Updated: May 13, 2022
When my son turned 4, he told me he wanted to be Maui for his birthday. As I started looking online for ideas, I either thought they looked too "store bought" or took too much time and money to make. So how do I get a simple, great quality, photo-worthy, happy kid birthday party on a budget with minimal stress? Below are the bare essentials and some extras that I did but realized after weren't so necessary:
-Construction paper (larger in size the better)
-Paper Plates, napkins, etc.
-BD cake + candles
Not so Necessary:
-Food (yes I'm serious :)
The Game Plan:
The key to a successful look is to create 1-2 photo-worthy spots where you spend most of your decoration energy (I did the same strategy for my wedding which ended up in a magazine publication alongside weddings three times the budget as ours!).
Don't waste your time planning tons of activities for 4-year-olds. They were happy just running around with toys. I DID plan two activities that you can check out below.
Make your party a potluck! All I had to worry about was the food to match my son's diet, the BD cake, and things like plates and napkins. And don't stress about gathering info on what everyone is bringing. Who cares if all you have is wine and fruit for a few hours?
Get a feel for whether your child would be okay if another kid showed up in the same costume. In the beginning, I just told everyone to dress tropical. Once I confirmed that Hux would be cool if another Maui showed up, I announced it was Moana themed.
Save your scrap paper and felt! I had two paper bags. One for trash and one for large scrap pieces. You will use these later.
Start saving your cardboard boxes from all those Amazon and Costco purchases ;)
My original plan was to have one side of the room be the forest/land side and one be the ocean side. In the end, it can all be mixed together and no one will really notice. So with that, the first step is to buy a big stack of construction paper. Ideally, you want a lot of different shades of greens and blues. If you have in your budget to get another stack of paper extra large that would be great. These will be your leaves and flowers. I looked on pinterest and winged it as I went along but there are a lot of tutorials online for cutting leaves. The easiest/fastest for me was to just fold the paper in half lengthwise and cut out one side of the leaf so when you unfolded it, you had a symmetrical leaf. I used these leaves to line the tables and windows. I also used some to add to the vines. There is no minimum on how many leaves to make. Do what you can with the supplies and money you have and concentrate them into specific areas. This is the tutorial I used to make the large flowers. I also used scrap paper to make tiny, flat cut-out flowers to add layers to the leaf border.
Next, get 1-2 rolls of brown butcher paper. Use this for the vines. I used this video. But, I didn't bother to staple the ends. We live in a loft building with exposed pipes so we just wrapped them around but you might have to find another way to adhere them to the wall/ceiling.
Our son happens to have a motorized food truck. We took more butcher paper and wrapped it around. I then cut out ocean waves for the bottom. We took a broomstick and used a cardboard box (thanks Amazon) to make a triangle boat flag. Use what you got! This was a hit! If you don't have a moving car, you can use a plastic storage bin or cut up large boxes. This creates a cute photo-op if you position it in front of your vine wall. *Check out our Moana boat in action!
This costume was the only priority but we ended up having time to make me a Moana outfit and my husband a Tomatoa outfit. All you need is a few pieces of felt in greens, off-white and brown. I used this as an idea. I measured how long the leaves needed to be and how long the skirt needs to be (but you can also just eyeball this) off my son's body. I cut leaves out similarly to my paper cutouts. I didn't bother sewing leaf seams. I made small holes in each leaf stem and found some yarn I had to string through. Once I tied the skirt on my son, I moved everything where I needed it to be and then hand sewed a few spots to keep things in place. I also used felt for the teeth necklace, this time hand sewing a border because the teeth needed more definition. For the hook, I took a cardboard box and cut out four layers, and then wrapped it all in masking tape. This took forever and may not be necessary since you can get a light-up Maui hook for cheap.
I had a bunch of red and pink fabric leftover. If you had to buy some you would only need a half a yard max. I used a skirt I already had so I didn't have to buy the grass skirt. I also knew some of the little girls would show up in the orange outfit so I went with this one. I cut a strip of red fabric for the belt (long enough to tie in the back) and another wider panel to go down the front. I then cut out little leaves in various colors and sewed them on the front panel. I didn't bother to finish any raw edges. Hell, I didn't even have the proper thread color. I then made a matching tube top and one strap. I had some red feathers in my craft box so I sewed them on the strap but it wasn't necessary. I then made a headband with scrap felt using this tutorial but I didn't have a glue gun so I hand sewed the pieces.
Maui was taken by our son so I told my husband he needed to make a Tamotoa costume. Bless his heart! He took scrap cardboard to make a "shell", then covered it with butcher paper and scrap yellow paper (we didn't have time to go buy gold spray paint). After poking some holes, he used string to make a backpack of sorts. He then cut out two claws and wrapped them in red paper (this would have looked nicer painted). He took a pair of old socks, cut the feet off, and stapled them together so he could slide the claws on and off. I was totally impressed.
