How to Plan a School Halloween Carnival

people at a Halloween party

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Many schools host Halloween carnivals for students and the community. Such carnivals have even largely replaced trick-or-treating in some areas because they're a safer and simpler way to celebrate Halloween. Everyone comes together in one spot versus scattering around the neighborhood.

If you're interested in orchestrating a school Halloween carnival, first you'll need to form a committee of parents and school staff to help with planning. You'll also need to enlist volunteers to assist with preparations and work at the actual event. Besides parents and school staff, other community members and even older kids might be interested in helping. Once you have your team, then it's time to assign everyone specific tasks, including the publicity, decorations, activities, food, and cleanup.

Publicity

As soon as you decide on details of the carnival, put up flyers around the school and community. If possible, make the carnival a free event, so anyone can participate regardless of their income level. You might be able to use some school funds to help you cover costs, or ask local businesses for donations of supplies in exchange for advertising spots at the event and on event flyers.

If you do plan to charge an admission fee, you will need to purchase rolls of tickets to sell around the school and community prior to the carnival, as well as at the carnival entrance on the day of the event. You also could have an online ticket sale where attendees must print and bring their own tickets. Ask the school to post information for ticket sales on its website.

Decorations

Decorating an entire school or even just the gym can feel like a daunting task. Make sure to enlist several people for this job, and don't feel like every part of the carnival area needs to be decked out. Simple streamers and balloons in festive fall colors are two of the easiest ways to make a big impact without spending a lot of money or time.

You also could enlist the student body to help. Ask each class to create Halloween decorations with different themes, perhaps assigning bats to kindergartners, ghosts to first-graders, pumpkins to second-graders, witches to third-graders, and so on. Leave it up to each teacher to interpret the theme, and then hang the kids' artwork in the spaces where the carnival will be held.

Games and Activities

Several people should be in charge of choosing the carnival games and finding volunteers to decorate and manage each station. Some popular activities 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 "Monster Mash." When the music stops, each participant should stand on a numbered pumpkin. The leader then draws a number, and the participant standing on that number wins a cake, cupcake, or other treat.
  • 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 can fish for treats by hoisting the clothespin end of the fishing line over the partition. A volunteer hiding on the other side should attach a piece of candy to the clothespin and then give the line a little tug, indicating that a "fish" was caught. Then, the child can pull the line back over to their side.
  • Trick-or-treat village: Have volunteers decorate large cardboard boxes to look like houses (haunted or otherwise) prior to the carnival. Then, 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 can trick-or-treat at the houses.
  • Bean bag toss: Paint a picture of a pumpkin on a large piece of plywood, and then cut out holes where the eyes, nose, and mouth go. Lean the plywood against a wall, or attach supports to it to stand it upright. Hand each participant three bean bags, and award them pieces of candy for throwing the bags through the holes (or for just trying).
  • Halloween bingo: Set up a space to be a bingo hall. Make or buy Halloween-themed bingo cards, and ask a volunteer 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.
  • Halloween crafts: The key to choosing crafts for a carnival is to select ones that aren't too messy, can be done without lots of adult intervention, and don't require a lot of drying time. Some crafts worth considering include 3-D paper pumpkins, face painting, miniature scarecrows, and DIY masks.

Refreshments

It's likely that your carnival will be held in the evening, so plan to offer dinner to attendees. Foods such as pizza, hot dogs, and sandwich wraps are usually crowd-pleasers, along with beverages such as soda, juice, and bottled water. For dessert, you'll likely already have activity booths that are stocked with Halloween candy. But you also could offer Halloween-themed baked goods or even have a booth where attendees can decorate their own treats.

Aim to work out a deal with local restaurants to cater the event for a discounted rate. You can either charge people for individual food items they buy or incorporate the food costs in the ticket price. Another option is to ask your school's administrators about the potluck policy in your district. Some districts only can serve food that's been made in commercial kitchens. However, if it's OK to offer homemade food, have volunteers bring dishes to share.

Cleanup

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 depend on how good the school looks after this year's carnival is over. If there's interest in having another Halloween carnival in the future, be sure to save the decorations and other items that can be reused.