Showing posts with label Birthday parties. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Birthday parties. Show all posts

Aug 13, 2014

A Horse Party with Cowgirls and Cowboys

My philosophy on parties is pretty simple. I don't want to spend much on decorations and other things that will just be thrown away after the party is over. Rather than drop money on that sort of thing, I'd rather put more creativity and time into the party. So when my daughter told me she'd like to have a horses, cowgirls, and cowboys theme for her birthday, I knew I wasn't going to hire pony rides or pay a bakery for a fancy cake. I knew I'd do the work myself - with my daughter's enthusiastic help.
(c) Bryan Valencia Photography

Invitations
Our birthday parties are casual, family affairs, so I always send electronic invitations. I scoured the web looking at horse-related invitations, and chose elements from 3 - 4 invites to create my daughter's invitation in a photo editing software program that came with my computer. (If you don't have a photo editing program, you can use a free online service, like PicMonkey.) I found a photo of my daughter's favorite type of horse (Appaloosa) and with it, paired an Old West type font: "Cowboys and Cowgirls are WANTED to giddy up to the [last name]'s for a galloping good time celebrating [first name]'s birthday! [First name] is turning [age]!" I saved the invite as a .JPG and send it as an attachment in emails to our family.

The Cake
(c) Bryan Valencia Photography.

When I'm planning a birthday party, I always decide upon the cake first. In this case, I looked at images online - always hoping for cakes that look do-able for me, a mom without any training in baking. My daughter fell in love with this cake, which I found on Pinterest, and wanted an almost exact replica. Initially, I was nervous about all those piped roses, but looking at YouTube videos, I realized it was do-able with the right piping tip. It's a VERY easy technique. (Trust me; if I can do it, you can, too! I especially recommend watcing this video by Lori's Bakery and this one by Kitchen Adventures for how-tos.)


I made the cake in four 8 inch round layers, using a cake cardboard in between the second and third layers. (For more tips on assembling a layered cake, click here.) I made my own buttercream frosting; regular store bought frosting won't work.

Just before serving the cake, I added my daughter's favorite toy horse and a free printable pennant banner I found online. (To add letters to the pennant, I opened the .PDF and took a screen shot of the pennants, saving it as a .JPG. Then, using free image editing software, I added one letter to each pennant. I printed this, cut out the pennants, and folded them in half along the indicated fold lines. I used bamboo skewers and some silky string I had laying around to create the "holder" for the banner. To secure the pennants, I placed them over the string and glued the pointed ends of the paper together.

Other Food and Decorations
We normally keep our party food pretty simple: hamburgers and hot dogs, coleslaw, potato salad, and the like. This year, my husband did some pretty impressive barbecue. Whatever the case, I rarely find that trying to pair the food to the theme works; we have too many picky eaters!

This year, I also really kept the decorations to a minimum. We put up quite a few balloons (multi-color), and I bought plastic tablecloths (and matching plates and napkins) at the Dollar Tree, but otherwise, I stuck to using what we already had, including toy horses, a basket of apples (later used in a game), and generic happy birthday banners we use year after year. I also had all the games out and ready to use before the guests arrived, which added interest.

The Games
This is what the children played:
Pin the Tail on the Horse.
(c) Bryan Valencia Photography.
Pin the Tail on the Horse: My daughter loves this game, so we do some variation on it most years. I couldn't find a printable (or purchasable) pin the tail on the horse game that I liked, so I made one. Now, I'm not much of an artist, and a horse is way out of my artistic league, so instead of drawing a horse freehand, I found an online drawing of a horse and used BlockPoster's free website in order to print it out and enlarge it. I taped the pages together and traced the lines with a Sharpie pen to make them bolder and thicker. Then my daughter colored the horse and tails

