Family Halloween Party Ideas

Kids carving pumpkins

Are you throwing a Halloween party? I love gathering with friends on Halloween, just a few families for dinner and wandering the neighborhood.

We have friends who live in a neighborhood that is crazy for Halloween decorations and lights. We arrive at their house when it isn’t quite dark, and we all eat dinner. As the sun goes down and the lights come up, we join the rest of the neighborhood in wandering from house to house.

I’ve pulled together a few ideas for games you can play while it’s still light then more traditional activities that ease your Halloween into a Samhain celebration of the end of harvest.

Finish the Harvest

Before party time, gather the last of the food from your garden and clean up the yard. Make a wreath from your own garden. Mine will include a lot of grapes from this year’s bumper crop.

Fun Halloween Games for Kids

You don’t need more than two or three games for kids. If they are in costume, they can make their own fun. Here are a few simple games to bring them back to occasional focus.

Bones relay. Cut out simple outlines of bones to create a full skeleton. Put a piece of tape on each bone. Depending how many children will be at the party, you could have more than one set of bones. Start each skeleton with a skull on a wall or a large board. Put the pile of bones at least 10 feet away. Have one child start by picking a bone and running to the board with the skull to add the bone. Then, the child runs back to touch the next person, who chooses a bone and runs to put it on the board. The relay continues until all of the bones are stuck on the board.

If the kids don’t know how a skeleton fits together, it’s OK. Guessing works just fine. The fun is in seeing how wild the final skeleton can get.

Any party game involving the harvest is perfect for this end-of-harvest-season celebration.

Bobbing for apples. Fill a metal tub with slightly warm water. The cold weather will cool it down, and you want people to stick around long enough to get an apple. Have kids gather around the tub. One at a time, have them hold their hands behind their back and bite at an apple using only their mouth. It gets very wet!

Squash bowling. Put 10 tall, flat-bottomed squash at one end of a lawn in triangular, bowling configuration. Butternut squash are perfect for this. Then, give each player a small round squash (like a pumpkin), small enough to hold with one hand, and let them roll it across the lawn to knock down the squash pins. You don’t need to keep score because everyone has fun with this one.

Carve a Traditional Jack-o-lantern

If your children are going to prowl the neighborhood for treats, how about using traditional jack-o-lanterns?

Carve jack-o-lanterns not just from pumpkins but from turnips and beets as well. You could do this activity earlier in the day or even the day before. (They dry out if you do them too far in advance.) Suspend the small lanterns by strings hanging from sticks. You can either put a tea light or a battery light in each. Carry these around to light your night. Leave them lining the walk when you get home to light the way for the ghosts who return that night to find their way home.

End with a Bonfire

When the kids get home and the parents just want to sit in a circle and talk, it’s a perfect time for a bonfire. Tell stories. They don’t need to scare the children, but it is traditional to tell stories about your own dead friends and relatives.

Be sure to leave an extra, empty place setting inviting the dead to join you. Welcome the dark half of the year with the fire. The fire is orange; the night is black.

Have a bountiful end of harvest.

© Ilona75 | Dreamstime.com - Boy Busy Carving A Pumpkin Jack-o-lantern For Halloween Photo

RL Community—You Know, Face to Face

Mothers with babies in the partk

Do you access your community through a screen? With more screen access, both parents and children are making their social ties online. Online social networks, though, don’t teach our children the same lessons that face-to-face communities do. This is more than just a need for natural play beyond the screen.

For their normal development, your children do need participation in a robust, face-to-face community.

Within the field of child development, there is a lot of research on community. In what kind of communities do children and families thrive? The research is often related to learning and school. Ultimately, though, research shows that the community in which a child grows shapes the child’s understanding of society. A local community is, for the child, society in microcosm.

Thinking more broadly about what the whole family, not just the child, needs, community is our support system, where we participate and share experiences. We weave our safety net from our community.

We can certainly get a shadow of that support and participation from our online social networks, but those usually consist of ties to people that we are connected to outside the network. A community, online or offline, is a more robust social structure that grows around a common interest. Even when we participate in genuine communities online, they don’t have the richness, complexity, or resilience that face-to-face communities can have. Online ties are weaker.

