A Fun Summer Celebration: Old-Fashioned Picnic Party

Summer-themed picnic party table decorated on a canoe

The Spruce / Ashley Poskin

An old-fashioned picnic is a great way to celebrate a summer birthday. Picnic or classic barbecue-type foods combined with activities such as sack races, face painting, and egg-and-spoon races can make for a lovely, nostalgic celebration under the sun.

The Menu

Stick to a barbecue-themed menu, including burgers, hot dogs, chicken, or other favorite grilled meats. Serve traditional picnic side dishes, too, such as potato salad, baked beans, coleslaw, and potato chips.

Watermelon is a must. You could also make fruit kebabs if you're looking for an easy way to serve fruit to kids. Consider using plastic skewers with rounded tips instead of pointed wooden ones because they're safer for young children.

For dessert, summer and apple pie go well together. But if your picnic party celebrates a birthday, don't forget the birthday cake and ice cream. You could set up an ice cream cone station where the kids can top their ice cream with sprinkles, cherries, and other treats. You might want to offer bowls in case those ice cream cones get a little top heavy.

Food Decor

Serve the food in red plastic food baskets lined with red-and-white checkered napkins or parchment paper.

You could set up a large jug of lemonade or put out individual lemonade bottles. Replace the bottles' labels with your own, perhaps by cutting strips of red-and-white checked paper, which is often sold by the sheet at scrapbooking or craft stores.

Picnic Party Decorations

Don't feel like you need to go overboard on decorations. Your backyard is probably lovely enough as it is, and the whole gist of the party is a celebration of yesteryear's simpler times, anyway.

You could add a few touches, though, such as red-and-white checkered tablecloths and balloons.

Old-fashioned looking soda bottles make a cute display in a galvanized bucket of ice, but consider whether the guests are old enough to walk safely with glass bottles in their hands.

Games and Activities

In addition to the potato sack races and face painting, some favorite classic games include kick the can and wheelbarrow relays.

Create an apple tree bean bag toss. First, make bean bags shaped like apples (or just make red squares and call them apples—the kids won't care). Then, cut a tree shape from plywood, heavy corrugated cardboard or another sturdy material. Cut round holes in the tree. Lean it against your house or build support legs behind it. Have the kids take turns seeing how many "apples" they can throw through the holes.

Some activities could all be part of a backyard carnival. The guests could go from booth to booth participating in the face painting, bean bag toss, and bouncy castle, for example. Give the youngsters a strip of tickets so they can "pay" their way at the various booths.

A classic penny carnival booth involves building a simple shelter and giving kids outside the shelter a fishing pole (a tree branch with a string and a clothespin attached will do). Decorate the shelter to look like water, and then have an adult or older child hide behind the shelter and attach small candies or other prizes to the clothespin while the younger children "fish" from the other side.

What's more traditional than having the kids take a few whacks at a pinata? Since this is a picnic party, try to make your pinata in the design of an apple, ladybug, or picnic basket.

A fun activity for the adults and kids to do together is to play bingo. Have an adult or older teen dress up like a bingo caller (think tacky vest and matching visor) and award prizes for the winners of each round.

Prizes and Favors

For favors, you could give each child a miniature picnic basket filled with treasures, such as temporary tattoos and cherry-shaped gummy candies.

Prizes for games could be boxes of Cracker Jack, jump ropes, a set of jacks, or sidewalk chalk.

Lemonade mix in canning jars is another fun gift for summer picnic guests.