Bright lights, delicious food, fun games and endless prizes… Every child loves a carnival! The festival or carnival party is a great theme for children’s birthdays as well as larger communal events like church, school or scout fund raisers and neighborhood parties. It’s enormous fun for the children and a great way to get to know their parents… You’ll appreciate all the help you can get preparing for the party and manning the booths!
Carnival Party Invitations
Start by choosing an attention grabbing carnival party invitation as colorful and loud as the carnival itself. Popular choices include Ferris wheels, oversized admissions tickets and cards with colorful stripes and designs that evoke turn-of-the-century carnival posters. Choose a mix of old-fashioned fonts in large and small sizes for an authentic fairgrounds feel.
Be creative when writing the carnival invitation text. The wording should read like a real carnival poster listing the many games and attractions you’ll be featuring at the party. Guarantee great prizes as well as all the food and fun your guests can handle. If you need a little inspiration there are many carnival resources on the internet.
Carnival Party Favors
Rolls of event tickets are a must-have at carnival parties; these can be purchased at many party stores or you may want to seek out amusement supply companies. Decide ahead of time whether the tickets will be handed out to the kids as they arrive and used to play games, or whether they’ll win the tickets at the game booths and redeem them for prizes. In either case, be generous. Little kids will love amassing huge amounts of tickets even if they don’t have any particular value!
As your guests arrive, hand out loot bags to collect the many prizes they’ll win at the party. Canvas tote bags are the most durable and will last throughout the day. You can make an activity of letting the children decorate them with fabric paint, markers and stickers. Make sure they write their names on their bags so they don’t get mixed up.
Purchase a large variety of prizes to hand out, keeping the age and tastes of the children in mind. In general, buy lots of small presents and trinkets so everyone can keep winning throughout the day. Stuffed animals are always a favorite and you may want to buy a few oversized for winners of the most difficult games.
Wearable prizes include T-shirts, hats, caps, and visors, sunglasses and costume jewelry. Combs, brushes, hand mirrors and hair bands, stickers and sticker books, coloring books and crayons, card games and travel-size board games are great gifts as well. Round out the selection with plenty of toys and trinkets like rubber reptiles, yo-yos, kazoos, bouncy balls, water squirters, Frisbees, magic tricks, whistles and hula hoops. Dollar stores and trading companies are great places to load up with inexpensive prizes. If it’s a large party you can even have a ticket auction for brand name toys with a little more value. This is more appropriate for a carnival block party or fund raiser, than a birthday.
Make sure every child wins a good share of prizes. All of your guests should leave the carnival party feeling like a winner!
Carnival Party Decorations
Setting up booths for carnival games may seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. As long as the games are fun, your little guests won’t know the difference. Simply drape fabric over tables and hang sheets from clotheslines behind or cut sections from large appliance boxes. You can also use folding tables with large foam core or poster board signs. Canopies will work for some games, and you can always mix and match. The booths should be set up in two rows across from each other to make the party feel more crowded and exciting like a real carnival midway.
You can’t have too many brightly colored and festive balloons and streamers at a carnival party. You may even want to rent a helium tank to blow up balloons for your guests, especially if you’re celebrating outdoors. If your guests will be exchanging tickets for their loot at the end, let the kids see what they can win by setting up a booth with the prizes on display. Make them look enticing to give them something to shoot for!
A few carnival props will go a long way towards setting the mood. Rent an old fashioned popcorn machine. The machine will not only look perfect for the part but the smell of hot buttered popcorn will remind your guests of the fair. Hang strings of multicolored pennant banners and homemade carnival signs all around the area, and play vintage carnival tunes from a portable music player. You may even want to play the part of a carnival barker directing your guests as they arrive!
Carnival Party Activities
Your carnival midway should bustle with exciting games of chance and skill. If you’re having a very small party you may not need many helpers as you escort the kids from game to game. If there will be a sizable number of guests, however, you’ll probably want to enlist the help of other adults. Ask friends, teenage relatives, or even your guests’ parents if they want to assist. The more grownups tending the carnival booths, the more exciting it will be!,
The number of possible games you can play at a carnival party is considerable and we recommend that you do a little research of traditional midway games for inspiration. It may also be a good idea to scavenge your basement, garage and attic to see what materials you may have on hand. Glass bottles and jars, tin cans, fish bowls and wooden or cardboard boxes will certainly come in handy as well as any old sports equipment you may have hidden away.
Make sure the games are just enough of a challenge. You don’t want them to be so difficult that the kids can’t succeed with a little effort or luck, but you also don’t want them to be so easy that everyone wins every time. Try setting up pyramids of empty cans or bottles and ask the kids toss bean bags or tennis balls to knock them down. Let your guests squirt water guns at targets in a classic “shooting gallery.” Have a shooting contest if you have a basketball hoop, a putting challenge with golf clubs or a pitching or batting challenge with a softball and bat.
Tape balloons to a board or large sheet of foam core and let the guests pop them with darts. Let your guests test their aim tossing rings or horseshoes (metal or plastic) at a stake in the ground, or ping pong balls into fish bowls with water and rubber goldfish inside. Attach a magnet to a piece of string hanging from a wooden stick and dip it in a “pool” to catch fish cut from construction paper with paper clips attached. Or, set out a kiddie pool filled with water and floating rubber ducks. Write a number on each that can be redeemed for tickets or a prize. You can fill a jar will jelly beans and let each guest guess how many are inside. The winner keeps the whole jar!
You will want to have some carnival attractions that aren’t games and contests. Have someone dress as a fortune teller with a crystal ball. She can read palms, tell their future or even pretend to be inside an old-mechanical booth and dispense fortune cookie fortunes! Make sure the fortunes are positive, and that the kids don’t take them too seriously.
A face painting booth will be extremely popular. Use kid-safe costume makeup and let the kids choose from a chart of simple symbols like hearts and stars that will be easy to paint. Paint a large backdrop of carnival characters with holes for the guests to stick their heads through to take funny photos. If you or a friend has a little computer know-how, set up a “fun house” photo booth. Take the kids’ pictures and distort them with an image editing program, then print the photos as souvenirs or send them later with personalized thank you notes!
Carnival Party Refreshments
A carnival party is a great time to break out the barbecue and make hamburger and grilled hot dogs. You can even set up a hot dog station so guests can add the toppings of their choice. Corn dogs are the perfect fair food, as well as mini-pizzas and loaded nachos. Don’t forget to set out a fruit and cheese tray, chips and salsa and veggies and dip for a healthy alternative, especially if there will be other adults present.
Set out dishes of all-day snacks like popcorn, pretzels and goldfish crackers. Caramel apples, cotton candy and funnel cakes are tasty fairground treats you don’t see at every party. Make sure there’s plenty of lemonade and fruit punch as well as iced tea for the grownups. For a real refreshing carnival treat, make snow cones by drizzling flavored syrup over shaved ice. If it’s a hot day, stock your freezer with cold and refreshing treats for the children like popsicles and ice cream sandwiches.
Bake a “Carnival Cake” by icing a sheet cake with stripes of red, white, yellow and blue. Scallop the edges with frosting for an old-fashioned look and find number shaped toppers or candles with vintage looks. Serve the cake with Neapolitan ice cream.
After the Carnival Party
Your guests will have full stomachs, happy memories and an armful of prizes when it’s time to go home, but it’s still a nice gesture to give each a small bag of gifts to thank them for making the carnival party a success. It’s also a great way to relieve yourself of any leftover prizes!