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Old School 3rd Birthday Party


Classic is awesome. So for my son’s 3rd birthday party, I stuck to the party staples of balloons, cake and confetti to create a unique theme. It had an “old school” kid’s party vibe and was super fun.

Best of all, I’m sharing all my ideas so you can recreate it for your next party.

A party invitation for a kid's birthday party with black and white stripes as a border and a green dot in the center.

I wasn’t going to have a birthday party for my 3-year-old. I had thought I would save the elaborate parties for the milestone birthdays. But as my son’s birthday started getting closer, ideas just kept popping into my head.  

I knew it wasn’t going to have a theme per se. It was just going to be an old-school birthday party.  

I wanted it to be like a party from when I was growing up, with balloons, cake and confetti.

P.S. Most of these amazing photos (unless otherwise noted) were taken by Dez and Tam. They are super awesome and I love them. I’m grateful that they were willing to photograph some of my parties. They are super talented!

The Invitation

I used a very simple invitation that was basic and cool. As you can see from the photo above, I used a few fun fonts and a little bit of black and white stripes around the border to keep it feeling graphic and clean.

At the beginning planning stages, I only wanted the party to be black and white. That didn’t last long because apparently, I love all the colors. And a kid’s birthday party is meant to have color.

Party Decorations

A backyard decorated for a kid's party.
photo by Cupcakes and Cutlery

I kept the decor pretty simple for this old-fashioned style party. Of course, we had to have balloons. I decided to hang the balloons to change up the usual look. I didn’t need any helium either!

I tied the balloons to some black and white bakers twine and added some party blowers for a little flair. 

You can find these types of party supplies for very cheap online or at Walmart. And when you use them in ways other than they are intended, it feels totally new.

Party hats with yarn poms on the end hanging from a patio cover.

I also hung party hats from our patio cover. I added simple yarn poms to bring in more color. Party hats are a staple at birthday parties but hardly anyone keeps them on.

They work much better as decor in my opinion! I wanted some garlands but didn’t want to use the paper kind and I had yet to invent my plastic tablecloth streamers… (Yeah, y’all. I invented something)

I used yarn to finger knit garlands in all kinds of colors. It was a fun look and made it feel homemade.

A party hat with a yarn pom on top and a braided yarn garland.
photo by Cupcakes and Cutlery

I kind of have a thing for yarn, can’t you tell. There are so many textures and colors to choose from and you get a lot of it for (sometimes) very cheap.

I finger knitted the garlands while watching TV (I watch a lot of TV). I loved that they seemed sweater-like which made them the perfect winter garland. They are also reusable which is pretty cool! 

If this sounds like too much trouble you can use my knotted garland tutorial.

The Food Table

Party decoration details from a kid's party.

I really love how this simple happy birthday banner worked out. It looks perfect with the yarn and black chain I draped. I usually do something on the wall behind the food table because that is where people tend to gather.

Because our house is small, our parties tend to spill outside so I usually decorate more out there than inside.

I used a bold black and white Ikea fabric as the tablecloth and then added in color to the food table in a few different ways (2 of which you’ll see below!).

A glass jar full of confetti next to a small succulent.

Every good party has confetti, right? Well, I hate messes. So the best way to get around having confetti all over my house for weeks is to keep it in a jar. It is pretty and shiny and contained. 

You get all the whimsy with none of the mess.

I have a few types of succulents growing in my backyard so I used some small clippings to add some life to the table. I added in some extra color by putting sequins under the dirt. I love how they turned out!

What to Serve

Details of a food table from a kid's party.

I’m a big snacks person at parties. I hardly ever serve a full meal. And, yes, most of the time they are of the sweet variety.

But if you look carefully to the far left of the photo there are grapes and in a photo above in the post, you can see carrots. So there. 

I kept the food pretty easy and tried to keep the black and white theme going. I also tried to have it be “birthday cake” related in flavor or vibe.

I named the chocolate, graham cracker and sprinkled dipped marshmallows “mobile” s’mores but really aren’t all s’mores mobile? We’ll chalk that up to trying to force creative naming at a very late hour the night before the party.  

