My latest party was an American Indian party, for my youngest daughter, Amber. I always like to pick a theme that gives the kids an opportunity to learn something along the way...sending them home with more than just a sugar rush! Dream catchers were very en trend at that time, so that was my starting point. I spent many an hour researching American Indians and set out to make my party as authentic as possible. Still allowing, however, for plenty of artistic license.
We had planned to have it in the ‘great outdoors’, but the weather was atrocious! Those of you also living in the tropics will appreciate the meaning of heavy rain...! So at the last minute the great outdoors had to come indoors. I tried to set the scene a bit by clearing the living room and making a quick log fire on the floor. The ‘fire’ was some battery operated Christmas fairy lights. In addition, I also used some large branches I picked up in the park. From these I hung a huge dream catcher, that I had made, along with some gold painted feathers. Simple but effective!
When each child turned up, we kitted them out with a headdress and an armband, that I had made. In addition, we finished off the look with a feather tattoo and war paint. Amber’s big sisters were put to good use being the tattoo and makeup artists! We also gave each child an American Indian name: Dancing Wind, Brave Thunder, Little Fox and so forth. All so that those who weren't wearing a costume, weren’t left feeling the odd ones out. But the majority made a wonderful effort with their costumes! I told the mummies that I had made Amber's costume from an old, stained, white t-shirt of her Daddy's. Minimal effort and minimal expense. I didn't want them feeling obliged to spend lots of money just on our behalf. So in the end we had quite a number of pretty squaws in their Daddy's cut up t-shirts...gorgeous!
The talking stick
I always find that it's good to start off a party with a craft, as people tend to come in dribs and drabs. Our first craft was making a Talking Stick.
The talking stick is a tool used in many American Indian traditions when a council is called. It allows all council members to present their sacred point of view. Whoever holds the stick, has within his hands, the power of words. Only he can speak, while the others must remain silent. The eagle feather tied to the stick, gives him the courage and wisdom to speak truthfully and wisely. The rabbit fur on the end, reminds him that his words must come from the heart. All members of the circle are valued equally. Quite a valuable lesson for any child...and adult...to learn!
Crafting our talking sticks
Prior to the party, Amber and I had fun collecting sticks from nearby parks. We then scraped off the bark and then lightly sanded each one to be sure there weren’t splinters. We painted sections of the sticks gold and also bound a length of string near the top for beads and feathers to be attached. At the party it was then the kid's job to decorate the stick with beautiful colour paints. Once they were dry, they then threaded whichever colour beads and feathers they wanted.
There is something very satisfying about handling and crafting natural objects. Transforming them from something you might just tread on outside, into something beautiful you can display at home!
Taking home more than just a sugar rush
I always like to incorporate an educational element into my parties. The kids always seem to lap it up...and what better way to learn than when they are having fun! So, in order for the whole party to mean something to them, we had a sit down talk about American Indians. We talked about their history, their clothing, housing, the symbolism behind their headdresses etc. I printed out images to pass around the circle. They were all captivated, listening to every word. Once they had a little background, they were ready to understand the significance of the crafts and games we were about to play.
What's a party without games?!
I had a number of games lined up, but somehow being inside made it all a bit hard.
- Firstly, the spider web / dream catcher game. Each child was to have a small ball of string with one end tied around their waist. Standing in a circle, each were to throw the ball to someone on the opposite side, who then in turn would wrap it around their waist. This keeps going until the string runs out and the dream catcher is woven. It is then the kids' task to untangle themselves! A good ice-breaker in theory...!
- An adaption of musical chairs was to follow. The kids would dance/skip around in a circle 'American Indian style', with pictures on cards laid on the floor. Once the music stopped, I would say 'jump onto a teepee' or 'jump on a totem pole' or whatever. Whoever couldn't squeeze on, would be out.
- Another game we had in mind for the outdoors was 'Cops and Robbers'...but altered to be 'Indians and Buffalo'. (Steering away from the traditional and unsavory concept of Cowboys vs Indians!)
Treasure hunt with a twist
Finally the rain cleared enough for a treasure hunt, with the kids hunting for pebbles painted with Native American symbols. The kids had to find one each and return to the camp fire where we prepared to tell a story. We ran through what each picture symbolized, while sitting in a circle, and began to make up our story. The Birthday Girl started. She stood up holding the talking stick and began “Once upon a time there was a girl named Dancing Wind....” The stick was then passed to the next child who continued the story based on the symbol painted on their pebble. So it continued until the circle and story were complete. I must say, this was such a lovely game and I was so impressed with the story the kids came up with!
Our second craft: beautiful dream catchers
I think many people know the meaning behind dream catchers. However, in case you are one of those that don't, I'll write it here, as it's lovely!
The dream catcher has been a part of American Indian culture for generations. Storytellers speak of the spider woman, known as Asibikaashi; she took care of the children and the people on the land. Eventually the Ojibwe Nation spread to the corners of North America and it became difficult for Asibikaashi to reach all the children. So the mothers and grandmothers would weave magical webs for the new-born children, using willow hoops and cordage from plants. They were hung above the cradle to give the infants peaceful, beautiful dreams.
The night air is filled with dreams. Good dreams are clear and know the way to the dreamer. They pass through the central hole and gently sliding down the soft feathers. Whereas bad dreams are confused and cannot find their way through the web. They are trapped there until the sun rises and evaporates them, like the morning dew.
These were rather too tricky for 6 year olds to make from scratch. So, in advance, I bound some $1 circular handles, (used to make bags, bought from the $2 shop) with kitchen string. I then weaved the ‘web’, after reading a tutorial on the internet. Furthermore, I prepared 3 lengths of string, with a feather bound at the end of each. The kids could then thread on whichever beads they fancied. Finally, we bound card feathers onto the finished dream catchers. These had each child's name...and their (temporary) American Indian name...already printed on them. I think the kids were all really proud of their creations!
Food glorious food!
Food is always a highlight of any party! I always tend to go over-board though, trying to stick to the theme. However, this time I decided to keep things simple, particularly as there were a number of children with food allergies. Sweet and savory kebabs always work well in these situations. With gluten-free cupcakes to finish.
It's always lovely to watch the kids natter amongst themselves whilst eating. And hilarious to see them gravitate towards the fire to 'roast' their cheesy puffs and marshmallows...!
As usual, I never allow quite enough time for my parties, so before we knew it, parents were arriving. So it was a quick lighting of candles and singing of the Birthday song before heading home..hopefully happy and satisfied!