticky-back felt for personalizing the capes.  I bought black and white Presto felt and cut out each child’s first initial (a #4 for the birthday girl) and the superhero shape.  When the kids arrived, they found their capes hanging from the mantel and their initials on the table.  They were able to attach the 3 pieces themselves.  The off-kilter results were adorable and everyone was excited to wear it.

The Make Your Own Twirly Tutu book by Klutz was my guide for tutu-making.  I bought a party pack of extra supplies and added different colors of ribbon from my gift-wrapping stash.  I thought the girls would have fun picking out materials for their tutus, but they were more interested in playing, so the moms sat around and made their kids’ tutus and chatted.  The two boys - both 2-1/2 – wanted tutus, too.

One of the best investments I made was a bunch of the giant bubble wands that Learning Express carries when it’s warm.  We have at least 15 of them now and we’ve been using them at get-togethers for years.  (Adults like them, too.)

I mixed up a batch of homemade bubble solution - there are a lot of variations online, but I’ve found that water, Dawn Ultra dishsoap and corn syrup work best (and so does letting it sit for a few days first in your garage).  The kids made giant bubbles in the front yard before and after the party.

Even if the weather’s poor, it’s nice to have an unstructured activity outside for this age group – when little ones get overwhelmed or just need a break.

Pinata, Food & Photo
We had a #4 pinata, which the kids had a blast trying to hit, each wanting to try again and again.  It actually took two moms to finally break the thing and the kids stuffed Supergirl bags full of loot – the standard party store pinata toys, along with Supergirl and Superman rings, and bendable ballerinas.

I’d asked the moms ahead of time if they wanted me to serve dinner (the party was 4-6pm) – they did, so we had pizza, fruit, carrot sticks and a ballerina cake from Publix.

This is the one and only party where I’ve gotten a group photo - the children stood in front of a scene like this one and they said, “Ta-Da!”

A Note about Gifts
I’m in the minority among my friends, but I discourage gifts at these kinds of kids’ birthday parties.  I’m also not a fan of having the birthday child open gifts while everyone else watches.  It’s boring for the parents in attendance and excruciating for the children who have to look and not touch, especially at this toddler/preschool age.  And when the birthday child already has it or doesn’t like it – well, someone inevitably is squirming.

When I include “No Gifts, please” on the invitation, all but a few parents oblige.  When someone does bring a gift, we thank them and put the gift aside until after the party.  Neither of my children have ever objected except for when my daughter turned 5.

But that’s another story.

Martial Arts – 6th Birthday


Our first birthday party away from home was fantastic!

The instructor who runs the parties at our local Choi Kwang Do is great.  Both of my kids take lessons there, and I suggested it to my daughter as a party place since she wanted to invite nearly her whole kindergarten class.

I’ve included this page only as a reference for a great invitation resource and the loaded goody bags.

Martial Arts or Karate Party Invitation
When I searched online for “karate girl invitation,” I found Polygraphics.  Great, customizable designs, super-fast turnaround and lovely people to work with.  I ordered the invitation at right preprinted.  They added the blonde pigtails and #6 to the medal and made the belt yellow at my request.  I pasted on the photo head after I received the invitations.

Martial Arts Party Favors
Since Choi Kwang Do took care of everything else, I went overboard on the goody bags.  Martial Arts Party has good quality loot bags  – navy boy design, red girl design.  I also ordered teeny-tiny karate figures, thinking I’d put them on cupcakes, but they ended up in the goody bags.  And, finally, Karate Rubber Ducks because the other 50 rubber ducks that my son bathes with every night have grown mold.

Party Favors for Boys & Girls Ages 4-6
In lieu of more theme-specific things that most kids wouldn’t use, we included $1 packs of modeling clay and mini markers from Learning Express, blank bookmarks and mini notebooks from Lakeshore, and a personalized pencil that said, “Enjoy your summer! Love, Sasha.”

