'Get Into the Spirit' Halloween Party

It's almost Halloween. You can't think of a meal to make, a decoration to hang, or a game to play that hasn't been a Halloween standard since 1952, but you've promised your little pumpkins a party that'll bring the house down.

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Now you're lying awake each night before the big day, envisioning just that -- a half-dozen sugar-charged children, bored out of their gourds, and armed with plastic swords and pitchforks, smashing your home to smithereens.

Scared? Don't sell your soul for a party planner just yet. We've got dozens of fresh ideas for Halloween treats, crafts, and games, so any parent pressed for time can pull off a party with ease.

We'll show you how to keep your goblin guests entertained and how to make your young hosts the hit of the holiday with themed parties that are bound to be fun.

No matter what theme you choose, in costume or out, you'll bear an uncanny resemblance to a bewitching wizard if you keep these simple party tricks up your sleeve:
  • For maximum fun and minimal chaos, let the age of your child determine the number of guests to be invited. For example, if your goblin is seven, invite seven of his closest ghostly chums. If you have several children, let them each invite a few friends, but make sure you have plenty of adult and teenage helpers. You want to enjoy the party also.

  • Send out invitations two weeks in advance, and request RSVPs within the week. Like costumes, Halloween parties are far less painful when they are sized to fit: think menu, craft, and game supplies.

  • Even a small party can overwhelm very young children. Keep them smiling by inviting a parent to accompany each of your young guests. Just remember to make up a "parent platter" so there's enough food for everyone -- and food the adults will find appealing.

    Block off doors that are off-limits to keep kids safe when throwing a Halloween party.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Block off doors that are off-limits
    to keep kids safe.

  • Nighttime isn't the only time for a Halloween party. Afternoon parties offer the outdoor advantage -- less pre- and post-party cleanup, more activity options, and lots of room for the kids to scream, giggle, and get silly. Be sure to specify warm clothes and/or play clothes in the invitation if the kids will be spending any time outside.

  • Whether the party is indoors or out, keep kids safe and on the right track by closing doors to rooms and spaces that are off-limits. No door? No problem. Hang crisscrossed streamers, caution tape, or signs that warn, "Beware: Haunted" across no-enter zones. For added security and fun, cut monster footprints from cardboard leading from party room to party room. Don't forget the path to the bathroom.

  • Keep food, games, and emergency cleanup and craft supplies at the ready to avoid lulls during the party. Organization and preplanning are key to a successful party: You want to keep that energetic group of goblins grinning.
"Get Into the Spirit" Party

If you're spooked at the prospect of scaring up a child's Halloween party all by your lonesome, you should be. Like any other holiday, Halloween is best celebrated when it's shared. So make a party planning date with your little monsters. Over this feast of festive eats and spooky craft treats your family can plan the Halloween party of your dreams.

Serve soup from a scary cauldron to set the mood for a Halloween party.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Serve soup from a scary
cauldron to set the mood.

You don't need a server named Lurch to set a spooky dinner scene. Since it's just your own family, dim the lights and break out a couple of tapered candles or -- if you've got one handy -- a candelabra. Switch on some Halloween tunes, and don a black dress, veil, or cape. Speak like a vampire from Transylvania if you can. Your kids will love the fuss.

Heads on a Platter

Putting your heads together to discuss decorating is fun, but while you're talking, why not get "a head" of the game by making some nasty noggins for the party? These shrunken heads are inexpensive and easy to make, and they can be made up to two weeks before the party.

Preheat your oven to 150
°F. Using apples, potatoes, beets, or rutabagas (with the stems and leaves cut off), have your children carve out eye and mouth shapes using a spoon or, with your help, a butter knife. The cuts should go about 1/2 inch wide and deep to ensure the head's "melted" facial appearance. When you're finished carving, set the heads on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil and slip them into the oven overnight.

For a creepier effect, place shrunken heads around the house.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
For a creepier effect, place
shrunken heads around the house.

These shrunken heads are a perfect centerpiece for your Halloween party.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
These shrunken heads are a perfect
centerpiece for your Halloween party.


When the heads have cooled, place them on a platter for a table centerpiece. If you'd like something wackier for your party, screw them on bamboo skewers and place them in houseplants, atop decapitated doll bodies, or even on a scarecrow's neck. To get really creepy, make hovering heads by skipping the bamboo skewers and stringing a needle and fishing line through the center of the head from bottom to top. Cut the line to the desired loop length, make a knot, and hang heads from the ceiling out of reach of your guests.


Keeper of the Days

As the day of the party approaches, it's likely the question "How many more days?" will be a constant refrain. Give your ears a break by creating a haunted house calendar in the weeks before the party.

Haunted house.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Haunted house.

To make, glue black or gray construction paper (or a brown grocery sack) to the front and back of a leftover cereal box. When the glue has dried, cut down the center of the sides and top and bottom of the box, making sure the front and back of the box have roughly the same depth.

Use a craft knife (adult use only) or scissors to cut a number of different-shaped doors and shuttered windows into the front, sides, and back of the box. You'll need enough windows and doors as the number of days until the party. Glue a sheet of light-colored construction paper to the inside of all the windows and doors. When you're finished, fold each door and shutter open and bring the front and back of the box back together, sliding the boxes together like a gift box. Have your child place Halloween stickers, homemade spooky drawings, or seasonal cutouts from magazines in the spaces.

Seal the box sides with tape or glue. Shut all the doors and shutters, and give each a number corresponding to the party countdown (either the date or the number of days until the party). Decorate the outside of the haunted house.

Haunted Hint!
Glue on real sticks, grass (or Easter grass), and pebbles for trees, greenery, and cobblestones. Use empty toilet paper rolls for turrets and towers.

High Spirits

Create a Halloween mobile for your kids to enjoy all month long.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Create a Halloween mobile
for your kids to enjoy all month long.

Your little ghoul or boy is certain to have sweet dreams before the big day, but why wait until sleep takes over? Let a ghost mobile lull him or her to la-la land every night. Kids will love molding spooky shapes -- think ghosts, witches, moons, stars, and bats -- from homemade clay.

In a small pot, bring the water to a boil. Remove pan from heat, and stir in salt. In a large heat-proof bowl, mix flours together. Slowly stir in hot saltwater. Knead resulting dough on a flour-covered surface.

When dough is soft and pliable, kids can mold signature shapes or they can use cookie cutters. When finished, use a toothpick to make a small hole just above the center of each dough piece, and then bake the pieces on a cookie sheet at 250
°F for 2 to 3 hours. Peek in on the pieces every 30 minutes after the first hour of baking to be sure they're baking evenly. Let shapes cool, and then decorate the pieces with paint, markers, and glitter. A clear acrylic spray finishes the job.

Once dry, string fishing line or string through the pieces and attach them at varying lengths to 2 hooked-together wire coat hangers. Hang the mobile from a hook in the ceiling. Balance the weights, kick up some wind, then kick back with your creative kid to watch the mobile spin.

A second party idea is the "Who's Afraid of the Dark?" themed party. Learn how to throw this informal gathering in the next section.