Halloween Special: Childrens' Party Ideas

by Louise Wulf


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Hi Louise,
Could you offer any suggestions as to party bag favors for kids (boys and girls) ages 2 to 7? I am tired of spending $6-$8 a bag per kid on stuff that eventually breaks or is a total waste of money. I have thought of vouchers to the movies , Putt Putt or pizza/game places, books (but not all like to read UNfortunately), and for the real little party go-ers, small toys.....HELP! She is just 7 and I still have 2 more behind her to plan parties for the rest of my natural life! Oh if it helps, my oldest is a Halloween baby (next party planned)
L C Jones

Dear LC,
Thousands of parents share your heartburn! My suggestion is to ditch the take-home bag of sugar and plastic, for the very reasons you point out. How about replacing them with "make and take" arts and crafts sorts of things that provide hands-on real life experiences, encourage imagination and creativity and good memories of good times? Research shows that children today have *hundreds* more hours of watching people do interesting things on TV than actually doing interesting things themselves. Use this fact to make *your* parties stand out.

A basic trade-off in life is time or money. Elect to spend time on your parties and let the kids help! Don't make everything ahead. Instead, have materials and space ready and let the kids decorate, make refreshments and something to take home and create their own party. Think about what they can do best, have the most fun with and learn the most from doing. Divide into teams for multitasking.

Some examples, tips and techniques:

  • Bake and decorate sugar cookies using holiday cookie cutters. If it's a very small group, just have the dough mixed and in the fridge. Let the kids take turns rolling the dough out. They put the cookies in the oven and watch the timer. You take them out. If it's a larger or younger group, bake the cookies ahead, and have them ready for decorating. Using royal icing, confectioners sugar and water or even store bought vanilla frosting, if the budget allows. Add candies, pieces of dried fruit, chocolate chips, nuts, raisins, etc. for features and details. Make enough to eat for refreshments and still have enough for each child to take one or two home to show off.

  • Make a craft appropriate to the children's ages and the season. Send these home, too.

  • Plan an outdoor activity- in any weather short of a gale or blizzard! Parties go much better when the kids get out, especially if the party is after school. If possible, consider a trip to a pumpkin patch or apple orchard, go skating, borrow enough wagons to allow coasting down a (small!) hill, go for a short hike, collect fall leaves. Arrange them between two sheets of wax paper and iron the wax paper "sandwich" with a medium hot iron to seal the leaves in. Play some playground games. (Check your library and teachers for ideas and rules. Take advantage of what your community offers.

  • Make your own decorations. Let the kids crepe paper the house, tie spider webs with bight colored yarn, trace or stamp designs on paper tablecloths using seasonal or appropriate cookie cutters. (Newsprint ends from your local newspaper is perfect.) Turn the spider web into a game by assigning each child a color to untangle and wind up into a ball for recycling. Webs can be made inside or out.

  • Let the kids help make and serve refreshments. They can mix punch, fill cups with pretzels, decorate the cake, scoop ice cream, etc. They'll feel like a valuable member of the group, have a great time helping and you'll be amazed at their skills and ideas- if someone will just let them use them!

  • See if you can add an old-timey activity like a hay ride, apple dunking or playing pin the stem, or nose on a pumpkin or Jack O'Lantern.

  • Have guests come in costume. Encourage them to make their own and keep it a secret. It's *not* just frugal, it encourages creativity, helps develop an eye for possibilities and builds anticipation of the great unveiling.

You won't use every idea, but try to incorporate at least one opportunity for the kids to do it themselves and you'll be glad you did!

Pumpkins/Jack O'Lanterns

  • Choose a pumpkin that's firm and heavy for its size. Look for a rich, orange color and an attached dry stem. Heftier pumpkins will have more meat, less waste and a sweeter flavor than pumpkins of the same size but less weight.

  • Make criss -cross cuts in the lid of the pumpkin and rub in a generous amount of cinnamon and nutmeg. As the candle burns it smells great!

  • Cut your Jack O'Lantern into sections and scrape away the first layer deep enough to remove all candle wax and smoke damage. Place the sections on a Pam-ed baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for about an hour and a half. Cool, scoop flesh out, leaving about 1/4" of flesh with the rind. Mash pulp in mixer or food processor. A 7 - 8 lb. pumpkin will yield about 4 cups of pulp similar to canned solid pack pumpkin (which is *not* the same as pumpkin pie mix.)

Pumpkin is packed with fiber and antioxidants, so:

  • Add the pulp to plain mashed potatoes (1 cup pumpkin to 3 cups mashed potatoes.) Season as usual.

