Valentine’s Day Preschool Party

I organized this Valentine’s Day party for a preschool class of 3-4 year-olds with a friend of mine who is a fantastic party-planning mom.  It was simple, inexpensive and fun.

Candy Hearts & Chopsticks Relay
This was my friend’s idea and I’ve used it several times since.  She asked a local Japanese restaurant if they would sell her wooden chopsticks sets wrapped in paper (I’ve done this twice now and the manager gave them to me at no charge).  Check out this video about how to attach them together with a rubber band.

She set two bowls of candy hearts at one end of the room and two empty bowls at the other end.  She divided the class into two teams and lined them up behind the full bowls.  One child from each team picked up a candy heart with his chopsticks and carried it to the empty bowl.  He brought the chopsticks back to the next child in line, and they took turns until all of the hearts were transferred.

Decorate a Red Bucket with Stickers
Each child received a personalized container to decorate.  Party City and Dollar Tree usually have red buckets in stock for $1 or less.   Sharpie Oil-Based Paint Markers are great for writing names on plastic.  We collected Valentine’s Day stickers into snack-size Ziploc bags, enough so that each child had his own bag.  The hardest part was finding stickers that weren’t too girly (although most kids this age still don’t care).  But I did find foam monkeys-with-hearts stickers at Hobby Lobby to mix in with the frou-frou hearts.

The kids could do the craft on their own and they had something fun and sturdy to take home (my son still uses his two years later).

Red and/or Heart-Shaped Food
My friend made heart cookies for the children’s snack and I used a heart-shaped cookie cutter on slices of cheese.  We also served red grapes and strawberries.

Storytime
Kevin Henke’s Lilly’s Chocolate Heart is short and adorable and a great excuse to give each child a chocolate heart afterwards.

The teachers heartily approved and my friend and I were relaxed enough to enjoy the time with our sons and their buddies.

Pirates – 3rd Birthday

To welcome our young guests for my son’s 3rd birthday, I used the poster part of The Backyardigans Party Game to make a sign for our front door.  I also taped paper pirate hats to the people in artwork and photos around the house.

Once the children entered, they saw our dining room set up with treasure boxes for them to decorate.  I found fun pirate fabric at Hancock Fabrics to use as a table cover.  Baby-wipe containers spray-painted with Krylon Fusion for Plastic served as the kids’ treasure chests.  $1 baby wipes from Dollar Tree supplemented my supply left over from our kids’ diaper days.

I like for kids to see something that’s just for them, so I personalized the treasure chests with pirate nametags ahead of time and then the kids decorated them with foam pirate stickers, sparkly tape and jewels, all from Oriental Trading.

99 cent Pirate Costumes!
An incredible deal – still available as I write this - from Little Tykes.  I wasn’t planning on dressing the kids, but I snatched these up when I found them.  They’re comfortable and they fit kids 2-4, at least.  My children used them for a couple of years before I resold them at a consignment sale. 

Simple, Fun Pirate Activities
First, each child used Captain Hook’s hook to fish beads out of a big jug (I used one of those plastic barrels that pretzels come in at Costco).

Then, we spread out 6 sheets or so of blue poster board and lay a 2×4 over it.  Remarkably, I had found inflatable alligator (crocodile?) pool toys at Dollar Tree.  Each child walked the plank while the rest of us made chomping motions with our arms.

Before the party, we dragged our Step 2 sandtable into our master bathroom.  After burying gold coins and more beads in clean sand, I drew a big X on a piece of paper, taped it to the lid and closed it all up.  At some point during the party – probably when things were getting wild - I told the kids to look around the house for treasure, which would be marked with an X.  They brought their treasure boxes and filled them up.

 

Pirate Food and Picture Books
Backyardigans party supplies decorated the kitchen, where I’d set up kid-sized tables and chairs.  Pirate ship-shaped pb&j, blue Gogurt and goldfish made a water scene on black sparkly plates from Dollar Tree.  My husband, a terrific storyteller, read books during lunch:  Pirate Treasure (Backyardigans), Shiver Me Letters: A Pirate ABC, Do Pirates Take Baths?

While my husband entertained the children, I hid their treasure boxes in a big cardboard box and put a bunch of Backyardigans balloons over them, covered the whole thing with a sheet and another X.  I’d also added a bag of chocolate gold coins from Trader Joe’s tied with a note that said “Thanks for coming to Luke’s party.”

As the children were finishing up cake (Backyardigans from Publix), I told them some sneaky pirates had stolen their treasure boxes. They ran around until they found the box and uncovered their treasure.

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.

Capes
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.

Tutus
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.

Bubbles
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.

Very Nice Cats

One of my favorite art teacher sites, Art Projects for Kids, includes a wonderfully simple lesson, “How to Draw a Cat.”  Because of Kathy Barbro’s clear instruction, I was able to help 22 first graders make the most charming cats, which their teacher promptly dispayed in the hallway.

To ensure bright colors, I added a brief explanation of complementary colors.  And because I only had 40 minutes with them, I limited their color selection to pairs of oil pastels that I’d bound together before class.

I’d also hoped to find a basic color wheel that I could give each child – a tool for them to take home.  I searched online and at local art and paint stores to no avail,  so I made my own – my husband made the graphic, I printed them on cardstock and added game spinners that I found at Michaels.

Since then, Art Projects for Kids has posted a free color wheel download.  A great tool – thank you!

Finally, I found a great explanation of complementary colors here, and made labels for the children’s artwork that included the color wheel and a place for the kids to sign their names.

The children were thrilled with their results!

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.