Halloween parties have long been a tradition for our family – even before having kids. Determining who had the craziest costume, telling ghost stories by the fire, scaring the living daylights out of anyone you can, and, of course, an excuse to eat lots of food was something we always looked forward to each Halloween.
Two years ago we decided not to go out for Halloween, we went rogue and made our own trick-or-treat event. Since our kids are a little older now, my best friend and I decided to create our own adventure by setting up haunted stations throughout the yard. Using items we already had or getting inexpensive things from the dollar tree, we created a memory-worthy night for everyone. The kids had fun getting scared and the adults had even more fun scaring them.
Each stop had heaping handfuls of candy (found half-price at the grocery store) so the kids ended up with more candy than they would have gotten by going out house-to-house. We managed this with four adults and six kids, so small groups will work. Of course, we moms had to get into it with our own costumes, and the dads were delegated the spooking tasks.
Decorations came easy as many items were repurposed from various things on hand. Remember, some cool lighting and shadow effects can make anything look spooky in the dark. Some super simple repurposed decorations included: tomato cages from the garden with a sheet/cheesecloth over it and illuminated from the bottom, using free pallets my husband had picked up from the local HVAC company, a spooky doll from my childhood, and the soccer goal covered with a sheet and circular glow sticks creating eyes in the night. We also kept the meal beforehand super simple by creating a nacho bar with Halloween punch (including a hand-shaped floating ice block).
Putting these together was a lot of fun. Keeping things simple and repurposing kept the cost down and the fun level up. Although, I got so into the planning that I actually had maps created for the kids to follow and another version to assign adult duties, ensuring the kids got a good scare along the way.
Here are the ideas for the stations we used, but this was just our plan. Use any or all, but make it your own exciting event. We let the kids watch a Halloween movie before we got started, giving the adults time to set up and walk through everything before it was dark. Our kids were so excited though that they actually decided to create their own Halloween video inside to surprise us with later.
Station #1: Trunk-or-Treat – We started off gentle (and deceptively so), allowing the kids to get plenty of candy right off the bat, from the back of the decorated vehicle. More importantly, this gave the adults time to get into their positions.
Station #2: Hidden Hand – Initially, I was going to use arranged tables and a large plastic bowl with a hole cut in the bottom. The adult would hide under a decoyed table (and not seen in the dark anyway). When the kids greedily reached in to grab their candy, the hand grabs them instead. Fortunately, my work was made easier since my husband’s concession stand for his baseball field (read about the baseball field in our yard here) was vacant, and the perfect hiding spot with an open area (concession window) was already built-in.
Station #3: Scare in the Garden – Even in the daylight, the garden area looks pitiful and sickly by the time Halloween rolls around. Flowers and plants have died off, leaving a perfect spot for spooking. An area of trees or other natural spaces would also work to create a true crime scene. I found an old, vintage dress at a thrift store and hung it up in the garden. The breeze had it swaying eerily. In addition, an old surgeon’s costume with red paint handprints added to the scene. I placed some eyeball yard lights (found at the dollar store) along the way. Skeletons, a cheap shower curtain from the dollar store with red paint splattered on it, and finally an adult silently standing in the garden area as they rounded the corner definitely got at least one scream. Place a mysterious bowl of candy nearby, adding some gruesome details to the bowl.
Station #4: Playground: This is the perfect opportunity to use the ol’ ghost swing trick. Tie a clear fishing line to one of the swings. Have a shadowy figure nearby but with hands in a jacket pocket, discreetly pulling the swing to make it move. Remember, it’s dark outside, so it will be easier to disguise but keep the lighting to a minimum to look more realistic. Deck out the remaining space with cobwebs and creepy decor.
Station #5: Graveyard: Okay, so I realize that not everyone has a graveyard in their backyard. However, we happen to have one that dates back to the early 1900s. It’s so old that just walking past it in the dark is creepy – it looks just as spine-chilling as the ones in horror movies. Add in floating candles (tied to a tree at the graveyard gate with fishing line) and someone near the graveyard rising up from the ground, and there are most definitely guaranteed screams. If you don’t have a century-old cemetery in your yard (I would assume most don’t) then use the faux graveyard fencing and tombstones found at dollar stores. Better yet, get creative and make your own.
Station #6: Zombie Station: If you have adults who don’t mind dressing up, this is a good place for them to be zombies and roam around. My favorite decoration ended up being the zombie pallet. Using free pallets, we laid them flat with orange and red plastic tablecloths and orange and red string lights underneath. Then we attached stuffed gloves coming out of the pallet.
Station #7: Mystery Boxes – Cooked spaghetti for intestines, grapes for eyeballs, dog bones for human bones, gummy worms for real worms, you get the idea. Make a large sectioned decorated box with different bowls of delight, or just offer covered bowls with a small hole on top. We painted tall tissue boxes black to use.
Station #8: Experiment Table – If you like science, then this is your place. Think oozy, gooey, and yucky. Have your victims make something as a group or safely demonstrate some shocking and explosively exciting experiment. Elephant toothpaste is a good one, the soda and Mento geyser (you could use red soda), or make a witch’s explosive “poisonous” apple (making the apple a volcano). To add a little pop to the night you could make an exploding chalk bag. The sound will make them jump and if you use some gross colors of chalk together the sight might be sickening. Use interesting lighting for the area. We changed out the porch lightbulb to a black light, which worked great for our table.
Station #9: Sinister eyes/Ghost Story – Ominous eyes staring at you while listening to ghost stories can be freaky. Cut eerie eye shapes out of empty toilet paper rolls, then insert glow sticks and hide them together in bushes or other areas. Before dishing out the candy, gather the kids around for a haunting ghost story while the “monsters” in the bushes watch. Get your best adult storyteller on board and make it good.
Station #10: Games: Wrap up the fun with some games. Use corn hole boards for a (mini) pumpkin throwing contest. Play horseshoes or any easy backyard activity. Position lights at each end to make it easy to see the boards and poles. Our favorite activity was the cheese ball toss; it was hilarious to see this. The kids paired up, and one partner wore a plastic shower cap. The other partner covered it in shaving cream to make a target, then stood back to see how many cheese balls they could land. The team with the most cheese balls in the end won.
Details will be key to adding hair-raising adventure to your night. Add in some haunting music. Make simple ghosts out of glow sticks, balloons, and fabric. Stuff some newspaper in a large black trash bag and wrap it in tape to look like a body. Find some free pallets to make beware signs painted with glow-in-the-dark paint. Lots of black, purple, or orange string lights add the right ambiance without revealing too much light. Of course, there are tons of decoration ideas out there. I searched through lots of various ideas and customized different ones to work for us. Best wishes for some great scares! (Now an adult version would be SO much fun – maybe next year?)
P.S. I will not be held responsible for any nightmares. Try at your own risk.
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