My youngest son just turned 1, and we had a low-key birthday party for him. I like to do something special for first birthday parties, so this year’s theme was Smiling’s My Favorite because this boy is so smiley, he started smiling socially at one month. I bought party supplies at the dollar store and Target’s dollar spot. I decided to do a couple of funny photo activities that involve smiling:

Funny Hat Photo Booth (total cost: about $13)

clown wig

1. I bought funny hats at the dollar store and the Target dollar spot, including this funny clown wig…

And this cowboy hat. Other hats we had for the activity: Tom Sawyer straw hat, firefighter hat, jester hat, knight’s helmet, hard hats and a few others. We had several of these hats already on hand. I spent $7.50 at Target for three hats (they were in the $2.50 section of the dollar spot), and $5 at Dollar Tree for five other hats (I had to get doubles of some of the more boyish hats because I didn’t want my two older boys to fight over them!). Total cost for this activity: $12.50

The idea of the photo booth: make a station where you set out funny hats, then take pictures of the party-goers wearing the funny hats. (In reality, everyone was kind of under the weather on party day, so we only took a couple funny hat photos. I still like the idea, though!)

The other photo activity was:

Half-Face Photos (total cost: $5)

I found this idea for funny photo party invitations at Photojojo but instead of making invitations like the article suggested, I just had photos with partygoer’s chins made up, and set them out on a table for people to use and have fun with. It could be fun to do this, and glue popsicle sticks to the bottom back of the photo to make them into little signs your partygoers can hold up in front of their faces.

I had the photos printed in advance by uploading them on’s website and then picking them up at the photo center the next time I went shopping at Costco. I got 39 photos printed up for 13 cents each, which was $5.07 total. (Actually, I used a coupon I had for 50 free prints, so they were free). Total cost for me: FREE, but a value of about $5

Party Games (total cost: FREE)

The party was really just our family and my parents so everything was pretty informal! I didn’t plan on any party games in advance, so I threw a few games together at the last minute. They turned out to be a lot of fun for the boys! Good thing kids are just as impressed by simple ideas as they are by show-stopping ideas.

I wrote a whole post about these last-minute party games at Make and Takes, but here is the quick rundown:

1. Stacking Contest (Total cost: FREE)

I gave each boy a flat surface (diaper boxes!) and a plastic bin full of foam building blocks that we already had in our toy closet. The object: to build the tallest tower. There were no prizes, it was just a fun activity for the kids. The baby got to knock the towers over when they were built. We just used what we had on hand to do this activity.

2. Clothespin Drop (Total cost: FREE)

This is an oldie but goodie. I remember doing the clothespin drop game at my birthday parties when I was a kid in the 80s! If you don’t have clothespins, substitute blocks or beanbags (or whatever else you have on hand). For his turn, the baby enjoyed putting clothespins in the container and taking them out again. We just used what we had on hand to do this activity.

Supplies you need:

  • 5-10 clothespins
  • A Mason jar or other container (I used a gallon pitcher) — the wider the mouth the better for younger children
  • A chair

To Play:

Chair is placed with Mason jar behind it. Child sits on her knees facing the chair back and drops clothespins over the back of the chair into the jar. Prizes for the person who gets the most clothespins in the jar.

3. Beanbag Toss (Total cost: FREE)

I threw together a makeshift beanbag toss for my kids in about five minutes. The older kids and adults enjoyed the challenge of throwing the beanbags through the holes. The baby liked crawling up to the box and putting beanbags in the holes. We just used what we had on hand to do this activity.

Supplies you need:

  • A medium-sized cardboard box (I used one of those open-faced fruit boxes from Costco)
  • Markers
  • Utility scissors or utility knife
  • 1-3 Beanbags

Draw three 5-7? diameter circles on the bottom of the box. Put a number from 1-3 next to each circle. The numbers are the point values for each hole. Cut each circle out with utility knife or scissors. The bigger the holes, the easier it is to get the beanbag through them. If children are older, vary the sizes of the holes, with smaller holes being worth more points.

To Play:

Set box upright or leaning against the wall, and have child throw beanbags — aiming to get them through the holes. Throw the beanbag three times and the person with the highest number of total points wins.

Optional: you might want to mark a line on the floor with tape so kids know where to stand to toss the beanbag. If there’s a wide range of ages at your party, make several lines (closer for younger children, farther away for older children).

Party Decorations (total cost: $13)

In my party supply post, I told you that I decided to skip typical balloons altogether this year, so I got these paper lanterns. They were a fun and festive alternative to balloons. I bought 7 packages of lanterns for $7, and a total of 14 lanterns. Total cost: $7

I also got punch balls instead of traditional balloons. They’re yellow, and they have smiles on them (even though I was definitely NOT going to do a lot of smiley face things for the party decor). The punch balls were the best part of the party! I blew up about 12 of them (they’re much bigger than regular party balloons) and just put them out on the floor, and my boys played with them for about an hour. And, it’s been almost a month since the party, and we still have most of them and they get played with regularly. They came 2 in a package for $1. Total cost: $6

I had to take a few breaks while I was blowing the balloons up before the party, though!! Whew, that took a lot of hot air!

Party Food

My mom brought homemade lasagna, I provided bake and serve sourdough baguettes from Costco, a salad, and veggies. I made a Duncan Hines yellow cake (this is my FAVORITE cake mix – and I tested them all out when I was pregnant with my first son – ha ha!) with an added can of cherry pie filling. I didn’t have time to frost the cake because everyone had been under the weather that day, so I served the cake to the boys topped with ice cream, chocolate syrup and sprinkles.

We used those red dollar store plates that I purchased NOT to use at the party (it was easier than using real plates), and I discovered they weren’t very sturdy (see how they are kind of bendy in the photo), so if you buy party plates at the dollar store, choose the plastic ones or be prepared to double up on your party plates when serving.

I used a leftover candle I had on hand because I think these rainbow candles are cool!

Gideon enjoyed his cake and ice cream, and had fun at his party.

And then it was bedtime.

To see my other sons’ first birthday parties: