The Inaugural 5th Birthday Carnival Party



Almost immediately after finishing my daughter’s Dora the Explorer 4th Birthday Fiesta I began thinking about her 5th birthday. I wasn’t trying to rush the calendar or anything but I had officially been bitten by the birthday planning bug and just a few months after she turned 4 she started preschool and began making friends. I found myself trying to dream up fun ideas to make her 5th birthday party extra special for her. I ruled out a few ideas before settling somehow on a carnival theme.

I must make 2 distinct notes at this point:

1st- This was almost 11 years ago and Pinterest was not a thing yet.

2nd- The plethora of themes available at your average party supply store today (rock star, fiesta, disco, hoe down, awards show, CARNIVAL/ Circus, ect. ect. ect.) is a vast improvement from the party themes available ready made a decade ago…….trust me I searched.

I make these 2 distinctions because I must relay that I had to really do work and put in time back then scouring page after page of search results looking for inspiration and then “Collecting” the ideas via “copying” images of inspiration and “pasting” them into a Word document creating a collaboration I called my Party Boards.

This is what I consider to be the more structured beginning of my My Fool Proof 6 Point Party Planning Steps. As I scoured for ideas I looked in these 6 categories or steps as I had in the past as described in my previous blogs in this Party Plan Series.

Winnie the Pooh 1st Birthday, the one that started it all…

Classic Princess Party for a 2nd Birthday

Blues Clue’s 3rd Birthday Party

Dora the Explorer 4th Birthday Fiesta

Eventually, I grew more efficient in my research stage but at this juncture, in my party planning evolution it was still a semi time-consuming process to research and create my Party Boards. The creation of Pinterest was a HUGE time saver for me (only AFTER I learned how to keep that hobby under control though. Read about that HERE in an upcoming blog about Putting a “pin” in a Pinterest Problem before it begins!) In the case of this carnival birthday I began searching for ideas in stores and online 4 months out from the big day and realized quickly that within my meager budget (especially because by this point we were renting a house of our own finally!) and considering the limitations on inexpensive and/or disposable carnival themed birthday items available, I needed to get crafty. If the things I had gotten used to just buying ready made were proving difficult to find then I decided to get in tune with the “Me” before “Mom”. That person was a super creative, 4 year Fine Art student obsessed with crafting or creating art and when that person was crowned “Mother” she tucked away those supplies (and inherently talents) in a closet long ago.  This party was the perfect reason to open that closet and pull it all back out. This party will go down in my history as the “Crown Jewel” of my “mommy crown” that brought the “Me” back out of me. So let’s get down to the details…


I was fully committed at this point in replicating a carnival in honor of my little girl. By this point that was all I knew. I didn’t quite know what to expect myself to actually pull off but I was committed…….even more so after my step sisters gifted my daughter & my oldest nephew a combined gift of a personal home inflatable bounce house………(yes I did say, stepsisters. If you caught that, then yes it had become official a few months before Christmas that year and it was exciting and fun to have sisters for the first time…..but back to the topic at hand.) The gifting of this bounce house in December solidified the plan, gave me 4 solid months to prep & plan ahead and added a fun new level to this carnival theme! With the creative part of me unlocked for the first real time in over 5 years, it gets really FUN! Hold on tight, I went all the way with this theme……


As previously mentioned, we were renting a house by this point in our life, we had moved in just a few months before Christmas also. We were renting a 2 story house with a kitchen large enough for a table & chairs to fit comfortably AND a dining room.  We had a good sized living room & a partially finished basement and we felt like our space was huge! Thanks to the size of the house and a front yard large enough to use for guest parking and a little back deck, backyard & two car garage I felt equipped to entertain at my own house this time. With more time to prep the party space, I got moving as soon as the snow melted and began cleaning up the yard & flowerbeds as well as organizing our garage (in case we had rain & needed an outdoor cover since my oldest daughters birthday is in early May this always has to be a consideration).


I wanted maximum attendance from our family & family friends and we were inviting friends from her preschool class so I went with a Saturday afternoon, the day after her actual birthday and not a school day. I planned for this party to be longer in time than the ones I had previously planned because there was going to be a lot to do so it started just afternoon and went well into the early evening, but we were again blessed with beautiful weather so that helped the fun continue seamlessly.


We started a few hours before the party on the task of inflating helium balloons to adorn the railing of our back deck, the canopy cover for the eating area, and various other places throughout the party to create a festive feel to our outdoor space. I also began working weeks in advance on painting signs for the various games & stations of our “Carnival” including this welcome sign!


Welcome Sign



View from the back deck where our grill & concession stand was located.

Food & Beverage….

For the food, I decided to go with a concession stand theme like you would find at a school or local church carnival.


We set up a 6-foot tale in the middle of the deck and had food offerings lines up buffet style. I had positioned my grill on the other side of the table with my brother graciously volunteering to man the grill, cranking out burgers and hot dogs as needed.  I had prepared popcorn in bright colorful paper bags already portioned out to minimize waste and so it could be grabbed on the go easily. At the time my aunt owned a small bar & restaurant and hooked me up with the use of her nacho cheese warmer & ladle so we had authentic nacho’s readily available as needed and I had purchased a box of soft pretzels from our wholesale club and had a few batches of those cycling in and out of my oven right in the kitchen during the main food portion of the day.


