Sunday, October 7, 2012

Knitted by Katrine

A dear friend of mine is going to start listing a few of her knitted items and original knitting patterns on my Etsy site. So, those of you who know me and know I don't knit, don't you worry... she DOES.

Watch for these in the shop and also the appliqued tea towels I made to match them. A great gift set for teacher, don't you think?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Birthday Party: 6-Year-Old's LEGO Mania

Let me first say that one of the tragedies of planning your child's birthday party, hosting the party at your house, and also being a blogger and hobbyist photographer is you rarely get to take pictures at the party. Your husband takes your camera and takes the pictures and he takes pictures his way, and it's not your way and sometimes you just have to deal with it. And sometimes, random people at the party pick up your camera and start taking pictures (this one really bothers me). So apologies in advance for some of these photos. But some are mine, so maybe those are the ones that make you cringe. Whatever. 

Now, we threw our son a party! At our house. Which was difficult. I would love to make a case for having parties at your own home. But having 10-15 boys in your house, all under the age of 7 is loud and messy. Not of enough people do it anymore for children to have party manners. Really, most children don't have inside manners anymore. They treat every space they are in like iJump or a gym. (I include my children in this, so don't you worry I ain't judging. Just saying.) I wanted to do it because this son of mine wanted a LEGO party so, so, so badly and the fine folks at the LEGO retail store even admitted their birthday parties are a little disappointing. So began a little preparation. Also, we are undergoing a major remodel -- like we gutted the entire inside of our house -- and so at this stage of the remodel there was not a stick of furniture on the walls and the walls themselves had not been painted. 

Anyway, let me explain in pictures (please see disclaimer above) what we planned, what worked, what I would do differently, and how I would tweak if I did it, again.

The spread
Our son specifically requested Jimmy John's subs. That is an excellent restaurant to order from. They deliver and they were affordable. The food is great. Let me also say this, it will surprise you how many children will NOT eat a ham and cheese, or turkey and cheese sandwich. Parents: you need to work on this. Let's also teach our children that if something is on their sandwich like white cheese instead of orange cheese that rather than cry and whine about it your child should quietly extract offending piece of cheese and leave it on his plate. Also, let's teach our children that if they bite into a sandwich that has shredded lettuce on it -- and for whatever reason your child doesn't like shredded lettuce -- they should swallow hard and just extract offending lettuce for the next bite rather than immediately spitting what is in their mouth on the floor. Because my children eat Jimmy John's sandwiches on a fairly regular basis in never occurred to me that so many would turn their noses to this fare.

My amazing friend Katrine made homemade chocolate brownie cake pops covered in chocolate candy melt and nonpareils in primary colors. So good. We also had a cake, but only so that there could be candles. This particular boy does not believe your birthday is official until you blow out candles on a cake. 

For the drinks, I followed the instructions at Distance Makes and made ninjago faces on gatorade bottles. I like how these turned out. I would not change anything about these. While I liked how Distance Makes made them in all colors, I find that if you offer choices everyone wants the same choice as the coolest kid at the party and you end up not having enough to go around. I made all of mine red but I ran out and made three of them orange. You would not believe the catastrophe that caused. If I were to do this party for older kids, I might consider doing all colors. These were big bottles of gatorade and I thought children and parents would share and I would need those yellow cups. No on split a bottle -- which was fine -- but made the cups that I drew LEGO faces on seem irrelevant. Those are much cheaper option and really easy. I don't really want 5- and 6-year-olds running around my house with paper cups that don't have lids. 

Speaking of unnecessary, I also made utensil rolls in primary colors with a cute LEGO inspired strip of paper to hold the napkin around the utensil set. But none of the boys unwrapped their napkin, let alone use it. But they were cute, easy, and I would do that, again. 

The Plan
Having working with a lot of these boys in the classroom as one of the room moms I knew we would need to keep them busy. On hand I had my husband (please see disclaimer above), a hired teenage babysitter, and a few stray moms. The stray moms are guests and you just don't put them to work. They want to chat with their mom friends and I don't blame them. So, I don't ask them to do much. 

The babysitter and husband went through some serious training, though. I had made activity lanyards for each boy. The lanyards had small "Study Buddies" cards attached to a ring that hung around their necks. Each card was a different color, and had a title written on it. The titles represented the activities to be done at the party. The idea is that they would earn LEGO expertise badges with every activity they complete. This actually kind of worked. Of course the badges were just large LEGO stickers. 

I thought this would help kids move around to the various stations at the party. I also hoped it would help with crowd control. Truthfully nothing helps when it comes to bunching boys. They just gang together and there is no pulling them apart. But I know that most of the boys loved the lanyards. They also got to take these home, obviously.

The Activities
Free Play: This was actually two stations. On one side it consisted of a large box of LEGOs from our own personal toybox. The boys just sat on the floor and built stuff. This worked well in the beginning when guests were arriving. The other piece of it was to sit at a card table and use stickers and markers to decorate a paper crown. This crown we called the LEGO Builder Thinking Cap. I know what you're thinking, "That's dumb. Did anyone even want to wear their crown?" 

Well, I knew from experience that even boys love crowns. I volunteered during a holiday party at the kids' school. I had to present a holiday tradition. Because we are of Swedish descent I had the students make paper St. Lucia crowns and I discussed the tradition. That was so popular with 1st graders last year I figured I could try it.  Don't knock the crown. Again, this was a great ice breaker and got kids being creative rather than rowdy.