Apple toss game.
Apple Toss: I found this idea on Pinterest - with a photo, but no working link. It's a bean bag toss, but instead of bags, we used some wild crabapples (which we later fed the chickens). First, I prepared the box; you'll find easy instructions here. Then I turned the Pinterest photo into a black and white image, using free photo editing software. And once again, I used BlockPoster's free service to enlarge the image. This time, I taped together the pages, taped them to a window, then taped a piece of poster board over the enlarged image. Using a pencil, I traced the horse's face onto the posterboard, then went over this with a Sharpie. My daughter colored the horse face to her liking. When she was done, I taped the poster board to the box and used an Exacto knife to cut out the horse's mouth.
Water Gun Target Practice Game. (c) Bryan Valencia Photography.
Water Gun Target Practice: I'd seen lots of ideas on how to add "target practice" to a cowboy/girl party online, but all of them were more complicated than I liked. My daughter came up with a simple solution: Draw targets on the fence using sidewalk chalk. I identified each target with a child's initials and gave each kid each a water gun. They could easily see if they were hitting the target and had fun trying to be the first one to wash it away with their squirt guns.

Feed Sack Race: Otherwise known as a potato sack race. I still had the gunny sacks left over from last year's Little House on the Prairie party, so I just called them "feed sacks" for the purposes of our horse party. This simple game always generates lots of laughter.
Lasso the Horse Game. (c) Bryan Valencia Photography.
Lasso the Horse: Again, I'd seen this game on Pinterest, but I wanted to simplify it so I wasn't buying a bunch of one-time-use things. I used my children's spring horse (but you could use a stick horse secured in a bale of straw, or a rocking horse) and a hoola hoop as the lasso. It was tougher than it looked!

Horseshoe Toss: We actually had to skip this game, but I do think it's a fun addition. I don't think plastic horseshoes would work very well (they don't have enough weight), and that was all I could find online for under $30. But a local store had a real metal set on sale for summer, so we lucked out. I've also seen people sew bean bags shaped like horseshoes, which makes the game more appropriate for younger kids.

Horse Pinata: My kids love pinatas, but I had a hard time finding anything but teeny horse pinatas. I ended up buying this small - but quite adequate - horse online. It held plenty of candy for 6 kids.

For more horse or cowboy/cowgirl party ideas, visit my Pinterest Horse Party Board.

Oct 16, 2013

How to Convert a Traditional Pinata into a Pull String Pinata

A DIY pull string pumpkin pinata.
Sure, traditional pinatas are fun, but sometimes a pull string pinata - which breaks open by the simple pulling of a string - is much more suitable. For example, if you have young children who really can't bash a pinata - or who might bash themselves or someone else trying to...or if you're having an indoor party and don't want the contents of your home accidentally beaten, a pull string pinata is for you.

If you've never used a pull string pinata, here's how it works. Hang the pinata, then have the children, one by one, pull a single string off the bottom of the pinata. Most of the ribbons will just fall off, doing nothing to the pinata. But once one string (indistinguishable from the others) is pulled, a trap door in the pinata will open and all the candy will fall out.

Sometimes you can find ready made pull string pinatas, but often you have to convert traditional pinatas into pull string pinatas. In the past, I've purchased pinata conversion kits, but the truth is, it's really easy to make a DIY pull string pinata - you don't need a special kit. Here's how.

What You'll Need:

A pinta
Exacto knife or box cutter (you could use scissors, but it's more dangerous!)
Scissors
Curling ribbon
Transparent adhesive tape (the kind used for wrapping gifts)
Small piece of cardboard
Extra tissue paper in a matching color

1. Begin by selecting a relatively flat location on the bottom of the pinata. Carefully remove the crepe or tissue paper covering an approximately 3 1/2 inch square near the center of the bottom. (If, for some reason, that seems too difficult, it's fine to skip this step...as long as you have matching tissue paper on hand.)

2. Use an Exacto knife to cut a door (about 3 1/2 inches square) in the "naked" area you just made.
3. Cut the curling ribbon into long lengths. How long depends upon where you'll hang the pinata and how tall the kids are. (I suggest making the ribbon lengths longer than you think you need them; you can always trim them later.) You'll want at least 2 ribbons for every child who'll be playing the game.

