3year olds are so much fun! They have great imaginations and are usually content with inexpensive, home-made items. (unlike my 18 y/o who wanted an i-pod for his birthday!) How about those little boxes of animal crackers that come in a circus train box. And look in your cupboard for smaller boxes, maybe some individual sized boxes of cereal or marcaroni & cheese boxes that can be wrapped in plain brown kraft paper. They could draw on them or put on stickers or something like that. Red and Blue handkerchiefs are usually about 50cents each, and look so cute as little neckerchiefs. Do you have any Thomas the Tank Engine books that you could read at the party or just put around the room? You can cut a circle out of cardboard and use a black sharpie marker to make a RR crossing sign. And maybe make signs like B&O or other RR companies. You could probably find those online and print them out.
Just remember to have FUN! And designate someone to take pictures. You'll have enough to do without the added task of photographing.
I just threw my 3 year old son a "thrifty" birthday party in July. It was a Blue's Clues theme, but like you, we didn't have a whole lot to spend! I made a lot of my own decorations, favors, etc. Check online for pictures of trains you can print out and use for decorating (many times you can find free printables). "tjtooth" had a good idea with the boxes--you could also use small boxes that you decorate as boxcars for table centerpieces. You might be able to find ideas for making a train cake online too. Use your imagination, and you can throw a nice, inexpensive party. Luckily, 3 year olds are usually still small enough not to notice if their party items aren't brand-name!
Hi! Regarding obtaining free or very inexpensive items for your son's train-themed party, if you have a Freecycle in your area this is a great resource for finding free items. You just go online to the site in your area, sign up, and ask for what you need. I've seen many people do this for parties they are throwing for their kids. To check for a group in your area go to: Freecycle.org. Also try checking out any of the Dollar Trees or dollar stores in your area. They usually have a lot of birthday items and, of course, you can't beat the price. ;) Good luck and I hope your son has a wonderful 3rd birthday.
Three year olds don't need Hollywood style special effects and props. How about a make your own choo choo train party? Each party guest has their own car (aka, box: get free from grocer and spray paint or cover with butcher paper to get rid of graphics) they decorate with crayons/markers/paint/stickers and then do a run around the room. Attach the cars to each other with a bit of rope or masking tape. Their car is their favor, btw.
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