Last September was my son’s second birthday party. Unlike with his first, I spent a long time considering what theme to go with; at two he was certainly old enough to have an interest in his own things, but not yet old enough to choose his own party theme. I eventually picked a pirate theme for two reasons: firstly he was enjoying the Disney Junior show Jake and the Neverland Pirates a lot and secondly, it seemed fairly easy for me to do. Here then are my tips and ideas for hosting a pirate party for little ones:
I wanted to keep my costs down as much as possible, I try not to be a Scrooge over these things but it’s not like my little boy understood what was happening. Even so my guest lists expanded past what I was happy with because of village politics (you can’t invite kid A without inviting kid B) and at age two, parents have to accompany their charges to the party meaning every kid invited is actually at least two extra people- often more. We decided right from the beginning to book the village hall for sheer practicality, my house feels crowded with just two or three extra people inside – the thirty or so on my guest list would have been inconceivable.
The invitation is the first piece of your party puzzle and sets the theme for the event. I designed mine on Photoshop using digital scrapbooking supplies and had them printed as postcards by a photo printing company, a bonus of doing this is that it saves the cost of envelopes. If you wanted to avoid standard store-bought invitations you could also shop on Etsy where you can find thousands of sellers making fantastic themed invitations that can often be fully customised. If you want to design your own as I did there are hundreds of websites offering free fonts and digital scrapbooking supplies, check out my favourite designer Britt-ish Designs who often has small freebies that accompany her kits and who makes a lot of Disney themed designs.
2. Fancy Dress
This is one of the simplest and cheapest things to do as it requires virtually no effort on your part for all the guests costumes. I do however only recommend it with simple ideas such as our pirate theme – asking parents to dress their little ones up in complex or expensive costumes will not endear you to them. Pirate costumes can be a simple as a pair of shorts with an old stripy shirt; the kids at my party came in everything from these commandeered wardrobe costumes with homemade cardboard hats right through to store bought costumes and fancy homemade outfits. I also dressed up to help set the theme – this worked especially well for the pirate party theme as I became the captain for the day.
I wanted to dress my son up as Jake from the TV show but there was no official costume out so I made him one from an old white t-shirt, striped vest, shorts and some blue fabric. I found a pattern online to make the waistcoat, sewed on the cheap gold buttons and used double sided tape to attach the yellow ribbon trim as I knew it didn’t have to survive washing. One of the best things about pirate costumes is that tatty frayed edges are actually a good thing so there’s no need to hem the clothes if you don’t want. I also found a pirate t-shirt on sale for $2 at the supermarket; I bought it and roughly cut out the pocket designs, one of which had a sword in, and attached them to the waistcoat with tape to add some detail.
Coming up with party games is always tricky, especially if you want them themed. We stuck with a good old game of pass the parcel to make sure every kid was involved in something. I also invented a treasure hunt game using my son’s two-piece animal jigsaw set, it went like this:
- Hide one half of each animal around your venue, make sure they’re in places that are safe and kid eye-level
- Split the kids into two teams – try and mix ages, then assign an adult to each team as a helper
- Give the teams the other halves of the hidden animals, each team should have the same number of animals to find
- The first team to return to you with all their completed animals wins
As a third “activity”, I had a costume competition which I mentioned on the invitations. I assigned an adult friend of mine who didn’t know any of the kids except my son (who was naturally excluded from the competition) to pick the costume she liked best and write the child’s name down on a piece of paper. I announced the winner at the end of the party. I kept all the prizes very small and cheap by buying a multipack of Playdoh with around ten small tubs included which I gave out to the treasure hunt players (winning team members also got a small bag of chocolate coins each), the costume winner got a book about pirates which I found in a publishers clearance store for around $1.
Music is another easy and cheap way to set the theme for a party. I trawled the web for pirate themed music and made a playlist which I burned to CD and played through the venue’s music system. My pirate music choices included:
- Imagination Movers – “The Sensible Life of a Pirate” and “Caribbean Rhapsody”
- “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” Theme
- Disneyland – “Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life For Me”
- Everything I could find by “Sharky & Bones”, the pirate duo who sing at the end of “Jake & The Neverland Pirates” (who now have an album out, why wasn’t that out in September?)