  • Add 1/4 cup to your oatmeal or other hot cereal.

  • Replace the milk in cornmeal muffins with mashed pumpkin.

  • Bake as usual.

  • Stir some into your vegetable soup pot. Makes a creamy bisque texture.

  • Add cinnamon and brown sugar to the pumpkin pulp and spread on biscuits, muffins or toast.

  • Check your favorite sites or cookbooks for pumpkin soup, muffin, bread and cookie recipes.

Pumpkin Seeds

You can buy them baked or raw in bulk from a health food type store, if your pumpkin doesn't yield enough to do all you want to do.

Roasted:

Generously Pam (I use butter flavored spray.) a cookie sheet and spread out your washed and dried pumpkin seeds. Pam the seeds themselves and bake at 300 degrees until they're browned and crisp; about 30 - 40 minutes. For lightly browned, less crispy seeds, bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Salt them after you take them from the oven.

Add spices as you see fit. 1 and 1/2 tsp. *each*, mixing as you choose: cumin, chili powder and or freshly ground black pepper. Makes about 2 cups. Store in a covered jar.

Jewelry:

String washed and dried seeds together using a needle and thread to make bracelets, necklaces, etc. Leave natural color or dye the seeds with a small amount of alcohol and food coloring or powdered tempera. ***AN ADULT NEEDS TO DO THE DYING because of the use of alcohol. Recycled paper plates are perfect for this. Spread the seeds on newspaper or paper sacks to dry before stringing.

Mosaics:

Used dyed or natural seeds combined with other seeds (squash, melons, bird, fruit, etc.) to make designs or pictures. A perfect foundation, and frame, for the mosaics is a box lid or cardboard or Styrofoam tray. Draw design with a pencil. Spread white glue in one section at a time and press the seeds into the glue. Rice, unpopped corn, dried peas and beans can also be added for more variety.

Seed Race:

Each player gets 5 - 10 pumpkin seeds (depending on age of children) in a paper cup, a small dish and a straw. At the "go" signal, players try to pick up a seed and transfer it from the cup to the bowl by sucking on the straw. The winner is the first to successfully transfer all their seeds. Let the winner go first in the next game. ***MAKE SURE YOU USE WHOLE SEEDS, so there's no way they can be sucked up into the straw and choke a child.

Guessing Game:

Fill a jar with pumpkin seeds. Let everyone guess how many seeds there are, then dump them out and have everyone help count them to see whose guess is closest to the total.

Popcorn Balls

To make 6 medium sized balls, you need one quart of popped corn (1/2 cup unpopped kernels). Keep the popcorn warm in oven.

Combine in saucepan:

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/8 tsp. salt
1/3 tsp. vinegar
2 1/2 T light corn syrup

Bring ingredients to a boil while stirring with wooden spoon. Cover and cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring slowly until syrup is thick. To test, drop a little cooked syrup into a small bowl of very cold water. When it forms a ball, it's ready. Watch syrup closely- it thickens quickly.

To make balls, remove syrup from heat. Pour slowly over warm popped corn, mixing with wooden spoon. (I spray my spoon with Pam so the mixture doesn't blob up on the spoon and clean-up is easy.) Let corn cool enough so you won't burn yourself. Then Pam or butter your hands and shape the corn into balls. You can make the balls into a pumpkins, snow people, animals, or whatever is appropriate for the occasion. You can add raisins, nuts, chocolate chips, dried fruit pieces, etc. to the basic balls or:

Add faces by "Gluing" on features using nuts, chocolate chips, raisins, candies, etc. Make "glue" by mixing powdered sugar with a small amount of water in a bowl.

Face Paint

2 T white shortening
5 T cornstarch
1 T white flour
3-4 drops of glycerin (see note below)
a few drops of food coloring

Use a rubber spatula to blend the first 3 ingredients on a plate to form a smooth paste. Add 3-4 drops of glycerin to make a creamy consistency. Divide mixture into batches to color as needed.

For dark beards, moustaches, etc. add 2 1/2 tsp. of coacoa to above mixture.

Heat is an enemy for this type of face paint as it will melt if child gets sweaty, but it *is* fast, easy and cheap. Remove with a little soap and water.

NOTE: Glycerin is available in pharmacy departments. It's in a small brown bottle, often located in the first aid section. It's quite inexpensive and can be used to make a very good homemade bubble solution.

***I checked with Poison Control about the " lickability " of the glycerin in this recipe and they say that though glycerin has a laxative effect in quantity, a few drops wouldn't hurt a child even if he/she ate the entire batch! It's smart, however, to avoid the area around eyes and mouth.


Louise is a frequent contributor on children's issues.

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