Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Super Hero Academy

The whole idea started with my son wanting a Ben 10 birthday party.  I had planned on a very simple party as our budget was $200 and we had a lot of children to invite.  I was going to get a pinata, throw black and green streamers on the walls, put out plates and napkins with the character's face on them, order pizza and pretty much be done with it.  Sadly though, as I wandered the aisles of several stores only two weeks before the big day, I discovered that Ben 10, wasn't quite in vogue with kids anymore  Any of you with Ben 10 fans out there will understand that stores wane on stock of Ben 10 toys and supplies in between incarnations of the Cartoon Network hit.  For my son, however, the show never ends as he has DVDs on repeat.  I managed to order a cake and got the bakery department's last dusty Ben 10 "kit".  The closest I could even get to invitations was a generic set with "pow" "biff" "zoink" on it.  

But.... that gave me an idea  :)

I spent about three days Googling the idea of a super-hero birthday and man... people are brilliant.  High end, low end, catered destination and back yard barbeque....  There was every kind you could imagine.  So, with only about ten days left, I began.


I knew we needed capes.  And I knew that with the way our family was, not just the children would want capes as we have many fun-loving adults in our lives.  I hunted online and found a few different options:

http://www.powercapes.com/?gclid=CJOEgtmyzq8CFQHd4Aodm2YUFA1.  I could buy them.  The cheapest route at the time was through Walmart, as they had a small playtime dress-up kit for $7.99 that came with a short little cape and a molded mask.  They weren't exactly what I wanted though and at $8 per guest, the price would have killed my budget.  Other options included custom made capes through various websites online. They come hemmed and lined and some will even put a logo with your child's initial on them.  Some of the really nice ones came with masks, belts and arm bands.  But if shelling out $8 per guest was not in my budget, $30-60 each was definitely not.

http://www.littlepinkmonster.com/2011/08/09/no-sew-superhero-cape/2.  I could make them.  The internet is littered with How-To's for this.  Some are as simple as re-purposing old towels and pillow cases; some are as complex as quilting patterns.  I knew I had to make a lot and didn't have that much time or patience.  I liked many of the cape patterns online, but then lost interest when they started to hem or cut arm holes or sewing a casing for the draw string.  Unfortunately, I hate sewing projects.  I'm more apt to duct tape something than sew it.  I knew that hemming glue was an option, although I was uncertain how well it would hold up to the draw strings.  I eventually found a simple, no-sew pattern for the draw string.  It involved weaving ribbon through slits cut in the fabric.  Genius!

So, I took a thinking-trip to the local Jo Ann Fabrics.  Firstly, after a discussion with the clerk, she said that for as little use as these would get, hemming was probably unneeded.  I loved this woman!  I looked at the shiny fabrics that so many of the commercial capes had been made from, but at almost $7 per yard, it was too expensive.  Eventually I found the cheapest colored polyester blend I could find.  It ended up being about $3 per yard.  I bought $60 worth of cloth in Green, Orange, Purple, Red, Blue and Black.  I also bought two spools of 1.5" yellow ribbon at $5 per spool.


Most material comes at a width of either 45" or 60"; both are fine.  I left the material folded in as it comes on the bolt, so that the material was at a width of 22.5" [or 30"].  I cut the folded fabric into 36" lengths for children and 54" lengths for adults.  As shown in the pattern below, I kept the fold upwards and measured down 10" for children or 12" for adults along the left side.  I then used a yardstick to connect that point with the lower corner on the right side.  I traced this line with chalk and then cut.


I then folded the top of the cape down about 3" at this point and made a series of 1.5" cuts in the fold.  I found an even number to be best, and no less than 1" apart.  See below:

I can't remember exactly how long I cut the yellow ribbon, but I'm thinking 3' ought to do it.  Unfold the cape and weave the ribbon through the cuts.  Done!  I cut the scraps into 2" wide strips and put them out as Super Belts. 

My fiance traces a SuperDad emblem.
For the emblems, I decided to use felt, which is very inexpensive.  A lot of websites recommended stick-back felt, but I was on a budget.  I made patterns out of cardstock and placed them out with markers at the party.  I also made patterns for the first initials of every name that had RSVP'd.  We poured glue out onto paper plates and let everyone use cotton swabs to glue their letter to their emblem and then glued their emblem to their cape.  

These capes ended up costing about $4.75 each, plus the time to construct them.  I even got belts out of the deal!


Jazmine the Marvelous
I made these up ahead of time, in the same number and colors as the capes.  I wasn't sure about trying to get the kids to cut out the eyes and so I just did them.  I also bought a pack of elastic cord that came in a few matching colors.  It was one of the more expensive items at $7, but it did all the masks and I still have some in my craft bin.

