C's 6th birthday was a celebration of all things balloon related: helium filled balloons, giant balloons, rocket balloons, punch balloons, water balloons, etc. We held the party at a nearby park and invited a dozen of C's school friends and cousins. C and I drew up a plan for his birthday with ideas for games, favors, the cake, etc.
The part we were most excited about was the Balloon Obstacle Course, which was based on an obstacle course we did back at Martha Stewart Kids. We held the party at a local park since the obstacle course needed a decent amount of space. (Lesson #1: Parties not held at home require a lot more work! Don't underestimate the time involved in just hauling things from one place to another!)
The obstacle course started by crawling underneath two tables (we also used them to hold the gifts). Then the kids ran over a balance beam we made from some 2x4s. Next was the wagon pull, where they pulled the wagon around some balloons. Then they held a balloon between their legs and hopped to the next station where it ended with a bucket of water balloons. You had to grab a balloon from the bucket and toss it into another bucket a few feet away.
(Lesson #2: Sometimes things aren't quite as fun as you think they will be!) The kids were excited about the obstacle course, and they cheered the first 3 or 4 people on with lots of enthusiasm. One child could run the course in about two minutes, but when you have twelve children at a party (plus more siblings who wanted to try the course as well) the kids who had already gone seemed a little bored of it by the time we were done. I think next time I would figure out some way to involve the kids more in the course itself so they aren't just sitting watching.. make one child your timer, another in charge of yelling GO!, have one hand out the water balloons, etc.
We kept the food simple: PB+J for the kids, turkey and basil sandwiches for the adults, watermelon, grapes, pretzels, veggies + dip, and lots of juice boxes. For the cake, I blew up little balloons (like the kind you use for water balloons) and tied them to skewers. It made for a festive centerpiece and the balloons were easy to do the day before. (Lesson #3: Cake is a lot more work than cupcakes. It requires a knife, and plates, and forks, etc. I vote cupcakes next time.)
Favor bags were stenciled with a red 6 and held a few dot candies and a punch balloon. The kids used their bags to catch the candy from the "balloon pinata".
The balloon pinata was my favorite part of the party. I love pinatas, and my children always insist on having one at their parties... but the pinatas never seem to work the way I want them to. The kids usually can't get the thing busted open and one of the adults has to step in and finish the job. The pinata just kind of falls to the ground and we have to pick it up and shake the candy out. And then of course, the pushing and shoving as the kids try to grab as much candy as they can.
Here's what we did instead: you know that carnival game where you throw darts at balloons? We filled balloons with candy and hung one balloon for each child on a wooden board (we covered ours with a plastic tablecloth so a splinter wouldn't accidentally pop the balloons). Each kid had a chance to throw a dart (or two or three) at the balloons until one popped and then they got to run up and grab all the candy from their balloon. The kids loved it and we avoided that moment where one child is crying because he didn't get enough candy (which always seems to happen when we have a pinata).
Note: There's a trick to filling up the balloons with candy. If you try to just shove a few pieces into a balloon before you fill it, you'll be able to fit about 3 pieces before you poke a hole somewhere. We wanted a big explosion of candy, and 3 pieces wasn't going to cut it. My husband, who is an engineer at heart, figured out a great way to fill the balloons up with about 15 pieces of candy. And yes, it involved a trip to Home Depot and a Wet Vac. Details to come.