Dogs in Ghost Costumes Next to a Jack-o-Lantern

Ten Ideas for a Quiet, Fun Halloween at Home

For many of us, this Halloween is an unusual one. We'll have to celebrate it differently than we normally night choose to. A global pandemic means that trick-or-treating and Halloween parties are not an option, at least in many parts of the country and the world. However, the absence of normalcy from so many of our lives means that many of us are wishing more than ever for a traditional, candy-filled, party-filled, boisterous, sugary Halloween. Something familiar and fun.

But what if we saw this as an opportunity for a different, but still magical, kind of Halloween? Something simple and satisfying and full of both fun and introspection.

Here are a few last-minute ideas to make a new kind of celebration with your household, perhaps just for this year, or perhaps as something you’ll choose, regardless of the circumstances!

For me, these ten steps are the recipe for a perfect Halloween. I hope you'll enjoy them, too.

1. Pumpkin Games

Did you know that decorating pumpkins is just the beginning? Here are two ways you might play a household game with your pumpkins, but I’m sure that once you get started, you can come up with even more games!

Pumpkin Ring Toss

This is lots of fun with about 10 pumpkins, but it works with any number. Clump all your pumpkins together as closely as you can, then take the rings from mason jar lids (or shower curtain rings, if you’re up for putting the shower curtain back on later!) and see who can toss them onto the pumpkin’s stems! Give each person three tosses in a row, then pass to the next person.

You can turn this into a math game by giving each pumpkin a number value and tallying up your score. For young learners, I like to give the pumpkins values in counting order (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.), but make it challenging by using higher number values (345, 621, 897, etc.). Two rings on one pumpkin can either double to square or increase its value by a power of two! Match the math to your family’s needs!

Pumpkin Relay

Divide into teams (or have each person be their own team) and see who can walk the furthest with a pumpkin on their head, who can stack the pumpkins the highest without them falling down. Even better, create an obstacle course with your pumpkins and have fun bobbing and weaving between them. If you’re going to create a quiet, contemplative evening, you have to have an energetic activity first!

2. Pumpkin Science

A favorite experiment of science teachers everywhere is often called “Elephant Toothpaste”. It illustrates chemical reactions in a safe and explosive way…. and it’s a great way to make your poor little pumpkin look quite sick. Considering pairing this with a story about a child who ate too much Halloween candy?

Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Carve a pumpkin however you’d like!
  2. Add ½ cup of hydrogen peroxide solution (30% Hydrogren Peroxide works best) into a mug. If you have one, use a beaker!
  3. If you’d like, add a few drops of food coloring to the mixture .
  4. Add 1 tablespoon of liquid dish soap to the mug and swirl it around to mix all the ingredients together.
  5. Remove the top of the pumpkin and carefully place the mug inside.
  6. In a separate mug, combine warm (not too hot!) water and yeast for 30 seconds.
  7. Pour the yeast solution into the mug that is inside the pumpkin.
  8. Put the top on the pumpkin as quickly as you can!
  9. Observe what happens! What evidence do you see of a chemical reaction? Write down what you see and discuss it as a family. What do you notice? What did the reaction remind you of? What do you wonder about it?

If age-appropriate, research and discuss the formal requirements for a chemical reaction, find other examples of chemical reactions, and learn about chemical formulas. I’ve taught this experiment in a middle school setting, but there are valuable insights for preschool- through highschool-aged scientists.

3. “Double Pie Day”

Last year, we started what I sincerely hope will be a long-standing tradition of celebrating Halloween as “Double Pie Day” for dinner. We made vegetarian pot pie and an apple pie, the ultimate combination of comfort foods and Fall treats. It was so delicious and such an indulgence that we’ve talked about it all year! If the idea double pie day doesn’t thrill you, find something to cook as a family that does! Perhaps our ghostly bananas?

4. Halloween Story Time

As you head into evening time, begin to tell Halloween stories. You can start with our hobgoblin story for a fun, not-so-spooky tale of a little prankster who is deterred by jack-o’-lanterns. We also have a list of great, modern Halloween stories for all ages. You can check them out from your local library (either in person or via a digital library app), support a local bookstore, or, in many cases, hear them read aloud by teachers on YouTube.