I went with felt again.  I made a template out of cardstock by tracing a mask that my son already had, then got to work.  I ended up making probably 25 of them.  I got about 2 out of each piece of felt.  The felt was 18¢ per piece.  I left them plain and let everyone decorate them by gluing sequins on at the party.  A mixed bag of sequins only cost me $3.  I poked a hole near the temples and tied matching elastic cord on.

These masks ended up costing about 35¢ each, plus time spent assembling them.


The internet was again full of ideas.  I liked the idea of an obstacle course, but the community room at our apartment complex wasn't large enough to set one up inside and the grounds outside are divided up funny, so we opted for more of a rotating stations feel.  I decided on seven activities to be completed in a row.  Two of these fell through while we were setting up for the party: "Mighty Muscles" and "Slug a Villian".


For "Mighty Muscles" I needed a mock dumbbell.  The instructions online involved spray painting large Styrofoam balls and sticking them on either end of a thick dowel rod.  However, I abhor Styrofoam.  It is so incredibly harmful to the environment that, to be honest, I can't believe that it's even legal to make anymore.  Not to mention, the balls sell for about $13 a piece!

Instead, I tried to spray paint beach balls black, connect them with an elastic cord strung through a wrapping paper tube.  In my head it worked, but my helpers just couldn't manage to get it to work and by the time the party was over and we were cleaning up, I swear the paint had eaten through portions of the beach ball!  Into the dumpster it went.  So much for trying to save the planet. 

For "Slug a Villain" I bought one of those blow-up bop-it punching bag things that usually have sand in the bottom to keep them upright after you hit them.  It was $6 at Walmart but didn't come with a sand-filled bottom.  Instead you had to fill it with water, but the thing was very hard to maneuver and fill.  We tried all day to get it to stand up and it just wouldn't.  We finally used a dropper to fill it with water enough to stand... and my son gave it a playful punch while we were setting up the birthday party and it burst, flooding the floor.  Major bummer.

In the end though, with the help of my quick thinking MIL, we created one more activity really quick and the show went on.  We had 6 activities in our Super Hero Training Academy


Keeping Your BalanceThe Super Heroes must walk a tightrope between two tall buildings without falling into the traffic below. 

Super McKenzie
This was something my MIL had read about and when our "Slug a Villian" activity fell through, she whipped up in a matter of minutes.  The original idea involves a black plastic table cover dressed up to look like you're a hundred stories up above a busy street. You would tape a strip of grey construction paper down the middle and draw lines to make it look like a street from far away.  You'd put stickers of cars on it to look like traffic.  Perpendicular to that, you'd put a piece of 1/2" masking tape.  At either end of the masking tape, you'd put strips of grey construction paper again.  It should have the effect of looking like a white tightrope suspended between the ledges of two skyscrapers, high above traffic.  

We only had minutes and it ended up simply being car stickers and a masking tape line, but the kids got the drift and gladly participated. 

Take a PunchThe Super Heroes must learn to punch it out comic book style.  

Mom takes a punch.
Originally, I had created this background for use with the weight lifting photo op, but in a pinch we made it into a freeze frame knock-out like in the comic books.  I'm not sure the young ones quite understood the purpose of the "Gasp!" and "Pow!" signs, but they sure giggled a lot.

When first formulating this, various websites had instructed me to purchase white wrapping paper with black polka-dots and to just paint or tape a frame around it.  Well, I couldn't find that kind of paper no matter how many stores I went to, so in the end I bought a $5 roll of white wrapping paper from a Hallmark store.  Luckily it had grid lines on the back and so I just took a wide tipped sharpie to it and used the grid points to color in evenly spaced dots.

My MIL and I taped it to the wall and whipped up quick "Gasp!" and "Pow!" signs out of poster board.  It had the effect of an old-time comic strip.

Destroy the BombsThe Super Heroes must save the world by destroying the bombs.

Destroying Bombs
The plan was to blow up black balloons and let the kids pop them.  Of course, the store was out of black balloons.  So, I found a $3 bag of grenade patterned water balloons.  Perfect!

My fiance and his step-father hated me for this.  What I didn't know was that water balloons are super thick and they really struggled to blow these tiny suckers up.  We eventually broke out an air pump and they got them done in a flash.

The kids really enjoyed this one as it was the first outdoor activity and they got to jump around stomping on things... pure kid heaven.  Afterwards, I told them that all super heroes want to save the world and so we needed to pick up all the broken balloons to keep the planet safe.  They willingly obliged, to my surprise. 

Web-Sling TrainingThe Super Heroes must learn to spot villains in the open and quickly ensnare them.

