Category Archives: Play and Fun Activities

What’s the Best Summer Camp?

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Each year around this time, parents start asking me about summer camp. They want to know which are the best ones. Just like with choosing preschool, I can’t give you a simple answer to that. Because it all depends on what your needs or goals are.

So, I recommend that before you look at camps, you first answer these questions for yourself.

Needs

What are your basic logistical needs?

  • Scope: Do you need full-time care all summer while you work? Or full-time care for a few weeks out of the summer so you can focus on adult projects those weeks? Or part-time enrichment camps every day that leave the afternoons for free play? I’ve also heard of families that when they visit the grandparents, they enroll the children in a part-time day camp, which may be more fun than hanging out at the grandparents house all day, and allow the adults some time to do adult activities.
  • Schedule: What time would it work for you to drop off? What time can you pick up? Realistically what works with your needs?
  • Location: I’ve often enrolled my kids in camps that are quite a ways from home. (Like wilderness camps and farm camps that were both about 40 minutes from our house.) It works for me, because my work is portable, so I just bring my laptop and while they’re at camp, I sit at nearby parks or coffee shops and get my work done. But you may prefer to stick closer to home or your workplace.
  • Cost: Costs range a lot! And it’s hard to compare costs between camps, as some camps are 5 hours long, some 6, some 7…  For example, even within the Bellevue Parks department, for a 7 year old, the hourly cost could be anywhere between: $9 per hour for theater camp or ballet camp to $11.50 for Lego/STEM to $22 per hour for pottery camp (high materials cost, I’m assuming.) If you need full-time care, the hourly cost matters. If you’re just looking for an activity focus for the week, and don’t necessarily need 6 – 8 hours of child care, maybe the total cost is more important. The Lego camp is $400 a week (9 – 4 each day), and the pottery camp is $242 a week (10 am – 12:30 pm).
  • Age requirements. There are plenty of camps for kids age 6 – 12. It’s harder to find camps for little ones, and if you do, they tend to be EITHER full-time child care OR very short – a few hours at a time. Versus camps for older kids can have a wide range of schedules.

Goals

The next question is what are your goals for having a child attend summer camp?

  • Is it just about child care while working? You may choose to have them attend the same camp every week all summer because having that routine is easiest for you.
  • Is it about summer fun? You may choose lots of camps that emphasize being outdoors and playing, or may send your kid to the same camps their buddies are going to so they have built-in friends.
  • If you want to expose your child to lots of different skills and activities to broaden their life experience, you may choose to dabble through a: farm camp, wilderness camp, theatre camp, art camp, science camp, and multi-sports camp all in one summer.
  • Is there something you want your child to learn that you aren’t able to teach? You may choose that opportunity.
  • Do you want a church-based camp, or a scouting camp?
  • Or do you want a family camp that you can ALL attend together?

Each family may have unique goals for each child.

Limitations: You should also keep in mind if your child has limits to what they can do. My youngest is autistic. He’s also very bright, so he can do so well at a camp that the staff  never realizes his challenges. But he has limits… and when he passes those limits, he has giant meltdowns. So, he does best when I enroll him in half day camps, not full day, and when he is one of the oldest kids in the program rather than one of the youngest so the social/emotional expectations are set at a lower developmental level. Know your child, and choose camps that set them up for success. (Note: there are camps that offer a few sessions each summer that are sensory friendly and have higher staffing levels, and there are also specialty camps that are solely for kids on the spectrum and that really focus on social/emotional skills – those can be a good match for some families’ needs.)

Research your options

Check out your parks department, and those in neighboring cities. Check the Boys & Girls Club, Campfire, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. They tend to offer LOTS of different camps, in lots of interest areas and locations and may be fairly affordable options.

Your city may have a summer camp fair (in the Seattle area, ParentMap sponsors four or five camp fairs in February and March where you can discover lots of options for summer camps. Check ads in local parenting magazines – but keep in mind that there are lots more great programs that can’t afford to advertise, so also check out word-of-mouth recommendations. Ask your friends, family, parents of your kids’ friends, and parents at the playground about what camps they have loved (or not).

Once you’ve collected names of interesting options, you can do your research online to learn more. Look at their websites and Facebook pages, and also search to see what else other people say about them online. (Always remember with online reviews, the people most likely to submit a review are the ones who are mad about a bad experience – anger motivates action. The second most likely are the ones who had unusually amazing experiences they want to share. But there may be 100’s of other people who had good experiences who don’t get around to posting reviews.)

Questions to Ask

Things to look for when you’re researching your options:

  • What is the typical schedule for the day?
  • How much is structured activity and how much is free play?
  • What activities does your child participate in?
  • How many children attend? What is their adult to child staff ratio?
  • What experience / training do those adults have? (Note: the vast majority of staff at ALL summer camps are college students, age 17 – 22 or so, with one or two years of summer camp experience.)
  • What backup staff is available in case unexpected challenges arise at a camp site? You may not be able to find this info online, but it’s helpful if they do have this. (I had one camp we went to the first week of their season and it was the first year they’d used that site and the young, inexperienced staff faced some unexpected challenges without experienced folks on-site to back them up… they got there, but it took them a while – I’m now inclined to choose long-established camps for the beginning of the summer, and save those “start-up” experiences for later in the summer when they’ve worked out the bugs.)
  • Do they have an indoor option in case of weather problems (too wet, or too hot)? I don’t find this a necessity but there was a parent who I talked to last year who was outraged that a camp her child attended did not have an indoor option for a hot, sunny day.

After you go through this process, you’ll have a lot better idea of what you’re looking for in a good summer camp. And one of the nice things about summer camps is that they’re only one week long. It’s a lot less pressure than choosing a school for a full school year. I figure it’s easy to just try it out for a week, and if it’s great, we return every year, if it’s not, it’s a learning experience we move on from.

Camps We Have Liked

Sometimes when I offer parents ‘more questions to ask’ instead of answers to their questions, that can be frustrating for them. So, here are some answers to what I think of as some of the “best” summer camps my kids have attended over the years. (All on the Eastside of Seattle metro / King County)

These are  my personal experiences as a parent, not representative of the views of my employers (Bellevue College and Parent Trust for Washington Children.)

My logistical needs for location, cost and schedule were always fairly flexible, so I was able to prioritize my goals of broad learning experiences for my kids. I put them in part-time summer camps most weeks of each summer, because I find I’m the best parent to my kids when I have a few hours to myself each day to work on my projects – that energizes me to come back for a great afternoon with them – going on hikes, swimming, picnics, and more.

My older kids did some fabulous camps that I haven’t revisited with my youngest, so I don’t have current info on them. But when my kids attended these camps (between about 1998 and 2013), they were fabulous:

  • Wolf Camp – a wilderness skills camp. Day camp for ages 6 – 11 in Issaquah or Puyallup. Overnight camps for age 9 – 17 around Washington State.
  • Shoo Fly Farm – a day camp which captures everything you would imagine summer childhood on a farm to include – take care of and play with farm animals, making butter and jam, tie-dyeing, and swinging on a tire swing. Registration tends to fill early!! (For 2019, their camps were full by the end of January.)
  • DigiPen Academy – their Project Fun camps for k-12 teach programming skills for video game development. My oldest child did them as a teenager. (He’s now a paraeducator. My middle child who did fashion design camps is now a software developer… it’s interesting how our kids turn out!)
  • Stone Soup Theatre Camp in Seattle, for ages 5 – 15.
  • Columbia Gorge Theatre Camp. Overnight camp in Portland area, for ages 10 – 18. A huge formative part of both my older kids’ lives, not just their theatre skills. Love it!

