Creativity and Confidence: Halloween is so much more than candy

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The kids created their own costumes with duct tape and felt

For parents, Halloween can be complicated: the social pressure to have the best costume, the fear of sugar overload, the risk of a late-night meltdown if kids are out past bedtime.

Still, I love it anyway — for three reasons we parents sometimes forget: imagination, creative thinking, and the building of self-confidence.

For creativity, less is more

Kim McCullough recently wrote about the creative play she saw when she got rid of all the play food and let her kids just pretend. She said their imaginations ran wild when the prescriptive toys were out of the way. In another exampleLowell School’s pre-primary classroom, the “dress up corner” has no clothes, only scarves — but those scarves turn into dresses, wings, hats, baby swaddles and so much more.  These are great reminders that children don’t need an off-the-rack costume to pretend to be a dinosaur!

Let the child lead the way

Thinking creatively is an opportunity to explore and a chance to connect with kids. Before Halloween, I like to start a conversation with, “You love pretending to be a dino — what are some of the things that make a dinosaur? Are they green from head to toe, or red? Do you need spikes down your spine, or a long tail?” We talk about how the character acts, what they sound like — in our house, the kids play out these activities for weeks. Helping your kids think through those elements and then come up with ways to create them is an opportunity for problem-solving. Could we cut up this shipping box to make spikes? Could we tape toilet-paper rolls together for binoculars? Last year the kids were inspired by a book about scuba diving– which lead us to learn about what equipment divers use. It doesn’t have to happen all at once — let your child’s ideas evolve.

We made a sword from cardboard and duct tape and used an old bandanna to turn a dress up vest into a complete costume.

Create the costume together

This is where the duct tape and hot glue gun come in! You don’t have to be “crafty”; pretty much anything your child can dream up can be assembled with duct tape and a hot glue gun. My child always tries to connect things with clear tape, but it rarely holds, so I help him use the duct tape — it’s practically permanent. Hot glue is helpful when you don’t want to see the silver tape, and works great on cloth and felt. In our house the kids know mom does the gluing, but they can participate putting the pieces together. I invested in a variety pack of felt four years ago, and we’re still putting it to creative uses. You could add felt spines to an old sweatshirt to make that dinosaur; one year we put yellow stripes on a black shirt for a bumblebee costume and pipe cleaners on a head band to make antennae. (Warning, don’t go on Pinterest and get all worked up about everything looking perfect; the point is to just implement your child’s vision.)

The best part is, it’s inexpensive. I budget about $10 to buy one thing to add to Halloween costumes. My rules are that the child identifies a part that’s missing, and that thing has to have future value as a dress-up component. One year it was bumblebee wings, the next year it was plastic tubing to make scuba gear (a bendy tube makes a great bath toy later on).

Building confidence: Let your child show off her work

This is the icing on the cake of costume creation. Once your child (with your help) has implemented their vision for costume creativity, they get to go present it to the world. They knock on the doors of neighbors and get to explain what they have created. I can see my children beaming with pride when strangers say, “Oh, I see you’re a bumblebee!” And I can see them working to explain: “I’m friendly — I don’t have a stinger!” This builds confidence in their own work, and sometimes it leads to adaptations and adjustments (like if we go to a costume party first and then come home to decide that pirates actually need to carry swords).

Let’s be honest: On Halloween, kids are motivated by the candy. How late yours trick-or-treat or how you distribute the candy is your decision. But before you grab that pre-fab costume off the rack at Wal-Mart or Costco, think for a minute about the opportunity that Halloween presents to work together with your child on a creative project, one that they can take pride in!

Tell us about your Halloween in the comments below: Did you create a costume? What was it? How did it go?

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Katherine lived on four different continents before settling in Washington, D.C., to raise her family. She works at a global think tank during the day and raises twin boys the rest of the time. When she isn't working on a spreadsheet for work, she loves walking in the forest with her family, which invariably involves stomping in puddles and climbing on logs. Though she is less of a world traveler these days, she continues to seek out adventures, from exploring D.C.'s museums and playgrounds to taking road trips to national parks. When it's time to unwind, she can be found snuggling with her husband on the couch. Likes: adventures, sleeping past 7 a.m., being surrounded by forests, the sound of her boys laughing, and locally made ice cream. Dislikes: whining, the patriarchy, and people who judge parents.