It’s a frigid, snowy weekend here in North Carolina and I’ve had some extra time to reminisce about our son’s 5th birthday party last month.  Caleb was born in early December – a busy time between Thanksgiving and Christmas and a tricky time for planning a kid’s party.  Since it’s just a little too cold to be outside for extended periods of time, we had two options – let 10-15 sugar-crazed kids run amok in the house for a few hours, or have a party at another location.  This would be Caleb’s first real kid-centric birthday party and we wanted it to be memorable, so we decided to pull out all the stops and host a carnival-themed affair at the house.

We had so much fun turning our house into a mini-carnival for the weekend and such a blast during the party!   Kids are only kids for a short time, so instead of being stressed that something would get ruined (Cake icing can be scrubbed off of walls; upholstery can be cleaned – trust me!) we took a cue from the five-year-olds and let ourselves loose too!  At the end of it all, there may be been blue icing in my curtains, but the memories we made will last a lifetime!

Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party - Oriental Trading Company Sign

Deciding on a theme for Caleb’s party was tough because I am not a theme person and wasn’t thrilled about the idea of doing an “officially licensed” character party as so many child birthday ideas are marketed towards.  We wanted it to be less about a character from a movie, TV show, or book and more about enticing the kids’ imaginations and awe with classic birthday foods, games, and excitement.  Starting with this carnival-themed directional sign from Oriental Trading Company, it was easy to piece together colorful accessories for a festive look.

Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party

Yes, kids parties are really about the kids, but make sure your grown-up guests can enjoy themselves too! Remember, many parents don’t have a chance to regularly get out and mingle in a party-type atmosphere.  Just because we’re parents doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be allowed to have a good time too!  With the help of a few rented high top tables (and maybe a few cocktails), we turned our main living space in an inviting area for the older carnival goers to relax and mingle while the kids enjoyed the birthday festivities. This old-timey popcorn machine was the perfect addition – plus it was a neat self-serve food attraction that both the kids and adults enjoyed.  We rented the high-top tables, the popcorn machine, and kid-sized tables and chairs from Grand Rental Station in Moooresville.

Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party -Grand Rental Station
Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party

Isn’t this just the cutest invitation?  I thought about designing something similar but decided to save some time by ordering this design from Dazzle Expressions. For $15 I received a digital copy of the invitation, which I got printed on heavy cardstock at FedEx Office.

Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party

I used simple carnival themed accessories like tickets and clown noses as decorations around the house.

Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party
Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party

We set up our buffet food table and the kids’ tables in our dining room.  We’ve been to many kids’ birthday parties and know it’s essential to have a landing zone for crafts and eating. I also took advantage of my gallery wall frames to create this custom “Happy Birthday” display.

Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party
Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party
Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party decor Caleb's cola

Another tip for keeping a house party stress-free – keep the food simple! Pre-cooked pigs in a blanket were great served at room temperature, as was hummus with corn chips and lots of veggies! Because really, what party of mine would be complete without lots of raw veggies…

Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party

And what carnival party would be complete without a platter of clown crudites!

Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party - Clown Crudites

The cake was definitely one of my favorite elements of the party. We ordered this two-tier (one chocolate, one vanilla) beauty from Lowes Foods and topped it with these cute decorations I scored on Amazon.

Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party - Cake

Aside from the food, another important party element is entertainment.  We knew we’d need several activities to keep our kids occupied (and fairly contained in a small space) and decided to do a craft as part of the party.  After spotting these paint-your-own cookies by The Sweet Elements at a local craft show in the fall, I knew they’d be a hit with the kids.  Each cookie comes individually wrapped with a small paintbrush and palette of edible “paints.”  The cookies made great favors too!

Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party The Sweet Elements Cookies
Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party The Sweet Elements Cookies

Being confined to the first floor of our house had its challenges, but I think we did a pretty good job finding ways to creatively use each space.  Like setting up a bean bag toss in the small hallway that leads to our laundry room and garage that wouldn’t have a lot of party traffic.

Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party - Land of Nod Bean Bag Toss
Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party - Land of Nod Bean Bag Toss

Another fun indoor entertaining idea was to have a magician or face painter.  Initially, I had a booked a local (Lake Norman) face painter/balloon maker that I’d seen at another event and knew did beautiful work, but she canceled the week of the party due to an illness.  Since this was supposed to be one of the carnival’s main attractions, I quickly set out trying to find a last minute replacement. In my search, I found

In my search, I found Thumbtack, an online service that matches customers with local services.  All I had to do was provide information about my party (date, time, location, etc.), which was then sent to experienced professionals in the field. Those that were interested and available could then contact me directly for scheduling the service.  With three days until carnival time, I figured what did I have to lose, right? Thankfully, Thumbtack matched me to a great face painter, Amanda McCall at Party Face Professional Face and Body Painting.  Amanda contacted me within a few hours and we corresponded back and forth through email about the party details.  Even though Amanda lives almost two hours away in South Carolina, she was happy to travel up to us.  Even after getting lost on the way to our house, she showed up donned in cute carnival/clown attire with a professional painting chair and was excited to meet our guests.   Unfortunately, Caleb wasn’t interested in having his face painted, but most of the other kids (especially the girls) loved sitting in Amanda’s big chair, then showing off their works of art.  Amanda did amazing work, but out of respect for our guests’ privacy, I am not including their photos on the blog.  I highly encourage you to check out her Facebook page to see her work.

Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party - Face Painting

Besides paint-your-own-cookies, bean bag toss, and face painting, we also had a few other games at the ready, including balloon darts and a ring toss (The goal was to be more prepared than not!) but kids being kids, they find pleasure in the simplest things. The bag of balloon dart balloons was probably the biggest hit, as the kids spent a good portion of the party emptying, playing, then refilling the balloon bag.  Here, they got a little help from Caleb’s aunt for a balloon drop.  Look at their faces -pure joy!

Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party - Balloon Drop
Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party - Balloon Drop

Not to be outdone by the impromptu balloon drop, by far, our favorite part of the party was the photo booth! I found so many creative party photo booth ideas around the web and was so excited to create our own! With the help from some colorful party pennants, candy-striped paper, and these fun, photo-stick props, we turned a small alcove into a space where both kids and adults alike could be as silly as they’d like; Nate and I took full advantage of being kids for the day!  During the party, most parents took pics of the kids with their cell phones.  In hindsight, we should have set up our camera on the tripod and a timer (as we did in the pictures below), so parents could have gotten in on the photo booth fun with their kids.

Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party - Photo Booth
Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party - Photo Booth
Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party - Photo Booth
Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party - Photo Booth
Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party - Photo Booth
Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party - Photo Booth
Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party - Photo Booth
Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party - Photo Booth
Carnival Circus Toddler Birthday Party - Photo Booth