Here are camps that my younger child has attended recently and enjoyed (most are camps my older kids also went to years ago.)

  • Studio East. (Also a huge part of our family’s history!) Theatre camps for ages 4 – 19, held at multiple locations in Kirkland. Kids spend a really fun week learning dance, music, lines, and more, and put on a show at the end of the week. Theatre education is great not just for learning theatre but also for social skills and teamwork. They really encourage creativity and include kids’ ideas in the experience.
  • Pacific Science Center camps. We’ve tried lots of science camps. PacSci’s are the best, I think, for science learning. They offer lots of themes, in multiple locations throughout King County. Staff is well-trained, and curriculum well-developed. PreK through grade 8. What I don’t love – they’re pretty indoors and pretty structured for a summer camp experience. And, all their camps for my son’s age (2-3 grade) are full day (either 8:45 – 3:30 or 8:45 – 4.) That’s simply more than my kid can handle. So, he tends to make it through Monday to Wednesday of a PacSci camp, starts melting down on Thursday and on Friday they ask me to take him home partway through the day. I love that they’re starting to note “sensory-friendly” camps on their schedule that are a better match for kids with autism or sensory issues. I wish they’d realize that a shorter schedule would also help. (With optional extended day for the parents who need full-day care.)
  • Wilderness Awareness. Day camps for ages 4 – 13, overnights for 11 – 18. Day camps in Kenmore, Issaquah, Seattle, and Carnation. Nature games, story-telling, songs, hikes in the woods, animal tracking, and more.  Camp Terra at Cedarsong Nature School on Vashon is supposed to be fabulous, but we’ve not been able to attend yet.
  • Pedalheads. Because of my disability, I’m not able to teach my son to ride a bike, so I love having a bike camp option. They offer everything from 60 minute long camps for 2 – 3 year old beginning riders to full day camps for older kids with strong skills. I know many parents who had a 5 or 6 year old who started the week not knowing how to ride, and was riding independently by the end of the week. My son went for one week at age 5 and ended that week still on training wheels. He went for a week at age 6, he could just barely ride without training wheels. But he still had a great time both weeks. Pedalheads also offers a Heroheads sports camp he has taken twice and greatly enjoyed. (The photo at the top was taken there.)
  • Skyhawks offers many sports camps at many sites. Many are focused on a single sport, but I really like their multi-sports camp. Although we’re a physically active family, we don’t really play team sports, so I like that my son gets to spend a couple weeks each summer being trained in baseball, basketball, and soccer skills so that if a buddy on a playground asks him to play he at least has a clue.
  • Family Camp. With my older kids, we thought about attending a family camp, like the YMCA camps at Camp Orkila and Colman, or Cascades Camp, or North Cascades Institute. But, we never did. Then, four years ago, we started attending Eliot, a week-long family camp for Unitarian Universalists. Partway through that first week, I looked at my partner and said “I guess we know what we’ll be doing for one week every July from now on.” It is a joy to spend a week at camp, singing, tie-dyeing, dancing, listening to Harry Potter under a tree, swimming in the lagoon, and re-connecting with people we see every year at camp, who range in age from birth to 90-something. We love family camp!
  • Some cooperative preschools (like Pine Lake Coop preschool) will offer a few summer camps each summer for ages 3 – 5. These can be especially helpful for young ones who are just about to start drop-off preschool or kindergarten to get them used to being without you at class.

New Camp: Mercer Island is offering an Adventure Playground Camp for the first time this year. They’ve had a loosely supervised Adventure Playground the past few years (read about it at that link) so I look forward to my son trying out the camp!

Flexible Options:

  • Arena Sports – these win for most flexible camp option! 5 locations. Half day OR full day, with extended care options, for ages 3 – 12. They play soccer and active games, they play on the bounce house. As a friend once described an activity: “it sweats ’em up good.” We would attend these on weeks when we had plans on some days but had other days free, and I wanted to have my child to have a chance to burn off some energy while I caught up on projects.
  • Steve & Kate’s Camp – It’s been held on the campus of Bellevue’s The Little School for many years (although they’re at different sites for 2019). The advantage is their flexibility. It’s a huge age range from pre-K to 7th grade. You don’t need to sign up in advance – once you’ve registered for the year, you just show up there in the morning, whenever you want to for as many days as you want to. And when kids are there, they have virtually complete freedom to choose from many different activities (film-making, bread-making, games, robotics, sewing). It’s a “free range” approach. Works great for many kids – I have a friend who says it’s an incredible opportunity for his daughter to learn skills and use her creativity! But for my kid, he basically sat in the “lounge” reading books or watched other kids programming on tablets. It was fine for days I needed child care, but it’s lot more expensive than Arena Sports.

We’ve also done various one-shot camps that were great but we never happened to return to. Like one year I visited friends in Portland for a week while my kids attended Do Jump circus camp. There were summers where my child’s interests of the moment led to Fashion Design or Nature Illustration camp. We  attended several camps sponsored by the zoo and our local parks departments. So, the ones listed here are just a sampling of what our family has done, but there are SO MANY MORE great options out there.

What have I missed? What other camps in King County have you had a good experience with? Add a comment below. (If possible, include with  your recommendation: what ages it’s for, where it’s located, and what you loved about it.)

And if you’d rather just spend time hanging out at parks with your kid, read my posts about local parks, or if you have a toddler too young for camp and need ideas for activities, check out cheap dates with toddlers.

And, a product recommendation to make every day of summer camp easier for you: I LOVE the Solar Buddies sunscreen applicator! You fill it with your favorite sunscreen and then just roll it on. So much faster for me, so many fewer complaints from my son, and I don’t end up going to work with hands all gunked up with sunscreen.

Best Podcasts for Kids

Logos for 9 kids podcasts

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time hearing my kids’ little voices from the back seat as I drive. And when they try to strike up a conversation while I’m focusing on driving, I have a hard time following it and we both get frustrated. So, I love using car time to listen to something together which is entertaining and/or educational. When my older kids were little in the late 90’s, we listened to Boomerang audio magazine (you can still purchase recordings of this), Broadway shows and kids’ music. As they moved into their tween and teen years, we shared the experience of listening to audiobooks together, which helped us connect. These days, with my youngest, we listen to a lot of podcasts. (If you’re not familiar with what a podcast is, check out my post on Podcasts 101.)

Benefits of Podcasts

  • Free. There are lots of great podcasts you can listen to for free.
  • Portable. Can listen to anywhere – at home while doing art or Legos, in the car on the way to school, on an airplane, or at the dentist’s office.
  • Screen free distraction. We all know there are times where parents just need a few minutes to themselves to get something done. We may be in the habit of turning to screens for this, but audio is also a good option.
  • Educational. Kids can learn about science, history, ethics and more.
  • Learning benefits. Listening to podcasts trains them to listen closely and builds vocabulary. If they read along with a transcript while listening, it can help build their reading proficiency. Audio allows them to visualize ideas in their head, unlike videos. And:

When words are spoken aloud, kids can understand and engage with ideas that are two to three grade-levels higher than their reading level would normally allow. Aural learning is particularly helpful for students who have dyslexia, are blind, or for whom English is their second language, who might struggle with reading or find it helpful to follow a transcript while listening. source – see also http://www.readingrockets.org/article/reading-aloud-build-comprehension

Potential Pitfalls

  • Ads. Some podcasts have no ads. Some have ads that kids can tell are ads. But many have a host reading the ad, which makes them more powerful for kids and may distract from the main point of the podcast.
  • Inappropriate content. Many podcasts NOT kid appropriate. (I’ve definitely had times where I was with my son and I was listening to one of my podcasts that suddenly went somewhere not suitable for young ears!) You can consider using a specialized kids-only podcasting app to be sure everything’s appropriate.

