Backyard Carnival

One summer I suggested that my children host a backyard carnival for their neighborhood friends. We discussed several possibilities for simple midway-style games, and then the children got to do the actual planning and preparation of the games. We baked cookies to use as “prizes” and made small bags of popcorn and Kool-Aid slushies (directions below) to sell for a penny each. I helped my children print flyers on our computer, which they delivered to the mailboxes of all their friends. The flyers told what day and time our carnival would be and that each game would cost a penny to play. Each family invited considered the day to be well worth the few cents it cost for the entertainment, and it provided my kids with math experience as well when they made change for nickels and dimes and counted up their proceeds at the end of the day.
Game #1  We stacked empty pop cans on sawhorses and threw tennis balls at the cans to knock them down. (Problem: completely empty cans blew away. Solution: add a little sand to each can for weight, and put tape across the hole on top to keep the sand from spilling out when the cans got knocked down)

Game #2  We cut a few holes in the side of a large cardboard box, painted it with some appropriate picture, and threw beanbags through the holes.

Game #3  We stood yardsticks, dowels, and straight curtain rods in a tall bucket and tossed canning jar rings over their ends.

Game #4  We prepared several guessing games: 6-8 jars filled with assorted objects for the players to guess how many things were in each container. Marbles in one jar, buttons in another jar, one jar with an assortment of game pawns, and so on. Each guess had to be written down on a slip of paper with the guesser’s name, and the answer closest to the correct amount was awarded a cookie-prize at the end of the afternoon. Preparation for this part included having an accurate count of the objects in each jar. I was delegated that responsibility, since my children wanted to be able to play as many games as they could with their friends, not just be the hosts of the carnival; therefore, only Mom could know the correct answers. Once the carnival was underway, the players requested that the guessing games be repeated by announcing the correct answers after everyone had a chance to enter a guess, then altering the amounts in the jars so they could all play again.

The prizes were awarded immediately to winners of these games, but part of the preparation had been trying out the games to find what distance made them challenging. We did not want to run out of cookies too quickly.

The carnival only lasted 2 hours, but it was amazingly fun to play the same simple games over and over. My children got to show their friends what each game was, play it with them, and then move on to the next game. Everyone got into the spirit of the carnival, as the other children took part in setting up the cans or retrieving the balls and beanbags. It became as much fun to host a game, as it was to play it.

Obviously, this carnival was not intended to be a money-making proposition. However, the lessons learned in teamwork, anticipating trouble-spots, and problem-solving were far more valuable than any amount we could have charged for admission. Many decisions had to be made by the children: how far to stand back from a game to throw the balls, how much success in a game yielded a prize, how many attempts to give at a game, how large should the cookies be for the prizes, how many cookies would we need. We spent portions of several days in planning and preparing everything before the actual carnival was held, giving my children even more lessons in planning and hosting an event. It was a week of in-depth training in entrepreneurship, but they looked on the entire process as fun!
Kool-Aid slushies: Prepare drink mix according to package directions, then pour it into a flat container (such as a cake pan) and place it level in the freezer. Remove the container every half-hour or so and stir the contents to prevent its freezing solid. When the entire batch is frozen into small bits and no liquid remains, the slushies are finished and ready to be scooped into cups.

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