And the cake batter bark is really something you all should try. The recipe is from How Sweet It Is and was super easy and freaking delicious. I rounded those out with store-bought Oreos (I ain’t ever going to make a home-made version of something that can be easily purchased.  That is not how I roll.  And besides, how would I be able to get in all those modified chemicals if I make them at home???)  

And have you tried the vanilla cupcake flavored Gold Fish crackers? You. Should. Yum.

A tray with Push Up Cupcakes on it.

It isn’t a party without Push Cakes by Meringue Bake Shop. Kristin kept the flavors classic but made them vegan so my food allergic son could partake. What I love about her vegan options is that no one can ever tell!!! They taste just as delicious as a “normal” one.

We kept it classic with vanilla and chocolate cake.

A tray of frosted cupcakes on a table for a kid's party.

AND we had cupcakes too. What? I like my sweets.

Chocolate birthday cake covered in candies on a cake plate.

This cool cake is my most favorite party idea ever. Logically, I would have shared the rest of the pictures right after this one but sometimes my brain revolts against being smart. You’ll see more of this cake in a few minutes. Just know that it is awesome and you want one.


Close up of party details from a kid's party.
Photos by Cupcakes and Cutlery

In keeping with the “old school” party theme, I wanted to serve punch. From a punch bowl. And I did. But I didn’t get a picture of it.  

I like to provide a drink for the kids that can be jazzed up for the grown-ups. In this case, I decided to infuse vodka with fruit to provide a “special” option for the adults. I recommend this as a party trick. People loved it!

It is not necessary to use the finest vodka as you are adding flavors and it is a mix-in for the punch after all. And if you choose a fruit that is in season, your costs can be cut even more. You do need to plan ahead for this so you should give yourself about 5 days if possible.

DIY Confetti Shooters

Homemade confetti poppers in a dish for a party.

This is the party I decided to test out my DIY confetti shooters at. It was a labor of love with help from my dad to make homemade confetti shooters.

Custom Pin the Tail on the Donkey

A large board for a Pin the Tail on the Donkey game for a kid's party.

I don’t generally have a lot of party games or activities for the kids at my parties. I like them to be able to play and I hate feeling like I have to follow a schedule for fun. BUT what is a traditional birthday party without Pin the Tail on the Donkey?

I am beyond lucky to have a friend, Ryan, who owns the best print shop. He never makes me feel like my crazy party printing needs are over the top.

This was printed out at 4′ x 4′ on foam core and was both a party game and fun focal point in an other wise boring area of the backyard.

Kid with a blindfold on getting ready to play in the tail on the donkey.

Because it was so large and had the black and white stripes it felt totally new even though it’s a nostalgic party game.

Little girl playing pin the tail on the donkey at a kid's party.

For the tails, I was able to copy the tail in Illustrator and shrink them down so they matched the game board. I was able to print them out and have them ready to go before the party.

I used Glue Dots Mini Sheets. These worked perfectly because they come on perforated sheets and I was able to put the Glue Dot on the tail and leave the clear paper on the other side and just pulled the clear part off when the kid was ready to take their turn.

Classic Pinata Customized

Man holding a pinata that says "hit me with your best shot."

Of course, I had to jazz up a store-bought pinata. My son kept asking for an Elmo pinata.

(Just on the day of the party. Please don’t think he was asking me for weeks and I still went ahead with my crazy customizing. No, only after did I spend the time and get frustrated with how it was turning out did he tell me he’d prefer Elmo. Thanks, kid).  

I don’t usually do a pinata but it totally fit my non-theme. I only put a bit of candy in, since one of my sons has multiple food allergies, and then added some fun toys to fill it up.

White lunch bags stamped with words.

I stamped plain white paper bags for the loot bags. I felt weird promoting violence amongst children for a moment but they got that it was just humor and I did not see any elbows get thrown.

Images from a kid's party when the pinata is being broken open.

I love a good candy scramble, don’t you?

The Photo Booth

Gold wreath with the word "cheese" on the party booth backdrop from a party.

