Monday, October 3, 2011

Crafting a Cowboy Party: Cardboard Western Town

Because children of all ages were coming to my son's Sweet Baby James Cowboy Party, I had to create activities that had wide appeal. What could I make that a 7 month old, a 9 year old, and children of every age in between would enjoy? Why a kid-size play town of course. Regardless of age, children enjoy climbing through, hiding in, and running around a little town that is just their size.

Since this was a cowboy party, I took my inspiration from the old Western towns, and decided to include a mine, general store, jail, sheriff's station, and "juice saloon."

I started by taping together cardboard boxes with masking tape. A few boxes were from our jogging stroller, but most were just your plain old shipping boxes from I then cut out doors, windows, and an escape hole in the jail using scissors and an exacto knife.

The first part that I constructed was the Juice Saloon and James loved it from day one!

To add stability and strength to the structure, I paper mached over all of the masking tape and around any cut edges. Traditionally paper mache uses long strips of newspaper and paste, however I seldom have either of those things around my house. So, for this project I used torn up printer paper and a mixture of 1 part Elmers School Glue and 2 parts water. We have A LOT of used printer paper around our house as my husband is still in school.

Most of the town was made using boxes that had been broken down and unfolded. However, in order to create a base for the jail bars, I used two whole Amazon shipping boxes stacked and taped together. I also used a whole box above the jail bars.

The jail bars were made from cardboard paper towel tubes that I paper mached and stuffed with phone book pages. Finally, a good use for the phone books that keep appearing on my doorstep!

After the construction stage was finished, I painted the Western Town using regular old acrylic craft paint. Since it was James' party, I decided that his name needed to be in all of the signs.

The Western Town was a bigger hit with the kids at the party than I ever could have imagined. All of the children played in the town for Three. Solid. Hours. They did not want to stop playing to eat lunch (we did manage to eventually lure them out with promises of eating around the paper mache campfire) and they did not want to go home when the party was over.

However, what really made every second of my hard work worth it was seeing how much fun James had playing in the Western town. He held his own with the older kids, and loved every moment of being bumped, squished, and chased around!

I have one rough-and-tumble little guy!

Happy crafting!


  1. This is SOOO cute !!!
    I am planning a western/cowboy themed party for my son & had planned on a little cardboard "town" ... I hadn't thought of a Mine though !!! LOVE it !!!

  2. I just made a Western Town for my daughter's upcoming 3rd birthday and made an Outhouse. Let's hope the kids don't really try to use it! haha

  3. Love this!! We just shared on our facebook fan page for Chore Pad: with a link to your Blog - I think our facebook friends are going to Love this! I know I do!! :)

  4. I guess Im not on the same wave length but I am so confused on how to make a village.. I got some refrigerator boxes from some local stores but they have writing all over them. I have no idea what kind of paint to use and you said you used acrylic paint which all i can find are the little ones which seems like a lot would need to be use. Please help me!! My son and I decided on a cowboy/outlaw theme which is next weekend and Im still not getting this!! :[ if you can help furth my email is

  5. Chaotic Mommie,

    I covered my boxes completely in paper mache before painting, which took care of the issue of writing on the boxes, but was incredibly time consuming (it took several weeks). There are two quicker options that I can think of, though. The first would be for you to paint the cardboard with a coat or two of primer before painting with acrylic paints. I did this when I was changing the Cowboy Town into a Bible Town for our church and used Olympic no VOC primer from Lowes (the same old stuff you use on walls). Another option would be to get one of those big rolls of brown paper, brush the cardboard boxes all over with glue and cover them completely in the brown paper. This is honestly the way I would go, as it will give you a nice brown base and then you can just paint on the details (signs, people, windows lines to mimic wood grain, etc.) which will save time and use far less paint, saving money.

    As far as the paint goes, I found 8 oz paint bottles at my local craft store on the same aisle as the teeny tiny bottles. I had to purchase many, many bottles. I later found out that Amazon has some half gallon jugs, but they don't have Prime shipping on those so shipping would likely take to long for your needs. Though, if you go the brown paper route I mentioned above, you should only need one or two of the little bottles in each color.

    Hope this helps!

  6. Another super easy way is to use a can of spray paint. Go outside on a day that is not windy put down a big tarp or more cardboard and spray away. A lot cheaper than buying lots of acrylic paints and faster to paint and dry. No paper mache needed. Also, you can try getting some big appliance boxes from a local appliance store...try the stores that are not a chain. They will be more likely to keep them for you. Others have a system of flattening and crushing rather quickly.