Party Planning for Halloween
Throwing a Halloween party – or any party – for a group of preteenagers proves challenging. They're easily bored, quick to complain and desperate to look cool.
So what's a parent to do?
Keep it simple and recruit help, says Sharron Werlin Krull, author of That Was the Best Party Ever!
"Get your kids involved at every level," Krull says. "Have them do the planning, the shopping and the hosting along with you. Encourage them to develop games and activities. But if what they choose is inappropriate, you need to say something like, 'No, firecrackers won't work here.'"
Parties are not marathons, Krull says. Adults and kids can get tired if the festivities run too long. Plan on entertaining for two hours, playing two or three games and serving basic foods built around your theme. Make party boundary lines clear, keeping the kids in the house, in the backyard or in a certain area of a park.
Also decide how you will handle negative behavior. "[Preteenagers] love to test authority," Krull says. "You may have a child that refuses to do an activity or who objects to how you play the game. Give them choices. Say, 'This is how we are doing it here. You can be in the audience or you can join in.'"
Set the Mood
Create a spooky atmosphere with props such as fake eyeballs floating in the punch or skeleton hands sticking out of the cake. Play games like "Fling the Foot," which is similar to baseball, except instead of hitting a ball, the "batter" throws a fake body part before running the bases.
The grosser, the better, Krull says, when planning for 10- to 12-year-olds. Children this age enjoy the creepy play, without taking it too seriously.
Give new names to familiar foods. Shoestring potatoes become "bat bones," red punch becomes "vampire's blood." Even utensils can take on new identities such as witch's broom (fork), gravedigger (spoon) and Jack's ripper (knife), says Mary Ann Ross, owner of The Party Works in Chewelah, Wash.
"Guests order from a menu, and the food must be out of sight, either in a partition or another room," Ross says. "If they don't order a utensil – for instance, a witch's broom – then they eat with their fingers. We suggest a lot of finger foods and snacks. Kids love to munch and will do so the entire party."
Get the kids moving to music, using songs like "Monster Mash." If you tie a balloon to each one's ankle you can turn this into a game.
"Each guest will drop their balloon to the floor, and during the song, they try to mash the others' balloons. The last one left with a filled balloon wins," Ross says.
Scavenger hunts are also popular. Kids can search for items around the party area or – if you feel adventurous – you can send them out into the neighborhood with adult partners. The child carries the list of sought-after items and serves as navigator while the adult does the driving.
"Choose things like 'Find a man eating pizza' or 'Go to a cemetery and make a gravestone rubbing,'" Krull says. "The adult partners document the activities using a Polaroid camera. It puts the element of fun in it for everyone and builds a sense of community. By the time we're done, the kids really know their town."
Preteenagers are a self-conscious group and, as party host, it's your job to watch for wallflowers and encourage their participation. Beware of cliques and supervise the creation of teams when playing games.
Above all, strive for participation, not competition. "We are a competitive society already, and I don't think we need to carry that over into parties," Krull says. "Just play the nine innings or find all the objects and make sure that every child gets a prize."
Encourage adults to join the fun, too, as this allows them to have a good time while supplying you with added help.
Parent participation is the key ingredient in Marie Cochran's party strategy. For five years, Cochran has organized Halloween parties for 100 Cub Scouts and their siblings in Lake Arrowhead, Calif. "Our parents work together and each one is responsible for creating and running a game booth," Cochran says. "They love it, because they don't have to worry if the candy's safe, and they don't have to worry about the kids being out on the street."
Cochran also recruits the children's help with the Scout's annual haunted house. "The older boys play roles, and they like to surprise the younger kids," she says.
A Night of No Fright
If you want the spirited, but not the spooky element of Halloween, you can focus on an autumn or "fall festival" theme, says Ross. Decorate with pumpkins, Indian corn and candles. Keep costumes friendly, not freaky, and remove the "gross factor" from your food and games.
"You can arrange a 'Do-Goody' scavenger hunt or plan an event that lets the children help out a local food bank or church," Ross says.
Instead of playing "Fling the Foot," you can "Chuck the Chicken," substituting a rubber chicken for the fake body part, says Krull.
Jessica Auclair, a mother of four from Crestline, Calif., employs an autumn theme for her family. She adorns her home with pinecones, candles, colored leaves and pumpkins. For festivities, she looks no further than her church.
"We go to our church because it offers safe, wholesome, alternative fun. It's more of a community gathering than just getting candy," she says. "The kids get to make new friends, and we meet a lot of new people."
Whether your goal is spooky or spirited, applying the above tips will guarantee your children a party that neither they nor their friends will soon forget. Planned just right, you may have fun, too!