Seems extravagant, but I also bought a box of Lakeshore’s Cutest Little Stampers, since both of my kids love self-inking stampers.  Sasha and Luke had fun dividing the 36 stamps into “boy stamps” and “girl stamps” and choosing which to put in the goody bags and which to keep for themselves.

Balloons as Giveaways & Decorations
Finally, we tied each bag closed with a red or blue foil balloon from Dollar Tree.  Since there were no decorations at the party location, the balloons helped it look festive.

Cake was a #6 pull-apart cupcake cake from Publix.  Great idea but so much frosting that even my sugaraholic daughter didn’t eat all of hers.

Superheroes – 5th Birthday

Nearing his 5th birthday, my son was coming out of a major Batman phase and just getting in to Star Wars.  I wasn’t ready for a Star Wars party, though – too much fighting and not familiar enough to the sweet 4-year-old girls who were some of my son’s best buddies.

So this party had “all kinds of superheroes.”  I covered the craft table with a cheap blue pastic tablecloth and stapled on pictures of every superhero my kids could think of – firefighters, Star Wars and PBS’ Wordgirl included.

Nametags & Goody Bags
If you’re planning a party in the next 3 months, keep an eye on Target’s Dollar section.  My kids spotted animal superhero-themed bags there - perfect for both boys and girls, big and little kids, who aren’t all crazy for Batman.

And if an adult in your family wears an ID badge to work that snaps back when it’s pulled, then you know how much little kids like them.  Walmart sells a pack of colored badge reels in their office supplies section - they made great nametag holders clipped onto the bags.

Superhero Craft
I like to set up a craft table at parties, and I toyed with making costumes.  But we’d already made capes for my daughter’s 4th birthday, and every time I mentioned homemade masks or gloves, my son said, “Great.  My friends can all wear those, and I’ll wear my Batman costume.”  So I decided that we’d moved beyond cute, matching costumes.  Sigh.

Instead, the children decorated ornaments.  I confirmed that all of them celebrate Christmas, and bought a jumbo box of colorful glass balls from Hobby Lobby.  The World’s Greatest Marker, Sharpie, makes a silver metallic color that wrote perfectly on the ornaments.  Adhesive jewels and small stickers (including superheros) worked, too.  Clear Elmer’s glue painted all over with paintbrushes helped everything stick.

We collected my son’s superhero toys and put them in the living room.  We even dressed my daughter’s Polly Pockets in little capes, to make sure the girls were represented.

For the first half-hour, it was as though we had 2 parties – the girls decorated ornaments and the boys played with the toys!

Wonder Woman Lasso Game
The kids lined up to try to lasso a liter coke bottle by throwing a pool ring tied to a length of gold cord.  On each of 4 bottles, I’d stuck a picture of a small treat – an eraser, a candy cane, a Hershey’s kiss and a silly band.  The children won whichever treats they lassoed.  This took a lot longer than I expected, so I ended up handing out the treats and moving on.

Rescue Kitty
This activity that doesn’t involve fighting was a hit with everyone – boys and girls.  Learning Express has 25 cent cat figures that my kids always play with when we’re in the store.  I had one for each child and set up a ladder in our foyer.  The kitties were lined up on the top 2 rungs, and the kids had to climb up the ladder to rescue one.  I also stuck a cat Snuggimal up there for good measure – they could tickle the momma cat’s tummy and let her know they were saving her babies.  For safety, the ladder was brought out just before the game and put away right after.  An adult spotter encouraged each child to hand him her chosen cat before climbing back down the ladder.

Break Boards
Foam food trays from Walmart spray-painted with Krylon paint that looks like cement (also from Walmart), had the kids breaking “boards.”  They wanted to do this again and again.

Mr. Freeze Froze the Superhero Ducks!
My son loves the rubber ducks from Oriental Trading, so I’d already ordered Superhero Rubber Duckies.  But I didn’t have a plan for them until I came across this blog.  Immediately, I grabbed a duck, stuck it in an applesauce cup full of water, covered it with tinfoil to keep it under, and stuck it in the freezer.  Great!  Each child got their own frozen duck cup, a wooden spoon to bang on it and a little packet of salt to help speed up the melting.

