Easy creative strategies for a smooth neighborhood celebration
To kick off their event in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, the kids of Summit Lake Acres decorate a paper welcome banner with paint and markers. "When the banner is complete, we hang it at the entrance to the cul-de-sac where the party is held," says resident Lisa Schoen. "Then we take photos of all the kids with the banner for our block party album."
Diane Villhard was new to Glen Carbon, Illinois, when she was asked to organize her neighborhood's annual party. "I was looking for a nonintimidating way to get to know people," says Diane. So she delivered a 2-inch-square wood block to every house, along with a poem, inviting the recipients to decorate the block to portray their family. The finished cubes were displayed at the party, and guests voted on who had made the "best block on the block." "Each family really got into decorating their block with artwork, photos, sculptures, and more," says Diane. "Seeing the way everyone represented themselves helped us get to know one another. Now we know who loves animals, which teenagers are learning to drive, who's expecting a baby, and where to watch out for kids playing street hockey."
To keep guests rockin' at their summer "Kidstock" event, Jim Young of Northampton, Massachusetts, put together a band of amateur-musician parents called Pickle Bark. "We had about 70 guests, all of them families with young children," writes Jim. "The music was fun, the children's dancing was better, and the entire atmosphere was perfectly joyous. We finished the gig with '50 Ways to Pack Your Lunchbox,' my adaptation of Paul Simon's classic, '50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.' Just slip in a snack, Jack!
A race to put on a T-shirt? Sounds easy, until you're handed a shirt that's frozen as stiff as a board, and you have to figure out how to get it open! "Both kids and adults love this game. It's a great way to cool off on a hot day," says Amy Purchase of Hatboro, Pennsylvania. Before the event, Amy gathers about 20 T-shirts, which she soaks with water, wrings out, folds, and stacks on a cookie sheet with waxed paper between them. Then she stores the shirts in a freezer until the party. To keep the competition fair, Amy divides the contestants into age groups: under 10 and over 10. "Each participant is given a shirt, and whoever puts theirs on first is the winner," she explains.
Last year, Kristine Turano decided her neighborhood's annual bash could be easier to run. So the Lisle, Illinois, mother of three created giant game boards that people could use with minimal setup and supervision. To make them, Kristine bought two 4- by 8-foot sheets of plywood and had the lumberyard cut them in half. Then she and her family came up with four games -- checkers, tic-tac-toe, a target toss, and a frog toss with a lily pad-themed board -- and painted the plywood accordingly. They used about four dozen beanbags for playing pieces (Kristine got 12 plain beanbags for $8 and 12 frog-shaped ones for $10 at Oriental Trading). A 2-foot-long board, with a 2-inch-square piece of wood attached about 5 inches from one end, became the frog game's foot-powered catapult. "The game boards worked great!" says Kristine. "People just played as they wanted." Best of all, she adds, "They're flat, so they store nicely against the wall in my garage."
Dawn Borland, a mom in Courtenay, British Columbia, knows how to have good clean fun. Three years ago at her neighborhood's annual block party, she filled a small wading pool with water, then added lots of dish soap and small toys that wouldn't float. "The kids had to sit on the side of the pool and use their feet to gather their treasures," says Dawn. "They had a great time!"
For the past five years, Peggy Campbell-Rush's Washington, New Jersey, neighbors have set up swap tables at their annual block party. "Families bring unwanted items that are still in great shape and place them on the tables for others to take," says Peggy. "We put out a jar and ask people to donate what they think the item is worth to them, like a quarter or a dollar or two. All of the money we collect goes to a local charity in the name of our block."
Every year, the men in the Three Chimneys Farm subdivision in Cumming, Georgia, saddle up for the annual Daddy Tricycle Relay. "We set up big orange cones for the track, and each man has to ride with a baby bottle in his mouth," says mom and party organizer Christine Stroer. "It's hilarious!"
SET UP A WELCOME TABLE
Establish a central spot where partygoers can pick up name tags, drop off food, purchase raffle tickets, or simply meet and greet their neighbors.
MAKE A DATE TO REMEMBER
Residents in the Summit Lake Acres neighborhood in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, hold their block party on the same weekend each year. This way, everyone knows the date well in advance and can plan accordingly.
SHUT DOWN YOUR STREET
To keep kids safe and streets car-free, get a permit to close your neighborhood to traffic. Contact your town or city hall as far in advance as possible to find out how much permits cost and what you need to do to secure one. Some towns require signatures from 75 percent of the residents in a neighborhood to approve a permit.
PARK OFF THE STREET
Ask residents to park cars in their driveways and garages, so the streets are clear for games and activities -- and car windows are safe from balls and other flying objects.
BONUS TIP: SURPRISE APPEARANCES
Special guests can turn a good party into a great one. A number of readers told us their local fire department is happy to stop by with a truck the kids can explore (call your station and ask about its policy), while others suggest keeping dessert simple and arranging for an ice-cream truck to make an appearance.