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

Alternatives to Candy on Valentine’s Day

Candy for Valentines Day

Has your child been asked to contribute candy to a Valentine’s Day party? We can turn this into an positive opportunity. Let’s think of this as taking a treat—a treat of any kind—rather than approaching negatively as NOT taking candy. You can just quietly send a fun treat that happens not to be food.

Crayons
Kids love crayons. Give them out in the original shape, or you could make a craft of it and use a candy mold to shape melted crayons into hearts. Our Soy Rocks Party Box gives you 64 colorful crayons to give out.

Lip Gloss
Make lip gloss. It’s easy and exciting for kids to make lip balm in many flavors and colors. Don’t call it “gloss” and you might get boys interested as well.

Bouncy Balls
A ball is a small gift that won’t cost you a lot but will get used a lot.

Pencils
A common non-candy gift for children is a fun pencil. They come in great variety (including our tree-free pencils), they are easy to decorate and personalize, and kids will use them.

Wooden Toys
We often find situations where kids might want to give small gifts, and we don’t want to create more plastic clutter of throwaway gifts. We want to give eco-friendly gifts that children will actually use. That is why we created a loot bag section in our Green Celebrations department. We have a couple of tiny toys that would be perfect for Valentine’s Day gifts: mini wooden kaleidoscopes and wooden pop tops.

Friendship Bracelets
An older child can use cotton embroidery floss to create friendship bracelets. To make it a Valentine, add a small tag with a message.

Wooden Yo-Yo
For a special friend, a red wooden yo-yo is great gift that will be played with for a long time.

The Recurring Candy Issue

Yes, it’s nice to take a positive approach. I can be tiring to think, “Great. Another holiday, another opportunity to explain why we don’t give out candy.” Sure, we don’t have to focus on explaining. We can just nudge expectations away from sugary treats to other treats.

The issue will continue to come up, though. If you want to deal with Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and all of the candy holidays all at once, if you are tired of navigating the candy and food issues, help your school or district develop policies that will make it easier not just to manage allergies but to meet nutrition goals.

A lot of schools have no-food or no-candy policies for celebrations. This makes it a lot easier for schools to manage food allergies and sensitivities. Sell them on the benefits for the school, and they might be willing to work with you.

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Lower Holiday Stress Through Compassionate Communication

Mother listening to a child

Are people around you all wound up and snappish? Despite all of the talk of happiness and joy, I find that people are more stressed and anxious leading up to the holidays. There are a lot of obligations to meet, school events, parties, cookies to bake, presents to finish, and everything starts to pile up. Our ambitions can get ahead of our capacities, and we get stressed. When we’re stressed, we might snap at others.

Underneath all of those actions, though, are often the best of intentions. We DO sincerely feel those best wishes we spread around. We ARE grateful for those teachers who open our children’s minds to new ideas. We DO feel joy when we see family members we don’t see nearly as often as we might like.

We feel those positive feelings underneath it all, but we still have that list of obligations to get through. Sometimes it is difficult to be present enough in the moment to focus on that deeper feeling.

For those stressful times to turn into negative experiences, it usually takes two people feeling bad and taking it out on another. I see that happening all around me.

On top of that, we are setting a pattern of expectations for our children. If holidays bring on a stressful time for our children, they will have a more difficult time feeling that joy year after year.

How do we stop the cycle of stress?

I suggest that you slow down just enough to bring compassion into your interactions with others. Recognize that the people around you are doing their best and falling short, just like you and I are. We all are. It’s OK! Extend a genuine smile, a handshake, a kiss on your child’s forehead as the stress starts to show around the edges.

Practice compassionate communication with your children, with the people around you, and even with yourself. That starts with listening and understanding what the other person feels.

Give yourself a break. If your expectations exceed your capacity, scale back. Let go of what isn’t working.

Have a joyful holiday season, and spread that joy to all you meet.

Are you interested in learning more about compassionate communication? A basic book that any parent can read is Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Create Your Life, Your Relationships, and Your World in Harmony with Your Values. Another more specific to parenting is Raising Children Compassionately: Parenting the Nonviolent Communication Way. Follow the links below to IndieBound to find an independent bookseller in your area that carries either book.

Marshall Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communicationhttp://www.indiebound.org/book/9781892005038

Marshall Rosenberg, Raising Children Compassionately. http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781892005090

Fast Food for the Holiday Season

Child drinking a green smoothie

Me suggesting fast food? It’s not what you think.

If you are running around between school activities, shopping, and quick visits with relatives and friends, it gets tough to cook whole foods at the expected meal times.

In 3 minutes you can make a green smoothie. You are out the door again in 5 minutes. Smoothies make an easy, densely nutritious meal for you and your children.