Tie Up Mr. Freeze and Catwoman
After I suggested that the kids should punish Mr. Freeze for freezing their ducks, my husband appeared wearing a winter hat, gloves and scarf.  He was joined by Catwoman – a mom wearing cat ears – and I directed the villains to two chairs.  The kids took turns wrapping them up with toilet paper.

We tied black and blue balloons on my son’s 3-wheeled scooter and made a “road” down our hallway with Hot Rod Duct Tape that I saw at Target.  One at at time, the kids rode the scooter down the hall and back.  At the turnaround point, they high-fived an inflatable Batman.

Lego Batman Villains
My son is a huge fan of the Lego Batman game for Wii.  And early in our planning we’d found some foam batarangs that he really wanted to use.  I printed out pictures of Lego Batman villains onto cardstock, adding their names underneath so other kids could identify them.  Then I cut them out and added stands, paper doll-style.  I covered a long box (the Bad Guy Box below) with a black sheet and set up a cardboard Gotham.  The kids threw the batarangs and tried to knock over the villains.

This was more trouble than it was worth, and the batarangs were a disappointment (small enough not to hurt anyone but too small to do anything).

Walk Over Laser Beams for a Ring Pop
The parents hanging around watching really appreciated this one.  In our master bedroom, I set up a museum-type security system.  The kids had to walk over “laser beams” to get a ring pop, one of which was nestled in my engagement ring box.  This was another one-at-a-time activity, but as soon as they finished they headed into our bathroom to recover stolen money (pennies hidden in a sand table).

Refreshments for Grown-Ups, Too
Since it was close to the holidays, I encouraged parents to stay and visit.  Along with water and soft drinks, we served egg nog, a shrimp tray from Costco and Paula Deen’s Pesto Cheese Blossom.

For the children, my son chose a Batman cake from Publix and grapes.

Silly String at Bad Guys
I didn’t want to scare anyone with bad guys, but it was a superhero party, after all.  So I chose 4 popular “bad guys” – The Grinch, Darth Vader, The Sea Witch and Captain Hook – and painted them on the sides of a big cardboard box we had in the attic.  I knew that each child would be familiar with at least one of them and I figured that painting them would reduce the scare factor.

It was cold outside, so I set the box just outside our back door and had the kids, one at a time, stand at the door and shoot silly string at their bad guy of choice (I stood outside and turned the box).  The biggest hit in a party full of hits.

Pretend Sleepover – 5th Birthday

Both of my kids loved “Pajama Day” in preschool, and other moms were beginning to consult each other on when to let their daughters sleep over at another house(for us it will be years!)  So I thought my idea to have a pretend sleepover for my daughter’s 5th birthday party was brilliant – until a friend said she’d done it twice already!  No problem – my daughter was excited and we had a lot of fun.

“Honey, will you help me move our living room furniture into the garage?”
If you’ve been married for any length of time, you can imagine the look my husband gave me.  But we didn’t have any other place to put 11 sleeping bags.  So out went the couch, loveseat, two tables and a floor lamp.

Decorations & Party Craft
I like to check fabric stores for prints that go with our party theme.  This time I found pink and purple moon/stars fabric at Hancock Fabrics, and hung it over our windows in the living room and kitchen.

My kids painted glittery posterboard stars, which we hung in the dining room and from our stairs.

On the dining aka craft table is a big piece of black vinyl (also works as a chalkboard tablecloth), buckets I’d personalized from Dollar Tree with Sharpie Oil-Based Paint Markers, glittery gold star wands from Oriental Trading and sparkly stickers and adhesive gems for decorating the buckets.

As the girls arrived, they spread out their sleeping bags and decorated their buckets.

Pajama Pants Relay
In our foyer (the only space where there was still room!), the kids formed two lines.  Two kids at a time put one leg each in a pair of Sasha’s pj pants – they had to walk to the front door and back.  Lots of giggles!  Afterward, everyone received a Dover Little Activity Book for her bucket.