You probably have points of reference for participation in face-to-face communities that your children will not because they will grow up in a far more screen-mediated world. They won’t realize how deep social connections can be unless they experience those connections. Your children do need the experience of those face-to-face relationships.

Even if you don’t feel a burning desire for community in this moment, you build now for the future. That is how a safety net works.

Finding – or Building – Your Tribe

Every once in a while, I mention an article in Mothering years ago, “Finding Your Tribe,” because this article was a trigger for me about 15 years ago. I was in graduate school, living far away from my family and my husband’s family, and I didn’t really have much of a social life outside of school. One my first child was born, I spent time with other local homebirthers who had shared the same midwife. When I read that article in Mothering, I realized that the people I was spending time with, these other new parents, were my tribe. Just that realization and my dawning understanding of how important it was to have a strong community helped me to cherish this group of families even more.

I mention the article often because I keep hoping that you will find a similar group of people who support you in your parenting journey. Whether you realize it or not, it will help you and your children.

Maybe you already have a community you can strengthen. If you have friends nearby, you’ve got the pieces ready to be matched together.

If you don’t have a group already and you aren’t sure where to start to find a community, especially if you are new to an area, you might just have to plant the seeds yourself and help community grow. Weak social ties can grow to become strong social ties.

You could start a group around your children and just keep inviting new people until you start to build stronger relationships and a core group pulls together. That core group can grow to become a community.

Ideas for groups around children:

  • Play group for crawlers.
  • Game day for children of all ages, with different games each week.
  • Project group for mothers with baby play on the side.
  • Baby yoga and social time for mothers.

If you already have strong interests, you can strengthen your ties with those who share your interests. My family is friends with a family that is very connected to renaissance fairs. They spend months a year dressed up, painting faces, and participating with their tribe. Their youngest child was born at the fair. Their closest friends are with the fair. When one group of their friends started a new fair, they went, too, and they are spending their summer at the new fair building making a lot of connections and gradually strengthening ties.

Whatever the interests you build around, you build community by strengthening ties and building genuine relationships within that group.

Your children will learn how the world works from their ties within a complex community. It is worth the discipline and effort to pull back from predominantly weak ties of screen time to build strong ties within a face-to-face community.

For an example of one family’s experiment in seeking connections beyond their screens by unplugging for six months, read Susan Maushart’s The Winter of our Disconnect: How Three Totally Wired Teenagers (and a Mother Who Slept with her iPhone) Pulled the Plug on Their Technology and Lived to Tell the Tale (2011).

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Unplugging Kids

Children playing around a television

Whether you’ve noticed your kids have too much screen time or you are just trying to avoid that in the future, how do you go about unplugging your children?

Why Worry about Screen Time?

We’re surrounded by symptoms that cause us to worry about kids who are plugged in all of the time to electronics. Childhood obesity is alarming. I don’t know that we can blame screens for obesity, but surely there is some impact when 2- to 5-year old children spend an average of 32 hours a week with the television on. Think about that. If my kids and your kids aren’t watching at all at that age, does that mean there are kids watching 64 hours a week?

I personally find passive consumption of ideas alarming. I want critical thinkers. I’m the mother who pauses documentaries to give long explanations. Even when we do watch television now that my children are older, it’s an active pursuit of ideas. We all have to have our say, and sometimes the conversation overtakes the television, and we ride the waves of ideas. TV can be a starting point rather than the end.

But, my children didn’t watch television much as young children because I wanted to shape their understanding of the world. Frankly, I wanted to avoid the chop-chop-chop editing that interrupts one’s thoughts. It turns out, there is a positive correlation between concentration, which leads to better learning, and taking walks, for example. You don’t get that from passive consumption of television—even the kind on public television that is supposedly good for you. (Sesame Street still has fewer cuts per minute than commercial television, though.)

As parents, we want our kids physically and mentally active. So, we look for a better way to keep them engaged than plugging them in.

What Can You Do About Electronics?

First, a DON’T. Don’t use the television or computer as a babysitter. Turning on cartoons or a video is easy with babies and toddlers, but it creates habits for you and expectations for your children.

So, what is the DO instead?

