Backyard Carnival Birthday Party

This post is going to be super picture heavy and really light on words!  So let me know if you have any questions and I’ll try to answer them in the comments section!

Our carnivals started about 2.5 years ago when my sister had a backyard carnival birthday party as a combined party for my nephews.  About a year ago, my niece had a carnival for her birthday party. And then last summer I threw my first carnival as an end of the year party for my son’s class (they had been together for 2 years and it was a fantastic group!).  So just a heads up that these pics are a combination of the two parties- some pics are mine and some are from my sister’s party! And I’ll also add, that most of these ideas are my sister’s and I just copied right along when it was time for me to host!

I’ll start with the games.  Most of our games had a “carnival booth” that started with a frame like this.  We just used $1 plastic tablecloths in bright colors that we stapled to the front of it the day of the party.  The large piece of wood sticking up is where we stapled the sign that named that booth.

Here’s what they look liked once they were covered.

And from behind:

The Tic Tac Toe game is just a $1 shower curtain liner that we staked to the ground and then used blue painter’s tape to draw the grid.

More games that used the booths.

Not every game used a booth, though.

The Frog Jump I made using some scrap wood that I attached with some L-brackets.  I painted it, used my Cricut to cut out the letters and the “lily pads” are giant flowers from the one cartridge.  The bowls I found for a quarter at Target and we just screwed them down.  Then I found a bag of plastic frogs for a quarter after Easter (they were with the rubber duckies), and the kids had to stand behind a line (duct tape in the grass) and try to land in a lily pad.  Word of advice: it works better if you put a tiny bit of water in the bowl, otherwise the frogs jump right back out. It also works better up in a table like in the pic above (see, I told you, we learn as we go!).

The Toilet Paper Toss game was a big hit with the kids, but obviously I could have made it look a little better! The crooked sign and crinkled paper drives me nuts!  It’s just two cardboard boxes that we taped together for height, cut a hole in the top and inserted a toddler toilet seat that I picked up for $1 in the original wrapping!.  I took 3 rolls of toilet paper that were about 1/2 used and then wrapped clear tape around them so they wouldn’t come unraveled.  The kids had to toss them in, obviously!  Word of advice: tape a plastic grocery bag under the seat so when you go to retrieve the toilet paper for the next kid you don’t have to dump the whole thing over.  We also put a brick in the bottom box so it wouldn’t blow over.

And it’s not a carnival without Plinko and a beanbag toss!

We also brought up our ESPN Zone to have a basketball free throw game and then we had a First Down game which was just throwing a football through a hula hoop that was tied to the clothesline.

And you have to have a bounce house at a carnival!  My sister and I bought this off Craigslist from a rental company that was upgrading their equipment. We paid $200 for it and have used it for 2 carnivals plus 1+ years of the kids and their friends playing!  For $100 each it was well worth the money even if it is a beast to store!

And, of course face painting!  If it’s a really hot day, put a little cornstarch on the skin first so the paint sticks. My sister made up a board ahead of time too, that had different designs so the kids weren’t asking for anything too outrageous!  And make sure to have a container of baby wipes at the table.

My sister had crafts at her carnival- I skipped them at mine!

At each game, the kids could earn tickets based on how they played.  Then they got to redeem them at the prize table for all kinds of cool prizes!  These pics are just a sampling of the prizes. We had a couple tables worth at each party!  I collected things for almost a year straight and managed to spend very little on everything!

I also had a raffle table where the kids could redeem their tickets for a chance to win prizes.  I just used plastic popcorn containers and covered the word with numbers and then put matching numbers on the prizes themselves.  I just raided my gift closet for games, books, CD’s, etc.
And then there was the food!
My sister made the mini cupcakes that looked like popcorn!
I’m not that patient, so I went with plain cupcakes with sprinkles on wrapped cardboard boxes.
I found a set of 3 of these containers at a yard sale for 50 cents, so I painted the lids, used my Cricut to cut out circles and letters and have used them SO many times since then!
We always rent a cotton candy machine ($35 at our local hardware store) and my BIL drilled holes in boards for the cotton candy cones to stand in.

Just make sure you get a good one. The one I rented was a total flop and I was freaking out. I rented it a day early thinking I would get it done ahead of time and it just wouldn’t work!  I had 2 friends helping me and we pretty  much accomplished nothing (that had to do with cotton candy, at least!).  After a visit from the technician who assured me it worked, and hours more still trying, the store finally admitted when we returned it that it was broken. So we got our money back, but I would have rather had cotton candy.  In the end, we ended up with this

But my daughter enjoyed it. Yes, she would be the one who asked for the mustache. She’s a trendsetter!  This was the set-up for my carnival- cupcakes, pretzels, cheeseballs, sugar cookies, cotton candy, popcorn and grilled hot dogs wrapped in foil.

We had a TOTAL BLAST!!! For our party we had 24 kids and probably as many adults!  It last 3 hours and was on an unbearably hot day, but we hosed them down every so often out front and they kept on truckin’.

Here’s my two sportin’ some of the prizes they won!  And this pic just reminded me… before the party starts, we hand each kid a colored bag with their name already on it.  As they earn tickets and redeem for prizes, they stick everything in the bag.  If I find anything on the ground it’s mine!  EVERYTHING must go in their bag!

Couple other things, be sure to put large trash cans out!  Also, take people up on it when they offer to help!  You need an adult working at every station- I set up a schedule and taped it to the closest door and put people down for 30 minutes shifts and then they would rotate. They liked seeing the different games and some of the shifts were to just walk around so they could have fun too!

I’m already starting to think about another one for this summer even though I don’t have any reason to have one!  It is seriously SO much fun!

