Make Halloween Fun, Not Frightening!
By Rebecca Parlakian for PBS.org
Halloween can be a tough time to be a preschooler. Often it’s hard to tell what children will find too scary about the holiday. Once in my son’s preschool class, a father brought dry ice to make the fruit punch a little spooky and the whole table of four-year-olds started sobbing when they saw the “smoke.”
There’s a lot that can make Halloween (and all the days leading up to it) a little scary for under-fives. A child’s temperament — or his way of experiencing the world — can also influence whether he sees Dracula as a super scary monster or a potential new pal. Here’s how:
- His openness to new people and experiences shape his willingness to try new activities, like riding hayrides and wearing costumes.
- His social preferences — whether he is more outgoing or slow-to-warm-up — mean saying “trick or treat” to strangers can either be a ton of fun or just plain terrifying.
- His sensitivity to physical sensations will predict whether he finds pulling the guts out of a pumpkin awesome or awful. The first time my son put his hand inside a pumpkin, he immediately yanked it out and sprayed the wall with a handful of pumpkin seeds!
So if your preschooler is a little unsure about joining in the Halloween festivities, here are some fun ideas to help your child explore all of his senses and make the month of October not (even slightly) scary.
Act out Halloween stories. Preschoolers are able to take on roles and can imagine how characters feel and behave. Pretend play puts children in control of the story, which means they don’t get scared or spooked. Share stories (like The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams or Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson) and then act them out together. You can also act out the stories using simple puppets made from socks, paper bags, or cut-outs glued to popsicle sticks.
Create fall art. Go out for a nature walk and collect fall treasures, such as autumn leaves, sticks, acorns and pinecones. Add to the fun by adding some dried pumpkin seeds from pumpkin carving. Using a big piece of paper and glue, make a Halloween texture collage to capture the beautiful changes happening all season long.
Play a baby bat matching game. Did you know that mother bats find their babies by using a combination of special sounds and by recognizing their baby’s unique scent? Have your child test his “mama bat sense” by creating a scent-matching game. Find three or four objects with strong smells, such as pickles, your child’s shampoo, orange peel, bananas, or coffee grounds. For each smell, place small amounts in two separate cups or jars (two of pickles, two of shampoo, etc.) Place the jars in two rows. Have your child close his eyes and try to match up “baby” and “mama.”
Make pumpkin spice play dough. Take orange play dough (or make your own) and knead in small shakes of cinnamon, nutmeg and ground cloves until it smells like pumpkin spice. Use cookie cutters (plus the leftover “treasures” from your fall art project above) to roll, shape and decorate play-dough creations. Recipe by Caroline Gravino:
Try pumpkin bowling. Line up empty plastic bottles in a V formation outside and try rolling a pumpkin to knock them down. If you want to make it a little noisier, add some dry rice or a few small bells to each bottle. Pumpkins don’t roll evenly so this game gets silly pretty quickly!
Play and create with ghost painting. Spray “ghost paint” — foamy shaving cream — onto a plate. Using a paintbrush (or little fingers), create spooky pictures on a window or a large piece of black paper.
Play a Halloween memory game. Print two copies each of six different Halloween pictures (for a mix of witches, black cats, bats, etc.) Tape each picture to an index card so that you have six pairs total. Lay out the cards face-down and take turns lifting two at a time. Whoever matches the most pairs wins!
Explore gorgeous gourds. Collect a group of gourds of different sizes, shapes and colors. Explore the look and feel of each one with your child. Try different ways of sorting, such as by size, color, texture (bumpy vs. smooth) or shape.
Create a Halloween sensory bin. Pour about an inch of dried rice into a small plastic bin. Add Halloween trinkets (small plastic pumpkins and spiders, acorns, etc.), along with a child-safe set of tweezers, scoops and spoons. See if your child can use the tweezers or spoon to scoop out spooky treasures! Spin a spooky spider web. Make your own spider web by stretching painter’s tape across a doorway in a cobweb-like pattern, with the sticky side of the tape facing out. Give your child pieces of newspaper to wad up in a ball (to be the “fly”). Have him throw it into the web and watch it get stuck, just like a fly in a spider’s web.
There will be plenty of time for children to embrace the scary side of Halloween. For now, take time to enjoy all that makes the fall special—the sights, sounds and scents of the season—with your preschooler.
Courtesy of PBS.org