Photo: Aubrey Hardwick

Have you ever found yourself on the wrong side of the street during the West Village Halloween parade? Or perhaps while at your favorite Brooklyn block party you’ve been swept away from your family and carried off on the tide of masked trick-or-treating tweens? Or maybe you’ve experienced that dread-of-doling-out-candy-to-your-kids-while-they-whine for more?

I sure have.  

I don’t mean to sound like a Halloween Grinch. In theory I adore Halloween: Kids dressing up, embracing their fantastical side, their superhero-powers, practicing their courage…it’s like everything I love in one holiday! That said the actual day can be a bit of a challenge!

My trick for having a great Halloween season is to get into the spirit really, really early…and from the comfort of my living room. I play theater games with my son and his friends when they are in costume. That’s my Halloween Happy Place. So, if trick-or-treating proves to be anti-climactic or totally stressful, I still have ample opportunity for sweetness, bonding and holiday-memory-making on my own terms, regardless of my ability to manage sugar crashes.

Here are a few game suggestions that get kids (and me!) into the Halloween mood. You can play them on the day-of to get into character before you hit the streets, or even weeks before to just get in the Halloween mood. These are inspired by the work we do with Child’s Play NY and my own experience in the beautiful trenches of motherhood.  

Create A Halloween Obstacle Course

Obstacle-courses are a great way to get the creative juices flowing. Kids can explore an array of wild Halloween characters as they pass through each part of the course.  You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment – use whatever you have on hand. My favorite tools are painters tape to mark out ex-s or circles, pillows and yoga mats. For added fun you can blow up balloons, or use balls or even hula hoops. Find compelling action verbs that pair with the Halloween characters of your kids’ choice like: frog-hops, ghoul-waltzes, bat-flaps, zombie-walks, witch-soars, dragon-flights, ninja-kicks, ghost-twirls. Turn on music of course. Halloween playlists with Monster Mash and Ghostbusters are always great, but if your child’s character has a particular anthem (ahemm, Elsa?) then of course throw that into the mix.  Do it with your kids as a workout and you can absolutely skip the gym and enjoy their Trick-or-Treating stash too! When they do the obstacle course in character, you’ll find that your child is able to embrace new physical challenges and likely will have more stamina than if they were just being themselves.

Take a Ride on the “Boo!” Bus

A fantastic way for kids to make sense of their world is through dramatic play. Use experiences that they encounter every day – like a bus ride – and turn it into a game. The “bus” can be a couple of chairs or just some pillows placed on your sofa. Place yourself in the game by being the “driver” of the bus and invite them – in character – to come in. For the Halloween-twist, you can be a spooky ghoul or a silly character that they would find in their world. For example, if your daughter is dressing like Alice, maybe you are the White Rabbit Bus Driver. You can also change up the bus for Battlestar or a Chariot-né-Pumpkin when appropriate.   

Ask them 1) where they are going and 2) why they need to get there 3) have them give you a special payment at the end of their trip. Encourage the drama by asking, “Why now?  Why do you need to get to the ______, now?”  which will raise the stakes and help them make strong and exciting choices.  This “scaffolding” of their play enriches their games and helps them get to new levels of articulation and executive functioning skills.

Travel in a Magical Elevator through a Haunted House

Create a “haunted house elevator” in your own living room. Set the boundary of the elevator with chairs or masking tape on the floor. Decide on the rooms that the elevator will go to: the spooky attic, the creepy kitchen, the magical garden. Let them customize their ride by pressing the buttons (what sounds do they make?), feeling the elevator go up, down, sideways and even backwards. When the doors open on a floor, cue the music and get on out and explore that land! Give yourself a mission on each floor (rescue the baby animals in the barn, sneak glue into the kitchen stew, hunt for the lightsabers in the attic), and when the task is complete head back into the elevator and journey to another floor. Your kids will love going on these mythical quests and will appreciate the elevator as a familiar and fun home base for their Halloween adventures.

Play these games to get into the spirit of the Halloween holiday. No sugar crash necessary!

For more video tutorials on our favorite theater games to play at home, visit Child’s Play in Action You Tube Channel