How to make your home Halloween party central | MyWindsorNow.com

How to make your home Halloween party central

Nikki Work
For The Tribune

For parents, throwing a successful Halloween party is as much about putting the pieces together as it is keeping them from falling apart. Getting kids involved in the planning can help avoid a "Carrie"-like meltdown and make the little ones feel like the heroes of the day.

Here's how you can DIY a Halloween party they'll love and you won't lose your head over — unless the horseman gets you first.

The costumes

Whether you have a little princess, pint-sized zombie, cowboy or dinosaur, picking the perfect costume is the first step to creating a Halloween kids will never forget. But store-bought costumes can be pricey, and there are only so many Buzz Lightyears a party can handle.

Ed Edmunds and Marsha Taub-Edmunds suggest sitting down with your kids and getting the list of what they'd like to be, then eliminating ideas based on what you can feasibly create.

"Get a few different choices, as some will be too difficult to make," said the Edmunds, who own and operate Distortions Unlimited in Greeley, crafting mechanical ghouls and ghosts and creatures of the night for Halloween displays and events.

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If you host your party before the day of Halloween, you can make DIY costumes as part of the party. The timing of the party is important, said Christine Kovacs Forster, president of My Big Day event planning company in Loveland. If you host it on Halloween, some people will not attend because they have other plans or a trick-or-treating game plan (pro-tip: don't stand between a kid and their candy). Kovacs Forster suggests picking a day close enough to the main event that everyone is excited, but leaving Oct. 31 for the pillowcases and doorbells.

When you set a pre-Halloween date for the party, you can make costuming part of the plan. Kids can come in or out of costume, and at the party, they can create their own. Kathy Rickart, owner of Colorado Costume Castle and co-manager of Tigges Farm in Greeley, said some of the best entertainment at a party can be provided by letting the kids entertain themselves. Paper plates make scary masks. Cardboard boxes turn into robots. Bedsheets turn ghosts or capes. And construction paper — well, construction paper can do basically anything, Rickart said.

One of her favorite ideas is to use an umbrella as the key piece of a homemade costume. If the umbrella has a funky pattern, dress the child like a clown to match. If the umbrella is a light color, affix quilt batting or stuffing to the spines, and tie strings with cardboard raindrops coming from the edges.

The costumes they make at the party don't have to be the ones they'll wear on Halloween night, but they can be the ones they wear for the remainder of the party. This eliminates any feelings of alienation or embarrassment for the kids whose families may not be able to afford a costume, but still want to attend the party.

Rickart added that making costumes together as a family can provide some of the best bonding time around. Not only can parents pass on some of their acquired skills with a hot glue gun or a needle, but they can take kids' suggestions at each step. The result is a costume that may not look as much like Moana or Lightning McQueen as the one you can buy at the store, but means a lot more to your child.

And once the costume is made — before, during or after the party — encourage your kid to adopt that character's personality. If they're a puppy, they should bark during the party. If they're a pirate, teach them to limp like they have a peg leg. If they're a monster, practice growling with them.

"An important part of costuming is staying in character. Take the time to teach your kiddos how to be the character they are dressed as," Ed and Marsha Edmunds said. "This really makes the costume and the time spent together learning about the character is a lot of fun."

The decorations

When decorating for a Halloween bash, it's important to know your audience — age, interests and tolerance for all things spooky.

For Kovacs Forster, picking a theme is crucial to a successful party.

"We love a theme. It's OK to keep it simple," she said. "A theme helps create a background for the party, rather than a bunch of mismatched decorations."

Simple themes like a creepy hospital, with everything draped in white, or a graveyard, with everything draped in black, are easy to execute and can be made scarier or less scary depending on the audience.

"You don't have to be super creative or have a lot of money to decorate," she said. "Lighting plays a huge role in the feel of the room or space."

Kovacs Forster said one of her favorite Halloween decorations she's seen was one My Big Day put together for a party. They made over a bathroom to look like the shower scene from "Psycho," and it became the go-to set at the party for taking pictures.

You can also consider moving the party out of your home, Kovacs Forster said. That way, you can control the amount of space and remove some of the stress associated with set-up, hosting and tear-down in the home.