Project Gutenberg is another great source of free-to-access Halloween stories. All their publications are in the public domain, so you may always download or print them without charge! Of course, being in the public domain means that these stories are at least 100 years old and might reflect different values than your family holds today. They are great to read and discuss, sometimes for that very reason. For families with younger children, we recommend reading from the Topaz Story Book and for older families, try some creepy tales from Poe or Kafka.

Before telling (or listening) to your stories, set up a cozy and special “listening space” by spreading out a blanket, turning off all the lights, and lighting a few candles.

5. Halloween Ghost Hunt

What is more fun than hunting for treasure? In this case, the treasure is filled with treats! Make our simple Napkin Ghosts and bury a treasure-- we recommend using and apple for large napkins or nuts for small napkins, but maybe this is your opportunity to add the usual Halloween candy into this year’s celebration. When you’ve made your ghosts, send all the children (and other adults, if they want to ghost hunt, too) away to another room or on an errand, and spread your little ghosts throughout your home or an outside area. When you are finished, call them back out and let the hunt begin!

6. Halloween At-Home Costume Challenge

If you have paints, old clothes, and cardboard available, have a costume challenge! Lay out the materials (perhaps even limit materials to four items per person add to the challenge), have each person gather their materials, then go to their separate spaces to design their costume. Set a timer for 30 minutes and see what each person can create in that time! Have a fashion show of the designs you come up with! If time allows, make another costume!

7. Halloween Songs and Virtual “Caroling”

Halloween songs may not be something you are familiar with, but we’ve come up with a great compilation of them! Don’t songs make every celebration better? Listen to the songs and sing the ones you like best as a family.

When you know a few songs, video call your family and friends to share your Halloween “carols”! It will brighten everyone’s spirits.

8. Halloween Sharing Circle

This year has been full of plenty of scary things. Turn off the lights and sit your household down in a circle, with a jack-o-lantern at the center. Choose a “talking piece” (perhaps a tiny pumpkin or a special stone or even a candy wrapper) and agree that each person will only share when they are holding the talking piece, that each person will listen to the others attentively, and that each person will be thoughtful in their sharing (being thorough without taking too much time so that everyone in the circle can be heard). Consider starting with a song, then asking a question for each person to answer. I would choose two or three questions, but you might choose fewer or more depending on your household’s attention span! This can also transition into story time beautifully.

Here are some example questions, ranging from silly to serious:

  • Which kind of halloween decorations do you like best: scary or silly? Why?
  • What is your favorite Halloween memory?
  • What is your favorite Halloween treat?
  • Would you rather visit a haunted house or a corn maze? Why?
  • If you could trick-or-treat anywhere in the world, where would you go? Why?
  • If you could design a spooky surprise for someone on Halloween, what would it be?
  • If you could design any costume for yourself next year, what would it look like?
  • Is there anything you don’t like about Halloween?
  • What makes you feel afraid?
  • How do you help yourself feel better when you get scared?

9. Remembrance

Inspired by Día de los Muertos, take the opportunity to remember those you love who have died and to share their stories. Perhaps your family traditionally celebrates Día de los Muertos, or perhaps you would like to learn more. We recommend these wonderful books to enhance your celebration, but we also recommend that if this holiday isn’t part of your culture, that you honor the spirit of it without fully recreating it.

How can you honor your ancestors and loved ones? Share photos and stories, make their favorite treats, sing their favorite songs, write them letters and burn them in your pumpkin, whatever feels right to your family. Tonight is a wonderful time to remember and to share the love that you feel for them with others.

10. Full Moon Gazing

Tonight, we have our second full moon of October! A full moon on Halloween is very special (as is having two full moons in one month!), so take some time as a family to gaze at the moon. Read about the phases of the moon and think of fun rituals to begin as a family to celebrate the full moon. Consider leaving a treat outside your window for the fairies, and consider leaving a glass of water to absorb the moonlight. Make a wish over the water and drink it the next day. Who knows? Your wish might come true!

What other quiet rituals does your family have (or do you want to create) for Halloween? We’d love to hear from you?