Crash Course Parties: Carnival Party

When I asked my daughter Natalie what kind of party she wanted for her seventh birthday, she said, “a carnival!” I knew what she was picturing in her mind… games, prizes, a ferris wheel. So I started with how to create that atmosphere and vision with my budget. We had to scrap the ferris wheel. I wanted the game booths to have some structure. I had seen some cute stands built out of wood, but I knew it would be expensive and time consuming. We came up with the idea of a “frame” that would give the look of actual booths, but for a fraction of the time and cost.

How we did it: We used pvc pipe to build an arch using elbow connectors. The structure was held up by driving a few pieces of rebar into the ground and sliding the pvc over the top. We spray painted the pvc a gloss red. All of the materials can be found at a home improvement store like Lowes. We added a simple striped valance and red side curtains and it became a perfect, kid-size booth.

Not all of the games had a booth, but we built enough that when placed around the yard, provided that carnival look. Activities included a bean bag toss, ping pong throw, balloon dart board, duck pond, bottle ring toss, shooting gallery and face painting. At each game you earned tickets that could be collected to buy prizes… more on that later.

How we did it: The bottle ring toss was simple empty glass coke bottles bought at the grocery store and mason jar lid rings from Walmart. The balloon dart board was created by taking a 2’x4′ section of peg board from Lowes, we spray painted it white, then we added balloons by simply tying the balloon and pulling the knot through the holes. The board was held up by two extra pieces of rebar. For the duck pond we took weighted ducks bought online at Oriental Trading Company and pushed metal tacks into their heads so we could use a magnet fishing pole. Different point/ticket values were written in permanent marker on the bottom of the ducks.  For the bean bag toss, we used a ladder with different point values attached each step. The ping pong game was created by using the plastic protector shell that apples come in at Costco. Just open the shell up and placed on a level surface, we added stars to a few of the sections for added skill level.

The shooting gallery was created by using duck targets printed on double thick cards from Brightside Prints, placing them in placecard holders and shooting with a Nerf-style gun. You could also attach the targets to plastic cups if you don’t have placecard holders or photo clips.

I knew I needed to delegate some of the party preparation so I left the sewing to my friend, Becky. She took the leftover striped fabric from the booths and made little aprons for my “carnies” (my older children and some friends who ran each game booth). Complete with pockets for holding tickets.


We also used muslin to make drawstring bags for each child. I used ink jet t-shirt transfers from Staples to add their names. They used the bags to collect their tickets and hold their prizes so they wouldn’t get misplaced. We used this tutorial from Martha Stewart. We would suggest using a heavier weight fabric or nylon, the muslin was inexpensive, it was thin and didn’t hold up well.



The children earned tickets at each game then they could spend their tickets at our prize booth. The prize booth was created with a pvc frame but used a longer panel of the striped fabric instead of a valance. We filled jars with candy and small toys with little tents that indicated the ticket value for that jar. All of the loose candy and small toys were neatly contained in the fun “treat tubs” from Bake It Pretty. I did buy the small, colored bears, but the rest of the stuffed animals came from… Natalie’s closet. She had so many stuffed animals that she never played with that were practically new, so they became the coveted “big” prizes. Sneaky mom!



The food was simple and kid-friendly, incorporating some Carnival classics. We had corn dogs, buttered popcorn, fresh strawberries, carrot sticks and lemonade. The amazing cupcakes were created by a local boutique bakery, The Frosted Flour. I just showed them my invitation and they created these! How cute is that little cotton candy?


Thank you to the super talented, Becky Thomas (pictured with me below), the Anderson Family, My Mom, and my family for all of your help with this fun party!



invitation, custom labels, and printed items Brightside Prints

paper goods, nut cups, treat tubs Bake It Pretty

cupcakes The Frosted Flour

Photography by Dale Goff and Jill Means

17 Responses to Crash Course Parties: Carnival Party

  1. Kimberly Poore says:

    This was so elegantly done, it does not look like a cheesy birthday party, I hope to see the prize booth, the food, and all the other details of Natalie’s carnival party!

  2. Kandis says:

    How fun! I am doing the same theme. For the Pvc frame you did, what measure of pipe did you use? 1/2 or 3/4?


  3. Ginger says:

    I love your carnival party! Doing the same theme for my son’s birthday. I was just wondering about the ht and width of the frame structure, as well as the fabric size? (if you don’t mind) Thanks so much!

    • Jill says:

      I think the height is 6 feet and the width too (we cut them the same so we wouldn’t have to remember which were the sides and which were the tops). The kids were pretty young so even with the curtain hanging they could still see. I’ll have to check on the fabric.

  4. Ginger says:

    Thanks so much! Hoping to be able to replicate this! =)

  5. C says:

    Awesome job! How many activity stations did you have?
    Loved your booths!

    • Jill says:

      We had 7 activities and a prize booth. Activities: bean bag throw, duck shooting, fishing, dart throw, ping pong game, bottle ring toss, face painting. I was going to have a photo booth, but then I decided to just take candid shots of the kids having fun.

      • C says:

        Thank you! I appreciate your sharing ideas. I am attempting a carnival party for a soon to be for year old and have two weeks to pull it off. judging by the smiles on kids faces in yr photos it looks like your hard work paid off.

  6. Meagan says:

    Just wondering how you did the invitation with a picture. I couldn’t find that option.

  7. Tonya says:

    I was wondering HOW you pushed the pins in the ducks heads. We purchased the ducks from OT and my husband couldn’t even hammer the pins into the heads.

  8. Jamie says:

    Hi! Your carnival was so cute! I am trying to construct some booths on a budget for a school carnival, and I was wondering how much fabric you had to buy, and where you got it? I am doing six of these booths, and trying to fund the right fabrics. Thanks so much! Great ideas!!! 🙂

  9. Sherri says:

    Where did you find the images of the duck with the bullseye on it? And, you mentioned we could use plastic cups – how do you mean? Thank you — LOVE your carnival!

  10. Samantha says:

    Where did you find the images of the duck with the bullseye on it? And, you mentioned we could use plastic cups – how do you mean? Thank you — LOVE your carnival!

    • Jill says:

      I created the ducks with the bullseye, then I had them printed double sided on double thick cards. If you didn’t have the little placecard holders I thought you could hot glue them to upside down cups to keep them standing.

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