Harry Potter Potions Class…Or 2 Fun Experiments for Young Kids

The hit of our Harry Potter birthday party for my 6-year-old son was Potions Class.  These two experiments are great for young kids – our guests were ages 3-7.  Most of them hadn’t been exposed to the books yet, and it didn’t matter one bit.

Easy & Cheap Potion Recipe
This recipe was concocted from tips at Harry Potter Birthday Party andWendy’s Soapbox - thank you both!
1. Start with water.  Everyone poured about a cup into his own plasticEyeball Cup. (For a grown-up laugh, tell the kids to watch and see what happens.  Nothing does, of course).
2. Add Pop Rocks (Dollar Tree had multi-packs).  Great, loud crackling sound.
3. Pour in a bit of baking soda.  Nothing happens…yet.
4. Stir with a black spoon.  Ahead of time, I’d added a drop of food coloring to each plastic spoon and let it dry.  Most kids didn’t notice the spots, so they were delighted when their potions changed color.
5. Squeeze in a bit of white vinegar.  We used squirty condiment bottles from Walmart with potions labels attached.  Bubbly, fizzy reaction.

Each child had a full pkg of each ingredient, but my husband (dressed as Professor Snape in this wig) told them to add just a little at a time.  That way, after “class,” they could continue to play and mix (the reactions happen each time).

Steve Spangler’s Geyser Tubes
Normally $5 for a pack that includes the tube and a pack of Mentos, these were in Target’s stocking stuffer section this year for $3.99.  I also bought a 2-liter bottle of diet soda (at least the mess isn’t sticky/sugary) per tube.  Not cheap for a big group, but it’s what the kids were talking about days later (and you can reuse the tubes, which we did on New Year’s Eve).

We lined up 11 bottles with tubes attached and had the kids practice a spell (“Launchus Maximus!”) before pulling their strings on the count of 3.   Telling the kids to take a few steps back works better than telling them to pull (yanking too hard just knocks the bottle over and they have to reset).  But if they don’t all go off at once, it just makes it last longer.

A quick squirt with the hose cleans it up.

Harry Potter Touches
In addition to the Halloween Drink labels from OT that I used for the vinegar bottles, I downloaded these free labels from “12 Easy Ideas for a Wizard-Worthy Harry Potter Birthday Party” at iVillage.  “Blind Cat Eyes” = pearl onions, “Bloodworms” = canned spaghetti, “Gillyweed” = greenery from our yard, “Hippogriff Gizzards” = jarred mushrooms, “Veritas Serum” = water with food coloring, and “Dried Beetles” = Craisins.

Stone Wall Room Roll from Party City, a picture of Snape from Harry Potter Heroes and Villains and the potion recipe on our old Ikea easel all helped turn our garage into a Hogwarts classroom.

Nacho Average Birthday

We used my husband’s 40th birthday as an excuse to have a “Spring Fiesta.”  Mexican food plus a frozen margarita machine is our fail-safe recipe for big groups.  I enhanced this Mariachi Guy invitation from Announcing It - yes, my husband is a good sport!

CP How Old GameNicoleParty Games for Grown-Ups that are Okay for Kids, Too
I printed out 25 pictures of celebrities, brand logos, a comic strip and video game – all things and people my husband has some affinity for – and displayed them along our downstairs hallway.  Since I included the female hotties whose posters he had on his wall as a teenager, I had to include one of myself.  The person with the most correct answers - to whether each was older, younger or the same age as my husband – won a $40 gift card.

Paper frames from Melissa and Doug’s Picture Frame Pad made for a nicer-looking display.  The number cards are from Lakeshore Learning’s calendar section.

This game was so well-received that I also used my back-up – a funny multiple choice quiz about the birthday guy.  Both good conversation starters for groups of people who don’t know each other.

The “Guess How Many” game also has wide appeal.  I filled a Mexican glass pitcher from Pottery Barn with one of my husband’s favorite candies, and a hanging votive holder from World Market with another.  Guests young and old guessed how many pieces of candy each held for a chance to win both the candy and its container.  I decorated the pitcher and votive holder with these sombrero headbands from Party City.

CP Senor & SenoraParty FavorsDonkeys Square
Mustaches and hibiscus clips at the door yielded instant grins.  Some of the mustaches, which I found at Party City, didn’t stay on well, and those that did made it hard for the wearer to smile.  But that only made them funnier.  The clips are one of my all-time Oriental Trading favorites – festive, cheap, and they last forever.

