Dr Josephine Bleach, Director of the Early Learning Initiative at National College of Ireland
This year will bring a different Hallowe’en. Parties will not be possible in a time of social distancing, nor trick-or-treating sensible when the best health advice is to limit contact with unfamiliar households. However, children can still have a spook-tacular time!
Many Hallowe’en activities and games are not just fun, but also demand a level of communication, coordination and engagement that make them educational too. Below, you’ll find some activities that don’t require a lot of space and can be played with very simple props. In the Government’s plan for living with Covid-19, while we are at Level 3, two households may meet up to socialise. Band together with a neighbouring family, to support each other in providing amusement for your children.
Using large plastic bags as a base; raid the recycling bin and encourage your children to make their own Hallowe’en costumes. Cereal boxes can be used to make masks and witches hats; add tinfoil to make robots; take some old sheets and cut a couple of slits for eyes and you have a ghost; buy some face paints, and practice making the scariest faces before the big night. Old tights or leggings and a matching T-shirt, leotard or sweatshirt can be the basis of a great animal costume. Make a tail by stuffing old stockings with newspaper. Use cardboard cut into triangles and attached to a plastic hair band for ears. Add whiskers, spots and even fangs using face paints, to complete the animal look.
Let loose your resourcefulness and your children’s imagination to make all kinds of crazy, junk monster and animal costumes. It is a practical example for your children of how they can recycle and reuse materials, as well as being lots of fun.
Decorations around the house, inside and outside, are a great way to get everyone caught up in the Hallowe’en mood. Get really crafty and eerie this year, by making your own decorations. There are lots of easy things you can do. Make cut-outs of spooky hand or finger paintings and hang them around the room or on the windows. Lollipop sticks and cereal boxes can be used to create shadow puppets of ghosts or witches. Create pictures of fireworks using different colour chalk on black sugar paper. Dress up teddies or dolls as witches, ghosts and monsters, or make some scary junk scarecrows to lurk in corners. Add spider and cobwebs and other gruesome features to make everything really terrifying. Decorating your home will help create the spirit of Hallowe’en, not just for you, but for your whole community.
Fill a few bowls with things that feel slimy and gross; like jelly, ice cubes, wet leaves, cold spaghetti and shaving foam - even bits of fur from coat hoods. Either cover each bowl with a tea towel or use blindfolds, so children can’t see what is inside. Let everyone wash their hands and then, with clean hands, try to guess what is in each bowl. Be sure to have prepared a bloodcurdling name for each bowl, like Monster’s Guts or Mummy’s Eyeballs, to start the children off in thinking what each thing could be.
Set up a Ghost Hunt by hiding paper ghosts around the room and seeing how many each child can find. Alternatively, hide pieces of paper skeleton and see how many full skeletons players can make from the ‘bones’ they find. There is great distraction to be had in making the raw materials for this game before ever it starts, and your children could help you think up your own version of the game - for example, help the witch find her hat, cauldron, wand, cat and broom stick.
Bobbing for apples is a traditional Irish Hallowe’en game. Do this on a floor that can be easily mopped or put an old towel down on your carpet. Fill a basin with water – place it on a chair, low enough so smaller people can reach and taller people can kneel. Float some apples in the water. Each player must remove an apple from the water using only their mouth – hands must be kept firmly behind the player’s back!
There will be splashing! So have some more towels ready for mop-up. This game is a great equaliser – being an adult or being a young child doesn’t really help when you are working against apple-buoyancy!
In these times of extra hygiene, changing the water and apples between households is recommended. This can be neatly done by starting with the grown-ups from one family, sandwiching the children in the middle, with fresh supplies substituted as the households switch, ending with the grown-ups from the other household. Younger children learn the game from those who go first, and the last people to look silly are big people. Your other option is use one bowl per participant. You can bring in a handicap system with a mix of large, medium and small bowls, to suit all ages and abilities.
Depending on the age of the children, each player can take the apple they successfully bobbed for, take a good knife. and attempt to peel the fruit in one go: a single, long, curling appleskin. If some children are too young for knives, this game could just be for the adults or teens, with the children cheering on. It’s harder than you think!
Tell your children the old belief that if you peeled an apple in one go and threw the peel over your shoulder, it would show you the letter of the first name of the person you would fall in love with. Throw the peel and see how it lands and try to see a letter. What else can your children imagine from the shape of the peel?
Two’s company, Zoom’s a crowd
If we move to Level 4 or higher in the weeks before Hallowe’en, we may not be able to share our fun with another household. Most of the activities and games above can be adjusted so that you can still make very special memories together, whether you are in a gathering of 12 or a family of two. This more traditional kind of Hallowe’en is a chance to spend quality time with children; talk to them, listen to them, laugh with them. It may be that Hallowe’en lets them say things they feel or fear about Covid-19, and this is your chance to hear their concerns and assure them that we are all doing our best to protect others and stay safe and well ourselves.
You can also set up fun Zoom or WhatsApp video calls with faraway friends and relatives. Display your homemade decorations and costumes, and see what was made in other home; hear tales of Hallowe’en traditions in other places or learn how Hallowe’en was celebrated in the past; best of all, dim the lights and, with candles or torches to throw strange shadows, share scary stories. Some grandparents, aunts or uncles may even have a ‘real’ ghost story to tell!
No trick, no treat, still fun, still sweet
Some children who are used to going trick-or-treating may feel disappointed this year, missing the indulgence of surprise candy, but you can still do a thrilling adventure trail through the neighbouring roads after dark. Instead of calling door-to-door, you can look at all the decorations in the windows and gardens.
First, get your child to tell you different kinds of Hallowe’en decorations they expect to see and make a list: spiders, cobwebs, witches, skeletons, pumpkins… They may draw each item, or they may write the word for it or, if they are very young, you may make the list for them, or draw the items for them to colour. Then, dress up for the weather and, as you take an evening walk around the streets near you, get your child to count each item they see from their list and note it down.
This is the exciting bit! Instead of stocking up as you usually would for other trick-or-treaters visiting you, keep a stash of goodies ready to give to your children when you reach home and go through their list: 10 spiders could equal ten lollipops; 5 witches could mean they get five Freddo bars; and so on. Don’t tell them before you go for your walk that they will get something sweet for each item they have counted – your little trick will be their treat!
Include some healthy treats – like six strawberries for spotting 6 pumpkins - and ration the candy and chocolate to last over the coming weeks, as too much sugar is not good for tummies, teeth or tempers. Store their Hallowe’en haul in a separate container that only they may open, so that they still feel in charge and develop their own sense of responsibility.