4. With the Exacto knife, make a little hole in the center of the door. Thread one ribbon through it.

5. Cut a piece of cardboard about 1 1/2 inches square. Cut a little hole in the center. Thread the ribbon already in the door of the pinata through this small piece of cardboard. 
6. Knot the ribbon so it will not slip through the hole it's thread through. (If desired, you may use strong duct tape over the knot as extra insurance. This is the string that will open the door of the pinata, making all the candy fall out, so you want to be sure that when a child tugs it, it won't just slip off without opening the door.)
7. Close the door. If desired, tape it lightly shut with one or two pieces of gift-wrapping tape. But remember, the door needs to open easily if a child pulls the string on it.

8. Use the gift-wrapping tape to tape the remaining ribbons to the pinata's bottom. Make sure they aren't on the door. (When a child pulls one of these ribbons, the ribbon will just fall off the pinata, not opening the candy door.)

9. Replace any crepe or tissue paper you took off the pinata's bottom, making tiny slits to allow all the ribbons to come through OR cover the door and the ribbon ends with pieces of matching tissue.

10. Fill the pinata with candy, through the opening provided for this purpose. (If, by chance, you are making your own pinata - which isn't at all difficult, though it is time consuming - you can fill it with candy through the trap door, before closing that door and covering it with tissue paper.)

Aug 19, 2013

A Little House on the Prairie Birthday Party

I was pretty excited when my daughter chose a Little House on the Prairie theme for her birthday party - excited partly because I love 19th century history...and partly because I saw it as a chance to pull together a fun party without a lot of expense or fuss. In the end, I think everyone had a great time, and the party came together quite easily.

The Invitation
I always send out digital invitations - but I do them in the form of a .JPG that I create on my computer, using free photo editing software. This year was especially easy; I found a black and white drawing from one of the Little House books and added some text:
"It's [name here]'s birthday! Please come to our Little House on the Prairie party - dressed in your favorite frontier costume. Join our 'half pint' for old-fashioned games, yummy food, and fun!"
I also let everyone know costumes weren't mandatory - just encouraged - and gave some ideas I knew might be easily accomplished with dress up or everyday clothes: Cowboy, Indian, railroad engineer, frontiersman, or pioneer, for example.


The Decorations
I wanted to keep this very simple, using things we already had on hand:

* A well worn (not historic or valuable) quilt as a tablecloth
* A basket of apples and a bowl of cherries (used later for games)
* A bucket lined with calico for utensils
* Old canning jars for straws and simple bouquets of flowers from our yard
* A Lincoln Log-built cabin
* Some sepia photos we had of our family in 19th century costumes
* An authentic old school slate with my daughter's age written on it (I later photographed her in costume, holding the slate.)

Although it didn't really fit in with the theme, we also put up a few balloons - because in our family, you can't have a birthday party without them!

I also considered using hay bales for outdoor seating; they are inexpensive (about $3 a piece around these parts) and I would use them later for chicken bedding - but we have too many people with allergies, an important consideration if you are thinking about using hay or straw bales.

The Food
I considered serving pioneer-inspired food but decided we had too many picky eaters. Instead, we stuck with easy picnic fare like hot dogs and burgers - and lemonade served in canning jars. I also considered making popcorn balls as party favors, but ran out of time to do this. At one point, I thought we'd make ice cream with an old fashioned, hand cranked ice cream maker. This would have been a nice addition, but I couldn't find a cranked ice cream maker to borrow.

We considered many ideas for the birthday cake - some pretty elaborate, with covered wagons or log
cabins on top. But in the end, my daughter decided she wanted a simple cake - something like Laura Ingalls might have had if Pa and Ma could have splurged on a cake. So I made a chocolate cake with white cream cheese frosting - two round layers. On the day of the party, I plucked some edible flowers from our yard (bachelor buttons and pansies) and used them to decorate the cake.

The Games
I had a lot of fun choosing old fashioned games for the party - and I think both the adults and kids enjoyed them. We played:

* Musical chairs, using music from Pa's Fiddle - a collection of music Pa played in the Little House books. (I downloaded a single song for a mere .99 cents...all I needed for our game.)

