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Setting Up the Obstacles
On your mark, get set, go! These obstacle course challenges are pure fun and energy, and they can be set up easily on your lawn or at a local park, using items found around the house. A week or two before the party, closely examine your backyard. Make note of slopes and sinkholes (trouble for ankles) and useful features like trees.
On the day before, set up the course, and blow up balloons with a hand pump (about $5 at party supply stores). Number balloons using a broad-tipped permanent marker and tie to tall garden stakes, using them to mark each obstacle. Make sure you test the course ahead of time to see that everything works as intended.
Upon arrival, give guests a map of the course. Then gather kids at the starting line and send them through one at a time. The first obstacle should be easy. In the ladder run, kids scamper through the rungs of a wooden ladder (sanded to prevent splinters) laid flat on the ground.
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Kids shimmy under a table hidden inside a ground-hugging cloud of balloons. Dangling from yarn taped to all sides of the table, the balloons wobble and bump as kids pass through.
To make this obstacle, use a hand pump to fill enough balloons to completely mask a table -- it took about 100 balloons to cover our 3-by-6-foot table. Tie yarn or string to each balloon and secure to the table -- on top, underside, and all four legs -- with heavy tape. Wrap table legs with foam padding.
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Everybody likes to hang around this guaranteed crowd-pleaser. If kids get a good running jump and keep knees high, they are likely to clear the inflatable wading pool. Several big knots tied in the rope's end make it easy to grab.
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Kids set a good pace and, using all the swagger they can muster, get across the two-by-four balance beam in no time.
You can simply lay an 8-foot-long two-by-four on the grass. Or you can raise it on 6-by-6-by-12-inch blocks: Drill a hole through each block using a paddle or forstner bit and attach to the underside of the beam with long lag screws. Sand corners, and cushion with pillows.
From Martha Stewart’s Favorite Crafts for Kids book, Jodi and Phoebe will show you how easy it is to make your very own, one-of-a-kind stuffed animal.
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Kids are handed three sheets of newspaper and must place one beneath every step they take. This is the perfect event to place at a tricky turn in the course.
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Red Wagon Slalom
Stand colorful foam pool noodles in gallon buckets weighted with sand (or soil or stones) and set up in a zigzag pattern. Fill a wagon with small water balloons. Kids must pull the wagon around the outside of each bucket without spilling any balloons.
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Lay out eight plastic hoops in a straight line. Kids step into each hoop, lift it overhead, and drop it behind as they move forward. (Reset the row before the next person's turn.)
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Kids sit on the grass, bend their knees, lean back, and lock their elbows, then "walk" as straight and fast as they can. This activity is great silly fun for the last 8 to 10 feet, when kids are rushing to the finish line.
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Once everyone has run the gamut, take a break for cake and gifts. Afterward, it's back to the course, perhaps to run in reverse this time. At party's end, hold an awards ceremony and present an appetizing Olympic-style medal -- a cookie pendant strung on a ribbon -- to every participant.
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