Virtual Halloween parties are where it is at this October. While remote activities for kids can get a bad rep, I’m here to say that, when done well, they can bring joy, safe social stimulation and lots of pleasure. Since teaching theater online throughout the pandemic, I’ve learned a thing or two. Happily, there’s no shortage of awesome party games that work well over Zoom. These are tried and true from our remote birthday parties and online classes with Child’s Play NY. Throw in 1) the excitement of Halloween itself, 2) a candy treat and 3) a costume…and then the normally fun games will be even more special.
“Let the wardrobe do the acting”
When working on Batman, Jack Nicholson famously counseled Michael Keaton to “just let the wardrobe do the acting.” Great actors have a long and storied tradition of working from the “outside-in” to make their most memorable characters. Laurence Olivier and Nicole Kidman have built noses and then used that transformation to define their role. Anthony Sher created a “bottled spider” look with crutches and black-fitting clothes for his Richard III.
Not unlike actors, kids can use costumes to boost their bravery, access their dramatic imagination and find their character.
Costumes this year (or really any year!) don’t have to be fancy or store-bought. Cat ears and face paint (ie your eye-liner!) work great. Similarly, repurposing a favorite outfit from the dress-up drawer or your own closet is perfect.
With a costumed character as a focal point, kids can find…
- Sounds of their character: accents, yowls, and maybe even a catchphrase
- Moves: how they walk, dance and a great defining gesture that can be mirrored back to them.
So, invite kids to come in costume and rename themselves as their character when they enter the room and get the party started!
Use Virtual Backgrounds
Get into the spirit by projecting a cool Halloween image behind you! For most kids in remote school, virtual backgrounds are a no-no. All the more reason when it is a “party” to let them use ‘em.
As part of your invite, you can do the leg-work for other parents and suggest a couple backgrounds. Simply attach them in the email invitation or suggest that kids find their own.
As a theater director, I love that we can use virtual backgrounds. It is like an instant “set”. Kids can feel transported to a haunted house or a spooky pumpkin patch. Look for actual photographs rather than illustrations to make the experience even more realistic.
Just like in a live party, a simple activity for kids to play together or engage in is the way to start. Here are some ideas for intro activities to get the party going and mitigate the awkwardness of kids joining the Zoom call at different times. Don’t just expect your guests to make small talk!
Here are some that I like:
Halloween Jokes/Riddles for Kids: Q: Why didn’t the skeleton go to school? A: His heart wasn’t in it!
Tongue twisters: “Which witch wished the wicked wish?”
Spot the Difference – Screen-share the image and unmute kids one at a time and ask them to spot a difference.
Lead kids through Day in the Life of their character
A Dance Party with Freeze Dance (call out different Halloween-inspired emotions, even better!)
Play “Grab and Go” – ask them to scavenge different “ingredients” in their house:
something shiny, something yummy, something sticky.
This helps break-up the screentime, grounds kids in the “real world” and gets them moving
Get the Kids on A Mission
Tap into kids’ primal desire to be heroes. You can set up an easy mission in the party with challenges at each step and base it off what your child loves the most. Here are some examples:
- Help the Witch come up with a delicious potion: play Grab and Go to give her the ingredients she needs, combine the ingredients into a magic stew.
- Rescue a ghost trapped in a tower (play elevator to different “rooms” in a haunted house until you reach the ghost.
- Solve riddles to decide how to get to a trapped goblin and teach him good manners when you get there.
- Go on a “ghost hunt” – like a bear hunt. Use the structure of the rhyme with little kids to scaffold the play and help decide where they should go next and what it should sound like. This can all be played in front of the computer, and you can spotlight your video with several different backgrounds at the ready depending on your next location.
- Here’s a visual example of a clue we made up for a Halloween class where the mission was to cheer up the ghost.
Tips for a Halloween Scavenger Hunt over Zoom
- Hide candy in the house and use clues to go on a scavenger hunt. While you’ll need other parents to collude with you on this, it is well worth it.
- Pick three spots universal to all your guests’ houses and co-ordinate with the parents to put a treat at each spot.
- Screen-share the clues one at a time and decide together where the candy must be at each step. “It’s the bathroom sink!” “On the welcome mat!” “Oh! Under my pillow!”
- Make sure each kid has found the candy before moving on to the next clue.
- Watch this to learn more about how simple and fun the clues can be.
Tell a Ghost Story
Silly Fill-in – A great group activity
Recently I got really into making up my own Silly Fill-in stories and playing them with groups over Zoom. This helps identify parts of speech, and also is super creative and of course funny. Make up a Halloween story or use a pre-written one like this great one from National Geogroaphic. Again, the screen-share is your friend and you can call out the guests one-at a time.
Tip: I find it is best to write the guest’s names down for a game like this, since the position boxes will change depending on whether they turn their camera on or off. You can also designate another adult or a guest to call out the next person in order!
Take turns making up a ghost story or Halloween adventure using Story Clap. Use transition words or even the words “Fortunately” or “Unfortunately” to steer the direction of the tale. Post up a campfire virtual background and say “pass the flashlight” when it is the next person’s turn to add on. End by recapping the story or have an adult wrap up the action so it is a cohesive adventure!
Read a Story
A super great activity – especially if the playing has been really robust and physical, is to chill out with a good book all together. I love these diverse Halloween books from Here Wee Read. You can screen share from Epic and then kids can hear you reading while at the same time seeing the pictures on their device. You can also let the story inspire another adventure or activity.
Control the Zoom Room
As the party leader with kids, it’s important that you create a structure for all the kids to feel safe and seen. My suggestion is to allow chatting only to the host, at least during the bulk of the party where games are being played. It is too tempting for kids to go nuts in the chat – we’ve all seen it – which can get really distracting to you as well as the party-goers engaged in the activities.
Additionally, you’ll want to make sure you have the power to mute and unmute kids in case there’s background noise or general chatter that pulls focus in an unwanted way. You can set up the party expectations at the top, and if you have more than 8 kids, you might want to mute all to start and control the setting where they unmute themselves. At this point in the pandemic, even the littlest of Zoom-ers know how to unmute themselves, but for parties with very young kiddos, make sure there is an adult present or at least nearby.
Speaking of adults being present, you may want to have a co-host, either another party guest’s parent or your partner. They can re-name kids as they come in, let them in from the waiting room or deal with the mute/unmute. IN all likelihood, if you are leading a group of kids in games remotely, you are definitely gonna want back-up, if only to deal with the technical elements!
End with a Sweet (Trick or) Treat
Like an online birthday party, you are gonna want to end on a “sweet” note. It is satisfying and very Halloween-y, of course. Patronize your local bakery or a mom
If you want to join Child’s Play NY for our free Halloween Party Class, please do!
Hope this inspired your Virtual Halloween events and wishing you all a safe and joyous (and not scary!) holiday.