* Potato sack race - so fun, we did it a couple of times. You can find burlap sacks all over the Internet, but I was afraid some of the cheaper ones would rip. (We had older children - and some adults - using them in the game.) Even so, I bought them inexpensively - four for $3.55. They worked perfectly and I will keep them for future parties.

* Watermelon eating contest - I placed a cheap plastic party tablecloth on the picnic bench and gave each child 1/4 of a watermelon. Then we did an adult version, too.

* Cherry pit spitting contest. (If you can find a watermelon with plenty of seeds in it - difficult to do these days - you can use those instead of cherry pits.) I laid another cheap plastic tablecloth on the ground. (If adults will be playing, too, I recommend at least two tablecloths or a plastic aisle runner.) Each child ate a cherry, reserving the pit. Then, one at a time, she tried to spit it as far as she could. With a felt tip pen, I circled each child's pit and wrote her initials beside it, so there'd be no question about whose was whose. The child who spit a pit the farthest won. The kids liked this game so much, they played it many times.

* Apple bobbing. The trickiest part of this was finding smallish apples with stems; the ones I found were rather large, which made the game harder. (My daughter is also missing three front teeth, so it was especially difficult for her - but she did manage to get an apple.) I didn't have a half wine barrel, trough, or shallow, wide bucket, so I used the pot of my pressure canner. It was a bit deep, but that just meant the kids got a little more wet!

To view my Pinterest inspiration board for this party - and discover lots of great ideas I didn't use - click here. 

Check out the Entire Little House series of Posts:

Little House in the Big Woods Activities
Pancake Men (from Little House in the Big Woods)
Little House on the Prairie Activities
On the Banks of Plum Creek Activities

Oct 24, 2012

Free Construction Party Printables

If your little boy loves dump trucks, loaders, and other heavy equipment used in construction, at some point he'll want a construction theme party. My little boy just had his second such party - and once again, I avoided spending a lot of money on banners and other decorations I know will just get thrown away. This homemade construction party birthday banner and accompanying signs are so simple to make - and much cheaper, too.

Included in this freebie pack are a:

* "Happy Birthday" banner
* Work Zone sign
* Boys at Work sign
* Men at Work sign
* Dig In Sign

The pack is available in Word format or a .PDF.

To use the pack, simply print on orange construction paper. (If you can't find construction paper that fits into your printer, just cut it to size. I lay an ordinary piece of printer paper - 8.5 x 11 in. - on top of a stack of construction paper and trim it with scissors. It doesn't matter if your cuts are perfectly straight or not.) Cut out each diamond-shaped sign.

To make the banner, use a hand held hole punch to punch two holes, side by side, on the top of each diamond, then thread ribbon (fabric ribbon or curling ribbon) through the holes. Or, use a needle and thread to string the banner together; be sure to take a full stitch (making two holes at the top of each diamond) so the diamonds won't twirl once hung.

To make a hanging "Dig In" sign, cut out and punch one hole in the top of the diamond. Use ribbon or thread to hang from a light fixture or the ceiling.

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Sep 12, 2012

A Dinosaur Birthday Party...on the Cheap

I admit it; I love putting together themed children's parties. But while I've always prided myself on using more creativity than money for these parties, this year I found I had to trim the party budget more than usual. The good news is, my child still loved the party, and we all had a lot of fun.

Dinosaurs were the theme. (We included a few dragons, too, since I'm a bit of a crypozoologist and feel the legends of dragons are probably based on dinosaurs.) I began with a simple invitation; I've found that keeping it digital makes the invitation hassle- and cost-free. In this case, I found an invite I really liked, then created something similar for our own purposes. (Cost: $0)

Next, I considered decorations. I wanted to absolutely minimize costs in this area, since most decorations are used for the day, then thrown away. This year, I didn't buy banners, helium balloons, or even streamers.

Fortunately, my kids have a collection of toy dinosaurs. I had them bring all of them to me, and we scattered them throughout the party area, including on the tables and at the entry to the house. I actually gave this job to the birthday girl, and she had fun getting the dinos "just so" in flower pots and on a piece of petrified wood on the porch. (Cost: $0; if you have to purchase toy dinos, expect to pay about $1-2 a piece for them)

I didn't mind buying some plain balloons. (Cost: $2) I thought about sticking to green and orange or yellow - which seemed dinosaur-like colors - but instead I used a rainbow of colors. I hung these everywhere I could think of, and they did a great deal to create a festive look.

