I had a lot of fun planning Sam’ Race Car Birthday Party and the party went great, so I thought I’d share my behind-the-scenes tips for how I pulled it off. This is a pretty long-winded account, so grab a coffee and make yerself comfy.
When I started planning, I had visions of grandeur and wanted to handmake and mail the invitations. I was going to cut out a circle on black paper to create a tire and use cute wording. But instead, time started to run out and I wussed and just went with Evite. I love personally made invitations, but a momma can’t do everything so Evite was a good substitute. I did find a cute race car themed template and still used my goofy racetrack lingo.
Party Location & Number of Invitees
Since my son is blessed with a summer birthday, we’ve been having his party in our backyard. For the third year running, we’ve enjoyed great weather. In the past, since he was younger, I used his party as an excuse to have lots of [my] friends and family over. This year, we just focused on the birthday boy and invited his guy friends (mostly from preschool). My goal was to have no more than 12 kids, as I wanted to buy some favors and not have to buy more than one 12 pack. Plus, I’m not sure I could handle more than 12 four year old boys running around – especially if the weather turned bad and I was forced to move inside. We ended up with 10 kids, so that worked out well.
I kept the decor pretty simple. I never buy themed paperware or tablecloths. Instead, I buy solid colored plastic tablecloths and plates (black tablecloth & yellow plates). They are way cheaper and anything leftover can easily be reused at another function. I also buy party cups & plasticware from Costco – it’s cheaper and they do get used eventually. The actual race-car themed decor was pretty simple. The main thing was I bought this cute checkered pennant banner. It came with 100′ worth, which proved to be enough to go around our food tent and to string across the backyard. Our other “decor” was the cake itself and the props for the activities: the race car pinata, a town play mat for driving cars on (this also doubled as a picnic blanket), and the race track we set-up.
Games & Activities
I think the key to a successful kids party is to have a mixture of free-form activities, plus a few organized events. You never know how long something is going to take, so you need some flexibility. I often start the party with some kind of craft (in the past, at my daughter’s party, they assembled crowns, another time kids decorated visors and treat bags). For this party, when guests arrived, they were given a paper bag containing their “Pit Pass” (more on this below), race car stickers, and some tattoos. I thought kids could decorate their pass with the race car or put on the tattoos. But most kids immediately gravitated to the race track set up.
The Race Track is called BluTrack and we bought it for Sam’ birthday on the recommendation of some friends. The dads kids had a blast racing the cars – whether it was simply down a straight track, or trying to get cars through loops and over jumps. I had to practically tear the kids away to do an organized game.
The first game was “Doc Doc Lightning“ (perhaps better known to you as Duck Duck Goose). I considered myself brilliant for thinking up this variant, however, my genius was lost on most of the participants. Some were reserved and did not want to go around the circle tapping heads. Other bashful children refused to get up and run when “Lightning” was called. At the other end of the spectrum, the were kids who got up and ran spontaneously (no one tapped them), and kids who, when tapped, got up and ran around the circle multiple times with no intention of stopping. All in all, it was hilarious, if not somewhat dysfunctional.
Then we moved on to Red Light, Green Light. Another friend gave me a great variant on this game to get the kids more active and moving. In addition to the traditional version, I used these commands:
· Green Light – Go
· Red Light – Stop
· Yellow Light – Slow Mo
· Dead End or U-Turn – Reverse direction
· Thunderstorm! (put your wipers on) – Jumping Jacks
· Flat Tire – Hop on one foot
· Bumpy Road – Skipping, Bouncing, Jumping
· Stuck in the mud- jog in place
This game went over much better.
After these two games, we took a break for lunch, followed by birthday cake. Then we finished up with the pinata and one last game – an obstacle course in a cardboard race car.
When searching for the perfect Pinata, I hit the local party stores and was disappointed to learn my only race car option was “Lightning” and he cost ~$20. When I found a generic red race car for half that online, I snatched it up. I filled it with Smarties, Gummy Lifesavers and Tootsie Rolls. I underestimated the strength of 4 year olds and assumed everyone would get several cracks at the pinata. Instead, it broke after the 4th or 5th person went and I felt bad that I hadn’t stuck to my plan of letting the littlest ones hit first. My adorable 2 yr old nephew came over to me after and said, “Hit Car Aunt Kendra?” I finally figured out he wanted a chance to hit the car so we pulled it out of the trash so he could whack at it too.
The Race Car Obstacle Course. Our last event might have been my favorite. We created a super simple race car from a cardboard box and Mike set up an obstacle course the kids to run though for time. The kids ran around some chairs, had to kick a ball into the playhouse, run around the slide, over 3 hula hoops, stopping to spin once inside each circle and then race to the finish. The kids loved it and again, I think the dad’s wished they could have a turn.
Food & Cake
Party food was kept super simple (except for the cake). I served watermelon and Cars Teddy Grahams and ordered pizza. (Apparently an estimate of 2 slices per kid and 3 per adult is WAY high – we had 3 full pizzas left over). For drinks I just had two jugs – one for water and one for lemonade. I prefer not to do juice boxes or water bottles because they produce so much waste (and are more expensive).
The cake was my piece d’resistance. I found a generic race car cake pan online (again better than the Cars cake pan I saw AC Moore). I’ve been doing these birthday cakes for the past 4 years and I have to say, this one was my best one yet AND I even finished before midnight! I usually ice it after the kids go to bed, but this time I worked on it during the day and the kids loved seeing it come together.
Favors & Gifts
I hate buying a bunch of cheap plastic crap, so I tried to come up with ideas that minimized the junk. As I mentioned earlier, I created a “Pit Pass” for each kid ahead of time – I asked moms to send me a photo of their kid and used a digital scrapbooking kit called “Start Your Engines“ to create them. I fake-laminated them using contact paper. Then I stuffed each pass in a brown paper bag (along with stickers & tatoos). The bag was used to collect pinata loot.
Instead of doing gifts, I asked each kid to bring a wrapped 5-pack of Hot Wheels or Matchbox cars. They were put in a basket by the gate so when kids left, they grabbed a pack to take with them. In addition, I also bought checkered flags for the kids to take with them.
To recap, each kid came home with:
- a Pit Pass (a memento of the day)
- a 5 pack of cars
- and a racing flag.
All in all, I thought it was a pretty good haul. I worried a little that Sam might feel gypped to not get a bunch of stuff, but I had bought a couple of extra Hot Wheel packs, in case anyone forgot to bring one. So, in the end, he got to open 3 packs of cars and was excited about that. He didn’t need a lot of stuff and certainly didn’t miss it and I was glad the only excess we brought into the house were small cars.
So… that’s my long-winded account of our race car party. Maybe it will help other “Crew Chief” party planners out there. Even if it doesn’t, I had fun recounting the day and enjoyed relieving the memories made. Thanks for reading all the way through!