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Written by:  Kelly Yale
Date: October 1, 2009

Is your son seeking a fun birthday party with his pals, or is your daughter wishing for a cool and exciting way to celebrate her big day with her friends? We have two easy party themes for you that are sure to be a hit and keep kids active and on the hunt. Whether it's pirates searching for buried treasure or girly scavengers on the hunt, your birthday guests will surely discover a whole lot of fun!

Throwing a Swashbuckling Pirate Birthday
From Captain Feathersword to Jack Sparrow, boys love pirates. Pirate-themed birthdays are a popular choice for boys of all ages, especially kids ages 4-8. With a little imagination, you can create your own version of the Black Pearl right in your own back yard that your child and his mateys are sure to enjoy.

James and Beverly Rufty of Statesville knew their son Parker's love of pirates would translate into a great event. "Five-year-olds have great imaginations, and this party was full of play and imagination — from dressing up to looking for treasure — so it was perfect for our son and his friends," Beverly says.

Planning a pirate party can be simple and cost-effective. Most party stores carry a variety of pirate items, and even local dollar stores have a selection of pirate loot, from coins to plastic swords. With Halloween just around the corner, you can stock up on plenty of great pirate gear.

Here are some other ideas that will keep you from having to walk the plank:

Make a treasure of an invitation.
Select an old-fashioned font and print the party invitations using pirate jargon. After printing, tea dye the paper and burn the edges for an aged look. If you are really ambitious, you can put the invitations in a bottle with a cork and deliver them.

Decorate using balloons, streamers, and tablecloths in red, black and white.
Print skulls and crossbones off the Internet. Hang old netting and ropes from trees to create the look of an old ship. Download pirate songs to play in the background to complete the mood.

Check out appliance stores for large boxes.
Cut them and paint them to look like a pirate ship.

Recruit a neighbor or a willing husband to dress up as a pirate!
Great pirate costumes are available for rent or purchase, and the kids will be delighted to see a "real" pirate greet them as they enter. He can give them their loot bags early, which could include a red bandana to tie around their head and an eye patch. Styrofoam swords can complete their ensembles.

Play games with a pirate-ship theme.
If you aren't afraid of a little water, kids will have a blast throwing cannonballs (black balloons filled with water) at one another. A piñata full of gold covered candies is sure to please the crowd. Children can "swab the decks" in a relay race with brooms and balloons.

Coordinate a hunt for buried treasure.
Use the back of a paper grocery bag to make a treasure map — with X marking the spot of the booty — and burn the edges for an authentic look. Write out a series of clues to match the map that takes the children on an adventure through the yard. The treasure can be gold-covered, chocolate medallions, Mardi Gras necklaces, or other small trinkets.

Teaming Up to Search for Fun
Girls ages 7-12 are looking for adventure and a change of pace from the typical girly party, so this year, send your daughter and her friends through the neighborhood on a scavenger hunt.
Armed with a list of simple items, a flashlight or two and plenty of giggling, girls will enjoy going from house to house in order to cross out every item on their list!

The best part about a scavenger hunt is that it keeps the girls busy for most of the party. Since it can work with any theme, girls are still free to have invitations and decorations centered around their favorite interest — from American Girl Doll to The Jonas Brothers and Hannah Montana. All you need to do is make a list ahead of time with things your neighbors would be willing to part with. Such items could include:

• Small office supplies (paper clips, tacks, rubber bands)
• Party items (birthday candles, a Happy Birthday paper plate)
• Food (an apple, a banana, a dog cookie, a stick of gum)
• Old magazines
• A roll of toilet paper

Split the girls into two equal teams, and send them on their way armed with their list and a bag. The first team to return with all their items is declared the winner.

If your party is in the evening, be sure to discuss safety with them and have an adult supervise. You can even set up directions for the girls on their list, such as singing a favorite song at a landmark or stopping to do a group dance in a certain cul de sac.



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PARENTING TIP OF THE WEEK

Make friends with a couple that has kids of their own and alternate date nights with them. You watch their kids, then they watch yours for free!

More on finding a good babysitter

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