I put together a really simple photo backdrop. I used white curtains that I have from Ikea and hung them on a tension rod that fit perfectly between posts in my backyard.  

Then I used different colors of party streamers to add some color.  I had a leftover gold wreath that I found on sale at Christmas and thought it would be a nice little touch.

Little girl wearing a party hat in front of a photo booth wall.

How ridiculously adorable is my niece (and omg she just turned 19)?! She is wearing the latest in photo booth props. I had leftover garlands from Christmas (yeah for January birthdays!)

And to keep with the confetti thread running through the party, I took extra party hats, sprayed them with adhesive and stuck confetti on them.

Images from a photo booth from a kid's party.
Photos by Cupcakes and Cutlery

I found some ready-made photo booth signs at Party City and since the colors matched I decided to use them. I took out the ones that were really inappropriate and left the ones that would be the funniest.  

How cute is my husband’s grandmother (who turned 100 this year! She is 89 in this photo)? To be fair, I did not tell her to say “cheese.”

Cake Time

Kid using a toy hammer to break the hard chocolate shell of a birthday cake.

Finally! On to the cake!  You have to a smash cake at your next party! So as you can see, the cake is covered in a hard shell of chocolate.

See another example from our Awesome 2nd birthday party (about midway through the post).

A kid using a toy hammer to break the hard chocolate shell of a birthday cake.

We have all the party guests sing and then let the kid go nuts with a hammer!  

A child looking at a birthday cake.

Once through the shell, they find a cake with the middle removed and in place is candy! Minds are blown!

Kids reaching for a candy-filled cake.

I prefer to serve these instead of a big cake. I always provide cake for any adults that want it in the form of a Push Cake or cupcake but for the kids, I do this. They get SO excited about it and I love to let them just go to town!  

There are always so many rules and this is one time that they get to be all grabby and shove cake in their mouths by the fistful. We do this outside so clean-up is a breeze.

A smashed cake with kids using heart-shaped utensils to dig in.

In the past, I have cut the cake into chunks for them to grab with their hands after it has been smashed open, but this year I went with these amazing heart forks. They worked perfectly!!

A boy using a catapult to make a stuffed Angry Bird toy fly.

Near the end of the party, my husband couldn’t contain himself anymore.  He had to bring out the Angry Birds game he built for our sons for Christmas to share it with the other kids. They LOVED it. Almost as much as my husband.

Boxes set up in the backyard to be knocked down with stuffed Angry Birds.

It was really fun to see all the kids and dads cheering when the characters fell.

A bowl holding black and white swirled suckers as a party favor.
Photo by Cupcakes and Cutlery

And for a favor, I sent the kids off with a simple black and white sucker. And possibly diabetes. I kid, I kid.

Dez and Tam – I can’t say thank you enough to you guys.  I SO appreciate that you are willing to take pictures of my parties. The memories that I get to keep from each of them mean more to me than you will ever know.  

It is a luxury that I know not everyone has and I am a very lucky girl to have two such talented photographers, and now friends, at my parties.

Whether you decide to throw a full on old school style birthday party or just use some of these ideas, I hope I’ve inspired you to look back and some old traditions that we can re-introduce to our kids.

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  1. oh my GOSH this is a wicked party, absolutely full of things kids love – the angry birds set up?? smash cake?? confetti poppers, and tons of cake? LOVE it. i also love your photobooth backdrop! simple and sweet with the super cute “cheese’ glittery wreath! that photo of your hubby’s grandma is PRICELESS!

    awesome awesome kid’s party!!!

    1. Thank you! I loved this party. And I love my husband’s grandma. She’s amazing. I hope I am just like her when I grow up.

  2. I love love love love love really love the party decor! What a fun party and fabulous photos. The upside down party hats with pom poms are brilliant!

  3. Hello-
    I can across your site and fell in love with your “old school” style party! Way to go. I love all of the cute little touches you added. I really liked the photo booth. I also thought your loot bags were very clever. I have book marked you and am planning on stopping by for more fabulous ideas.

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