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Three kids celebrating Halloween

Using Tech to Create a Safer Halloween

Tired of trick or treating? Try these ideas instead

Dark skies with only a sliver moon will hover over Halloween in 2021, which also falls on a Sunday. This will probably increase the demand from kids that just want to get out and do something fun and normal, like trick-or-treating. Meanwhile, anyone with school-age children is likely wondering whether kids should go trick-or-treating this year at all.

With climbing COVID-19 numbers affecting kids in Minnesota and community transmission levels high, health experts and some parents say “no way.” Every family and community is different, and ultimately it is up to parents, armed with risk information, to decide. But there may be some safer, really cool alternatives to traditional trick-or-treating, with a little help from DIY technology. 

Haunt your own house
If you have decided not to let the littles or teens tromp around the neighborhood, why not create an eerie vibe at home? Plan some fun themed activities with just a few people in your close-knit pod. There are a ton of cool techie effects you can create with little to no DIY skills. Of course, plan to have plenty of fall treats on hand.

Note that some effects mentioned may be too scary for younger ones. My son wouldn’t go to a haunted house until he was 10. But there is a range of ideas here, suitable for all ages. 

Creepy framed animated portrait. Have you ever walked by a painting where you feel like someone is watching you (did those eyes just move?!)? In the Halloween version, the subject looks normal at first, then turns haunted and appears to jump out at you. Aaaaaah! I kind of went down a rabbit hole watching tutorials on YouTube learning how to make one of these. You can get pretty elaborate and build a frame for a flat screen computer monitor and create your own portrait video that triggers when someone walks by. But a super easy version is to use an iPad taped to the back of a Goodwill matted picture frame, and download a pre-made, scary portrait video. No iPad? Any tablet, flat screen monitor or even a smart TV (that you can feed content to with your phone or computer) will work.

Home decorated for Halloween

Lights. Look for affordable, programmable lights to create a haunted atmosphere. With some pulsating lighting and just a few unsettling decorations, you can take your house from cozy to creepy instantly.

Sound. Growing up, we had an intercom system throughout the house, including at the front door. My dad would create a scary mix tape for background ambiance and also vocalize some “whoooooo… who dares to knock on my door?” type narrative that sent some kids running. That was in the 70s, so with today’s electronic gadgets, you can replicate this easily. For less than $60, you can pick up a portable Bluetooth speaker and microphone. Hide the speaker inside or outside, and connect it to some haunted house sound effects, like this 3 hour version on YouTube, then add spooky narration yourself with the wireless mic.

Low-tech fun projects to do with kids. Goodwill has really upped their game on marketing products typically in inventory this season, including things you can easily convert for Halloween décor. Check out this page for inspiration. There are quite a few easy project ideas that kids can take part in. Plus, you can pick up some great, affordable costumes for kids and adults. Why not dress up, even if you are not going out? Make a stay-cation party out of it. 

Martha Stewart has put together a list of 10 games the entire family can participate in. This time of year, you can pick up a plethora of non-candy treats for prizes. With a six-year age difference between our two kids, the older teen wasn’t agreeable to playing at first, but it ended up being a competitive fun-for-all, seeing who could gather the most orange and black Slinkys and glow-in-the-dark skull rings. Make sure and take lots of digital photos to share with family and friends!

Expand your haunt outdoors
Large DIY lawn structure. I found this infinite portal project video fascinating, where it appears you can see through a stone doorway into infinity. What I like about this project is it uses relatively inexpensive pink polystyrene foam insulation panels from the home improvement store as the major building blocks. This material is easy for adults to cut and shape with a razor knife or jigsaw, then everyone can join in painting. You only need one large can of grey paint (quart or gallon depending on the size of your structure), but also pick up a couple of sample size containers of paint—black for the cracks between the “stones” and olive green and brown to dab on for more realism. Note that you can only use acrylic paint on foam panels—spray paint and spray glue will disintegrate them. 

This walk-through portal example uses full sheets of foam insulation instead of blocks. I like the quick and easy method of this project, but to build a four-sided structure would be pretty expensive. 3”x 4’x8’ sheets are running about $53 right now.  Whichever style you choose, I suggest attaching a lightweight wood frame to the back side with Gorilla glue or foam glue, then secure with screws. If you are making foam “blocks,” they can be attached to each other with dowels before attaching the frame. In stagecraft, we would use a scalene L-jack, which is really just a triangle made of wood, attached to a frame to make it free standing. 

To really go the extra mile, you can attach some blue or green LED lighting behind the opening, and drape some acrylic spider webbing and black plastic spiders dangling from fishing line. Or, consider adding fog. Halloween fog machines often come with pulsating lights. You can also make some creepy tombstones out of the left over foam doorway you cut out, to plant around your portal. 

Projector kit. A small, portable projector could also fill in your infinite portal, or bundle up and have an outdoor scary movie night in the backyard! You can find a few highly rated machines on Amazon for under $100, like this 7500 lumens mini projector with 100 inch canvas screen, on sale for $65 at the time of this writing. Note the projector comes with an HDMI cable, but if you want to stream a movie from your phone, you’ll need to buy an adapter.

If trick or treating is in your plan
This year, keep a closer eye on the kiddos and set some ground rules if you decide to allow trick-or-treating. Make sure they understand to keep a distance from friends and neighbors. Incorporate a mask covering nose and mouth into kid’s Halloween costumes. You might find some costume inspiration on this Children’s Minnesota blog page, or create an idea of your own. 

Candy givers can social distance too by creating a six-inch candy delivery chute. This can be as simple as a PVC tube, or you can go all out with a frame and decorations like this maker on YouTube.

Whether you go high tech, or take an updated twist on traditional Halloween activities, the main thing is to have fun and stay safe.

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