Green Smoothies

Start with the base. Choose bananas, coconut water, yoghurt, milk, juice, or anything that will give your smoothie a mostly liquid texture.

Add leafy greens. Spinach, kale, Swiss chard, or cabbage. Dark foods of any color each pack their own group of micronutrients and phytochemicals that are great for your health. Green plants provide antioxidants.

Add more greens. Celery, cucumber, or avocado. Go through your vegetable drawer and use what you have—except broccoli. Learn from my sad experience and don’t add broccoli. I love it cooked and raw, but it makes a bitter smoothie ingredient.

Add flavorful fruits. You can sweeten the flavor of your mix by adding an apple, mango, orange, or grapes. We keep berries in the freezer for red smoothies.

Add protein. Yoghurt can add protein but nut butter will add more. We like Almond Butter.

Add a punch of flavor. Choose a flavorway that will work with your other ingredients. Cinnamon, nutmeg, or mint add just a hint of flavor; fresh ginger adds a punch. Depending on the mix (and the spice tolerance of your children), you can add cayenne pepper and garlic. I love to add spices to my drinks.

Add superfoods. When we are missing meals, we are careful to add superfoods to our smoothies. We like hemp seeds, cacao nibs, lucuma powder, goji berry powder, and chia seeds.

Don’t add everything at once! Create a simple mix of base, 1-2 greens, 1 fruit, 1 superfood, and a few spices. Let yourself taste these beautiful foods.

4 Simple Green Smooth Recipes

Light and simple. My husband requested that I add his current favorite: coconut water, cucumber, and lime. It’s light on nutrition and substance, but this is what he craves at the moment. When the rest of the foods around you are heavy and dense, this can be very refreshing.

Sweet and spicy. In addition to your base and greens, add mango, grapes (to give it more liquid), cayenne pepper, ginger, and a short squeeze of lime juice. This is me trying to recreate mango chutney in a glass.

Green eggnog spice. Banana, yoghurt, spinach, a splash of vanilla, and nutmeg. Your mind expects the nutmeg in eggnog, and the creaminess of the banana and yoghurt does the rest of the trick.

Mint chocolate. Banana, spinach, mint leaves, splash of vanilla, and cocoa nibs. This is another simple one. I like the flavors to stand out rather than getty muddied together.

Extra Credit

Red & Green. If you aren’t in a big hurry, pour your green mix into glasses, then make a quick red mix (base plus cherries, raspberries, or strawberries) and pour that carefully on top. A thicker mix is less likely to blend at the edges. Surprise your children when they see the beautiful holiday colors in their drink.

More green smooth recipes.
http://www.ecobabysteps.com/2009/08/24/monday-morning-smoothie-easy-green/

Image ©  | Dreamstime.com

Gifts You Won’t Find on Amazon

Tegu Magnetic Wooden Blocks

Are you rushing to be ready for the holidays? Relatives visiting, parties to cook (or buy) for, neighbors to acknowledge some way, and kids’ gifts to think about. Think about this as you are rushing around.

Our rushing rubs off on our kids, but children need space for deep, open play to process the masses of information that they are taking in as they learn about their world. They don’t need toys that tell them how to play. They need the simplest of objects that can join the stories they are already telling themselves in their own minds.

A couple of years ago, my friends passed around a story from Wired’s Geek Dad“The 5 Best Toys of All Time.” This Geek Dad led with a pile of discarded box full of bits of plastic toys. These were once cool stuff and awesome gizmos, but they didn’t make the top 5 list:

  1. Stick
  2. Box
  3. String
  4. Cardboard Tub
  5. Dirt

Everyone loves the gizmos for a day—or an hour.

Are you hoping to help your child develop a somewhat longer attention span? Make sure your gifts are worthy of the attention. The best gifts aren’t much to look at in the box or under the tree. Kids fold them into their lives. To enable your child’s creativity, turn yours on now before you are tempted to grab those last-minute tchotchke and stocking stuffers that won’t even make it from the pile of gifts into your child’s toy box.

By far the best holiday gift I ever gave my daughter was cotton play cloths in a dozen colors. These lasted even longer in circulation than her most beloved Waldorf doll. I didn’t choose the those because I knew what impact they would have. I didn’t know beforehand that play cloths would be blankets and costumes and wrapping and decoration. I just liked that rainbow of color. I was satisfying my own desires!

You might not know which simple, open toy will hit that sweet spot for your child, so be prepared for a few misses as well as hits.

If you are worried that you don’t have the right toys for your child yet, let that worry go. The toys that enable happy, imaginative play are simple.

Happy holidays, and don’t sweat the toys.