Recently, a mom approached me about doing a dual party. This happens a lot; a client may have siblings with very close birthdays, and instead of two parties, they decide to combine the events. This can lead to some interesting outcomes, like the time we did a party for twins. One wanted beauty treatments, the other wanted cars. I came up with “Twin Town” (population: 36), where there were two different sides of town and something to make everyone happy, from mini-makeovers to build-your-own skateboard parks.
This latest case was two brothers: one seven years old, and one nine. Both boys were thrilled with the idea of sharing a party, which I thought was very sweet. Many siblings would rather chew broken glass than relinquish their special day! (I’ve got another set of twins coming up, and they want the exact same party, with the exact same friends, except they want it on different days. I wonder if I can just do a high-resolution video of the first party, get everyone virtual reality goggles, and just let them watch the party again for the second time around...) However, these brothers were excited about the notion of having their friends come together for a party, yet they still wanted to make sure that each had equal representation. One wanted sports, the other wanted robots. Hmm... I kept turning the idea over in my mind, when it hit me: “Mind and Body Olympics!” We’d have an Olympics-themed party that would not only test the physical abilities of our guests, but their mental powers as well. The boys totally dug that idea.
For decor, I pulled out all of my Olympic flags. I had flags from every nation represented along with various sports flags and decor. On the outside, it looked like your standard sports-themed party -- until you looked in the garage. There I had created a “lab” filled with cut-out robots, sparkling stars, and tables full of crafting material. This area was tucked away, far from the playing fields. It was my surprise element in the competition.
I began the party by dividing the boys, regardless of age, into three different teams: India, the UK, and USA. To start the party in grand style, we held an official ceremony in which the teams ran with the torch (I found this amazing battery operated torch at Rhode Island Novelty some years back, and it has served me well), passing it from team to team, and finally to the two brothers who, hand in hand, ran up a flight of stairs to light the “eternal flame” (a flame pot that I use in my wizarding parties). Let the games begin!
The first half of the party was spent “competing” in three different Olympic sports. Each team spent 20 minutes at each station, trying to accumulate the best scores for their team.
1. The Decathlon: an obstacle course that included 10 challenges: crawling under a pool noodle arch, jumping over a pool noodle fence, walking across a balance beam, crossing a teeter-totter, navigating through a ropes course armed with bells, climbing up and over a ladder, swinging on a rope from a tree branch, jumping from one hula hoop to another, crossing over a series of overturned five-gallon buckets, picking up sponge balls with a toy claw grabber, throwing a ball through a hole, and finally, racing back to the starting line. Players were timed twice, using the best time for each player to receive the best overall average time for each team.
2. Archery: using a Nerf bow and arrows, the team members worked through a series of challenges that included knocking down cans, hitting a target, and shooting through hoops. Points were awarded for each achievement, and the total number of points for the team was tallied.
3. Field sports: a series of silly track and field events, which included pool noodle javelin throwing, frisbee discus, water balloon shot putt, and finally big foot long jump (in which the guests donned inflatable feet and propelled themselves as far as they could from the starting line). Again, the average from the best of each score was tallied and calculated.
At the end of the first hour, a horn was blown and all the players gathered to learn of their final competition. When I explained that the next part of the competition would include building a team robot, there was an amazing wave of excitement. The rules were simple to understand, if not simple to execute. Each team was given a bag full of 25 objects (ranging from coffee cans to shoe boxes) and access to the “lab,” which was chock full of every imaginable item from springs to old CDs. Three gluing stations were set up, one for each team leader to use.
The object of the competition was for each team to use its bag of supplies (they had to use at least 20 of the 25 objects inside) to create a robot that could do two things: it had to move, and it had to do something. I was non-specific in what that meant on purpose; I wanted to see how the kids would interpret those direction. I set the timer for 45 minutes and we were off.
I had instructed my team leaders not to influence their team’s creative process, but to aid only in the teamwork aspect, and also man the glue gun. The amazing thing was to watch how quickly the teams each made up their minds on what they wanted to do. It was incredible! In less than five minutes, each team had gone through their bags and decided what they were going to make. It was pretty magical watching nine-year-olds turn to seven-year-olds for advice on what sort of catapult system they should use -- popsicle stick or drinking straw?
I can only describe the next forty minutes as a creative haze, with kids shouting directions and racing from supply table to building station with a speed and grace to rival Flo Jo. When the five minute warning timer went off, there were shouts of “just ten more minutes!” from every side. I looked at the mom, who just shrugged, knowing that we were cutting into the cake time, but everyone was having so much fun we didn’t want to spoil the mood.
Finally we were forced to drag the kids away, as a parade of cars with arriving parents was slowly making a roadblock of the driveway.
The robots were tested and displayed, the points tallied (and declared a tie), and cake was hastily presented and consumed. One by one, I called up the teams to present them with their awards. “Luckily” (with a little creative point manipulation) each team excelled in one of the sports sections, and we handed out the gold medals accordingly.
The adults gathered around as the kids explained how the robots worked, going into things like “payload capacity” and “levels of destructiveness.” The parents oohed and ahhed. I just shook my head; where do these kids come up with this stuff?
When all was said and done, this could have easily been a three-hour party. Each kid left with a wide grin on their face, and a huge sense of accomplishment. It was amazing seeing the newly-bonded team members saying goodbye to one another, holding up their medals and fist bumping. Priceless.
The best part for me, was when the birthday boys approached me shyly and asked if they could do the same party again next year. “Without a doubt!” I said. ”Next year I’ll even bring batteries and motors!”