  • Plan ahead quiet, engaging activities, like play dough or drawing, and save those for a routine quiet time.
  • Watch the world out the window or from the porch. My son had a once-a-week routine of sitting and waiting for the garbage truck. It was the highlight of his week when he was about 3-years old. Put up a bird feeder, and you have something interesting to watch without it being passive.
  • Read or tell stories. Save a long story for the time of day when you most need everything to be a bit more calm. We started reading The Hobbit to my children when they were 2- and 5-years old. They don’t need to understand it all. They just want to be engaged.
  • Play board games or card games, if you have enough people around to make it fun.
  • Play with puzzles, if you just have the two of you. We carry a big variety of board games that start at around age 4 and puzzles that are appropriate for toddlers.
  • Listen to music, either the kind you can sing along to or the kind you can dance along to—or maybe the kind you can drift off to.

There is plenty to do. If you know you need helping thinking up activities, buy a book that gives you a list. We have a lot of books that might help, including Playful Parenting, Imagine Childhood (25 projects), and many more on our parenting bookshelf.

Set the Pattern Right

Start when they are very young with interesting outdoor activities. Don’t make those outdoor activities optional. You are creating your family, and you get to decide “this is just something our family does.” If your family creates patterns of outdoor activities and hands-on activities, it will remain just what you do as your children get older and are more exposed to screen time at friends’ houses.

Does It Have to Be Negative?

I am reluctant to use the negative. Why call them UNplugged kids or screen-free kids, as if everything has to be in reference to a plug or a screen? Do that, and the plug is there in mind even when you do manage to get the children into nature or exploring with their hands. Why not hands-on kids, on-their-feet kids, or outdoor kids? At bynature.ca we raise Nature Kids!

That’s just a caution that too much focus on the negative holds on to the negative rather than the activities you want to replace the negative.

How to Encourage Your Kids to Sneak a Peak at the Screen

I do know that forbidding my kids to do something that their friends do freely is a way to encourage them to keep secrets. We don’t do that. So, I found that exposure with my voice in their head was a better approach than exposure with their peers’ voices.

In the end, it just takes making life beyond the screen more interesting, more compelling than the screen. I’m not trying to make that sound easy, either.

I have a fairly new teenager who has gradually put more and more of his alone time into Minecraft, which I don’t mind in moderation, but I worry that he has fewer hand-on activities (“Hey, how about doing a project out of Make Magazine.”) and outdoor activities (“Have you reserved a golf time for this week?”). So, he and I talk about this. He points out to me that he spends hours a day playing piano, saxophone, and drums. He is reading several novels. He uses his computer for online classes and writing. I still think it’s too much time, but I make it a conversation we have, an awareness we share. He told me that he would be happy to do other things if he could find something that interests him.

There is the rub. I can’t force his interest. At his age, parental force is more likely to result in anti-interest. So, I continue to scatter beautiful baubles along his path, hoping he picks them up here and there. I trust that his low-screen diet of the first twelve or so years will have created stronger patterns than the pull of a not-as-bad-as-it-could-have-been video game.

You do what works for your family. Just remember to set the patterns early as an active, engaged family, and trust that your children will find their way toward their own interests in an overwhelmingly plugged-in world.

Resources

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Summer Family Vacation on a Tight Budget

Family on vacation

Your budget is tight but you still want to take the family on a fun vacation this summer. I can help you with that. This has been the story of my family’s summer every year, and we have found a lot of ways to save money on family trips.

The biggest expenses on the family vacation are transportation, lodging, food, and souvenirs, so I have a few thought how you can cut one or all of these costs to give your family a memorable vacation without a high price tag.

Lower Transportation Costs

The easiest way to cut your vacation costs is to stay closer to home. Do you live near a place others visit on vacation? Travel close to home and see the place like visitors see it.

If you want to travel away from home, go off-season. In the summer, go to an area known for winter vacations; in the winter, go to an area known for summer vacations. Sure, you will deal with weather, but that’s just fun.

Lower Lodging Costs

The biggest range of costs for your vacation is in where you stay. Even if you stay in a hotel or motel, you can often pull the costs down by checking discount websites or using a discount (CAA/AAA or military, for example).