How to Listen

You could use Stitcher, Pocket Casts, Spotify, or whatever app you prefer. Since we always listen in the car using my iPhone, I use Apple Podcasts for all of the podcasts my son listens to. However, if you want your child to be able to manage their own podcast listening on their own device, you might choose a kid-only app such as:

  • Kids Listen. iOs app: or listen online at https://app.kidslisten.org/search. On the app, you can choose from these categories: Seasonal Sweeps (collections of episodes on a seasonal theme), Brand New, Dive into the World of Books, Curl up with a Story, Jump Into a [Serial] Adventure, Explore your Curiosity (mostly science shows), Meet Cool People (Interviews), Launch Your Imagination, or my favorite “Starter Episodes” where several podcasts suggest the episode they think is best for you to listen first. You can also create a “stash” of episodes you’ve downloaded to listen to. They have 30+ member podcasts, including several of those listed below. Curated by a grassroots organization of podcasters, parents, teachers, and listening advocates. It is free to download, and you get the most recent episodes for free. There’s a monthly subscription fee for those who want access to archives of older episodes.
  • Leela Kids. iOS and Android. Free. You select kids age (3-5, 5-8, 8-12, 12-15) and interest (e.g. stories, music, animals, space, ocean, dinosaurs, math, science, religion, language learning, “curious”) then browse through options. For example, I searched for science for age 5 -8 and got episodes from Wow in the World, Tumble, Fun Kids Science Weekly, Sid the Science Kid, Brains On, Surgery ABCs, and Show about Science. (There were 147 episodes in the category, which is a little overwhelming to scroll through, but certainly plenty of content!) You can also subscribe to and download favorite shows. The Free app includes visual ads in the app and allows up to 3 downloads, up to 3 items in playlist, and up to 3 subscribed shows. The paid premium subscription has no ads and unlimited downloads, items, and shows.
  • Pinna Children’s Audio Stories. iOS. $7.99 per month. Age 4 – 12. Audio stories, podcasts, and audio games categorized by age, genre, listening setting (travel, family time, bedtime), and more. Includes exclusive content. To search audio content by age, choose your kid’s age range from the top menu bar (4-5, 6-8, or 9-12). To choose by content type, scroll down to view selections: Featured, Pinna Originals, Activities, Popular, Audiobooks, or Genres. Genres include classics, adventure, animals, fairy tales, science, and more.

What to Listen To

Story Podcasts

Stories Podcast. Writer Daniel Hinds and narrator Amanda Weldin tell lovely, engaging stories, often with catchy little songs included. Some are original, many are based on classic fairy tales from around the world. We love listening to these on the way to school. Can range from 10 – 12 minutes, or there are some that are told over the course of multiple episodes, but we haven’t tried these yet. Best for ages 5 and up.

Sparkle Stories. Original audio stories. Some fairy tales, some cultural tales. My favorite stories are the ones featuring two kids named Martin and Sylvia. Only a few episodes are available broadly, but if you like them, you can access 875 (!) Sparkle stories on their app. OK for age 4 and up, best 6 – 8.

Story Pirates. Kids write short silly stories, and then adult actors and comedians build them into full stories and act them out, sketch comedy or musical theater style. Silly and wacky. Appeals to kids 4 and up.

Here’s some podcasts that we haven’t tried yet, but I’ve seen many recommendations for.

Little Stories for Tiny People. Around 10 minutes. Mostly whimsical tales about animals. For toddlers and preschoolers at bedtime or anytime.

Peace Out Calming stories that teach mindfulness and meditation and help children calm down at the end of the day. Episodes include breathing exercises and visualizations on feelings like jealousy, anxiety and fear. Best for preschool / early elementary.

Story Time. 10 – 15 minute original bedtime stories, told in a soothing British accent by host Rob Griffiths. Best for preschool / early elementary.

Circle Round. (NPR) Story-telling for age 3 – 10. 10 – 20 minute episodes of carefully-selected folktales from around the world. Topics such as inclusivity, kindness, persistence and generosity.

If you like stories, be sure to also check out my posts on Books Toddlers Love and Books About Inventors.

Science Podcasts

Tumble – A Science Podcast for Kids. They tell stories about science discoveries with the help of scientists. They both address interesting topics and try to get kids excited about science by interviewing scientists who share their passions. 8 – 15 minutes. Age 6 – 12

Brains On. Episodes are 25 – 35 minutes long. Each week a different kid joins host Molly Bloom and they interview scientists. Answers questions from kid listeners using science and history. Listeners also submit “mystery sounds” which are played early in the episode and described late in the episode. Age 6 – 12.

Wow in the World. (NPR) Science education show on the latest STEM news by Guy Raz from NPR and Mindy Thomas. Professionally produced, so great soundscapes. They have a schtick where Mindy suggests wild and crazy ideas and Guy is the voice of reason – I find it tiresome, but my son loves it. And the science content is excellent.

But Why. 18 – 45 minute episodes. Each episode takes on several questions submitted by kids, tied to a single theme, and answers them with the help of experts. (We haven’t tried it yet, but reviews say it’s good for kids who aren’t ready for Brains On.)

If you like science and are looking for fun science experiments and engineering projects to try with your child, check out my other site, www.InventorsOfTomorrow.com.

Other Educational

The Past and the Curious. Comedic actors perform little-known stories from history, aiming to make them inspiring, amazing, and relevant to everyone. Ends with a quiz segment. Professional music scores and original songs.

Dream Big. 15 – 20 minutes. 8 year old host and her mom interview celebrities and award winning experts. Inspires kids to pursue their passions and make their dream a reality.

Silly Podcasts

This Podcast Has Fleas. (NPR) Waffles, a dog, starts a podcast and so does her rival Jones, a cat. There’s also Benny the Gerbil and Mr. Glub the Goldfish. There’s only 6 – 8 episodes. We listened when my son was 6 and he LOVED them and wanted to listen over and over again to each. (And today at age 8, when I mentioned this podcast, he wanted to listen to them again.)

What If World. Listeners call in with questions, which Eric O’Keefe writes original stories in response to. Describes in imaginative detail answers to questions like “What if Elephants Were Alive?” We listened to the “What If I Turned into a Hamburger” episode and enjoyed it.

The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd. We’re looking forward to trying this one, where Dr. Floyd tries to fend off his evil nemesis while learning about history, geography and science. Old time radio in style.

Music Podcasts

I haven’t tested any of these, but here’s what many sites recommend:

Ear Snacks. Songs and discussions with kids and experts. Best for preschool to early elementary.

Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child. “Indie music for indie kids.” Music aimed at kids (Moona Luna, Ella Jenkins, Lunch Money, Caspar Babypants, and They Might Be Giants) and kid-friendly tracks from The Ramones, Mike Doughty, Ella Fitzgerald, Brian Eno, Pizzicato Five, Fishbone, and more.

OWTK’s Kids Music Monthly. Out with the Kids playlist, including the Not-It’s, Recess Monkey, Dan Zanes, Alphabet Rockers and More.