Or, if you're looking for maximum scare power, you can consider buying or renting props from costume or Halloween stores. Distortions Unlimited, famous for its stint on television on The Travel Channel's "Making Monsters," offers realistic props and masks to customers.

The activities

The possibilities for entertainment at Halloween parties can vary as much as the costumes. You can play music or spooky movies, host a costume contest, carve pumpkins or even make a haunted room of your house for kids to meander through. This, too, depends on the age and maturity level of the kids attending.

For example, the "Psycho"-themed bathroom may go over well with preteens, or you may have preschoolers refusing to go potty.

"Kiddos love to get a little bit scared, but depending on their age, be careful not to do anything too scary," Edmunds said. "You need to read the kids. No one wants to embarrass one of the kiddos by making them cry."

A tip from the expert crew in all things creepy at Distortions Unlimited is to play hide and seek with the seeker wearing a Halloween mask (well-ventilated – fainting is not advised). That way, when they peek around corners to find people, there's a scare, but only a little one.

Another idea the Edmunds suggested is to read a scary story at the party, and at the climax of the story, have someone knock at the door and someone runs in, looking like a character, whether that be a masked villain, a werewolf, a princess or anything else.

For less-scary fun, try a craft, like decorating tiny pumpkins or gourds that the kids can take home with them. Rickart said nearly every year since she and her siblings started running the Tigges Farm together, she's made many little art projects she calls "gourdies." These are painted and adorned gourds that can look like anything from a schnauzer to a peacock to a spider. Have small pumpkins on hand for the kids to decorate, and keep one larger pumpkin at the party for everyone to contribute to. At the end, have each attendee sign the back of the pumpkin.

If you're carving pumpkins at the party, Rickart recommends keeping some spray lacquer and petroleum jelly on hand. Spray the outside of the pumpkin and rub some of the gel on the inside to help it last all the way through Halloween without shriveling.

You can even make the pumpkin picking a part of the party. Start at a local farm, pumpkin patch or other agritourism destination, such as Tigges Farm, and have each child pick their own little pumpkin, then take them back to the party to decorate.

The food

When it comes to Halloween treats, the top spot goes to candy — but the kids will already be getting that on Halloween night. Think creatively and make ghostly or adorable treats out of ordinary items.

Everyone's heard of grapes as eyeballs or spaghetti as worms, but what about cotton candy spider webs or yogurt-dipped pretzel bones?

Make the food at the party into a game. Rickart said one of the most fun Halloween games she ever saw was when she was a 4-H leader. The game was called "Mystery Dinner," and each child received a menu listing different items, such as a pitchfork (fork), shovel (spoon), brains (spaghetti), guts (gelatin) and ghosts (marshmallows). But the menu didn't say what the items really were — just their Halloween alias. So, if children ordered guts and a pitchfork, they had to eat their gelatin with a fork. Rickart said the game was a hit.

But when it comes to cute, themed food, Kovacs Forster said to keep everything in the right perspective. Your perfectly crafted vampire cookies or gravestone cupcakes may be a hit on Instagram, but the kids will like undecorated items just as well.

"Keep the menu simple," she said. "Often, over-the-top, cute ideas don't matter much to kiddos. Parents may appreciate it, and your followers on social media, (but) keep in mind that what's most important is the overall experience."

Kovacs Forster also reminded parents that catering is always a safe bet when there's a chance a child could have food allergies, since the food is cooked in a commercial kitchen and is typically labeled as dairy-free, gluten-free, nut-free or free of any other allergen you may want to avoid.

Between owning a costume business, co-managing a popular agritourism destination in Greeley and being a mom and grandma, Kathy Rickart has seen her share of Halloweens done right and wrong. She's seen kids agonize over picking their pumpkins at Tigges Farm, light up or melt down about choosing a costume at Colorado Costume Castle and laugh in the face of the perfectly coordinated scare.

It's all about perspective, she said. Making sure everyone has a fun and safe Halloween is the top priority. And bonding over planning a great party with your kids is the pumpkin on top.

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