Christmas is still THE holiday chez nous, but Halloween is pushing a close second. Even before the new backpacks and school shoes have lost their sheen, my kids start planning their Halloween ensembles and the countdown to trick-or-treating begins.
The Web is a useful resource for finding costume, decorating and party ideas and all sorts of Halloween-themed stuff, including stories, games and whatever it takes to keep your kids pacified until Oct. 31. There are also lots of Halloween zealots with too much time on their hands creating spooky Web sites. Visit one or two a day, and before you know it, Halloween will be here.
Here are some good, family-friendly Web sites to get you started. But beware: You and your children can get lost in Halloween on the Web. (Of course, parents should always sit with their kids when they are searching the Web because the content of Web links change, even those listed on "safe" sites.) Happy haunting. FAMILY FUN, www.familyfun.go.com Type "Halloween" into the search box and you'll be rewarded with a plethora (612 when I checked) of designs for costumes, crafts, stickers and decorations as well as jokes, riddles, games, party ideas and recipes. The site, from Family Fun Magazine, makes loads of spooky stuff easily accessible right from your computer. It's nearly ad-free (the only ads are for the magazine) and easily navigable by younger kids. We found designs for simple crafts such as bats to cut out on black paper or foam, recipes for pumpkin cupcakes and candy corn-shaped pizza, Halloween coloring pages to print out, intricate pumpkin carving templates (such as a haunted house), bone shapes to print for making a skeleton costume, a design for a huge Frankenstein lawn decoration made from a picnic table, a recipe for green slime and loads more. Here you can learn how to play party games such as mummy wrap or zombie tag or how to dress your child as, say, a pink unicorn or a traffic light.
KIDS DOMAIN HALLOWEEN FUN, www.kidsdomain.com/holiday/halloween/index.html
Planning a ghoulish get-together? You'll find a one-stop planning guide at this site for a kids' Halloween party, including suggestions for invitations, food, games, decorations and costumes. The site is easy to navigate and full of ideas, but it does have kid-oriented ads, which I find annoying. (My kids have trouble telling the difference between advertising and "content.") That quibble aside, it's a great place to find all things Halloween.
For overachieving parents, there are dozens of clever costumes to make. Dress your child as Scooby Doo (a brown sweat suit and baseball cap, some felt and lots of sewing) or a box of popcorn (my kind of costume because it requires little more than paint, popcorn, an old box and imagination). On the party page you'll find "putrid party games" such as the eyeball relay (painted ping-pong balls) and "revolting recipes" (Dracula's blood pudding or spider ice cubes). If your time is limited (whose isn't?) and you don't mind the ads, this one site will keep your kids busy at least until next Halloween.
TRICK OR TREAT FOR UNICEF, www.unicefusa.org Amid all the candy, costumes and party planning it's a good idea to remember that lots of children around the world don't have shoes to wear or enough food to eat, much less Frankenstein flip-flops or creepy-crawly cupcakes. At this site, kids can order a free orange Trick or Treat for Unicef box to collect loose change all monthlong to send to Unicef.
Many schools participate in this annual fundraiser, but if yours doesn't, you'll find information about it here for schools, groups and individuals. When your kids are clamoring for Halloween candy, remind them that raising just $10 will buy enough high-protein biscuits to feed three hungry children for a month.
NASA KIDS: HALLOWEEN FUN, http://kids.msfc.nasa.gov/ events/halloween.html
When I think of NASA, Halloween doesn't immediately spring to mind, yet the National Aeronautic and Space Administration has a fun Halloween page on its NASA Kids Web site. At this ad-free site there's a haunted house activity that will appeal to school-age children and younger ones with parental help. Kids click around the outside of the haunted house to figure out how to enter. Once they've solved a matching game (involving evil pumpkins) and put together the puzzle door, kids can enter the house and begin collecting clues to solve a mystery. Spooky sound effects add to the creepy (but not scary) atmosphere of this entertaining Halloween game. The site also includes Halloween stories by kids who visit the NASA Web site, a spooky word puzzle, an educational-but-not-quite Halloween story about Echo the bat and a board game about black holes to print out and play.
BLACK DOG'S HALLOWEEN, www.blackdog.net/holiday/halloween/index.html Get kids into the spooky holiday spirit by playing games at this kid-friendly site. The games, such as Witch Hunt or Monster Match, are simple and silly, but engaging for younger children. My 8-year-old liked the word puzzles and the mazes in Halloween shapes such as a spooky spider or haunted house, which you can print out and play. You can also download screen savers, such as flying witches or bouncing pumpkins, to put your computer in the right Halloween mood.
Jane Huth lives in the north suburbs with her husband, a second-grader, a kindergartner and a newborn.