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

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 excavator 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.

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.

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.

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.

Jun 28, 2010

11 Frugal Birthday Party Ideas

1. Shop the Dollar Tree and other cheap outlets for basics. I try to buy plain disposables as much as possible, then accent with a few fun theme pieces. For example, I usually buy everything of a solid colored disposable tablecloths (if needed) cups, and utensils, then add theme plates and perhaps theme napkins. Not only is this less expensive, but in my opinion, it looks better if everything isn't so "matchy matchy."

2. Use what you have. For example, my daughter's second birthday party was a country ladybug theme. I use my red and white checked tablecloth and made centerpieces from old Mason jars filled with flowers from the garden. It was beautiful - and frugal!

3. Limit guests. We have family-only birthday parties, but if there are no nearby family members with kids near your child's age, ask your child to choose a couple of close friends to invite.

4. Don't go overboard with favors. One year we had a Curious George birthday party; favors were puzzles and coloring pages I found online for free, plus George bookmarks I printed off the Internet for free. Another year, I bought punch balloon-balls for the kids. (They were 4 for $1.) You might also consider saving money by making part of the decor party favors. Toddlers will love taking home a balloon, for example.

5. Make the cake. I know, I know, not everyone is a good baker, let alone cake decorator. But who says the cake has to be perfect? My nearly 5-year-old remembers every cake I ever made her - mostly because Mommy made them. These days you can find lots of relatively easy kids cake ideas online.

6. Forget Chuck E. Cheese. Have the party at home, or at some other free location. Many parks allow you to make reservations for little or nothing, also.

7. Gather ideas from online party stores - then get creative. For example, my girly girl wants a pirate birthday party this year. (She's been watching Peter Pan a lot.) I found a cute pirate ship bean bag toss online, but I can make it better and cheaper at home with some scrap plywood. Another year, I saw a no-longer-available Eeyore "Pin the Tail on the Donkey" game. I enlarged a picture of Eeyore from one of my daughter's Winnie the Pooh books and made my own version out of poster board. (And it hung in her room as a decoration for a couple of years.)

8. Don't hire entertainment. Period. Offer a few simple and cheap party games, then let the kids play on their own.

9. Make your own invites. If your child is old enough, she'll enjoy helping. There are lots of creative invitation ideas online. And if you want to spend zero on invitations, find graphics online and create a digital postcard to email to guests.

10. Ask your child what's most important to him. The answer might surprise you. For example, one year I learned my daughter really didn't care about decorations, but she really wanted party hats. So guess where I spent my money?

11. Keep the focus where it belongs. Birthday parties are about showing appreciation for those we love. One important way to do that - more important than any decorations, gifts, or cake - is to let your child hear you thank God for bringing that child into your life. Make sure today, and every day, your child knows what a blessing he is in your life.