Licorice Contest: This activity was a big success. That wonderful cake-pop baking friend told me that it is something she always did as a child at parties. You basically have rope or lace licorice and you see who can eat it the fastest without using their hands. It can be a great photo op (please see disclaimer above). It did have the effect of getting kids very rowdy and pumped with sugar. If I were to do it, again, I would reserve this activity for after food. Also, I recommend that you get cherry flavored licorice. My licorice was black, but cherry flavored. When the kids saw it and thought it was traditional black licorice none of them would try it. Finally I had one boy smell it and he convinced everyone else to do it. Once one group of kids did it, they all wanted to do it. Again, and again, and again...

Car Races: This was equal to the licorice contest in popularity. I had seen a similar idea at Kirsten Can. I didn't realize, however, that all the boys would want to do it at once. If I were to do this over I would make a MUCH bigger space of this. I would make more than two tracks. Also, I staged mine on my stairs. 

But I think I like how Kirsten Can did it using a table. The kids at our party didn't do much reinventing of the cars between races. I would have liked to see more of that. But you can't force someone to be creative if they're not in the mood. And after a few laces of licorice the only thing these boys were in the mood for was screaming and running up and down those stairs.

This is also when I started to feel like I was going to pull my hair out because I grabbed the camera from my husband and realized what kind of pictures he was taking at photobooth. 

Photobooth: I love a good photobooth. We just used a posterboard, taped it to the wall and set out a basket of hats, sunglasses, silly mustaches, etc. We've done photobooth before with great success. But this one was bad. You must make sure your photographer understands the objective. You would think this is intuitive. It is not. You must instruct the photographer on how to frame the picture up. This was a much smaller photobooth than I have done in the past, and that was a mistake. Make your backdrop huge. That way multiple kids can fit in the picture and they have more fun with it. Enough about that.

Pin Head: This is what I called our LEGO version of pin the tail on the donkey. I had a posterboard on the wall that had the words MAKE MY FACE framing a blank center. Then in center we pasted up a black piece of construction paper that had glued to it a white paper with a minifig head drawn on it. I had stickers with eyes, smiles, noses, glasses, etc. We blindfolded the boys, spun them around, and let them stick facial features on the LEGO heads. Very funny results. With each new boy we pulled the minifig head poster down and put up another one. The newly faced one was used as a cover and stapled to a small coloring book I had made with LEGO images I found online. 

Make a Minifig: This station was really Part B of the Pin Head station. Once they had their coloring book they could sit at a table and color LEGO coloring pages. I was hoping this would calm some of them down. Were I to do this again I would make sure all the covers (made by the kids during pin the face on the minifig head) had names on them. Books were getting mixed up like crazy. 

Eat: Pretty obvious. But I will tell you this, no 6-year-old understands the concept of a buffet line. 

The Decorations

As I mentioned before, my house is a shambles. Our decorations' main aim was to hide varying degrees of construction. I did make a small banner using scrapbook cardstock (precut) with letters glued to it. The letters were simply copy paper in which we printed HAPPY BIRTHDAY MASON in the LEGOthic font. Then I punched holes in the top of each card and merely threaded the letters on to yellow grosgrain ribbon. The ribbon is very long because I originally thought I was going to be stretching it across an arch that divided our former dining room and living room. But that arch got cut out of the house the day before the party. Yes, I actually demolition-ed a wall while decorating for a birthday party. I'm smart like that.  

I repurposed all my Knut Day party decorations. These consist of a large yellow table cloth and Olympian blue table runners (both from IKEA). Next to the car races I hung some checkered flag banners that were left over from a edible car derby held at the school. And at each station I had posterboard with the title of the activity (which matched the lanyard) printed on paper in LEGOthic font. Easy peasy. Not really elegant, but it didn't seem to matter to the boys. I also bought .99 plastic table cloths in bright bold colors and covered each station with a different color of table cloth. 

I had wanted my boys to build cake plates and pedestals for me out of LEGOs. I thought they would enjoy the assignment, but they would have none of that. So, I dumped about 500 LEGO pieces in an apothecary jar and put it in the center of the table. 

I also lined up all the goodie boxes on the pony wall between two rooms.

The Goodies
I loved the parting gifts. I had found paperboard boxes at Target for a $1/piece earlier in the year. They were meant to be Rubik's Cubes, but I thought they were LEGO-esque. I filled them with the birthday boy's favorite things -- a ring pop, 2 LEGO pencils, a small notepad, LEGO erasers, a minifig, and a very special set of crayons. 

I made the crayons using a minifig ice cube tray. This is being done all over, I see it on Pinterest all the time. I melted crayons in a pyrex measuring cup in the microwave and poured them into the molds. (Here is a tutorial, which I did not use.) I made over 100 of them in more than 6 colors. I made a set of 6 for each child at the party. I also made a set of 4 for each of the 23 students in his kindergarten class. If I never melt another crayon again, that would be better. 

I stuck the crayons to a yellow piece of cardstock. Then I inserted the cardstock into a sandwich/snack bag. The bags had a face printed on them -- I found them in Target's dollar spot -- and with the yellow card in the bag they looked loosely like a LEGO face.  

There were also razzles and candy sticks on hand for anyone who was getting low on sugar.