Trick or treating for young children isn’t always practical. Cold or rainy weather, shy trick-or-treaters, difficult costumes to run around in, and non child-friendly neighborhoods can all ruin Halloween when trick-or-treating is the only event planned. A better idea for small children is a Halloween party for your little ghosts and goblins.
First, plan where your party will be held. Unlike glitzy birthday parties, Halloween parties can be held anywhere and everywhere. The best place for a young age group is an unfinished basement, but a garage or shed would work great, too. This way you can go crazy with some messy decorations, it’s still warm and safe, and clean-up is a breeze.
Second, Halloween invitations! This is your first chance to really set the mood and get your little guests excited. You can get many free printable invitations from the web, just google “free Halloween invitations”. Also, there are beautiful invitations at the store, but this is a party for your little monster and he or she will probably be happy to make homemade Halloween invitations with your help. The easiest invitations I’ve made for my small kids’ Halloween parties is to print off the details, time, place, RSVP, etc. on a piece of Halloween theme cardstock using a gothic or creepy font. My favorite fonts are Rapscallion, Faith Collapsing, and Cloister Black which you can find on Fontspace, a great site with free downloadable fonts. Then have your little ghoul go crazy decorating the invite with vampire, witch, or Frankenstein stickers. Some easy appliqués they can make are tissue paper ghosts, construction paper candy corn made from orange, yellow and white triangles, cats and bats made from black felt with google eyes, and witches brooms made from raffia. Tuck your homemade Halloween card into envelopes stuffed with candy for a little pre-holiday treat.
Third, Halloween Decorations! My number one tip for Halloween party decorations is plan ahead, a whole year ahead and get to the stores on November 1 when everything is 50-75% off. These big discounts can make some of the most expensive and extravagant items within reach. Don’t be afraid to drag out every Halloween decoration you have ever acquired in your life and put it out. Halloween is supposed to be tacky and garish, it’s the one time of year when it’s not only OK to be over-the-top, it’s encouraged.
Each Halloween party I hosted was in a barely used basement, so I could decorate much earlier than I otherwise would have been able to. Also, I could take liberties I couldn’t have if it was held in the living areas of my home. I hauled in hay bales, tied dried cornstalks around the poles in the basement and my little gremlins and I built life-size scarecrows. I wasn’t afraid of anything since I knew I could just grab a push broom the day after the party, maybe hose it down some, and everything would be fine. If your party isn’t held in such a forgiving location, do the best you can without the corn and hay, since vacuuming that up just isn’t worth the trouble.
Balloons are an inexpensive way to fill a lot of blank ceiling space. You can’t go wrong with basic black, but you can buy get orange, of course, or go all out with spider web or skull balloons. Black and orange streamers or garlands of ghosts or pumpkins are also nice. A good reasonably priced site to check out is Oriental Trading.
Pumpkins and decorative gourds are wonderful and easy, but since this is occasion is for small kids, don’t waste the time carving unless it’s something you love doing. It isn’t safe for young kids to carve pumpkins and its messy to scoop out the guts. A far easier alternative is to let your budding Rembrandts and Picassos paint them with no limits. They can make faces, pictures or random graphics. They can make them beautiful or ugly. Its their party, so let them design some of the decorations. My little girl made such pretty pumpkins festooned with pictures of smiling bats and cute little spiders glammed up with glitter, while my little boy made horribly disfigured monsters that made him laugh. Don’t get caught up in a rigid picture of what your party “should” look like, as they get older they’ll become their own worst critics. Right now, let them be kids and focus on fun.
Since I wanted the right mood set, but didn’t want it too dark, I hung every Christmas light I owned. When I was done, the effect was breathtaking and light enough that safety wouldn’t be an issue. Stay away from Halloween candles- the risk just isn’t worth it.
Move any furniture you have to far corners of the room if possible to maximize space. If you have white sheets or can borrow a bunch, drape them over every couch and chair you can. It gives the room an “abandoned” vibe and protects your upholstery from spills or Halloween costume paints and dyes. Cover any surface that isn’t too high-traffic with fake cobwebs. Arrange plastic spiders and creepy crawlies in some visible but not too obvious spots. If you’re good, you’ll be rewarded with a few squeamish guests getting a scare.
If you have any empty food or baby food jars, a fun project is to fill them with different substances like water with different food colorings and make witchy potion labels for them. If you have any white marbles paint an iris and pupil on them and drop them into a water filled jar labeled “pickled eyeballs”. Any inexpensive plastic or rubber toy animals can also work.
Music sets as much of the scene as your décor so check around for some great Halloween songs. You can get some great cheap CDs from discount and dollar stores or download some from the web. Some classics are the Addams Family theme song, Monster Mash, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and Ghostbusters.
Above all, remember if you have a choice between cute and scary, do cute. Even if your child is a brave thrill seeker who laughs in the face of fear, his or her little friends might not be. I’ll never forget the year Halloween was almost ruined because my husband showed up at the party wearing an alien costume and my nephew screamed and cried until my husband fled the scene yelling, “I’m sorry! It’s only me!” Then my nephew noticed a creepy witch decoration that spooked him and we had to hide it in the closet. An hour later, after many adjustments in the decorating scheme and the removal of several Halloween masks, he began to loosen up and have a good time. I learned my lesson and ever since, I saved scary for older kids.