Saturday Morning Cereal Bowl – 2 full hours of kid’s music that’s smart, funny, and interesting.

More Recommendations

Podcasts 101

Logos from recommended podcasts

What is a podcast?

A podcast is like radio on demand. So, unlike the days when you had to turn on your radio at noon on Sunday to hear your favorite show, you can now listen anytime anywhere. In the car or on the bus, folding laundry or packing lunches, on long walks or while working out. When internet is available and when it’s not.

What are podcasts about?

Everything. Sports, news, psychology, pop culture, trivia, history, music, movies, science, fashion, religion, wellness, economics – if people like to talk about it, there’s a podcast about it. Some feature a host doing a monologue on a topic of interest to them. (For example, I cover Pregnancy and Birth on my Transition to Parenthood Podcast.) Some are 2 – 4 hosts discussing a topic – like a movie reviews podcast. Some feature a host interviewing experts in the field. Many may feel similar to talk radio or TV talk shows. There are stand-up comedy podcasts. There are also lots of story-telling podcasts or radio theatre podcasts, where a story might be told in a single episode, or might be serialized over many episodes for many years.

How do podcasts work?

Podcasters upload recordings to the internet, and you can use a variety of apps to access them. You can stream content live over an internet connection (on your desktop computer at home, on your laptop WiFi at a coffee shop, or using the cellular data on your phone) or you can download to your phone or other mobile device so you can listen any time without needing internet access.

What does it cost to listen?

Most podcasts are free. Many podcasters get no financial compensation for their work, some use a system like Patreon to collect donations from listeners, and some have commercial sponsors, so they’ll run 30 second to two minute “ads” for their sponsors. For many podcasts, this ad consists of the host riffing about their sponsor’s product, saying whatever random thoughts come to mind each week. They can be entertaining – but, when the “ad” comes on one of my weekly podcasts, I just tap the “fast forward 30 seconds” button 4 times to skip it. (Sorry to Casper Mattress, Hello Fresh, and Harry’s Razors – I do appreciate your sponsorship of podcasts I listen to, I promise!)

Who makes podcasts?

Podcasts range hugely. There are some slick professional productions by major media corporations, but there’s plenty that are recorded around someone’s kitchen table. I’ve heard podcasters get interrupted by police sirens going by, crying kids, cats knocking their coffee off the table and more. Some podcasts are made by some top experts in their field. But the majority are made by amateurs who have day jobs but podcast about their passions. There is a wide range of quality – sometimes I have sought out “expert advice” in an area I knew little about, and then discovered that I knew more than the person making the podcast! (When we were prepping for a trip to Disneyland, I checked out lots of podcasts for tips and trivia, and wow, there’s a broad range of skill and knowledge amongst Disney podcasters.)

One thing that makes podcasts different than, for example, a weekly show on NPR, is that the podcasters may let their personalities shine through more and share more of their personal experiences and opinions than they would on a radio show. I have some podcasts I’ve listened to every week for years, and know their in-jokes (like why Devindra on /Filmcast can finally understand Interstellar) and know when they got a new dog (like Linda Holmes on Pop Culture Happy Hour and Sam Sanders from NPR Politics and It’s Been a Minute.) Sitting down and listening to the podcasts can feel a little like dropping in on old friends.

Where / How do I listen?

There are a few podcasts that are only available on one platform – you have to go to their website or their app to listen. But the majority are available on lots of different platforms. If you have an iOS device, Apple podcasts is the default option, and it works well. (Though some recommend Pocket Casts when you’re ready for more options.) For Android, there are multiple options. The most common recommendations are: Pocket Casts, Stitcher, and BeyondPod. Plus NPR One for all things NPR. More recommendations.

On each of these apps, you can search for shows, get recommendations, and read reviews. You can choose to listen to just a single episode of a podcast, or you can subscribe to your favorite shows so you’ll get notified when there’s a new episode (or you can set it to download automatically every time a new episode is released.)

What should I listen to?

There are so many choices that it’s hard to know where to start. In 2014, Slate wrote about The Top 25 Podcast Episodes of All Time. Time Magazine offered their recommendations on 50 Best Podcasts (2017), the Guardian’s 50 Podcasts You Need to Hear (2016), and here’s Esquire’s 20 Best Podcasts of 2017. NPR has a “podcast concierge” at earbud.fm – they crowd-sourced recommendations from over 6000 people, and pared the options down to 228 episodes (including some NPR shows and many that aren’t).

I’ll just share a few examples from what I listen to, but this is only a snapshot of the options available and may tell you as much about my own personal quirks as it does about the world of podcasting.

  • Round table discussions of pop culture topics (typically the same hosts each week)
    • Pop Culture Happy Hour. An NPR podcast where the hosts discuss current movies, TV, books, music, and more.
    • /Filmcast. Each week, they discuss “What We’ve Been Watching” (on TV and movies) and review one movie in depth. I’ve been listening weekly for years, and when I hear the theme song start playing, it just makes me happy! Each summer they have the Summer Movie Wager where they bet on what will be the top grossing movie of the summer, and you can play along. I was probably irrationally pleased at the fact that for most of the summer I was beating all the hosts.
    • Still Processing was great. Till they stopped releasing podcasts in August with no warning. It featured two African-American culture writers for the New York Times. Hopefully they’ll return.
    • I’m currently binging This Is Us from NBC, and I’m really enjoying also binging on two related podcasts: This is Us with Kei & Clyde, and This is Us Too, which both just feature a married couple chatting about one of their favorite shows. (I find the Afterbuzz TV on This is Us a little annoying, and actively disliked the one episode of This is Us Podcast that I tried. Podcasts are diverse and you are certain to find some that click with you and others that don’t.)
  • Interview-based shows: the host covers a different topic each week, interviewing experts in that field
    • Imaginary Worlds. The host, Eric Molinsky, talks and interviews people about science fiction, fantasy, comic books, and gaming – imaginary worlds and why we choose to suspend our disbelief. Eric has a great voice, a respectful interviewing style, and a genuine curiosity that really gets me engaged.
    • Hidden Brain from NPR. Host Shankar Vedantam uses science and story-telling to link neurobiology with economics, sociology and more. It reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior.
    • Broadway Backstory. A documentary style podcast exploring how a show goes from an idea to a full production.
    • 99% Invisible. Host Roman Mars (with one of the best voices in radio) explores the power of design and architecture. He takes on a topic that you may not even notice when it is working well and tells a compelling story about why it works the way it does.
    • The TED Radio Hour. Guy Raz explores the emotions, insights, and discoveries that make us human. The TED Radio Hour is a narrative journey through fascinating ideas, astonishing inventions, fresh approaches to old problems, and new ways to think and create
  • NPR Politics: In-depth stories and discussion on the politics of the day from NPR’s top political reporters. I binged this from September 2016 – September 2017, then couldn’t bear to listen anymore. (But not because I don’t love the hosts or the podcast!)
  • Story-telling
    • Serial. This was a phenomenon when it launched in 2014. A true crime podcast, told as a serialized drama.  I have only listened to the first season, the story of Adnan and the murder of Hae Min Lee. The week long wait between episodes was unbearable. So compelling!!
    • The Moth. True stories, told live by those who experienced them. Recognized storytellers, first timers, and voices from communities whose stories often go heard. Range from hilarious to heart-breaking, often within the course of one story.
    • Vinyl Cafe. The Vinyl Cafe is an hour long show from the CBC that includes music (focusing on Canadian musicians), verbal essays about the host’s travels through Canada, stories from listeners and stories about a fictional family – the Dave and Morley stories. Sweet, delightful little stories that can have you laughing so hard you cry. (They’re kid appropriate too!) It broke my heart when the host Stuart McLean died in 2017. Right now on iTunes, they only have the Holiday Special. (Hopefully the rest re-appears someday.) But go, listen to it now. And then buy his CD’s of more stories.
  • Trivia podcasts. This summer, my daughter and I were playing pub trivia every Tuesday night (shout-out to Geeks Who Drink at Otter Bar in Seattle), so I binged on lots of trivia podcasts. My favorite by far was PodQuiz. Host James Carter is just so reliable. Each week there are 20 quality questions, and they always follow the same pattern, which is just strangely reassuring in an unpredictable world. He always starts with a music round, then questions on the theme of the week, then audio clips, then a general knowledge round. Then he plays a song (I skip over these, but that’s just me…) and then the answers. And the same sound effects every week and always ending with “Bye now.” I also really like Good Job Brain (and so does my 8 year old son). It’s a fun mixture of quizzes and also background knowledge on trivia topics which will build your skill for future trivia events.
  • Podcasts for Kids: I have an 8 year old, so we also spend plenty of car rides listening to science podcasts (Brains On, Wow in the World) and story podcasts (Sparkle Stories, Story Pirates, and Stories Podcasts). Read all about Podcasts for Kids and get all my recommendations in this separate post.

