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Stressed about Halloween? Think like a kid

We 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 new ways to celebrate Halloween during a pandemic.

Stressed about Halloween? Think like a kid
crystalmariesing/Twenty20

As you might have heard by now, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have advised against trick-or-treating on Halloween in favor of lower risk Halloween activities. But even before that, articles about Halloween and COVID were popping up in news feeds, as Halloween meccas like Salem, Massachusetts and Sleepy Hollow, New York faced a diminished Halloween celebration. Major cities are starting to cancel annual Halloween plans, with Los Angeles County alerting its 10 million residents that trick or treating is off.

For many of the estimated 172 million of us who celebrate Halloween, this year will not be the same. It's not great news, especially, if you have Halloween-aged kids. As parents, we only get a certain number of annual tickets in the front row seat to our kiddos' Halloween joy.

We're allowed to be bummed out—for a minute. Then, we really just ought to think like kids.

During times like these kids are simply better at adapting than we are because they tend to focus far less on the loss of what is "ideal." Our adult brains have a better sense of time, so we carry with us all of the things we've lost out in in this pandemic, and kids really just live in the moment.

So, we decided to take our Halloween cues from them. We 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 new ways to celebrate Halloween during a pandemic.

Here's how we can deliver on the parts of Halloween that truly matter to kids—even in the year of COVID!


Celebrate the Halloween season (not just one day)

According to kids, many of the things they love about Halloween are not directly related to trick-or-treating, large-scale events, or even October 31 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 decorating, pumpkin picking, sitting by the fire pit, carving Jack-o-lanterns, making Halloween brew and doing a costume hike with friends. Just making the list is joyful, and we'll keep adding to it, building the anticipation, as Halloweek approaches. (The Tinkergarten team is so inspired that we've developed Halloweek activity plans for different ages that we'll share with families in October.)

Lean in to the costumes and pretend play

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!"

Our advice? 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.


From the Motherly Halloween Shop

From easy costumes, to spirited decor we've got you covered.

Make time for 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 Halloween holiday...or Halloweek!

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!

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

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.

Have special Halloween storytimes: Want to kick off with a story? Read Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson

Rethink parades and gatherings

One thing that several older kids mentioned was missing school events and the chance to see all of the costumes other kids were 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 the 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.

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!).

Serve up 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?

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. 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.

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

This post was originally published on Tinkergarten.

Founder, Tinkergarten
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