Schools often want to provide a fun, safe way to celebrate Halloween, but they can't simply take time away from learning to host classroom parties. That might be one reason why after-school Halloween carnivals are growing in popularity. In some communities, the Halloween carnival has replaced traditional trick-or-treating because it's seen as a safer, easier way to celebrate the holiday. If you don't know where to begin with planning a Halloween carnival, get your start right here with these tips.
To get started, form a committee of parents and teachers who will organize the carnival together. Hosting big events like this require a team of dedicated adults. You'll also need a large group of volunteers, which can include parents, young adults, and teenagers. If there is a college in your city with a teacher-training program, ask if they can round up some helpers. Education students are often looking for volunteer opportunities and they have a built-in trait you need: they love kids! Next, divide your parent and teacher organizers into groups that will be in charge of specific tasks, such as tickets, decorations, carnival games, food, and cleanup.
If possible, make the carnival a free event so that all families can take part in this safe Halloween celebration. Without ticket sales to help you finance the carnival, you may want to look into using PTA funds to cover some costs or asking businesses to donate candy and other supplies. Another way to raise money is to create a flyer that will be distributed at the carnival and sell advertisements that will appear in it. Ask a parent volunteer who works in graphic design to create this for you.
Before the carnival, you will need to purchase rolls of tickets either online or through one of your school's supply vendors (tip: compare prices to get the best deal). One way to handle ticket distribution is to provide every student in the school with a certain number of tickets. That way, all kids can participate regardless of their parents' income level.
You could charge a fee for tickets beyond the basic amount or provide ways for students to earn more tickets in the week leading up to the carnival. For example, maybe the class with the cleanest table at the end of lunch each day wins one extra ticket for each student. Or maybe administrators keep tickets in their pockets that week and hand them to students they "catch" doing the right thing, like picking up trash that wasn't theirs.
If you decide to sell tickets, set up a booth at the entrance to the carnival so it's the first thing people see when they walk in. You should station at least three volunteers at that table, especially when the carnival first begins. Collect money and distribute tickets only at that central spot so you don't have volunteers exchanging money at the carnival booths.
Decorating an entire school or even just the gym can feel like a daunting task. Don't break the back attempting to do this alone, or even with just a few people. The students will have plenty of fun, decorations or not.
If you can't imagine a party without giving it a festive look, simple streamers and balloons are two of the easiest ways to make a big impact without spending a lot of money. Another idea is to enlist help from hundreds of little hands—the student body! Ask each class to create Halloween decorations, perhaps assigning bats to the kindergartners, ghosts to the first graders, pumpkins to the second graders, witches to the third graders, and so on. Leave it up to each teacher to interpret the theme, then hang the kids' artwork in the spaces where the carnival will be held.
Activities could include:
- Cake Walk: Cut 20 pumpkin shapes out of paper, number them and tape them to the floor in a large circle. Have each participant stand on a number. Play Halloween songs, such as "The Monster Mash." When the music stops, each participant stands on a numbered pumpkin. The leader draws a number, and the participant standing on that number wins a cake, cupcake or cookie.
- Fishing for Treats: Create a partition either using a large cardboard box or a portable wall. Decorate one side of the partition with an under-the-sea theme. Make fishing poles by attaching a string to long wooden dowels and attaching clothespins to the ends of the string. One at a time, kids fish for treats by hoisting the clothespin end of the fishing line over the partition. A volunteer hiding on the other side attaches a candy to the clothespin, gives the line a little tug—indicating that a "fish" was caught—and the child pulls the line back over.
- Trick-or-Treat Village: Ahead of time, have volunteers decorate large cardboard boxes to look like houses (haunted or otherwise). At the carnival, line the houses up so they look like a neighborhood and have one volunteer sit inside each house with a stash of candy. The children then trick-or-treat at the houses. This activity is great practice for very young children learning how to knock on a door, say trick-or-treat and use good manners by saying thank you before moving to the next house.
- Bean Bag Toss: Paint a picture of a pumpkin on a large piece of plywood, then cut out holes where the eyes, nose, and mouth go. Lean the plywood against a wall or attach supports to it and stand it upright. Hand each participant three bean bags and award them small candies for throwing the bags through the holes (or just trying).
- Halloween Bingo: Set up one classroom to be a bingo hall. Make or buy Halloween-themed bingo cards. Ask a teacher or parent to be the bingo caller for the evening. Play several rounds of bingo, giving the winner of each round a candy bar or other prize.
The key to choosing Halloween crafts for a carnival is to select activities that aren't too messy, can be done without too much adult intervention, and don't require a lot of drying time. Here are some crafts worth considering:
- 3-D paper pumpkins
- Mask crafts
- Face painting
- Lollipop scarecrows
- Miniature scarecrows
- Ghost suncatchers
It's likely that your carnival will be held in the evening, so plan to offer dinner to students and their families in the cafeteria. The easiest route is to sell pizza, hot dogs and chips, as well as beverages, such as water bottles, juice, and soda. If you'd prefer to serve something healthier or home cooked, ask your school's administrators about the potluck policy in your district. If it's OK to offer homemade meals, have volunteers bring a dish to share. Many districts, however, require food to be prepared in commercial kitchens.
The kids will likely get enough sugar from the candy they receive at the activity booths, but if you can't resist, you could offer cupcakes, too. Sell store-bought ones and then set up a booth where kids can make their own cupcake toppers to decorate them.
Clean Up Crew
It's vital that your plans include time for cleaning up the school after the carnival is over. Enlist students' help in this and remind them that the chances of having a Halloween carnival the following year likely depends on how good the school looks after this year's carnival is over.
School carnivals require a lot of time and energy to pull off, but the hard work will be worth it when you see how much fun the kids have on Halloween. Just as you have memories from celebrating Halloween as a kid, your children will think back on the holiday with fondness, too.