What are your favorite podcasts that I should check out?

Fun with Toddlers – Beach Theme

My Fun with Toddlers series includes crafts, games, songs, rhymes and books tied into a theme. These can be used as lesson plans for a toddler class, preschool curriculum, or for parents to have fun with little ones at home. A beach or ocean theme offers lots of fun opportunities.

Science Activities

Field Trips. If you live near a beach, go there! If there’s an aquarium nearby, go there. Or go to a pet store, what I call the “small animal zoo” to observe fish and other aquatic creatures. You may even find great tropical fish tanks at restaurants or in hospital lobbies. Or, search for “virtual field trip aquarium” and you’ll find lots of options, including Seattle Aquarium.

Sink and Float Experiments. In the bathtub, or a large tub of water, let your child experiment with a wide variety of objects. What sinks? What floats? Help them notice any patterns (e.g. these metal things sink, these plastic things float, heavy things sink…).

Explore Shells. Offer a collection of shells for your child to explore. Talk about their colors, shapes, textures. Count them. Sort them.

Ice Excavation. Fill a container with water, drop in sand, shells, and plastic fish and freeze. Put it in a tub and give your child water to pour over it to melt the ice. (If your child won’t eat the salt, you can also give them a salt shaker to sprinkle salt on it to hasten the melting process.) Photos from littlebins.

iceice2

Sensory Activities

Ocean Sensory Bag. Get a gallon size ziplock (freezer bags are even sturdier than regular bags). Fill it with water, or with blue shower gel or clear hair gel from the dollar store. Add plastic fishor shells or glass stones, then close the bag, and tape it closed. Set it on a table (or tape it to a window) and a baby or toddler can poke and prod at it, and the fishies “swim away” from their fingers. Photo is from For the Love of Learning.

sensory bag

(HearthSong also makes a really cool AquaPod which is a 4′ diameter pod you fill with water that kids can jump on, roll on, etc.)

aquapod

Discovery Bottle. Fill a water bottle partway with water, add blue food color. Then add in either oil (mineral oil or baby oil are prettier, but any vegetable oil will do – see more pictures at Imagination tree) or blue glitter glue (like littlebins does). Then add seashells and/or plastic fish. Put on the lid and seal with tape or glue. Child shakes and observes.

bottle 6  

Beach Dough. Make play-dough with sand. Let your child play with it with their usual Play-dough Tools and add shells to mix in.

Crafts

Ocean Foil Painting. Cover cardboard with aluminum foil. Squirt on a little green paint and more blue paint (glitter paint is especially fun). Give child q-tips or paint brush to smear the paint around. Let the painting dry overnight, then add ocean life stickers. Find a full tutorial and more pictures at newswithnaylors.

foil

Bubble wrap prints. Place bubble wrap on a tray. Dribble some paint on it. Let your child use their fingers or a paint brush to spread the paint around. Then press paper onto it to print the paper, then cut the paper into fish or starfish shapes. (photo Crafty Toddlers)

Celery print fish. Give your child a fish shape cut from paper, paint, and a celery stalk. Show them how to dip the celery in paint, and press it to the paper to make fish scales. This image is from Crafty Morning. Your child’s art won’t be this pretty. You could also do this on a paper plate to make a fish like a Little Pinch of Perfect‘s project.

celery-stamp-rainbow-fish-craft-for-kids-to-make Paper Plate Fish Craft Inspired by The Rainbow Fish: a perfect read and craft book activity for kids (preschool, kindergarten, ocean, summer, childrens literature)

Ocean Suncatcher. Peel the backing off of contact paper, and place it sticky side up. Give your child blue tissue paper squares and black ocean life shapes to stick on. When they’re done, seal it with another piece of contact paper and tape in the window. Images from Mrs. Plemon’s kindergarten and Buggy and Buddy.

suncatcher Shark Crafts for Kids: Shark Suncatcher~ BuggyandBuddy.com

Coffee Filter Craft. Give your child ocean colored liquid watercolors or diluted food coloring and a q-tip. They dip the q-tip in the color, then touch it to the coffee filter to decorate it. Idea from a little Pinch of Perfection.

Ocean Animal Coffee Filter Suncatcher Kids Craft and Free Template (summer, ocean, whale, shark, dolphin, kids craft)

Paper Bag Jellyfish. Child paints the paper bag, then you cut the tentacles and add a face.

ocean themed crafts

Aquarium – photo at top of page. Spread glue across the bottom of a paper bowl. Sprinkle in aquarium gravel, sequins or gems, or glass stones. Add a sparkly paper fish. (This craft is better suited to preschoolers than young toddlers.)

Outdoor / Pretend Activities

Set up a “beach”. Put out a plastic tub of water – if you have one big enough for your child to walk in or sit it, that’s great. It not even a few bowls full of water to play in with a few scoops to pour back and forth is fun. If you have access to sand, put out a small container of sand for them to play in. (Tip – put the tub on top of a plastic tarp or large trash bag so that when they’re done playing, you can pour all the sand they spilled back into the tub.) Put up a beach umbrella. Bring out towels, and beach reading, and drinks with paper umbrellas. Play some surf music.

Fishing. If your child is no longer mouthing small objects: print or draw pictures of fish, cut them out, add paper clips to each, and throw them in a “pond” (any big container). Give your child a magnet to “go fishing” with.