As for drinks I went with bottles of water, cans of soda and little juice barrels for the kids. All in all the food was a raging success and went off very smoothly and I was happy to have offered a new variety of choices a little outside the normal, pizza, chips & cake offered so frequently at kids parties.


As for entertainment, well the whole party was really the entertainment. I had come up with a handful of game ideas that I could easily replicate at home (as referenced in the signs above) and those were space out throughout the back portion of our driveway and in the front of the garage doors. Games like:

  1. Balloon Pop – I had taken a small piece of MDF and taped blown up balloons across it offering 3 beginner darts to the children to attempt to pop a balloon.
  2. Bean Bag Toss – We had a small tic tac toe bean bag toss game that had been previously gifted to my daughter and we set that out allowing the kids to use bean bags to try to flip 3 in a row!
  3. Ring Toss – For this I simply purchased a set of pool rings and 6 2 liters of the cheapest soda on the shelf. I chose 3 orange sodas and 3 grape sodas and set them up like bowling pins letting the kids try to ring the top of the bottles!
  4. Sitting Ducks – I had been lucky enough to find an inflatable kiddie pool shaped like a duck and then I found 2 sets of rubber duckies in the baby bath department. I took paint markers and painted dots on the bottom of the little duckies in one of 3 different colors and the kids got to pull 3 ducks to determine the prize! 
  5. Ring of Fire – This was the most time consuming of all the games. I took a standard hula hoop and cut out construction paper flames in red, yellow & orange and then taped them around the hoop. The finished product was cute and was the perfect Ring of Fire for a stuffed lion tiger to be tossed through!



We had also set up a face painting station that my new twin stepsisters had offered to work during the party!


My stepsister Jennie painting my little girls face and discussing some other face painting options some of the other little guests


My sweet birthday girl with her face painting creation!

Then there was the BOUNCE ZONE! We had set up the small inflatable bounce house just off to the side of the covered eating area where the adults spent a good portion of the time so that there was always plenty of supervision and we limited it to 2 children at a time to ensure a safe fun experience, but the kids sure did enjoy it!


The last activity planned was a photo op that I had thought up. With help from my father, we designed an easy to assemble and easy to store solution and he purchased the supplies and assisted me in the cutting and construction portion (because truth be told I am a little scared of power tools). I had worked for a few hours on in the last few weeks before the party sketching it and painting it. I don’t pride myself of drawing lifelike people so the sketching was almost agonizing enough for me to quit but I persevered through my doubts and completed it for an enjoyable photo op that you will see again in future parties.


My goofball brother posing as a clown in my homemade photo op spot!

Now if you have read my previous parties then you know this is where I normally sum up the party, the special moments and offer any last minute tips of my own before sending you off to be creative yourself, but as I have warned, THIS PARTY CHANGED ME! Besides just embellishing the theme into more areas of the party I also added a new step to my planning so don’t go away yet!


I explain the addition in an amendment to my original post about My Fool Proof  6 Point Party Planning Steps (referenced in the link above)


In all of my past parties, the favors were an afterthought, something I did because as a parent that’s what I was obligated to do and candy & crumby little plastic toys were what you filled those little bags with right?

*** Now I want to make a side point here, I know that to give favors or not to give favors can be a questionable topic. I understand that celebrating birthdays isn’t just about material things. I also have been blessed to have a family who REALLY enjoys giving gifts, sometimes to the point of excess, and because of that, I have always felt that favors at a child’s birthday are not any different from favors at a wedding. They are meant as an immediate gift of gratitude for not just bringing a present of monetary value, but ALSO and more importantly to me, as a Thank You for their presence and for making the time in their life to come to celebrate with us! I discuss this more in further depth in this upcoming post “Favors…to do & what not to do” If favors isn’t your thing great, if they are then enjoying this additional blog & this added step will be a fun step for you to look forward to in future party blogs of mine!***

Back to the topic at hand… Favors! I decided to re-imagine our party favors this year in keeping with the theme, so naturally, I decided on a prize table where the kids could take the tickets they had “won” participating in the games and redeem them for prizes. Now I was not very strict or observant of the actual redemption since the children were all with the company of their parents I just let parents do the general management of their child’s choices. I set out a variety of useful yet fun items like pencils, plastic sunglasses and small bubbles with a few candy options mixed in like suckers and smarties.


Our Prize Table!

The fun part was that I had enjoyed planning this party so much, and was actually already expecting our second daughter at the time of this party so I made a plan all the way back then to make the Carnival a tradition for our children for their 5th birthdays so packed up all the leftover prizes, game components, signs and our photo opportunity for our next carnival almost 6 years away. All in all the party was a tremendous success


and my little lady had her “Absolute Best Birthday Yet!” …………but I had unleashed a monster in myself so that title would forever be up for grabs with each additional birthday party I organized and the gift bag in the front of her gift pile gives a little hint to her next birthday theme! As always use this as inspiration to step outside of your own party bubble and try some new things, it pays off in the moment and it pays off in the memories I promise! Now go be creative and as always…

Thanks for reading!


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