Bowling Themed Birthday Party

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My way of making the kids’ birthdays special is to take something they love and turn it into a full-blown party.  We toned it waaaaay back this year, with only a handful of guests.  (See… I actually learned something from Maggie’s giant Bird Party back in April!)  For Sam’s celebration, we simply took a few kids bowling, and then came back to our house for dinner, cake, ice cream, and more playing.  The boys were all invited to spend the night, which was perfect because the sleepover thing is big in this household right now!

Just because it was a small-scale event doesn’t mean we didn’t still have some fun with a theme!

Of course you set the tone for any good bash with the invitation.  The hokier the wording, the more the kids seem to love it.  There are dozens of puns and wording ideas online, and in this case I don’t think it’s considered plagiarism?  We modified and merged some ideas and came up with this for Sam’s invite:

We only emailed it to three families, but Sam and I had fun making it together one morning while his sister was sleeping in, so that’s all that counts!  The corny text says:
“Roll on over, there’s no time to spare.
We’re going bowling and we want you there.
When the clock strikes 2:30, the pins will fall.
We’ll head to the ally and we’ll have a ball!”

For cakes I always go to Flickr or Google Images to get ideas.  The kids scroll through the pictures with me and typically pick out some fondant masterpiece that is far beyond my capabilities, but this is my way of teaching them the concept of compromise.  Eventually we get enough doable ideas to customize into something manageable.  Here was Sam’s simple bowling cake:

It was a last minute change, as his first choice was a frosting alley with a bowling guy, ball, and pins.  He was excited to arrange his pins into a strike.  I thought a bowling cake topper would be simple to find locally (I’ve bought many other sport ones) but no such luck.  We couldn’t even find a miniature toy bowling set that would work, and no way was I going to attempt frosting pins!  In the end he was thrilled with Plan B.  Phew!

I also made a few snacks for the kids to eat at the bowling alley.  (I got these ideas from another blog – vixenMade – who proved that a bowling party can actually be a classic, refined, retro event.  Ours was not nearly so fancy, but I still used a few of her amazing ideas!)

Here are our edible bowling balls and pins.  The pins are pretzel rods dipped in white chocolate, with red frosting piped around the top.  The balls are Oreos dipped in dyed white chocolate.  (I tried to swirl the colors so the balls would look like the pro balls on the Wii!)

To loosely continue the bowling theme (and honor my son’s love for all things pasta) we had spaghetti and “bowling balls” for dinner.  Okay, they were homemade meatballs.  But they are a perfect party food because they can be made in advance and free you from kitchen duty during the festivities.

Now for my favorite part:  I made matching bowling shirts for everyone!  Once I figured out how to do the iron on transfers, this was actually very easy.  I messed up two shirts before I got it right, so budget time for your own personal learning curve if you don’t already know how to use the transfers!

End result – the kids loved these and looked so official in their matching attire!

Back of shirt:

Front of shirts were customized with each person’s name:

I got the idea for bowling shirts from the Family Fun website, and there is a free template you can download if you don’t want to design your own.  Their template didn’t work with the type of transfer paper I bought, but it still gave me great ideas.  Apparently there is a big difference between the white/light fabric transfers and colored ones, so make sure you know which you need.  Oh, and read the instructions at least 500 times before you even think about plugging in the iron!

(UPDATE:  The Family Fun web site has completely changed and the template is no longer available.  You can download mine here, but there will likely be formatting issues if you don’t have the same fonts installed on your computer.  Just copy the text inside each bowling pin and edit/resize to fit your needs!)

To make these shirts, I found some free bowling pin clip art, and then pasted it into a desktop publishing program (many would work, but I used Microsoft Publisher).  I created a text box layer on top of the clip art to add the words.  From there you simply print on the transfer paper (read instructions… some require you to mirror the image first!), carefully cut out the image exactly as you want it to appear on the shirt, peel the backing, and iron. Be sure to use a firm surface and not an ironing board!

The bowling shirts doubled as our party favors, so I hope the transfers hold up in the laundry!

The other fun thing we did was invent a crazy bowling game.  There are lots of ideas for techniques online, or you can be creative and come up with some on your own.  We called our version “Silly Strike.”  While I was at Michael’s (buying more t-shirts to replace the ones I ruined in my first attempt at the transfers) I grabbed a plain white box and some bowling stickers.  We decorated it like this:

Inside were strips of paper with whacky bowling techniques.  Before each frame, the kids had to draw a slip that instructed them how to bowl.  The common ones we found included:  bowl backwards, bowl with your eyes closed, bowl criss-cross-applesauce, bowl between someone else’s legs, bowl with the opposite hand, and spin before throwing the ball.

But we needed 50 of these things (5 kids x 10 frames) so it involved a fair amount of brainstorming!  Some fun ones that the kids especially enjoyed:  bowl like a robot, pretend to puke after you throw the ball (potty humor is big with 8 year olds), and sing “Happy Birthday” before the first pin falls.  My favorite was “Shout ‘I LOVE MY MOM!’ after you throw the ball.”  Maggie drew that slip.  Warmed my heart.

If you are looking for gift ideas for your little bowling fanatic, then visit the pro shop at your local alley.  We got Sam his own ball, and his Grandma got him the bag to haul it.  He was pretty enamored, and the guy at the pro shop even measured his hand to drill the holes.  Sam wants to join a kid’s bowling league in the fall, so he should get plenty of use out of his 6 lb. ball!

Back home, Sam had hoped the bowling theme would continue.  He created a bracket for a Wii bowling tournament, but the weather was too nice and the boys played outside all evening instead.  If it had been raining then we would have definitely used that idea!

Someday I will learn to create the thank you cards at the same time as the invitation, because after the party our creative energy is always tapped.  We could have gotten all cutesy and said, “Thanks for sparing time to come to my party… I had a ball!”  (Okay, maybe that’s too much?)  We went the simple route instead – Sam colored the cover, and then we photocopied and folded them.  The inside is blank so he can write a personal message for everyone.

Sam said his favorite part about the party was Silly Strike.  My husband was grateful that I kept it relatively simple.  Maggie says she most loved the cake and ice cream.  And my favorite part… was how concentrated the fun was.  It really seemed to honor both Sam’s birthday and his love of bowling.  I went to bed feeling like we bowled a 300 game!