A British mother once asked me how to celebrate Halloween without witches and creepsters that frightened her little child. I suggested switching the iconic witch with Mother Goose who has been entertaining children for centuries. Why include witches, monsters and "things that go bump in the night" when you can have fun with friendly and familiar faces that don't scare your little ones?
Plan a party incorporating nursery rhymes, storybook classics and other items that appeal to your children. Do your children like pumpkins, friendly scarecrows, black kitties and classics like Winnie-the-Pooh? Their interests can become the party theme. Plan the party time when children are typically awake and energetic, and be sure to inquire about guests' food allergies or sensitivities.
Photograph your child, a few favorite toys or simple Halloween props, or download a vintage copyright-free image. You could even try having your child draw a picture for the invitation. Invite parents to stay and have fun too.
Raid the toy box for Teddy bears, rag dolls and stuffed toys. Add pumpkins and fall leaves and tie on Halloween ribbons. Arrange a themed centerpiece with a pumpkin, a lantern and favorite toys. Instead of fog, try a bubble machine and use light sticks or battery operated tea light candles instead of open flames.
The ages and tastes of the children will help determine refreshments. My little granddaughter loves hot dogs, so that's what we are serving. Our side dishes will be orange and black: baby carrots, black olives (OK to put on fingertips for this party), cheese puffs, and tangerines with jack-o-lantern faces. Consider real fruit juice with dry ice in the serving bowl to make fog and bubbles. Prepare refreshments ahead of party time and refrigerate, or keep warm foods in a crock pot.
While the children eat, read nursery rhymes or story books that go with your theme. These classic nursery rhymes are Halloween-ish: Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater, Jack Be Nimble, Boys and Girls Come Out To Play, Pussy-cat and Queen, Hey Diddle-Diddle, Little Miss Muffet, Eensy Weensy Spider, etc.
Stories and activities should be brief and changed frequently. Finger plays and songs are popular with young crowds.
Play soft, happy music.
Toss bean bags at stuffed animals or into Halloween-themed containers.
Decorate a piece of pegboard and place lollipops in every few holes. Have children toss glow-in-the-dark bracelets onto a lollipop and let them keep both.
Invite guests to draw Halloween characters and color on a paper mural or tablecloth. Use a heavy disposable tablecloth or large roll of paper with crayons or washable markers.
Trace outlines of the children on large pieces of paper. Let them color their giant paper doll selves in their Halloween costumes. Sing "What will you be for Halloween?"
"5 Little Pumpkins Sitting on a Gate" finger play: Make five little felt pumpkins for your fingers or give party guests paper cut-outs of a pumpkin to color before taping to a wooden stick. Line up the party-goers and show them how to hold up five fingers as you say the poem together.
Fairy Treasure Hunt: Make a simple treasure hunt in the yard with five-six clues that lead to a fairy house (a real or foam pumpkin decorated to look like a fairy cottage or a Halloween doll house). Have treats or prizes: bubbles, small packets of candy corn or bags of goblin gorp.
"Going Trick-or-Treating" (Like "Going on a Bear Hunt," instead saying, "We're going trick-or-treating"): Go down the lane (slap hands on thighs to make walking sounds), through the field (brush hands together), knock on the door (make knocking sounds), ask "Who's there?" (Let a child pick whether a pirate, princess, bear, etc. answers the door), say "Trick-or-treat!" (Have the children hold out their arms), ask "What did we get?" (Let a child name a treat), say "Thank you!" (Have children say thank you before "going to another house"). Repeat as often as you wish. Then reverse and go home, through the field, down the lane, etc.
At the end of the party, give your guests a hug and a favor bag and send them home for a nap - you'll probably need one too!