The best way to save money on lodging costs on your summer vacation is to camp. Even if you don’t want to pitch a tent, a lot of campgrounds offer cabins. Cabins cost more per night than a spot to park a camper or put up a tent, but they cost less than a motel, and you don’t need to buy the extra camping equipment. You do need to be prepared with cooking (pots & pans) and sleeping equipment (sleeping bags or blankets), but cabins can save you money if you already have all of this.

Where to go? Why not just start big with the national parks of Canada. You can find spectacular beauty and sites of historic significance across the country.

Is camping a mystery to you? If you’ve never been camping and don’t quite know how, you can even find camping instructions on the Parks Canada site. They even have an app with recipes, checklists, and tips.

Lower Food Costs

One of the biggest expenses of traveling with the family is food. Feeding a family of four three meals a day can cost more than a hotel room.

Find a local grocery store and make your own meals. Even if you don’t have access to cooking equipment, you can have great uncooked meals. More than once my family has quietly rolled our cooler into a hotel.

Not only does making your own simple food save you a lot of money, you can choose high quality, whole foods rather than accepting the quality you get in an inexpensive restaurant.

Lower Souvenir Costs

Really, you don’t need souvenirs at all, but you will almost certainly hear the cries of “Mom, can I have this?” My strategy is to start out with a distraction that creates its own keepsakes. Rather than taking home stuff from the trip, we remember by taking photos.

When my kids were little, I bought them simple cameras so they could document the trip from their own point of view. The follow up at home was important. We would create albums or frame photos on their walls. I like how this gives my children freedom to frame their own experience, and it helps me see what they find significant. In the era of smart phones and tablets, you have a lot of options for equipment, but I still think it’s important to put the equipment wholly in your child’s hands.

Another idea for souvenirs is to collect small mementos of specific experiences. If you are heading to national parks or national historic sites, check out the Xplorer programs for children. When you arrive, you check in and get a booklet or equipment that leads children on activities designed to help their understand what that park has to offer. U.S. national parks have a similar program for Junior Rangers. We did a variety of activities from an hour to several days. When they returned with completed activity books, the park ranger held a little ceremony to award them patches. My kids collected those patches from their junior ranger activities and sewed them onto their backpacks. They still talk about the activities as they point out the patches.

Go Slowly

Make sure that you leave enough space in any vacation or staycation to enjoy your time together and unwind from the relentless pace of your normal life.

I’ve found that the activity that left my kids the happiest on most vacations was swimming in a motel pool. Simple, but it works wonders. Whatever you do, leave enough space that the kids can play and you can chill out. You don’t have to leave first thing every morning. A vacation shouldn’t feel like work.

The Really Cheap Summer Vacation

If you just don’t even have the option to travel because of the costs, you can still create that vacation feeling and fun summer memories. There is no requirement that you leave home each summer. Sure, it’s fun, but that pressure to do right by your kids can be stressful when you just don’t have the money to spare. You can make this a summer of fun without staying away from home.

Day trips. Take day trips to all of the tourist spots within a few hours drive. Even if you have seen the historic houses and scenic views around your region, for your children, a lot of this will be new. Help them see their own home for the first time.

Backyard camping. Have a weekly campout in the back yard. Cook your dinner over a fire and tell silly stories. Everyone will remember these nights more than random evenings spend in a crumbling motel.

Indoor camping. If you are more of the indoor type, you can still have a campout with the family. My family loves doing this. We pull the cushions from every couch in the house and cover the floor. Everyone brings their bedding, and we make one big nest. Then, we play board games, read aloud, watch a movie, or have a picnic. Anything you can do sitting on the furniture, you can do lounging on the floor. Difference makes the fun. It will seem completely silly to little kids, and they will love it.

Make Your Own Fun!

You don’t need to spend money to have fun with your family. You have a lot of choices to bring down costs and create beautiful summer memories for your children. Have fun!

Photo Family Enjoying View on Vacation – © Eric1513 | Dreamstime.com

5 Ways to Enjoy and Document Your Pregnancy

Pregnancy photo shoot

Pregnancy, especially your first pregnancy, is such an amazing time. To see your body transform can be shocking and exciting. You will want to remember how you looked, how you felt, and what you dreamed about your new little one on the way.

