I admit I like putting together fun parties for kids. I do stick to a budget and I don't go to the lengths some parents do, but I love the many creative ideas my kids and I can pull together to make a memorable birthday party.
My daughter turned 6 this month, and for nearly a year, she's known she wanted a "knight and princess" party. This was entirely her own idea, and not inspired by anyone else's party - although I gather such parties are becoming pretty popular. She's not a Disney princess type; she wanted to model her party more on fairy tales and Medieval life. This worked out well, since she has older cousins who are boys.
The Castle Cake
My daughter requested a castle birthday cake, so I combed the internet for ideas. The cake I especially liked was originally published in Better Homes & Gardens magazine. (You'll find the image and instructions here.) I also got ideas from Parenting and Family Fun magazines.
The concept is pretty simple: Make a square cake, set a round cake on top of it, and use upside-down ice cream cones for the turrets. Then you can have a field day decorating the cake with candy to represent doors, windows, and a drawbridge. I also made a moat from blue Jello (using the "Jigglers" recipe). This cake pleased my little princess, but I was disappointed to discover the cupcake turrets were too large to fit the cake, as suggested by Better Homes and Gardens. If I'd had more time, I would have carved out more space for the cupcakes.
My daughter very specifically wanted the girls to dress as princesses and the boys to dress as knights. The princess part was easy; I knew the girls already had dress up princess-like dresses. I did buy them each a cone-shaped princess hat - something I knew would last much longer than the cheap plastic crowns and tiaras that are more readily available.
For the boys, I thought I might be able to find some cheap plastic armor, but I wasn't satisfied with what was available in our price range. I'm really pleased with what we did instead: Medieval-style knight tunics. I got the idea from the Creative Party Blog and Crack of Dawn Crafts. Even someone who's not much of a seamstress could make these. I bought $1 a yard felt online, cut a rectangle (on the fold) for each boy, and cut out neckholes. To finish, I cut Maltese Crosses from white felt and zig-zagged them onto the tunics. I also sewed ribbons on each side, for securing the tunics. I did not do any hemming or seam finishing. It was a quick and easy project, and gave the boys a nice, imagination-inspiring toy.
I also bought each boy (except my 2 yr. old) a plastic sword. I wasn't sure if this was going to promote injury, but in the end I decided the boys would be fine with them - and they were. If you're worried, you can substitute cardboard swords, inflatable swords, or foam swords, which are all widely available at party stores. If you want to do something more simple, I also really like this idea of making thin wood shields in lieu of any other costume.
There are some lovely examples of really going all out with this theme, but I don't like to spend a lot of money on decorations that will just get thrown away. So I went to the Dollar Tree and bought a couple of books of construction paper. Working in layers, I cut pennant-shaped pieces from a variety of colors of construction paper. Then I found images of a Maltese cross and a crest lion online and printed them on white and yellow construction paper. I cut the shapes out and glued them to the pennants. Then I strung the pennants on curling ribbon and hung them around the party area. I'm not much of a crafter, but this was a pretty easy project and it went surprisingly fast.
Aside from this, I chose to use ordinary, solid-colored balloons and solid-colored tablecloths, utensils, and plates. If you want to spend a little, you could find plastic goblets and decorate them with plastic jewels (or you can buy them all ready to go at a party store). Then be inspired by the second photograph at this link.
I like to decorate as much as possible with what I already have, so I chose to serve food on some crystal we received as a wedding gift (which I've used perhaps once before; see the image below, which shows the buffet table before I set out the food). I also used a canopy my daughter has in her room, and a few toys that went well with our theme.
Every year, I seem to find a cute party project that can be made from a cardboard box, and this year was no exception. The Oriental Trading Company offers a free .PDF of a castle that can be made from such a box; I never got around to using this, but it looks easy enough. Or, you could use flattened cardboard boxes to create a castle backdrop for a room.
I'm not a crafty person, so my invitations are pretty simple. I made up a simple electronic invite using clip art (featuring knights, princesses, castles, and dragons) I found online and sent them via email. The text:
"Once upon a birthday, there was a beautiful princess named [insert name] who was turning [age]. The King prepared a royal celebration for the entire kingdom at the [last name] castle. Merrymaking to begin [date and time]."
Right from the beginning, my daughter wanted to play Pin the Tail on the Dragon. Normally I'm in change of creating the "pin the tail" games, but this time I talked Grandma into doing it. She painted a dragon on a piece of poster board, but if you're not an artist, you can do what I normally do: Use an opaque projector to project a drawing from a coloring book (or other picture) onto the paper. It will enlarge it to the correct size and all you have to do is trace the image. You can find such projectors fairly inexpensively at craft stores, or you may be able to borrow one from a school. Then make up a bunch of tails on another piece of poster board and cut them out.
We also like pinatas, and I found there were a few dragon pinatas online that I could choose from. I selected this one.
Last year, my daughter had a pirate party and all the kids really enjoyed having a treasure map and scavenger hunt. Building on a similar idea, this Easter I bought a few very large plastic eggs. I painted them gold and invented a game called "Find the Dragon's Eggs." I told the kids they had to find the eggs before they hatched. I set up clues like notes on scrolls and "dragon footprints." When they found the nest, there were scrolls for each child to take home, filled with castle/knight/dragon/princess-themed coloring pages, mazes, word searches, and craft projects I found for free online. I also made up cards with "The Knight's Code of Chivalry" for the boys (based on the real life code) and "The Princesses' Code of Conduct" for the girls. I also gave the girl's princess paper doll pages.