- Map out your house, and leave different adult costumes in every room.
- Kids go from room to room encountering different themes, tricks, and treats.
- Parents switch from room to room, quickly changing costumes, doing tricks, and handing out treats.
“There’s another one!” we yelled, eyes lit as we spotted the next set of porch lights. In the rural neighborhoods of Midwest America, there were plenty of porch light participants. When we finally made our way around the loop, we ran back to our house with big childhood excitement, dumped our loot on the floor, and started filing our teeth full of sugar.
As we got older, we upped our candy crushing game by going around the neighborhood, then changing into new costumes for a second trick-or-treat loop. Double the candy, 10x the memories.
But my kids live in Barcelona, and at least in our neighborhood, there are no porch lights. So how do we give our kids that trick-or-treat experience, in a city that ain’t so sweet? Here’s how we create our stay-at-home trick-or-treat experience.
Building a neighbor in your own house
You can recreate the entire trick-or-treat experience in the smallest of apartments with just two adults. No, it’s not quite as authentic as strolling the streets at night, knocking on stranger’s doors and squawking “trick or treat!” But it does give city kids a little taste of Halloween.
It goes like this. The kids get dressed up in their costumes. Then they get a message telling them which room in the house to go first.
“You’ll find your first mystery guest in the study…”
Shuffling feet. Knock, knock. “Trick or treat!”
When the door opens, my wife is there dressed up in costume, and into character she goes. She might be a gypsy or a tennis player or Batman. Or a surgeon, who explains that her latest patient, a stuffed teddy bear, ate too much candy. A quick surgery later and that candy ends up in the kids’ bags. Gross? Maybe. But what do you expect from a Halloween surgery?
As the temporary doctor dumps the rescued candy into their bags, she instructs them on where to go:
“Next up, the bathroom.”
Shuffling feet. Knock, knock. “Trick or treat!”
The door to the bathroom opens and a ridiculous, stereotypical American tourist emerges. Or maybe a lab scientist, or a human-sized turtle. Depends on the year.
But whoever appears is sure to be distracting enough so the kids don’t notice that the surgeon just zipped behind them and ducked into another room. And that’s the room where I point them to next, just before I set off to my next room and costume-changing frenzy.
This usually goes on for about six rooms, because that’s about all we’ve got in our Barcelona apartment. But it’s enough to give our kids a little taste of Trick-or-Treat.
Of course as the years go by and the kids get older, we’ve made some variations on the basic theme.
Variation 1: Make kids find the right door
Instead of sending kids to pre-specified rooms (“next, go to the kitchen”), another option is to have kids knock on doors until someone answers. The plan for the parents is the same—moving from room to room, changing costumes. But now the kids don’t get instructions on where to go next, instead they have to find the right door. This works better for kids older than 5 or 6.
Variation 2: Play games and activities in each room
It doesn’t take much to cover the space in our house. And that means the whole trick-or-treat experience doesn’t last long. To stretch it out, we add activities at each stop. This also gives the other adult a little more time to get into costume and prepare for their next visitor.
One year the kids knocked and found an old hermit who’d lost his eyes. So before the they could collect their candy, they had to find the two plastic eye balls that had got lost in the room.
Or maybe we ask kids to help a confused old doctor put back together a human body who’s parts got mixed up during surgery. We have a little human body model that’s great for this (and recommended for introducing the basics of what our bodies are made of).
Other ideas include doing little pumpkin puzzles or Halloween games. Our kids are getting older now (8 and 10), so this year we’ll be exploring some kind of escape room experiences. I’ll update this after with how that goes.
Silver bullet tips for carving a fun stay-home Halloween
Here’s a few other steps we take to make this work.
1. Sketch out your house. No need for architect’s blueprints, just pencil some squares representing the rooms you want to add to your trick-or-treat route.
2. Plan the route. Imagine the kids walking from room to room. Try to create the longest route possible by having them move back and forth between opposite ends of your house or apartment. And remember that adults have to move between rooms changing costumes, so space yourselves out so it’s easy for each person to get to their next room without the kids seeing you shuffle about.
3. Lay out costumes and candy. Leave costumes and treats in each room—hidden enough that kids won’t see them if they walk into the room before they’re supposed to, but accessible enough that adults can easily grab them and change.
Keep costumes simple. You’ve got to change quickly, so don’t over-complicate things. And work with what you have, no need to go out and buy a bunch of new outfits. A swim suit and goggles, your gym clothes, a mask from your kid’s costume last year, a wig made from a mop head—just have fun with it, your kids really don’t care.
4. Make treats the right kind of sweet. There’s nothing more disappointing than getting a ghost-shaped Pez dispenser from one house, followed by a melted Tootsie Roll from the next. So plan the treat order to set expectations, and save the best treats for last.
On a neighborhood stroll it’s about quantity, filling that candy bag with as much as possible. But I vote for treat quality over quantity. Get some fun treats they’ll really enjoy, not a three-month supply of cheap chocolate that you’ll find melted in the sofa because kids don’t care enough to keep track of it all.
5. Put on a show. Don’t just open the door and dump some candy. Go into character mode and aim to entertain. If you’re dressed as Darth Vader, tell them you’re looking for your son. If you’re a mad scientist, ask them to help you look for your missing eyeballs. If you’re an American tourist, complain because the restaurant didn’t have mayonnaise.
Reminder: house trick-or-treating doesn’t last long, so stretch out each stop and give your kids something to remember. The more you have fun with it, the more they will too.
6. Make pumpkin carving a fun family tradition. So this is a detour along our trick-or-treat route, but like all memories, how your kids remember Halloween will depend on the web of activities you create around it. Pumpkin carving is one of my favorites. And it’s become one of our kids’ favorites too, drills and all. Here are a few favs from past years:
Need more pumpkin inspiration? Here are 20+ pumpkin carving ideas for all skill levels.
Got a great Halloween story to share? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.