DIY Your Own Backyard Carnival! This link has TONS of really great ideas that would be CHEAP to copy! This would be great for block parties, school parties or birthday parties!



Hi, I'm Natalie and I like to move slowly (like a turtle, if you will)! I daydream about minivans, painting walls and eating fudge with a spoon. Welcome to my little computer home where I share my family's adventures as we live life from the slow lane!

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  1. How fun! My mom has to help plan events at her school. I’ll have to have her come and look at this post!

  2. That is soooo awesome! I’m sending this link to my daughter so she can plan a party like this for all my Grands! Just because…. who cares if no one is having a birthday… a carnival is a reason for a party right?


  3. Saw your comment on my carnival party:) your’s is great too!! Very creative! Isnt such a fun theme to work with?

  4. Wow! I am speechless! You guys thought of EVERYTHNG! Our carnival party this weekend won’t have as many fun elements, but next time I’ll know better! GREAT job!

  5. Looks like such a fun patry!!! Every detail was well thought out and perfect!

  6. This makes me SUPER excited for Max’s party! :-) You never cease to amaze me!

  7. Natalie,

    OMGoodness, this party looks like so much fun! Love all the details!

    Warm Wishes,

  8. This is AMAZING! You are so creative–I love the PLINKO…John (my husband) bought a board with the intent to make one….hmmm 2 years ago?….haha Just fabulous….

  9. great ideas! i want to come play plinko!

  10. I’m a preacher’s wife, so I will definitely be putting this in my favorites file! VBS, kids camp, children’s church- you have so many fun and CHEAP ideas! Thanks for posting.

  11. What a great theme and what great party ideas. Thanks for sharing at my Swing into Spring party.

  12. Here from the bloghop.
    I follow you on GFC. I’d love for you to follow me back
    Tiffypoot @ (

  13. SO Cute! And so much work! Good Job.

  14. Wow, such an elaborate carnival. Wonderfully arranged, sure the kids had a ball!!

  15. Lyuba @ Will Cook For Smiles says:

    What a great party idea!!! Great job!

  16. What a fun party!

  17. wow,, that is a really fun idea..I dont have small ones anymore but I have young nieces and nephews I can share this with their parents.

  18. Wow, Wow, Wow! How awesome!!! You thought of everything and did an amazing job with this! :)

  19. What a great party! I love how you made all the different games for the kids to play. Such a fun idea. I think we may try this for our summer party…if summer ever gets here. (grin)

    I would love it if you would share this at our Shindig Saturday linky party:

  20. So much time and effort but so creative and by the pictures I can tell so worth it!!!
    Fabulous job! Take a vacation now.

  21. [email protected] says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for linking up to WHASSUP WEDNESDAY!!! Great entry:) Looks FUN!

    Hope to see you next Wednesday!


  22. Adorable! My 3-year-old is here with me saying “Can we go to that party?” That says something doesn’t it?
    Stacey of Embracing Change

  23. How fun! Love the “toilet paper toss!” So fun!

  24. At The Picket Fence says:

    So super cute Natalie! My kiddos would love this and I can see how we could use it for more events than just birthdays. Thanks so much for sharing this with us at Inspiration Friday this week!
    P.S. Don’t forget to come back and grab your featured at button! :-)

  25. Looks like it was a fantastic time! Love all your ideas. Thanks so much for linking up to my Catch a Glimpse party!

  26. wow. looks like a ton of work, but a lot of fun. Love the cupcake boxes. thanks for linking up

  27. Love the toilet paper toss and the “popcorn” cupcakes…

    Thanks for linking to Creative Juice Thursday! I hope to see you back this week {party opens on Wed night @ 8pm CST}

  28. Wow, that looks amazing! What a lucky little guy!

  29. Wow! You really went all out. It looks SO FUN! Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  30. Wow! Your carnival is so much more elaborate than ours! Lucky kids! I adore so many of your games…we may need to steal them for next year. Thanks for sharing!

  31. Kathy M. says:

    My son attended the loop group carnival, and it was AWESOME!!!!! What wonderful ideas! Thanks for all your hard work! Certainly was well worth manning a booth, to see all the fun the kids were having!

  32. I’ve wanted to make my own carnival forever! Love your awesome ideas!

  33. We are having a carnival theme Relay for Life this year and this is so helpful! Thank you for sharing :-)

  34. I love these ideas. We’re planning a block party for Halloween this summer — we just moved into the neighborhood, so we want to make a good impression. I love the simplicity of these games, but so fun!

  35. How big was the piece of wood for the Lily Pad toss?

  36. Jenna Mac says:

    Hello, I came across your Plinko board on Pintrest and it brought me here!! It’s awesome and I’d love to make one myself for an extra credit assignment in my Probability and Statistics class. Your’s is the best I’ve come across! Do you have a tutorial or instructions on how you went about doing this? If so, my email is listed!!


  37. How did you get the suckers to stay up for the ring toss game?
    Where did you find the sand for the sand art?

  38. I would LOVE to do something like this during the summer break! How did you afford it?!

    • Hi Kaelie! It really wasn’t too expensive! I’m a HUGE bargain shopper and would shop for nearly a year leading up to it in order to accumulate all the prizes. I truly and honestly, didn’t spend very much, though! The booth frames and most of the games, were built once and then recycled through our family as my sisters and I had various parties for our kids. So the booths and games were probably around for about 10 carnivals by the time it was all said and done. We went with easy snacks, Costco cases of water and I just raided my gift closet for things to give away in the raffle. I’m going to guess I only spent a maximum of $150 on all the prizes, food and renting the cotton candy machine.

      • Angelyns says:

        Hi, I just love this ideas. It looks fun and creative. I’m having a 9th birthday party for my son next month, and wanted some ideas on materials and how much I’ll need. Thank you for sharing

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