What is a Cowboy?
Explain to the children that back in the Old West, and even today, there are men and women who work on ranches. They tend the cattle and ride horseback. Some cowboys perform at rodeos where they show their riding and roping skills.
Read some cowboy books which will help with your discussions. Here are a few suggested titles:
- Cowboys and Cowgirls: YippeeYay by Gail Gibbons 
- Cowboy Small by Lois Lenski 
- I Want To Be a Cowboy by Dan Liebman 
Dress Up the Little Dudes
Ask the parents to send in items for their children to dress up as cowpokes, horseback riders, sheriffs, or anything related to the Old West. Think about jeans, jean skirts, bandanas, boots, cowboy hats, scarves, and such. In class, you can make a western vest for each child from brown grocery bags.
- Cut up the front of the bag and make a neck hole (in the bag’s bottom flap).
- Cut arm holes on each side.
- If there is logo printed on the bag, turn the bag inside out.
- Invite the children to decorate the bag with crayons and markers. Show them pictures of western scenes from books or magazines.
- Cut out sheriff badges from construction paper or heavy duty foil, and glue them onto the bag’s front.
- Cut a fringe all along the bottom edge.
Pan for Gold
Prior to this party, the teacher can collect rocks and spray them with gold paint to resemble gold nuggets. Talk briefly with your group about the 1849 Gold Rush. Gold was found in California and settlers from all across American journeyed by horseback and covered wagons to seek their fortune. Many people panned for gold in streams and riverbanks.
- Place the rocks in the sand box or sand table.
- Give the children sand sifters (like the ones used at the beach).
- The students can pretend they are panning for gold. See their excitement as they find the gold nuggets.
Play a Game of Horseshoes
There were plenty of horseshoes in the Old West, so cowboys leisurely played a game where they threw the shoes to ring around a post. In class, make this easy game.
- Prior to the party, draw a horse in the middle of a sheet of poster board. Paint the horse.
- Provide bean bags to represent horse shoes.
- Place the children on a throwing line (developmentally appropriate for their throwing skills).
- Give each child three to five bean bags to throw and hit the horse target. Tell them to aim at the horse’s legs where horseshoes are worn.
Sing a Cowboy/Cowgirl Song
Teach the children this song sung to the tune of “I’m a Little Teapot.”
I’m a little cowboy (cowgirl). Here’s my hat.
Here are my spurs and here are my chaps.
When I get up, I work all day.
Get on my horse and ride away. (Have everyone gallop around the room)
Cowboys mostly ate outdoors around a campfire. Build a pretend campfire by placing three logs of firewood in a triangle, and then add sheets of red, orange, and yellow cellophane paper in the center to resemble the fire. Emphasize to the children that this is a pretend campfire and that real fires are hot and can burn them.
Make a big pot of “beanie weenies.” The children can help you cut the hotdogs in pieces using a plastic knife. Serve this meal in aluminum pie tins, just like in the old days. Serve root beer which is close to Sarsaparilla (a drink popular in the Old West) to wash down the dust of the trail.
NOTE: Check with parents for food allergies or dietary restrictions before serving hot dogs.
These ideas should help with your plans for a western themed preschool party. Cowboys have been around for decades and will continue to be part of the lives of young children for generations to come.
Source – personal experience