Huxley requested a chocolate cake and strawberry cupcakes. This is always a tricky task because my son has a LOT of food allergies. I usually just search for PALEO cake to find something. Most of the recipes are made with coconut flour. Honestly, I find this to be drying (which is what happened with this first cake). I later had a chance to redo a recipe and made it way better. I really recommend always adding something creamy to a coconut flour recipe like applesauce, yogurt or in my case, strawberry puree. I find this always makes my Paleo recipes a little more sweet and moist. The second time around, I used this recipe with added Strawberry puree. I make the frosting out of coconut cream and strawberry puree as well. After cooling it to the right consistency, I cut a tiny hole in the tip of a ziplock bag, put the frosting in, and did a pretty rough icing job.
The Not Necessaries But Fun:
If you have more time and money you can add these things to the party:
I am lucky to live next to a piñata wholesale market so ours was $15! It was hard to find a Moana theme that I felt was appropriate. I didn't want my 4-year-old smashing baby Moana in and was really lucky to find one shop that had a Kakamora pirate piñata! Now, filling it was an unexpected challenge. To be honest, 4-year-olds are not too picky about what is inside. And it was not necessary to fill it all the way up (I didn't even fill it halfway). I just bought a bag of organic fruit snacks from Costco and a bag of squishy light up balls. You could add more but the costs add up. During the party, I was curious if the kids could even hit it strong enough with a plastic bat. So I decided to not even bother hanging it up and just put it on the floor and showed the kids how to jump on it and smash it. Success! One safety note: All the kids dove into it to grab stuff only for us to later realized there were tons of staples in it. No one got hurt but maybe have an adult step in at that point.
I saw on Pinterest a "pin the heart on Te Ka" game. It sounded really fun but can four-year-olds really be blinded and get a heart in the right spot? So we changed the rules. I made a huge Te Fiti with large green construction paper and a large Te Ka with black, red, and yellow construction paper. I did this by taping the pieces of construction paper together on one side and pencil drew, freehand the shapes on the other to cut out. I used this for Tefiti and this for Te Ka. They looked a little janky and not proportioned well but the kids didn't care. I taped Te Fiti on the wall behind curtains and stapled Te Ka to the curtains in front. I cut out the heart of Te Ka and put clear tape on the back to make that part sticky. I then cut out a green heart of Te Fiti
How to play:
Each kid took turns hiding the heart while another kid had to find the heart and run to put it on the sticky Te Ka! When that happened I pulled the curtain over to reveal Te Fiti! The kids just died. Then the kid who found the heart could now hide it for the next kid and so on. With adult guidance, the game ran smoothly and successfully. This was the only activity we played and I'm glad we did it but it was not necessary.
Growing up in a dance studio, our son has a lot of musical instruments. I thought another photo opportunity would be to set up all the instruments. We made a large palm tree out of one of our columns and put the instruments around it. For the palm tree leaves, we put old dry-cleaner hangers behind the paper leaves for stability. Just keep in mind that certain instruments you have to put your mouth on so this may not be for you.
I had this idea of blowing up 100 balloons and turning the place into a wonderland. I bought a $35 disposable helium tank for 30 balloons and hand pumps for the rest. I bought them in various blue colors for the sky and ocean. The only problem is the second balloon I filled popped. Huxley started crying and I thought, "What have I done?! I'm going to scare all the kids!". So I only ended up filling the helium tank balloons and packed the rest away for another time. This idea wasted me a lot of money so I wouldn't even bother.
Left Over Paper?
If you are having a blast getting these decorations, you could try making masks for guests that show up without a themed outfit or for the photo booth area. Our son has a few masks so I marked the dimensions and free-drew the mask part using these images as inspiration. I have to say, they weren't widely used but a few people liked them. I think they would have been used more if made for the photo booth area.
I had a friend call me the day before the party. She had a massive pruning in her yard and offered to bring over huge tropical leaves, branches, flower cuttings. Totally not necessary but people were surprised how much I converted our space into a jungle.
If I Had More Time/Money
I really wanted to have some fun with baking. I saw beautiful pics of blue cakes and jelly hearts of Te Fiti I was going to modify to a healthier version but got discouraged in the beginning because natural food blue food dye was $15 (although you can make some of your own) and then just ran out of time.
I was able to give all our decorations to my son's preschool in exchange for volunteer hours. Yahoo! Also, other kids were begging their parents to have a Moana BD too so you can also give the decorations to another friend if you don't want to store them.
I just loved this theme. These ideas could easily fit a more general Tropical theme if Moana isn't your thing (but seriously, Moana is everyone's thing).
Would love to know what you think! Have any of you done a fun tropical theme birthday before?