Before you begin your documentation project, think it through. That doesn’t take a long time. Just consider your goal.

  • Is what you are doing all about expression of the moment, or are you creating a keepsake? If you are just expressing yourself in the moment of all of that beautiful pregnancy energy, go for it! No limits.
  • If you are creating a keepsake, who will keep it? Is it for you or for your baby?

I don’t want to discourage you from documenting your pregnancy—not at all. I just want you to think now about how you you will use this later because that might help you create even better documentation while you still have a lot of choices.

#1 Baby Bump Photos

Photos showing your physical transformation are The Classic pregnancy documentation. If you’ve ever seen a pregnancy board on Pinterest, you’ve probably seen a photo montage showing belly growth. I love these because they grab the visual person and tell them exactly what you want them to know—I’m growing!

HOW: Keep the background the same and mark where you stand so your body is the only thing that changes. Or, add a chalkboard, t-shirt or some other prop that changes with you to show the number of weeks. It is also fun to put your collection of photos together as a video.

#2 Professional Photo Shoot

Your family is about to change a lot, whether you are going from just you to parent and child, a couple to a three-person family, or a family with children to a family with another child. A professional photographer can capture the essence of who you are now just before your baby arrives on the scene.

HOW: Decide whether the photos will be of just you or of the whole family. Will they be in color or do you like striking black and white photos? Set your appointment before your 37th week of pregnancy. You want to show the biggest belly possible, but you don’t want to schedule so late that you miss your pregnancy altogether if the baby comes early. If that does happen, though, you now have a photo shoot with your new family. You make the best of it!

#3 Belly Cast

A belly cast is made by covering your belly with a layer of plastic wrap then dipping gauze in plaster and covering your belly (or belly and breasts) layer by layer to create a lasting, 3D keepsake of your shape. Once the plaster dries, you can paint your belly cast. I loved doing this with both of my babies, but now I wonder what to do with it. How will you use the cast? It will become more stuff you have to haul around with you.

HOW: As with the photo shoot, you want to document the biggest belly possible without missing your pregnancy entirely. Aim for 37-38 weeks. Depending whether you mind sharing your naked self with friends, this can be a fun project to do with a group of girlfriends, or just do this as a couple. It does help to have at least one other person present.

#4 Journal

First ask who you are writing for. If you are writing only for yourself, let it all pour out. If you are writing for your baby, at what age? What would your child want to know about the pregnancy? For example, I used to play footsie with my first baby. She would press her foot against the edge of my ribs, and I would touch back. Push, touch, push, touch. That play was so precious to me, and I love to tell her about it now. That kind of story could be appropriate for a child of any age. Another thing my kids remain interested in are the names I considered for each of them. For them, these are potential lives they didn’t live—lives that have names. They are fascinated by naming ideas, and you future children might be as well. It’s all about how much you want to share when, so keep your audience in mind when you write your pregnancy journal.

The Pregnancy Journal

HOW: A paper pregnancy journal is easy to use and easy to keep for the future. It’s also private. You might want to keep a public pregnancy journal as a blog or a microblog (like Tumblr). Decide who you are journalling for and choose the format that will reach your intended audience.

#5 Make a Recording

Recording your voice for your future child is another way to document the sensory experience of pregnancy. Your voice recording could be another way to create a journal, or you could make it different. Sing songs, record yourself reading a (soon-to-be) favorite story, or record an older sibling talking to the baby. My almost-three-year old made talking to the baby bump part of her nightly routine. She would tell the baby what she did that day. She would read (or recite) stories. She would talk about what fun they would have once the baby was born. I didn’t record that; now, I wish I had.

HOW: Most phones can record voice, but remember to download and backup your recording so it isn’t one of those bits of data forgotten when you switch phones. Do a test in different rooms to find the best quality. For example, a bedroom will probably absorb sound while an office might echo. You could make these recordings video rather than just audio.

Document your pregnancy. This is such a time between times, a time of great energy. Don’t get so caught up in the documentation, though, that you miss the experience of every moment. Have fun, and ride that wave.

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