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Sep 30

Want to Make Halloween Extra Sweet? Think Like A Kid.

by Meghan Fitzgerald

For many of the estimated 70% of Americans who celebrate Halloween, this year should feel a bit closer to what feels "normal," even though COVID is still a part of our world. And if you're among the near third who don't celebrate the holiday or are trying to navigate a world where the people you love feel differently about it, we get it.

For those who do celebrate, we these last few years have taught us so much, and we share these reflections on Halloween in the hopes that it helps all parents and caregivers enjoy taking a front row seat to your kiddos’ Halloween joy. Where to start? Think like kids.

Kids and Halloween

Two years ago, as we were struggling with how to even have Halloween in the midst of pandemic, we embarked on the work of distilling down what really matters about Halloween. And, we decided to ask the experts and take our Halloween cues from kids. Our Tinkergarten team talked with 30 kids ages 3 to 8 around the country about what they loved most about Halloween. Then, we put our heads together to imagine ways to deliver on the parts of Halloween that truly matter to kids.

More Than a Single Night

Listening to kids, many of the things they love about Halloween are not directly related to trick-or-treating, large-scale events, or October 31st itself. So, why not shift our focus from a single big night to make Halloween more like a festival instead?

Why not celebrate "Halloweek"—7 days full of things that make the Halloween season magical?! 

For example, my three kids made a Halloweek idea chart that includes things like: decorate; pumpkin fun; fire pit; carve Jack-o-lanterns; make Halloween brew; and costume hike with friends. Just making the list is joyful, and we’ll keep adding to it, building the anticipation, as "Halloweek" approaches.

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Our October Calendar

Our team was so inspired that we’ve decided to think about Halloween as more than just one day—we now think of it as Halloweek! You can download our free October calendar of play activities, and starting October 22nd, you'll find sweet ways to celebrate each day, through October 31st.

Halloween or Harvest

If Halloween, magic, or any element of the holiday feel wrong for your family or someone you know, we understand and please read on. These activities and ways of celebrating are loved by kids because they match the way their growing minds work and seek to know about the world. Please know we welcome you to extract the elements that work for you—and we know that you can  enjoy them with kids without any kind of "Halloween" or "magic" context. You can also give a Harvest theme to so many of these ideas. Exploring pumpkins, squash and other fruits of the harvest are marvelous all on their own. Pretending to be or just playing like creatures and characters we love is a wonderful way to learn a whole range of skills, and you don't need to add any layer of "magic" to enjoy that with kids.

Costumes and Pretending

The chance to don a costume and pretend to be someone or something else is clearly at the heart of Halloween for kids. And it makes total sense: kids' brains more easily blend reality and fantasy, which is how they develop the foundation for higher order thinking skills.

But again, that joy isn’t limited to Halloween night itself. In our house, so much delight is derived from discussing, planning, procuring and test-driving costumes—all long before Halloween!  And in our interviews, one 6 year old remembered being bummed that his mom wouldn’t let him wear his costume all the time last year. “She said I’d break it, but I just want to wear it!”

TIP: Lean hard into the costume. Welcome kids to brainstorm what they’d like to be. If you’re crafty, make a plan for how you can make the costume. Not crafty? No shame! Just buy your costume a little early this year so kids have extra time to enjoy wearing it (and have some duct tape ready if they love it too hard before the big day!).

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Magic

So much of what makes Halloween special is the magic. Try out the following easy, playful activities to add a dose of magic to your holiday...or week! 

[DIY Activity] Explore pumpkin seeds: Pumpkins are full of magic, whether or not you turn them into a jack-o-lanterns. They also offer marvelous ways to balance your child’s sensory system and teach early math and science lessons!

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[DIY Activity] Make pumpkin boats: Explore floating and sinking and even pretend to help tiny friends set sail in your very own pumpkin boats!

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[DIY Activity] Stir up Halloween Brew: Grab a pot (or your carved out pumpkin), some water and head outside to start making your very own “Halloween Brew.” Add fall scents like cloves or cinnamon sticks or “secret ingredients” (aka baking soda and vinegar) to tickle the senses and add discovery. 

Want to kick off with a story? Read Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson

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Parades and Gatherings

One thing that several older kids mentioned loving were school or community events that offer the chance to wear your costume and see all of the costumes other kids are wearing. We get it.

As an elementary school principal in Sleepy Hollow, New York (my all-time favorite Halloween town), I had the incredible pleasure of presiding over our Halloween costume parade. It was a major highlight of the kids’ year (and mine) and it took only a mere 4 loops through the school parking lot in the middle of the day to feel the magic and snap a great photo for parents. 

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TIPS:

Remember that, for a little kid, parades can happen in many different ways and on many different scales—they can even just happen in the living room. Meet up with friends in costume and go for a socially distant hike or walk around your local park. Enjoy careful playdates with the small circle of friends you see often. Video conferences in costume are pretty fun, too. Add some spooky music and turn it into a party! Kids can see themselves and each other all dressed up on screen, and far away family and friends will get a boost from being part of the magic.

You can also do some magical "night time" things like dress up and go for a lantern walk or take the moon for a walk in your costumes to bring back some of the excitement kids get being out at night on Halloween. Have a fire pit? Make s'mores and stay cozy (just beware of costumes and kiddos near the fire!).

Sweets!

And, yes, our young interviewees  may have mentioned the candy a few times, too.There is something spectacular about just walking up to your neighbor’s house and getting candy in quantities and varieties nearly all of our surveyed kiddos only see on Halloween. It’s hard to beat. But, if your house is like ours, it’s also pretty wild to navigate the highs and lows of early November as small bodies process all of that candy—so maybe we could still have sweets but enjoy a year without all of the gluttony? 

TIPS: Weave sweets into your Halloween, even if you can’t go door to door for candy. Build in some excitement by talking with kids or doing a little research about sweet treats you could make or buy that you don’t usually have, or that are just SUPER delicious. Here are a few sites with super fun Halloween baking ideas.

Then, make savoring those sweets part of your Halloween this year. 

Want to build in a little of the thrill? Hide candy around the yard or neighborhood and welcome your kiddos, and maybe even a few close friends, to go on a hunt!  

Or, in some places, if you want to trick or treat in a safe, distant way, you can team up with a smaller circle of families to walk or drive between each other’s homes and “trick-or-treat” just between the few of you, keeping your distance as you go. 

Cheers!

However your Halloween, Halloweek or Harvest shapes up this year, we wish you a most spooky, special and sweet holiday!

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Meghan Fitzgerald

Founder

After 20+ years as an educator, curriculum developer and school leader, I have my dream gig—an entrepreneur/educator/mom who helps families everywhere, including my own, learn outside. Prior to Tinkergarten®, I worked as an Elementary School Principal, a Math/Science Specialist & and a teacher in public and private schools in NY, MA and CA. I earned a BA with majors in English and Developmental Psychology at Amherst College, an MS in Educational Leadership at Bank Street College, and was trained to become a Forest School leader at Bridgwater College, UK. My worldview is formed in response to a my environment, culture, family, identity and experiences, and I love to learn from others. What I write in this blog will inevitably betray the blind spots I have as a result—we all have them! Please reach out if there are other perspectives or world views I could consider in anything I write about. I welcome the chance to learn and update any pieces to broaden our shared perspective!
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