- Upbeat pieces from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” Scores
You could also use music by some of the many pirate bands such as “The Jolly Rogers” – just make sure you check the lyrics first as many are inappropriate, and how I managed to not think of using tracks from Muppet Treasure Island I’ll never know.
5. Food & Cake
We stuck with a simple buffet at the party, my preferred choice by far when dealing with a room full of small children, and we were lucky enough to have a venue with two rooms which allowed us to set up the buffet in one room while the kids ran riot in the other. I found a wooden pirate chest in the weeks leading up to the party which we now use to store small toys; for the party I filled the chest with popcorn and hid some gold chocolate coins among it. One of my favourite party memories was when a 3 year old guest was getting herself a handful of popcorn, she turned to her father in open mouthed surprise and shouted “THERE ARE CHOCOLATE COINS IN HERE!!!!!!”
I am a huge fan of cake decorating shows including Ace of Cakes and regularly visit Cake Wrecks, especially to see their Sunday Sweets so making my son’s cakes has always been a given. I baked the cake itself two days before the party and covered it that night to keep it fresh – I buy my icing pre coloured to save the effort of colouring it evenly myself. I also bought silver and gold powders which could be mixed with water to make edible paints. I used a skull cutter from Halloween and a circle cutter to make marzipan skulls and coins to go around the bottom tier (I pressed a chocolate coin into the circles to create a coin impression before painting it). The night before the party, my best friend and I spent the whole night creating the cake including drawing an intensely geeky treasure map on the top tier, it included instructions such as “come along Pond”, “don’t blink!”, and the Timewarp chorus. We created a treasure chest from a dense lemon loaf cake that could handle being sculpted, my friend decorated it with painted marzipan strips to make it look wooden and I painted candy bracelets and rings with the gold and silver paints to fill it, it was a very quick project that looked incredibly effective. We finished the cake base by crushing cornflakes, brown sugar and pale pink cake glitter together to form edible sand which we stuck down to the board with a thin layer of buttercream. The cake was by far my biggest expense ($30 or more) but I consider cake decorating a hobby and this is my only excuse for a big project each year so I justified the cost that way, plus it still cost less than getting in a professional.
Decorations can easily run up the final cost of a party by a lot, my trick was to buy things that could cover a lot of the walls in one go. I bought some Jolly Roger banners and balloons on eBay which made up most of the wall decor. Our buffet table needed three table cloths to cover it, instead of laying out for three I just bought one themed cloth for the centre to hugely reduce the cost. I also kept my eye out for bargains by checking in the local party stores each time I passed, I found a giant inflatable “two” half price which managed to decorate most of a wall by itself; it was also reusable so I was able to pass it on to another mother which helped justify its cost to me. I used a lot of objects we already owned as decorations, my son’s toy pirate ship became a centerpiece on the buffet table. Finally, I brought some of my son’s larger toys (paddling pool filled with balls, ride-on car etc) with us and asked local family to do the same. This resulted in a room filled with big toys that the kids shared (mostly) without incident and meant we didn’t have to pay for any activities.
7. Party Bags
Party bags can be a source of contention among parents, mainly because people’s ideas of what constitutes small take-home gifts can differ wildly. I didn’t want to spend much but was also determined to have them, after all what kind of pirate party doesn’t have loot to take home? I started by downloading free colouring-in sheets from the Disney Junior website, printed them off at letter paper scale and rolled them up before putting a rubber band around them to create free scrolls. I also included a bag of gold chocolate coins, a Jolly Roger eraser, an uninflated balloon and a sheet of stickers, as well as the customary slice of birthday cake. Rather than using actual bags for our loot, I sourced party boxes from eBay at the same cost, these are much sturdier and looked like treasure chests – some kids kept them after the party to store small items. To finish off I wrote each child’s name on a plain luggage label and tied them onto the handles with string.
That’s it! I’m already considering options for this year’s birthday; right now little one is into Postman Pat, Chuggington and Angry Birds although we still have some months to go and toddlers are fickle. However if those interests stay put I might soon be throwing my own Angry Birds party like Ruth last year!