My favorite party favors, though, were these Fiesta Donkeys, which I put everywhere.

Just For Kids
Expecting more than 25 kids (toddler to tween), we had plenty for them to do.  The youngest crowd enjoyed our outdoor standards – bubbles and sand table

CP Snakes 2JPGCP ButterfliesCP Loot BagsAll but the two oldest boys enjoyed coloring gauze butterflies and wooden snakes, both from Oriental Trading, with Sharpie markers.  Don’t get too attached to the snakes’ tongues, as most of ours fell out (now they are worms!).  A reviewer on OTC suggested spritzing the butterflies with rubbing alcohol after they’d been colored, as it makes the colors run together.  It was a neat effect, but with so many young kids running around I was afraid to leave the alcohol out, so most butterflies didn’t get spritzed.

A pinata rounded out the kids’ activities.  Incidentally, this number 40 pinata from Party City holds MUCH more than the animal-shaped ones I’ve used before.  And to account for the wide range in ages, I stuffed a mishmash of toys in there – Mighty Beanz, Squinkies (there are boy versions now), mini maracas, jingly bracelets and glitter glue sticks.

Fiesta Party Food
Luckily, we were able to cater this party.  We’ve used La Parrilla twice now.  I had them hold the sopapillas and we had cookies and ice cream, instead.  The kids walked around with trays of single-serving cups of Ben & Jerry’s, Haagen Dazs & Starbucks ice cream -each one has a tiny plastic spoon in the lid.  What a hit!

Fiesta WelcomeParty Tips
Get the kids involved so they feel useful while you’re running around like a crazy person.  Sasha and Luke painted welcome and daddy tribute signs, including this very prominent one by the front door, which we displayed using handy posts from Home Depot.CP Coolers

Attach pictures of the drinks that are inside the cooler on the outside of the cooler.

Replace framed photos with pictures of the guest of honor.  My husband’s boss had great fun taking a picture of one of these photos with his I-phone and emailing it around the office.CP Pictures

Check out places like Old Navy, Chasing Fireflies or Zazzle for a “I heart Dad” shirt (or similar) for the kids to wear on the special day.  This photo alone was worth the party prep and tchotchkes:CP Three Amigos

Toddler Party Activities

When my daughter turned 2, we didn’t have family nearby, but we did have a group of “playgroup” friends with children the same age.  The kids, of course, didn’t play together, but they’d grown accustomed to playing next to each other.  And so they did at this party, with these simple, unstructured activities:

Playdough TableWelcome Bubbles
I set up a battery-operated bubble machine like this one on our front deck, so the children walked through bubbles as they entered the house.

Homemade Playdough
Play-doh is non-toxic, but the homemade variety (recipe below) goes over better with most moms of toddlers.  You can add food-coloring or glitter, but it’s not necessary at this age.  I taped kraft paper over our living room table and put out gobs of dough and a few simple tools.

If you’re new to playdough, don’t ever try to clean it up with water.  Just wait until it dries, and vacuum it right up.  It’s a wonder for toddlers who are just old enough not to put it right in their mouths.  And a gift for moms ready for something new to occupy the time.Painting the deck

Painting the Deck
Foam brushes from Dollar Tree and water are fun for toddlers who can “paint” deck rails, a fence or a brick wall – anything that turns darker with water.  When the water dries, it needs more paint!

Sand TableSand Table Party
See my Toy Hall of Fame post.  Best $70 we ever spent.

Playdough Recipe
1 c flour
1/2 c salt
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 c water
1 tbs oil

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat.  Stir constantly until mixture forms a ball.  Knead until smooth.  Store in a covered container.  It lasts in the refrigerator for months.

My Udderly Amazing Husband

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday.
The night before, while we slept, someone stuck 24 cardboard cows in our yard.  I paid $75 (or $3 per cow) for the privilege.
I haven’t always done things just for fun.  But somewhere along the way I learned to appreciate silly little things.  And watching other people do the same.  It’s the grins and guffaws that I love, that indicate an openness to joy.

We gA public love noteot a lot of mileage out of these cows.  My 5-year-old son named them all.  Friends with kids drove by and snapped pictures.   Neighbors stopped by with funny comments and birthday wishes.

But my husband’s grin alone was worth it.  And walking back to the house with him from our daughter’s bus stop, holding hands.

For a herd near you, try Critter Invasion.

