Saturday, 14 December 2013

Five Year Old Birthday Party with Survivor-Style Challenge

Sooo... been awhile. Too much to catch up on now, but my son turned five last week which meant another birthday party. Because my son loves the challenges from the TV show Survivor, I came up with the ambitious idea of creating a Survivor-esque obstacle course for the party.

My original plan was to do it in the garden, since a dry, relatively warm day in December is not uncommon in our part of the world. The weather did not cooperate, so we set it up in the garage instead. We live in a floodzone, so our garage tends to be clear of junk lying around. All we really had to do was move the cars onto the drive.

The other issue is that we expected eight children, and in the end, we only had six. This did pose a problem for a few elements of the course.

I wanted to do a pirate theme and have the challenge be to recover treasure, but my son insisted on a Spiderman party. After a bit of thinking, I came up with the following scenario...

Once all the children had arrived and were playing together, I banged on a cymbal to attract their attention. I had bad news: the Lizard had stolen the pinata! Spiderman had gone after him, but he thought the Lizard had hidden the pinata somewhere close by. Would the children form a team of heroes to infiltrate the Lizard's lair and discover the whereabouts of the pinata? (Somewhat to my relief, yes, yes they would.)

I led them down the stairs and onto the alphabet tiles with firm instructions not to step on the floor because it was actually acid and would burn them. (I did have an explanation ready that I was actually a holographic projection, but none of them questioned my ability to walk on acid.)

Foam tiles were placed around the room at strategic intervals, each one representing a challenge to get to. (Survivor frequently requires all members of a tribe to reach a mat before they can move onto the next stage of a challenge. This seemed to me a welcome way to reduce chaos.)

I explained to them how they were going to get around the course and what they had to do, but they were eager to get started and not really paying attention. In retrospect, I should have stressed a lot more firmly that they needed to work as a team since they all had a tendency to rush on through the challenge without looking behind them.

The tribe will make a bridge to cross to the green mat.  It must then move that bridge to the next mat without any member setting foot on the floor.

By the garage door was a plank of wood, and the children were supposed to use this as a bridge to cross to a mat barely big enough to hold them. Taking care that none of them should fall off, they then had to lift the wood and pass it along the members of their tribe team to use as a bridge to the next mat.

In practice, I probably made that mat a little too big anyway, and with only six of them there, they had no difficulty in staying on it as they moved the bridge across.  After crossing it the second time, they climbed up onto a stage and slid down a cardboard slide into the ballpool.

Each tribe member will climb the platform and slide into the ballpool.

I'd added the slide at the last minute, when I realised that otherwise they were going to jump into the ballpool and get massively bruised since it wasn't deep and there was no padding at the bottom. We didn't really have a large enough piece of cardboard, but I collapsed a box, stuck two cushions behind it and we made do. It wasn't fixed in any way, so my husband (conveniently wearing acid proof shoes) ended up standing next to it and keeping it in place. Ideally, we should have duct-taped the top end to the stage.

(Also ideally, we should have put a blanket or something on the stage for the children to crawl under so that they ended up going down the slide headfirst.)

Inside the ball pool they had to search for eight plastic eggs each containing one puzzle piece.

Buried in the balls are eight eggs containing puzzle pieces.

This had the most problems between concept and execution. I'd used some fairly cheap eggs, since that was what we had to hand, and they came open easily. In one instance, we had to look for a puzzle piece among the balls as well. The children also failed to grasp that they weren't supposed to open the eggs then and there.

I had intended for there to be one egg per child, and once a child had found an egg, they should leave the pool and wait on a mat for the rest of the team to join them. As there were eight eggs between six children, I disregarded this policy, which was a mistake, as the pool was too crowded to search effectively. Finally, I should really have had the basket in the above picture to hand. I had figured that the children could run the rest of the course with an egg in hand each, but when some children had two eggs that got tricky.

All that said, the eggs were not difficult to find but not too easy. This concept could be used for a much smaller ball-pool, with the children kneeling outside as they look through the balls, though in that case, you'd probably want to use eggs that were the same colour/size as the balls to make it trickier.

Once a tribe has found all its eggs, it must go through the tunnel and over the stepping stones.

From the mat on the other side of the pool, they had to crawl through a tunnel and then cross the stepping stones. We had some plastic garden stepping stones which did not skid on the floor, so I used those. For the real budget option, cut up a roll of shelf liner. The hard part here was figuring out spacing that would be challenging but not impossible for a wide range of heights. I underestimated it slightly, so this was easy for all of them.

Once they'd crossed the stepping stones, they faced the Wall.

All tribe-members must then get over the wall and back to their starting mat.

This was simply a table on its side, with cushions for them to land on. The children were told they could not go over headfirst--they had to pull up and swing their legs over. They also had to go one at a time over the middle, as indicated by some tape, so as to avoid the supports on the table. Finally, they were supposed to help each other, as some children would struggle to get up unaided.

This didn't go at all to plan. Because it was at the end of the course, most of the kids were ready to rush back up the stairs with their eggs rather than help the person behind them. Nobody paid any attention to the tape in the chaos, and I ended up having to stand right next to the wall and guide each child over individually. In retrospect, I think having this at the start of the course might have been a better idea, but this is the element that I'd want to rethink thoroughly before attempting again. At the very least, I'd want to use a table that had less metal bars for the children to land on.

Once everybody was over the wall, they took their eggs upstairs and opened them. Once the pieces inside were assembled, they revealed the location of the pinata.

The assembled puzzle will reveal the location of the hidden immunity idol pinata.

For the puzzle, I simply took a picture of the pinata where it was hidden (our cloakroom cupboard), printed it out and cut it into eight pieces. I then folded and rolled these up so that they would fit in the eggs. I was concerned that the pieces might not want to stay flat after this treatment, but this wasn't a problem.

The biggest problem we did have was that some of the children weren't willing to share their piece, stuck to the idea that they had found this egg and thus the contents were theirs. With some encouragement (or outright intervention) we were able to put all the pieces onto one table. What amused me was that, just as on Survivor, we had one child emerge as our puzzle person, and he pretty much put all the pieces together while the others looked on.

Obviously, the birthday boy was the only one who was going to recognise the inside of the cupboard, so he got to 'solve' that final riddle and lead the charge to open the door and retrieve the prize. All children were duly applauded for their team effort in saving the party.

My suspicious son later held me for interrogation, forcing me to admit that it was I, not the Lizard, who had hidden the pinata. And I would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn't been for those meddling kids...