Bunnies & Pass Mr. Elephant
For two years, when we asked our daughter what she wants to be when she grows up, her earnest reply was, “A bunny owner.”  So I bought unstuffed bunnies and tiny t-shirts from Bday Bears.

The girls sat in their sleeping bags in a circle and passed around Sasha’s favorite bedtime stuffed animal, “Mr. Elephant,” while I played music.  When the music stopped whomever was holding Mr. Elephant received a bunny to stuff.

The kids stuffed their bunnies while they sat in their sleeping bags and then decorated t-shirts with fabric markers at tables set up in the kitchen.

With dressed bunnies, it was back to the sleeping bags.  I passed out bags of popcorn and my husband read Pajama Party and Franklin Has a Sleepover.  (Fancy Nancy Pajama Day, released right after this party, would’ve been great).  It helps that my husband is goofy – he pretended to fall asleep while he was reading, and wails of laughter erupted.

Fun Bedtime Chores
After popcorn, it was time to brush their teeth.  We have a large master bathroom, so I usually find some way to use the space during kids’ parties.  The girls painted pictures of teeth with toothbrushes and got wind-up chomping teeth for their trouble.  While I cleaned up the paint, they climbed in and out of our Jacuzzi tub and pretended to take a bath – and they added a bath pouf ( 6 or 7 for a dollar at Dollar Tree) to their buckets.

Easiest Cake Ever
After pizza, it was time for cake.  My daughter loves donuts, so naturally we had a donut cake.  That morning, I’d picked up a big box of Krispy Kremes, plain and sprinkles, and piled them on top of each other.  I had frosting on hand to serve as glue, but didn’t need it.  Bonus – Krispy Kreme gave us perfect, free party hats.

Thanks for Coming Gift
Each girl received Pajama Party.  Inside each cover was a personalized sticker that said “Thanks for coming to Sasha’s party” from Birthday In a Box.  My son, the only boy and a big Berenstain Bears fan, got The Berenstain Bears’ Sleepover.

Books to Donate in Lieu of Gifts
As I’d always done, I included “No gifts, please” on the invitation.  But this time I suggested that each girl bring a favorite bedtime book to donate to the library.  Everyone did, and we donated 14 new books.  I’d checked at the library ahead of time, hoping they’d have labels (“This book was donated by…”) for me to give the girls to fill out, or a thank you note, but they did not.  Fine idea, but it wasn’t the feel-good lesson I was hoping for.

This party was loads of fun and we happily avoided all of the primping activities that my daughter doesn’t care about and I don’t encourage.  After it was over, my husband and I were ready for real sleep!

Frogs – 2nd Birthday

This was a simple party for my son’s 2nd birthday.  His favorite shirt had a frog on it and he loved the plastic frogs that cost $1 per pack at The Dollar Tree.  When I saw this invitation at Learning Express, Frogs it was.

We invited just a few kids (with a parent) for lunch on a Sunday.  A craft, an easy game, pizza and cupcakes were plenty for this age.

Fly-Catching Frog
This is a clever craft from Family Fun using red party blowers.  The kids loved blowing out their long red “tongues.”  And only because my son had just discovered the joy of glitter, I let the kids make their frogs sparkly (a big hit since glitter is too messy for most parents).  We also used glue sticks and sticky-back wiggly eyes.  Moms had to help assemble. 

Lily Pad Hop
I taped green poster board lily pads on the floor in our foyer and stuck a fake flower on a few of them.  The kids pretended to be frogs jumping from lily pad to lily pad.  Easy, cheap, cute.

Party Supplies
I still love the colorful frog plates we ordered from Oriental Trading.  The big, bright frog candles were adorable,  but they were a little wobbly (small cupcakes, not much icing).  So the kids’ cupcakes were each topped with a plastic toy frog.

A Frog Hoppers Game for ages 2-3, which my children still play with, and a frog bath toy for siblings 1 and under.