Knights & Princesses – 4th Birthday

Invitation from Announcingit.com

At age 3, my son loved his knight costume from Marshalls that we found for $5 the day after Halloween.  He and his sister were crazy about The Backyardigans and would act out the entire “Tale of the Mighty Knights” episode dressed in plastic knight accessories.  So we were all excited about a Knights & Princesses theme for Luke’s 4th birthday party.

Castle Entrance
A castle drawn on kraft paper and a long plastic tablecloth cut in half for a red carpet worked for our front door, which was guarded by two holiday toy soldiers wearing knight helmets.  I also hung a flag banner made with fabric rectangles folded over twine and adhered with Stitch Witchery.

Shields & Cone Princess Hats
Upon arrival the kids could play in our living room where we’d put out every knight/castle/princess or dragon toy in the house (see end of page for our favorites).  Or get started at the craft table, which was our dining table set up with shields and princess hats.

Valiant Knight Create-Your-Own Shields are nice and sturdy – in fact, Luke liked them so much I found them all hidden in his closet before the party.  And the cone hats were a big hit – I knotted strips of tulle and ribbon and threaded them through the tips of metallic cone party hats from Party City.  The girls decorated them with stickers and jewels and never took them off.

See Family Fun for a knight tunic idea.  I added twine around the waist.  And instead of having the kids make family crests, I cut a fleur-de-lis shape from glitter foam sheets and stuck it on the chest.  They turned out great, but no one wore them (except for my good sport of a husband).

I also had a Dollar Tree knight helmet for each boy (everyone wore these) and a foam star wand with her name on it for each girl.

We put Oriental Trading’s fairy tale ducks under an upside-down laundry basket with a toy dragon on top.  The kids lined up and whacked the dragon off of the basket with a lance (actually, a pool noodle with colored tape wrapped around it).  Each child could rescue one duck to add to his goody bag.

I bought just one of these foam bow and arrow sets on ebay and a plastic set from Walmart.  The kids had the most luck with the foam set, although we had to set the bow for them.  But everyone was excited to try it – they aimed at a target I’d drawn on a piece of kraft paper and taped to a door.  As a prize for trying, everyone earned a stickhorse or stick-unicorn from the Dollar Tree.

We had a few committed archers – while my husband spent time with them, I set up a simple obstacle course with leftover cone party hats.  The children who finished with the archery “trained” their horses by riding around the cones.  They earned a princess crown or knight ring.

A Dragon Stole the King’s Treasure
My husband, wearing a gold crown and the afore-mentioned tunic, told the children that a dragon had stolen his treasure – would they please help him find it?  I’d taped green paper footprints to the floor and the kids – full of urgency – followed them into our bedroom.

Tucked in our bed was my son’s dragon costume, with its head on the pillow.  We told everyone we’d entered the dragon’s house and he was sleeping.  Quiet and tiptoeing, the kdis continued to follow the footsteps into our bathroom.

Buried in the sand in our children’s Step 2 sandtable were 5 rolls of shiny new pennies.  The kids were so excited to fill their knight cups that they almost didn’t notice the framed dragon pictures that served as decorations in the “lair.”

Fighting the Dragon
My husband had made a wooden sword and the children took turns fighting a dragon pinata.  Actually, I had already destroyed the dragon pinata  by trying to stuff too much in it, so I bought a dinosaur pinata at Party City and added wings and construction paper fire coming out of its mouth.  The kids hit that thing with gusto!

Inside were Princess gummies, Nerds (my son’s favorite candy), plastic knight figures, horse finger puppets and Magic Towels from Dollar Tree - Disney princesses and Shrek as a Knight.

During a pizza lunch, my husband read Good Night, Good Knight and Happy Birthday, Good Knight.  All of the books in that series are great.

Other books we had on hand: The Mighty Egg Sitters (Backyardigans), Puff the Magic Dragon, The Knight and the Dragon, Richard Scarry’s Peasant Pig and the Terrible Dragon, Princesses are not Quitters, and The Bravest Knight.

Fighty Guy Cupcakes
At the time my son called all of his knight toys, superheros, Power Rangers, and army men “fighty guys.”  I found cheap plastic knight figures on ebay like these and used them as cake toppers for blue-frosted Publix cupcakes – my son was thrilled.  The knight guys also ended up in the pinata.

Each child receieved a paperback copy of Good Night, Good Knight with one of these personalized stickers on the inside cover.

Our Favorite Knights/Medieval Toys/Activities
Animal Planet Dragon Mother and Babies Playset
Safari Limited Knights and Dragon Toob
Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics Castle
Melissa & Doug Folding Medieval Castle
Little Adventures Princess Dress