So...the birthday boy requested a tent. A party centered around a tent! And friends. Lots of friends. To be fair, the tent request didn't come totally out of the blue. B had a tent at his camping themed birthday party last year. I just didn't think we'd be doing a tent two years in a row. But he loved the tent, so, I was off to figure out how to make it work for his sixth birthday.
In general when planning parties, I try to get inspiration from the guest of honor's interests. I tossed around a few ideas, but landed on a favorite book that we read every day, several times a day: A Nest of Dinosaurs: The Story of Oviraptor. The book chronicles a group of paleontologists, their trip to the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, and the importance of the nest of fossilized eggs they discovered. That was it! The kids were going to the Gobi Desert!
Planning 'loosely structured' activities for B's birthday parties happened quite organically. I really take his lead - noticing how his friends played after school, at play dates, and at romp - then started putting together activities that would not only excite B and his friends, but resonate with them long after the party.
I like to leave a lot of choice up to the kiddos, where they can explore freely...on their own terms and schedule. I have stations set up, but by no means do we have someone telling the kiddos what to do and when. It's a party after all!!!
Guests included two year olds, on up to ten year olds. The challenge was to figure out activities that would reach this wide age range, and scale its execution for 36 kiddos. Parents could drop off, but we were happy so many decided to celebrate with us. (Even older brothers and sisters ended up staying.)
B's sixth birthday would take the kids on a journey, from Seattle to the Gobi Desert, Mongolia. Upon arrival, kiddos could choose to enter the playspace...where the paleontologists' camp was set up...or they could head over to the excavation site...where they would help the paleontologists identify their recent discovery. They were presented with this problem...
One late night session on Pinterest gave me a few ideas I could work with, and led me to a post on baking soda eggs. I ordered some fossils, and enlisted our team to work on putting together the eggs for the party. We lined a vintage wood trough with wood shred, and carefully laid the eggs in. (Warning: this is a LOT of wood shred. If you're thinking of doing this, contact me before ordering, I'll probably still have some in our storage room!)
I picked up some tools, supplies, and lots of vinegar for the kiddos to use to reveal their fossils. Once freed from their fossilized homes, the kiddos were tasked with identifying their fossil and preparing their specimen for their journey back home in these beautiful mason jars.
We had little signs and cues at each station, so the kids could try to figure out what to do on their own. But I also had a couple of our attendants at each activity, to support wherever needed...and to make sure each station was reset and kept tidy.
I have long loved the idea of kiddos building their 'goody bags' from the activities at our parties. There's something really mindful about the way these 'goody bags' come together. I get a little wistful thinking that they'll be coming away with something that will jog their memory of their time with us. And I hope it stirs memories of fun and friendship.
I used these cotton totes, which I again enlisted our team to put together. We used a '6' stencil and stamped them with black fabric paint picked up from our local Ben Franklin. The paint ended up bleeding through the muslin and looked different than what I envisioned. But I really loved the result. They weren't perfect, and I guess that's what I loved about them. We dipped a pencil eraser in some gold paint to add a little pop on the bags.
Once inside the playspace, the kiddos found the paleontologists' camp. I rented the largest tent I could get my hands on from REI, and filled it with white and silver balloons. Some of the balloons had Fairy Berries in them, which made them glow. We highly recommend these balloons for parties. They are made of a high quality latex, and are thicker than anything you'll find at your local party store. I purchased two sizes - this & this. These balloons can take a beating, and we had very few casualties. (Kiddos + popped balloons make me nervous.)
There was a 'campfire', and of course our awesome toys & equipment for the kids to explore. Our island was set up with a buffet for all to enjoy, and our fridge was filled with Honest juice pouches, beer, white wine, and water. I picked up a bunch of mini donuts from Mighty-O Donuts, and had Ezell's Chicken and fixings delivered.
And then filled in with a giant fruit, cheese, cracker, and dips platter. (Seriously, it spanned one half of our 16' island.) I made ONE thing for the party, and it was one of B's favorites...my pesto pasta salad.
The beautiful (and delicious) cake was from Midori Bakery.
And to honor a request from the birthday boy, we opted for individual dirt cups (complete with fondant fossils) - also provided by Midori Bakery.
B's party was 2.5 hours in length. With about an hour to go, I rang a bell and alerted all of our little paleontologists that the sun was about to set in the Gobi Desert, and to head out to the reception area to collect their torches. They were met by a couple from our team, handing out flashlights and instructions for a scavenger hunt. (We hid a few glow in the dark dinosaurs in the space earlier.)
The lights went out while the kiddos were in the reception area...and all of the flickering tea lights, lanterns, and Fairy Berries lit the space enough so all the adults could continue noshing and drinking. They were led down a long hallway, torches lit, off to find those dinosaurs in the darkened playspace.
We asked them to collect tokens at each dinosaur station, which they could trade for their Gobi Desert souvenir. I again enlisted the help of the romp team to make their dino necklaces. I ordered some mini plastic dinosaurs and had them spray painted white. I purchased stretchy nylon cording (by the yard) in different colors, some of these, and used some Washi tape I had from another project. I then dipped the tails &/or feet in some of that gold paint from the bags. Voila!
I kept our color palette pretty simple. Wood, glass, this chalk runner, and green moss. I just find that there's already so much going on in the space, so I used a lot of neutrals with pops of color here and there.
We used this to add a little sparkle...on the excavation tools, on the walls to tape up the dinosaur pictures, and little tassels on the maps. I found the world maps at Paper Source - and purchased this one and this one. I hung one on a bulletin board, and had the other one spray mounted onto foam core at Ben Franklin. I used red embroidery thread to visually link Seattle and Mongolia, and added that little bit of sparkle from the washi tape.
B's favorite color is white, which is why we had several white pieces throughout the space. I grabbed a bunch of dinosaurs that we've collected over the years from those robotic arm games, and had them spray painted white. I also ordered these, but left them natural. We made party hats for the dinos out of little cupcake liners and the cutest felt poms.
They ended up in terrariums, nestled in between all the goodies on the buffet table, and sprinkled throughout the space.
Guests left with a snack bag for the car ride (it's always hard to get them to eat during a party), tote bag, their fossil specimen in a mason jar, the flashlight from the scavenger hunt, and their dinosaur necklace.
Thanks to our wonderful team, I was actually able to enjoy B's party. They helped me pull it all together in about two weeks. They ran the activities and kept us on schedule. I got to spend some precious time with B during the party and visit with our friends, all with ease, knowing that everything would be taken care of. The entire day, from set up to break down, went so smoothly.
This party was a complete labor of love. It was so much fun to plan. And knowing B and his friends had a blast made it all worthwhile. This little nugget as he was falling asleep didn't hurt either. <heart melt>
Photos by Angie at One Thousand Words Photography.
Note: This is NOT a sponsored post.