Fourth, Halloween Games and Activities! This party will be for little Halloweeners so we don’t want to do anything too complicated. Bobbing for apples is great, although, it is terribly unhygienic. A good alternative is to hang apples from string. It’s just as difficult and your little goblins won’t be sharing germs and mucus in a tub of water. You can take any traditional party game and adapt it to fit your spooky Halloween theme. Instead of Hot Potato, use a miniature pumpkin for a game of Hot Pumpkin. Instead of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, do Pin the Tail on the Cat. You get the idea. The favorite game from my parties was the Candy Hunt. Just like an Easter Egg hunt, except we hid every type of candy imagineable, everywhere possible, turned off the lights and gave each little one a flashlight (make sure they are exactly the same, style, size and color, trust me, it will avoid all kinds of trouble) and set them loose to find the candy. This game was also great in the basement since no one fell down any stairs or knocked over anything I cared about. Another great activity is decorating cupcakes or cookies with candy pumpkins, candy corn, black cat sprinkles, gummy worms or anything else that would be in the Halloween theme. Activities and games are great, but try to avoid doing too much “crafts” – they do a lot of these types of projects at school and it can get old for them. Plus, any preschoolers attending might get frustrated or make a mess. Don’t forget that when children get together, they tend to make their own fun, so don’t over schedule.
Fifth, Halloween Treats! There are a million wonderful cute and creepy Halloween recipes out there, feel free to try out a few interesting ones, but it is so easy to adjust meals you’re already familiar with to a Halloween theme you don’t need to spend too much time and energy testing out new recipes.
Good old Pigs in a Blanket can be yummy mummies. Just use either refrigerated pizza dough or refrigerated crescent roll dough to wrap around either hot dogs for full size mummies or cocktail wieners for baby mummies. Use tiny dollops of mustard for the eyes, and you have a kid friendly treat. Mini pizzas can be turned into little Jack-o-lanterns by using ordinary toppings as decorations. Use peppers cut into jagged-toothed grins and pepperonis cut into triangle for eyes and noses. Make a variety of sandwiches and use Halloween cookie cutters to slice them into scary shapes. I always fill a crock pot with barbeque for all the moms and dads, also. The important part is to have a few things kids can partially fill their tummies with so they don’t overdo it on the sugary treats.
Use new, straight out of the package black pipe cleaners and black M&Ms to turn a cheese ball into a spooky spider. You can make it yourself or add the flourishes to a store bought one. Put it on a Halloween patterned plate with crackers and no one will know the difference. You can use a dab of frosting to stick Hershey’s Kisses onto fudge-striped shortbread cookies to make cute little witch hats.
The table presentation for all of the Halloween goodies is an important part of the Halloween décor. If you don’t have a Halloween theme tablecloth, you can use a black sheet or grayish gauze-type material that will look appropriately grubby. Black and orange flatware, paper plates and napkins are a must. You can make a pretty bouquet out of lollipop ghosts by having your little ones cover round suckers with tissue paper or white cloth, tie with orange or black ribbon, glue little google eyes on it and arrange them in a small flower pot decorated with spiders or webs. A nice edible Halloween centerpiece is a Graveyard cake. You can use your favorite cake recipe and use chocolate frosting with Oreo crumbs sprinkled on for a nice dirt-like effect. You can use gravestone shaped cutout sugar cookies if you’d like, but I prefer Pepperidge Milano cookies decorated with crosses and the usual little tombstone sayings like RIP. Some great decorations for your cemetery are candy pumpkins, miniature picket fences and trees you can find at Michael’s or a similar craft store, shredded coconut with green food coloring for grass, and too cute ghosts made from dollops of Cool Whip with mini-chocolate chip eyes. A local specialty store sells unusual sprinkles in all sorts of shapes, a great one being all leaves in red, orange and yellow and these look great scattered in the grave yard. Another great addition to your cake, or a stand alone center piece, is a haunted Halloween gingerbread house. Decorate it as you would a Christmas ginger bread house, but use black and orange candies. Find a recipe for an orange colored punch and leave gummy worms draped around the rim of the punch bowl.
Last, send all the little monsters home! Send them off with a goody bag, but don’t overdo the candy. Most children get so much Halloween candy a lot ends up in the garbage, and, even if they can eat it all, should they? Stick with two or three quality pieces of candy, like Reese’s Peanut Butter Pumpkins or giant black and orange lollies, avoid cheap, filler candy like jawbreakers, hard candy, and cheap gum. Then stuff the rest of their treat bags with Halloween novelties like eyeball bouncy balls, glowsticks, tattoos, bubbles, and fake vampire fangs. Take lots of pictures at your Halloween party of all your little costumed guests and if you have a minute during the party and a photo quality printer add some snapshots to their loot bags, too, for a memento that will last a lot longer than any treat.