I found some neat 3-D dinosaurs (including a "Pterodactyl," Triceratops, T-Rex, and "Brontosaurus") and printed the Pterodactyl (actually a pteranodon) on my home printer, using cheapo ink cartridges. (Cost: difficult to estimate, but definitely under $2; if you don't have a printer, or your printer ink is expensive, places like Staples print inexpensively.) I hung these with thread (Cost: I already had the thread and used just pennies of it. You could also use ribbon or string you have on hand.) from the ceiling fan that is over the buffet table, plus in a few other places. My 3 year old thought these were magical, and the birthday girl couldn't wait to add them as decor in her room.

Our other decorations were birthday banners I'd saved from previous years (all cheapies from the Dollar Tree) and Dollar Tree plastic tablecloths.  (Cost $2) I also made several dinosaur banners - a simple, cheap project. I found coloring book pictures of  dinosaurs and cut them out. Then I placed them on top of stacks of colorful Dollar Tree construction paper, used them as templates, and cut out stacks of dinos at one time. Finally, I strung them up. (Cost: $1) After the party, I hung the dino banners in my children's rooms.

In addition, I drew dinosaur footprints on the sidewalk and driveway leading up to our house. My kids got a giggle out of the fact that they lead right into our house. (Cost: 45 cents for a box of chalk)

In years past, I've always made something fun for the other kids at the party (all cousins) to take home. This year, I did something simple. My daughter and I made dinosaur treat bags from brown lunch bags and filled them with dinosaur fossil footprints cookies (full instructions here). (Cost: We already had the bags, so it cost us pennies; if you have to buy bags, expect to pay up to $1 or $2 for more than you need; the cookies were also made with ingredients I already had, but I'd estimate the cost at $2, tops.)

I also found some free printable dinosaur masks. I was going to color them in on the computer, but ran out of time. So I just stapled elastic (each end of it knotted) to the masks and let the kids take the masks home to color. (Cost: about $2)

We kept the food very basic (Cost: about $70 for burgers, hot dogs, salads, and chips), but I've seen other parties where they named all the food in a cute way. For example, "T-Rex 'Taters" and "Brontosaurus Bananas." I thought about doing more general categories (marked with cute signs), like "Carnivore," "Herbivore," and "Sweetavore," but I just didn't have the space on my table for this.

For the cake, my daughter had very specific ideas. She wanted a smoking volcano cake - with a T-rex eating a cow off to one side. I mostly followed the instructions here, but, trying to use only pans I already owned, chose to bake the bottom part of the cake in a bundt pan, the middle part in an 8 in. round pan (I trimmed this cake a bit to shape the volcano), and the top in my 4 cups Pyrex measuring cup.


Just before serving the cake, my husband put dry ice and water into the cup in the center of the cake, and I put the part of the cake baked in the measuring cup on top, then decorated the whole with the candy lava. The dry ice worked fantastic initially, but then petered out, so I felt rushed putting the final touches on the cake. I had intended to add frosting between the base of the cake and the measuring cup portion of the cake, but didn't - so there was an obvious "seam." If I ever make a smoking volcano cake again, I will only make a hole for the dry ice in the measuring cup portion of the cake (the top end of the volcano). I think that because our cake had a rather tall "vent" for the dry ice "smoke" to come through, the gasses stayed down inside the cake too much. (Cost: I purchased cake mix - about $3 - but made the frosting - about $2. Because we had to travel a bit to buy dry ice, and because dry ice "melts," we bought more than we needed - much more, it turned out. It was only 99 cents a lb., but we spent $12 on it. I already had the birthday candles, but if you have to buy them, expect to pay about $1.)