Songs to Sing

Row Row Row Your Boat

My Bonnie (hold child in lap, lift child up each time you say Bonnie; tune)
My Bonnie lies over the ocean My Bonnie lies over the sea
My Bonnie lies over the ocean Oh bring back my Bonnie to me
Bring back, bring back (rock back and forth) Oh bring back my Bonnie to me, to me
Bring back, bring back (rock back and forth) Oh bring back my Bonnie to me

Little fish (here’s a video of the tune – my words are slightly different)
Little fish, little fish, Swimming in the water,
little fish, little fish, Gulp, gulp, gulp.
Oh no! It’s being eaten by a
Bigger fish, bigger fish, Swimming in the water….
Octopus…wiggling…  great white shark… lurking…
Big blue whale…. Spouting… (for this verse end with “Splash, splash splash” instead of gulp)

Baby Shark (really fun to sing! here’s a video,)
Baby shark, Doot-doo, doot-doo-doo-doo Baby shark, Doot-doo, doot-doo-doo-doo
Baby shark, Doot-doo, doot-doo-doo-doo Baby Shark!
Mommy Shark… Daddy shark… Grandma shark… Going swimming… See a shark… Swimming fast… Safe at last… Bye-bye shark…

All the Fish (tune)
All the fish are swimming in the water, Swimming in the water, Swimming in the water
All the fish are swimming in the water (swimming motions with arms)
Bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble…SPLASH! (spread hands wider & wider, big clap for the SPLASH)
All the ducks are paddling in the water, paddling in the water, paddling in the water
All the ducks are paddling in the water (doggy paddle motion with hands)
Bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble…SPLASH!
All the frogs are jumping in the water…. (jump with both feet)
All the kids are splashing in the water… (splash hands in the air)
Bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble…SPLASH!

Fish in the Ocean (tune: Wheels on the Bus)
The fish in the ocean go swim, swim swim. Swim, swim, swim.  Swim, swim, swim!
The fish in the ocean go swim, swim, swim.  All day long!
The octopus in the ocean goes wiggle…. Sharks chomp…. Crabs pinch… sea horse rocks…

Rhyme to Say

One, two, three, four, five. Once I caught a fish alive.
Six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Then I let him go again.
Why did you let him go? Because he bit my finger so!
Which little finger did he bite? This little finger on the right.

Books to Read

Over in the Ocean: In a Coral Reef by Berkes and Canyon. A counting book-that-sings based on the “Over in the Meadow” tune, featuring gorgeous illustrations.

Fish, Swish! Splash, Dash!: Counting Round and Round by  MacDonald. A terribly clever design. As you read forward in the book, it counts up from one to ten. Then when you reach the end, you flip it over and count down from ten to one.

Ten Little Fish by Wood and Wood. Age 2 – 5. A counting book with cute illustrations, simple text. Counts from ten down to one, then “along comes another fish… soon one is a father, the other is a mother…”

Spot Goes to the Beach by Hill. Duck & Goose Go to the Beach by Hills. Ladybug Girl at the Beach by Soman and Davis. Honestly, just go to your library catalog… do a keyword search for “beach”, then narrow the search down to children’s books, and you’ll discover books from Curious George at the Beach to Paddington to Pete the Cat to Scaredy Squirrel… pretty much every series with more than a few books goes to the beach at some point.

Here is a free printable handout handout you can share with some beach themed activities.

For science themed activities for older kids related to the ocean, the beach, sink and float, check out my other blog, https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/. Or check out my Fun with Toddlers series for other themes, including: Pets, Zoo, Transportation, and the seasons.

How Halloween Works

stock photo of child trick or treating

Fifty years ago, my husband’s parents moved to the United States and luckily, a co-worker took Jim aside and explained to him what Halloween was, and how trick or treating works. I had neighbors a few years back who weren’t so lucky, and were very confused when my costumed family showed up on their doorstep calling out Trick or Treat! I now work with many families who are newly immigrated to the U.S. so I thought I’d write a primer on how Trick or Treating works, from choosing a costume to how to trick or treat, where to trick or treat (neighborhood, malls, trunk or treat events or office parties), how to welcome trick or treaters at your house, safety issues, and what to do with all that candy! I also include a few recommendations for movies, books, and songs about Halloween.

Choosing a Halloween Costume

If you’ll be trick or treating outside, think ahead about practical things about what the weather will be (do they need to fit a coat under the costume, or wear something that can get wet) and how to ensure your child will be visible to drivers (if your child chooses an all black costume, consider choosing a white treat bag or other accessory that’s visible in the dark). Check out my other post for lots more thoughts on choosing a costume.

Don’t forget a treat bag or container of some sort for collecting candy in. Make sure it’s easy for your kid to carry, easy for them to open up to put candy in, and not easy for them to spill all the candy out of! (Tip: Don’t choose a giant bag. Choose a smaller container, so it’s easy to say “Oh, it looks like your bag is full. It’s time to go home.” There’s only so much candy you want to collect!)

How to trick or treat:

Look for houses that have their porch lights on – that’s the signal that they welcome trick or treaters. Send the children up to the porch (you hover nearby). They ring the doorbell or knock. (If no one answers, move on. But usually they will.) When the host opens the door, the kids say “Trick or Treat!!” Sometimes the host holds out a bowl of candy – kids can reach in and take candy. (This is a good chance for kids to practice their best manners – make sure they know to take just one!!) Sometimes the host holds out a few pieces of candy – the kids hold their treat bags up for the host to put the candy into. Teach your child to always say “Thank you” and “Happy Halloween.”

Sometimes the host will engage them in a lot more conversation like “Oh, I like your costume? What are you dressed up as?” Encourage your child to participate, or move nearer to help them answer. This is a good time for them to practice social skills. On a very rare occasion, when your child says “trick or treat”, the host will say “trick.” Tell your child they could cross their eyes, roll their tongue, balance on one foot or something else.

People ask “What time is trick or treating?” There’s not usually any set time, just the general trend for an area. In the Seattle area, we find that our earliest kids come by at 5:30, and the latest are around 8:30. Aim for the middle of that window, and you’ll be fine. Make sure your kid eats a good dinner before you start! Note: toddlers may only be up to going to a handful of stops before they’re done. The older kids are, the longer they last.

Choosing Where to Trick or Treat

Neighborhood?

My favorite option is to trick or treat in a neighborhood. It’s a fun opportunity to take your child for a walk around the neighborhood after dark, and a rare chance in modern society to at least briefly meet lots of your neighbors.

Which neighborhood to chooseI think it’s lovely when you can do your own neighborhood. When I was a kid, we knew the families with kids, but this was one of our few opportunities to interact with the other families in the neighborhood. In our current neighborhood, we know some families well (the ones with kids), some families a little (the ones who come to the HOA meetings), and there’s a few families that our only interaction with them has been on Halloween nights. I think when neighbors can recognize each other and have some connection to each other, no matter how small, it makes the neighborhood friendlier and safer for all, as we all look out for each other a little bit more.

But, many people live in neighborhoods that are unsafe, or neighborhoods like my in-laws where over the past several years, fewer and fewer houses had their porch lights on each year, so more kids chose to go elsewhere, so fewer kids came, and my in-laws are about to give up on buying candy and turning their porch light on.

If you’re wondering whether your neighborhood will be busy on Halloween night, or if there is somewhere better to go, ask neighbors, ask parents at the playground, or ask on Nextdoor or your neighborhood Facebook group. As a general rule, upper middle class neighborhoods where young families live may be best – lower income areas or areas with older homes are more likely to have retired folks or younger adults who are at work. (Not to say there can’t be great neighborhoods in all demographics!)

For apartment dwellers – Some apartment communities actively encourage trick or treating (you’ll see signs up in the elevators or by the mailboxes, notices in the newsletter, and so on). Some don’t. Some apartment dwellers host trick or treaters even if the apartment doesn’t specifically encourage it, but some don’t participate even when the community does. Keep your ear out for what it seems to be where you live – on Halloween night, there may be a system like: if there are decorations or a sign you can trick or treat there. (Learn more about apartment Halloweens.)