Web Slinging
This was one of the more pricey activities.  I used Google Image Search to find images of villains from all the comic book universes.  We even threw in Skeletor from the He-Man series.  I enlarged them on the computer and then printed each one out on cardstock.  I purchased skinny little dowel rods at 24¢ each and sandwiched each between a printed villain and a plain piece of cardstock.  I stapled them on either side of the dowel on top and at the bottom of the photo.  It was a tight enough hold that they didn't slip down, but if they do, I suppose a spot of super glue or masking tape would keep them in place.

Eventually the Super Heroes turned on the parents!
For the web-slinging, I needed cans of silly string.  They were a minimum of $3 each at Walmart and through places like Oriental Trading.  I visited the Dollar Tree near my home and happily found that they had half-sized cans for $1 each.  I bought twenty of them.

After getting the villains, the kids turned on each other and even a few parents! 

Kryptonite HandlingThe Super Heroes have to find the missing rings of Kryptonite and place them in the Lead-Lined Box.

Keeping Superman safe.
For this, I simply used kitchen tongs, a few packs of glow-bracelets from the dollar store and dressed up a small cooler.  I think the most expensive thing was probably the black wrapping paper that I used to wrap the cooler.  It was another Hallmark purchase at $4 for the roll.

Wrapping the cooler wasn't easy, but I think it turned out ok. 

Leaping Tall BuildingsThe Super Heroes must return to the Super Hero Training Academy by leaping a few tall buildings on the way back.  

Riley leaps!
This is pretty basic.  I found some slim boxes and covered them in black wrapping paper.  I then cut out yellow and grey construction paper rectangles and glued them in a pattern mimicking the windows of a skyscraper.  I made three of these and the kids were very enthusiastic to jump over these. 

Total cost for these games was about $70, plus time and a bit of ink from a colored ink cartridge.


Everyone lined up at the door to start their training.
Our primary colors ended up being bold reds, greens and blues.  It just so happens that Dollar Tree sells all sorts of plates, napkins and cups in those exact same colors.  They also had colored plastic ware, streamers and balloons.  We covered each wall with traditional twirled streamer bunting and dotted the walls with balloons. 

To add to the comic book feel, I bought a pack of neon colored cardstock for about $4.  I took a sharpie and some scissors to the sheets and made star-bursts with words like "Biff!"  "Kablam!" and "Poing!" on them.  It was kind of fun.  We plastered these on the walls and windows too.
The entrance to the community room we rented had a glass door, perfect for displaying a welcome sign.  I used my son's crayola markers and some glitter to make a sign out of a piece of white poster board.   Unfortunately, we never got a great picture of it, but it was pretty snazzy.

Decorations and tableware ran me about $23. 


The only shot I think we got of the prize table,
but you get the idea.
Dollar Tree sells a lot of Marvel Super Hero candy and stickers and stuff.  I picked up enough lollipops, taffy, and stickers to fill my bags for less than  $10.  I already knew that I was just going to use brown lunch bags with the children's names written on them and had a stack of those laying around.

My MIL called me one day and reminded me that her partner works at a very unique recycling plant.  They recycle odd things that normal plants don't know what to do with.  This includes over runs of McDonalds Happy Meal toys.  Occasionally, he brings some home.  She had collected up a large bag of boy and girl toys for me to go through to fill the goodie bags.  I was thrilled!

The kids bags ended up overflowing and they loved them. 


I did not do any special food for this event.  I would have loved to do fun things like Gama Punch and Super Sandwiches or something cool like that, but  after spending so much on everything else, my budget was tapped and we prepared whatever the food in our cabinets would allow.

Prior to the party, as people created their costumes and filtered in, we had set out munchies like pretzel sticks, carrots and dip and grapes.  We put out a few 2 liters of cheap soda with ice.

After completing their training, everyone chowed down on a few potluck type dishes, like baked macaroni and cheese and sloppy joes. There were no complaints.

As I stated at the beginning, I did manage to get a Ben 10 cupcake-cake and the kids ate that with scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Afterwards my son opened his presents and then handed out grab bags to his guests.  

TOTAL COST: $216   [plus a $75 rental deposit for the room that was returned to us]

So, in the end I went over my budget by a few dollars, but I think everything was worth it.  Looking back, I still can't believe how much we pulled off with so little time and money.  I had a lot of help from the many blogs and websites I cruised to prepare for it and was extremely grateful to the family and friends who helped me decorate, who helped the activities along, who played along and decorated a cape and mask, who brought me supplies and took photos of our son's big day.

This was the first BIG birthday party my son has had, wherein it was attended by friends and people from his class as well as family.  It was a huge success and I can't wait to tackle his 10th birthday party this fall.  

Here are some of my favorite moments!

Riley and Tristan super-leaping on bombs.

My son and my mother.

Some kids need a boost from Super Mom.

The Fantastic Flying McKenna

A Super Hero salute

My soon-to-be Mother in Law and her partner.  They were inexhaustibly helpful for this event.

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