Finally, there were the games. We played "hot dinosaur egg" (which is just "hot potato" with a plastic Easter egg in place of the potato), while playing a dinosaur song I found online. We also did a dinosaur egg relay where I gave each child a spoon and placed a plastic Easter egg on it and had them walk a course as quickly as they could. If an egg fell from a spoon, that player had to start over at the beginning. It proved fun and challenging for all. But the most popular game was probably "dinosaur egg stomp." I tied a balloon to each child's ankle and told the kids to defend their "egg" while trying to stomp on and pop everyone else's. We played that a few times. (Cost: I had everything needed for these games, so our cost was $0. But you might need to buy a bag of balloons and some curling ribbon at the Dollar Tree for $1 each. It's best to buy the plastic eggs at the Dollar Tree near Easter time, $1, but if you need them out of season, you can buy them at Oriental Trading for $4 plus shipping)

Other ideas I didn't use, but liked:

* Using ferns and rocks as decoration.

* Dino soap favors. I was going to use blown out eggs, ready to pour glycerine soap, and tiny dinosaur toys to make these, but not having any of these supplies on hand, I ended up taking a pass. Still, these soaps are a fun way to get kids to wash themselves!

* Edible dinosaur bones.

* My daughter loves party hats, and these dino hats would be very easy to make. Just form a cone from cardstock, punch holes for ribbon ties, and add the saw-tooth decoration.

* Free printable dinosaur pennant at NickJr's website.

* Dinosaur rocks, finger puppets, dino feet, dino tails, and many more ideas here.

Total Cost of Party: about $99.

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Oct 19, 2011

Fun Birthday Cakes YOU Can Make

I'm not sure how I got interested in making my children's birthday cakes. As far as I can recall, my mom never made ours; we had standard-looking cakes from the grocery store. I also don't recall any of my friends having home made cakes. But I'm glad I took the plunge into birthday cake making. I call it my special gift to my kids, and they look forward to it every year.

But please do not assume I have any real cake making skills. I really don't! I never make the cake from scratch, and if I had to come up with the designs myself, I'm sure they'd be pathetic. But with the advent of the Internet, anyone can make a birthday cake that's special.


LinkThis is the very first birthday cake I ever made. I came up with the construction based on a photo I saw in a magazine. I used a dome-shaped cake pan (similar to the half pan shown here), then frosted it to look like a ladybug. Red Vines (in red...I couldn't find any black) made the bug's antenna. Generally, I avoid buying specially shaped cake pans. For one thing, many rely on careful application of frosting - which I'm not good at. But in this case, no special frosting techniques were needed, and I felt I could use the same pan again for other, totally different cakes.

Another hit cake was the Curious George/monkey cake, shown at the top of this post. I found the directions here; it was one of the simplest cakes I ever made, relying on clever use of donuts and candy to make the cake unique.
LinkThis last weekend, I made this exavator cake for my son. It's not perfect (none of my cakes are!) but it delighted the birthday boy and our guests. The directions are here, but basically I made a chocolate cake (my children know no other kind) in a loaf pan and cut off the domed top; then I cut off one section of the loaf and placed it on top of the other. I used candies, Twinkies, and donuts to create the effect of heavy equipment. (The cones are candles, which you can found here.)

LinkLinkI think this pirate ship cake is the best cake I've made so far. And it wasn't hard at all. Again, careful use of candies and pretzels made it a winner. I found the directions here.

And so, I've already given you links to my two favorite go-to sources for making fun kid's cakes:

* Parenting magazine online. Of every place I've searched for cake designs, this is my favorite. The directions are very clear and the cakes are so cute.

* Family Fun magazine online. This is my second favorite source. There are more cakes to choose from here, but the directions aren't always quite as clear. Sometimes I Google the cakes found at this site and find personal blogs that clarify the instructions. Family Fun also has some nice ideas for birthday cupcakes.

Once you have a little experience making shaped cakes like these, you can also Google your idea (for example: "Airplane birthday cakes") and look at the images for ideas. Sometimes the images lead to websites that offer instructions.

Do you make your children's birthday cakes? What are your favorite cake making tips?

Aug 22, 2011

A Knight & Princess Party

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

LinkLinkMy 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.

The Costumes
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.
Link
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.
Link
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.


The Decorations
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.

Invitations

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]."


Games
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.