Candy in a bowlSome people who aren’t able to be home for Halloween leave out a bowl of candy. I generally don’t have my kid take any, just because for me, the whole point of Halloween is human interaction, not more candy.

The Mall (or downtown business district)

Lots of malls host a trick or treating event (at the bottom of this post, I list details for my local malls on the Eastside of Seattle). The events may also include live music, clowns, games, face painting, costume contests, or other activities.

In these, you go store to store (participating stores are typically marked in some way like a balloon at the door), and ask for candy.

I’ve found that at some stores, you get a great reception where you do the whole trick or treat routine and the clerk chats about the costume and so on. At other stores, especially the busy ones, the poor harried clerks just kind of point at the candy dish and grunt “take one” and go back to work.

The advantages to a mall event are that the weather doesn’t matter, they’re well-lit, and can feel a lot safer and more predictable than a neighborhood. The disadvantage is that it can feel a little impersonal and consumerist – you’ll go home with a lot of candy, but not much sense of connection.

Trunk or Treat

Some churches or schools sponsor “trunk or treat” events which are often open to the general public. These are “Halloween tailgating parties” where parents or community members park their cars in a parking lot and decorate their backs of their cars, and the kids walk around to the cars to trick or treat. At some events, kids do an activity, like a carnival game, to earn their candy.

I honestly have never been to one, but it sounds like kind of halfway between the other two options – it’s outdoors and has more personal interactions like the neighborhood, but it may feel safer or more contained, like the mall. Since it’s a short walk between cars, it may be easier with little ones than a neighborhood. Also, parents / community members get a chance to socialize instead of being at home alone waiting for trick or treaters to appear. Events may have rules which ban overly scary or grotesque decor which might frighten kids. Here’s an article about how to organize a trunk or treat event. And Pinterest has hundreds of ideas for how to decorate a car for an event.

Office Parties

Some companies host trick or treating in their offices, where the kids go around to desks or offices. This could be a nice chance for your child to meet your co-workers or a partner’s co-workers and see the workplace. Like mall events, I find that some people are excited to greet the kids, and it’s a nice chance to connect. Some are just trying to finish work before a deadline and just kind of wave at the candy bowl and continue working.

Nursing Homes

Some elder care facilities host Halloween events. It’s a nice chance for your child to experience being around older people in a positive way, and can brighten their day.

Welcoming Trick or Treaters at Your Home

If you live in a neighborhood where there’s lots of trick or treating, then when children are younger, it may be easier to stay home and let the fun come to you. Many people without children may also opt to stay home on Halloween and welcome trick or treaters. Or leave one family member home while the rest go out.

Getting the Goods: Buy candy that you like, in case you have leftovers. Only give away items that are individually wrapped. This is not the time to make your own cookies to share. It can be hard to know how much to get – ask your neighbors what typical traffic is in your neighborhood, or ask on Nextdoor or your neighborhood Facebook group. My in-laws buy 6 full size bars and often don’t give those away. We give out about 50 – 70 items. Other neighborhoods I’ve heard may do 200! Find tips below on allergen friendly and eco friendly options for treats.

On Halloween night: Leave your porch light on – that tells people they’re welcome to come ring your doorbell. Adding a few decorations is even more welcoming. Some families play Halloween themed music too. Or bake pumpkin spice cookies – not to give away, but to make the whole neighborhood smell good! Put your pets away – you don’t want to risk them running out the front door, or frightening a child. (If you’re a dog lover with a sweet dog, it can be hard to remember that many children have no experience with dogs or might have had a frightening encounter in the past.) If you run out of candy, turn off your porch light.

For info on what to expect when you open the door, see how to trick or treat above.

Choosing Low Allergen or Non-Food Treats

Consider offering a couple different kinds of candy. For example, if you’re a huge fan of a candy with nuts, offer that, but also offer a nut-free option. Or if you offer milk chocolate, offer a dairy-free option. Or consider a non-food option, since in the United States, 1 in 13 children has a food allergy, some of which are life-threatening. Many of these children participate in the fun of trick or treating, then go home and sort through their candy with their parents for the few pieces that they can eat.
Food Allergy Resource and Education sponsors the Teal Pumpkin project. It raises awareness of food allergies and promotes inclusion of all trick or treaters. It offers an alternative for kids with food allergies and others for whom candy is not an option. To participate, you provide non-food treats, and place a teal pumpkin at your house to signal your participation and to raise awareness. (If you also offer candy, make sure the non-food treats are in a separate bowl to avoid cross-contamination.)

They offer several ideas for non-food treats, as does the Green Halloween site. You can get glow sticks or stickers or such at your local dollar store – or check out your local thrift store for pre-used items to cut down on environmental impact. We gave away Glow In The Dark Balls for Star Wars year, Dinosaur Toys when my son was a triceratops,  jungle Animal Stickers (including tigers) for Calvin & Hobbes theme, and Pokemon Toys when he was Pikachu. The cost has ranged from about 10 cents to 30 cents an item.

Green Halloween

All of this individually wrapped candy or all those non-food consumer goods have a negative impact on the environment. It’s also a really consumerist holiday that’s all about “getting more stuff.”

You can make your Halloween greener by: buying costumes from second-hand stores or participating in costume swaps, re-purposing clothes or dress-up supplies you already own by adding make-up or a few small accessories, using lead-free face paint instead of masks, choosing decorations you can re-use every year rather than buying new, making decorations from recyclable items, composting your pumpkins, selecting treats that are free trade or organic (Green Halloween has recommendations), giving seashells or polished rocks or seeds to plant, or hosting a party to encourage people not to participate in trick or treating.

Hot Beverages

Our family tradition is a little unusual… years ago, we went trick or treating on a very cold night in Snoqualmie, and a family was giving out hot cider to the parents and it was lovely! Years later, we moved to a neighborhood with trick or treaters, to a house with a front porch, and we started our tradition of sitting on the front porch handing out hot chocolate and hot cider to all the parents who come by. (And non-food treats to kids – we’re a teal pumpkin house.) Our decor theme each year is determined by what our son decided to be for Halloween that year.

Because this is not really a common Halloween tradition, people are often surprised when we offer them a drink, but then we end up having some great conversations with them and they almost always take us up on the offer.

I hear rumor that some parents hand out alcoholic beverages to other parents. We don’t, because I’m not into anything involving potential legal liability.

Leaving out a bowl of candy

Some people feel bad about being away from home on Halloween, so will leave out a bowl of candy so no one is disappointed. This can work out very well – some will report that some candy was taken, or will say that their security cameras recorded lots of sweet little kids coming up and taking one candy each. Some report that not only was all their candy taken by one person – the person took the bowl too. 😦

Handling Scary Decor and Costumes

Your child may see costumes or decorations that frighten them. There is a trend toward gory, macabre costumes and decorations, like bloody severed hands and rotting corpses.

Some people argue for the scares:

“It’s about the other side, the dark side, the side of life we as parents would like to pretend doesn’t exist—but it does. It’s about going out into the night and confronting your fears, a little more each year. And what’s better than facing your fears and finding out they’re not as scary as you imagined? It’s like going on a roller coaster. First time: terrifying. Subsequent times: totally fun.”  (Source)

But if you’re the one who has to manage your child’s fears in the moment, or their nightmares and anxieties for the next few weeks, you may not feel so enthusiastic about this trend. Some ways to manage this:

  • before Halloween talk about decorations – maybe even go look at them in stores so your child can see that the skeleton is lifeless plastic. Explain that people will dress up in costumes and show pictures of lots of friendly costumes and a couple scary ones, but emphasize that it’s always just another kid underneath the mask.
  • you and your child could preview the neighborhood you plan to trick or treat in the daytime – seeing the decorations in the light of day can make them less frightening
  • teach your child that if there’s decorations that make them uncomfortable, they can skip that house – we use the phrase “it’s OK to say no when your friends say go”
  • if you and your child are welcoming trick or treaters at your own door, you may want to peek out at the costume first to see whether it’s one that will concern your child before calling the child over to see

Safety

You’re out after dark in neighborhoods that may not typically have many pedestrians, so practice really good pedestrian safety. If anything about a neighborhood or a particular house feels wrong to you, trust your instincts and skip it. Explain to your child why you are doing that – it’s good for them to learn to trust their instincts too. (But please try not to let prejudice enter in here… nothing like “we won’t go to that house because I don’t trust people of that race / religion / orientation…”)

Some parents of upper elementary kids will drive slowly along in the car while the kids trick or treat, keeping an eye on them.

Pre-teens.  If you have a tween who wants to trick or treat with friends without you tagging along: Make sure they have a phone with them, know not to enter any building, and know to leave immediately if they are uncomfortable. (You can do an update to the “Tricky People” conversations you had when they were little.) Also have them do regularly scheduled check-ins. If they’re in your neighborhood, ask them to do one block, then stop by to say hi, then another block, etc. If they’re in another neighborhood, you can hang out in your car or at a public place nearby where they can check in from time to time.

Teenagers – How Old is too Old to Trick or Treat?

I personally lean toward following the memes that say teenagers are just trying to be kids for a little while longer, and it’s better for them to be trick or treating than up to other mischief on Halloween. (Like attending a kegger….)

And yes, they might not be wearing a costume, but that’s because the group of friends may have decided at the last minute to do this, and didn’t want to admit to each other that they all still wanted to do this.

When teenagers do come to my door, I treat them as I would anyone. But if they forget to say trick or treat or say thank you, I smilingly remind them to do so the next time.

When I had a teenager who still wanted to trick or treat, I also had a toddler. So, my daughter and her friends took my little guy out. Consider suggesting to your teen that they offer babysitting / Trick or Treating Buddy services to a family you know with younger kids. They can dress up too.

What to do with all that candy

Set up rules and expectations in advanceWhatever the rules will be, tell your child BEFORE the candy is in their hands!!! You don’t want your memories of the evening to be about the whining and yelling that happened when you tried to make up rules in the moment.

Inspect before eating. Many parents have a rule: Don’t eat candy while trick or treating – wait till we get home and can check it out in the light. I personally don’t worry much about things like poisoning or razors in the candy – those things have happened but are really incredibly rare. But I still like to look at what we’re eating first.

Sort the candySorting is a key skill in math and science. Kids can learn a lot by counting, sorting by size, sorting by chocolate / non-chocolate, sorting by favorite to least favorite, comparing who collected the most, and so on.

Do more science! There’s lots of great experiments with candy. Start here, then use google or Pinterest to search for more ideas.

Do more math! There’s lots of math activities with candy. (The more you have, the more you can count. Start here, then use google or Pinterest to search for more ideas.

Trade the candyWe’ve had complicated family exchanges in our family sometimes: “I’ll give you three Milky Ways for that Twizzlers.”

Share the candy.  Encourage kids to share candy with other people who didn’t go trick or treating: “Dad gets all the Reeses’ cups.” “Grandpa really loves butterscotch candies.”

Send candy care packages to troops. Learn how at https://www.operationgratitude.com/express-your-thanks/halloween-candy/ There’s additional donation options here.

Participate in a candy buyback. These may be sponsored by a local dentist office or other organization. They may participate in the www.halloweencandybuyback.com/ program, which supports veterans programs.

Buy it back yourself. Some parents buy the kids’ candy either with money or a promised toy.

Let them eat as much as they want. Some people recommend this. Some, like dietitian Emily Fonnesbeck, say

“trying to control a kid’s candy intake [on Halloween] can backfire, and limits their opportunity to learn about making good food choices for themselves, even when they’ve got a pillowcase full of candy… “If we make candy a big deal, it will be a big deal,” she says. “If we talk about it like any other food, it’s more likely that kids will be able to self-regulate their food choices to include a wide variety of foods instead of feeling preoccupied, worried or shameful for food choices.”

Some parents say they’ve had a time where they let a kid totally gorge on candy till they threw up, figuring they’d “learn a lesson” that way. Personally, my kid learned that lesson on accident once (on an Easter when she was 23 months old, we thought we were supervising her well… till she started vomiting all over my friend’s house, and we could tell that somehow she’d gotten a hold of and eaten LOTS of chocolate). I don’t want to repeat that experience! Here’s our solution:

Eat it. But follow portion rulesIn our family, we tend to have an “all things in moderation” attitude. We don’t ban much of anything. (Read here about a study where kids got a little obsessed with the crackers that they had been temporarily banned from eating, and other effects of denying food to kids.)

One place that plays out is in our “two sweets a day” rule, where the kids get sweet credits. A credit equals one cookie, or a piece of cake, or a piece of candy (like a fun size piece… a whole candy bar would be many credits, with M&M’s there’s about 5 candies per credit). They can spend their credits at any time during the day, as long as they have eaten some real food first (i.e. no candy before breakfast). But once the credits are used, they’re gone… so “if you know grandpa will offer to take you to ice cream tonight, be sure to save a credit for that”. For Halloween, we allow them to eat five candies that day, and the rest gets put away for future use. (And each October 30, I throw away all the old candy leftover from Halloween, Christmas, Easter and summer parades since they never remember to eat it all.)

Halloween Movies, Books, Songs

For some more Halloween fun, in the weeks leading up to the big day:

Check out these posts for Scary (but not too scary) Halloween movies – categorized by age level, and How to Choose a Scary Movie for your Kid. It includes these tips and more:

“Kids under 7 will believe what they see. When picking media, nothing should be more startling than “Boo!” Kids over 5 may like haunted houses, mysteries, and things popping out everywhere, but stick to animation, which helps them realize that it’s fantasy. Be careful with monsters, skeletons, aliens, and zombies.”

Here are recommendations for Halloween Books that are only slightly scary and Best Halloween Books for Kids.

For fun songs, rhymes and crafts for toddlers and preschoolers, check out my Fall Themed Fun for Toddlers. For thousands more craft ideas, just check out Pinterest.

Trick or Treat 2018 – Mall Options on Seattle’s Eastside

Here’s a list of public places that are offering trick or treating on Halloween – Oct. 31:

  • Bellevue Square, 5 – 7 pm. Trick or treat, photobooth, clowns, Mad Science, live music.
  • Crossroads 4 – 6 pm, trick or treat at outside stores, not inside the mall. No masks. Live music 6 – 7:30.
  • Factoria 4:30 – 6:30 pm Trick or treat and games.
  • Kirkland Downtown – Trick or treat at downtown merchants. Typically 3 – 6 pm, but 2018 details not posted as of 10/12.
  • Redmond Town Center, 4 – 7 pm. Trick or treat, face painting, and jumping in the Springfree trampoline, face painting and costume contest.

Seattle area folks, also check out these ParentMap articles on Best Pumpkin Patches in King and Snohomish Counties, and Scary (and Unscary) Haunted House Attractions

Learn about more local Seattle area activities for families, year-round.

Learn about the importance of family rituals.

Photo at top of page from: Good Free Photos.