It’s the spookiest, kookiest, most fun time of the year for your little boos. But believe me — the fun is frighteningly fleeting. Princesses and pirates don’t keep much past the pre-teen years, and Oct. 31 blows by faster than the wind hits a jack-o’-lantern’s candle. So I say stretch the fun this month by creating a little (okay, a lot) of Halloween hype at home. Here’s a little pumpkin primer, otherwise known as 10 fun and simple ways to make it the most spooktacular time of the year.
1. Create Anticipation
Declare it Spooky Kooky Halloween Month! Gather all the Halloween storybooks you can find from the library, Goodwill or local bookstores; watch Halloween movies at night as a family. I used to keep my Halloween storybooks in plastic pumpkins around the house. Decorate the kids’ rooms with all things fright night like pumpkins cut out of orange foam board or ghosts make out of retired hankies. Replace regular light bulbs with orange or black light bulbs or string Halloween lights — in the shapes of ghosts, pumpkins or purple bats — on bedposts for spookiest nighttime fun. Look for easy Halloween crafts to do with the kids after school and work.
2. October’s Most Wanted
Get talking about the size and shape of this year’s perfect pumpkin. What will it be? Round and fat? Long and slim? Get little ones pumpkin dreaming way before you head out to the patch. Challenge them to play sketch artist and draw their own pumpkin mug shots, creating your own little WANTED list to post on the fridge. It’s fun to see how closely the real thing ends up stacking up.
3. Pick Your Pumpkins
Turn your pumpkin gathering into a fun outing with a trip to a local farm or pumpkin patch . If you can’t get away, look for ways to make the trip to the local market more exciting. Grab the wagon and scavenger to the store collecting and spotting fall things along the way. Simply make a quick list on a paper bag of fall-ish things to scout — an acorn, a pine cone, a red leaf. Or make it easy-peasy and count all things Halloween orange along your route.
And moms and dads, when it comes to choosing a pumpkin, don’t forget your checklist. A greenish stem ensures freshness. The thicker the stem, the heavier the pumpkin, and the better it is for carving or sculpting. Stay clear of bruised, soft, and blemished pumpkins like you do with all produce. And encourage creativity! Round and perfect is great, but a pumpkin with an awkward shape can give little ones inspiration to create something super cool like an asymmetrical haunted house.
4. Play Before You Carve
Carving jack-o’-lanterns is a blast no matter how you slice it, but the uncut variety can be just as fun. Also, these guys stay fresher longer so it can be a good idea for the weeks leading up to the main event. Use shells, pom-poms, ping pong balls, candy corn, googly eyes — whatever you can find around the house and let the kids glue their way to pumpkin masterpieces.
5. Set The Tone With Creepy Tunes
Create some Halloween spirit with a spooky playlist. Include traditional favorites like The Addams Family, Thriller, Love Potion #9, Werewolves of London, Purple People Eaters, Frankenstein, and Monster Mash. Creepy tunes are great for carving, a spirited soundtrack for carpool all month long, and a festive front porch on Halloween night.
6. It’s Carving Time
Getting Your Hands Dirty
When it comes to scooping, you can buy a carving claw or use an ice cream scoop, scraping the sides until they are clean and white and about 1 1/4-inch thick.
Draw your design first. If kids want to experiment, have them draw their pumpkin faces out on paper first until they come up with the face or design that’s right for them. Make it feel more official with graph or tracing paper. Then, depending on the age of your kids, have mom or dad re-draw on the pumpkin with black Sharpie marker. As kids get older, designs can be super fun. Look for a pumpkin-carving stencil kit. Many of these come with tools for intricate designs.
7. Take Your Best Shot
Pumpkin selfies are the best! Have kids pose as their pumpkins alongside them — squinty eyes, scary faces, and big toothy grins all make for adorable photos. Frame and display the picture and add to the collection every Halloween. It’s such a great way to keep the warm memories glowing for years to come.
8. Roast Seeds
My favorite part is definitely roasting the seeds straight out of the pumpkin — a wonderfully old-fashioned tradition and such a treat for the kids to take to school the next day for snack. Simply separate the seeds from the pumpkin gook (a fun sensory sensation), getting the last of the pumpkin off in the sink by pouring the slimy seeds into a strainer. Rinse well, adding a bit of olive oil. Spread seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet. I just salt mine with kosher salt, but it’s fun to add flavors like cinnamon and sugar or Parmesan cheese. Bake at 300 degrees for 45 minutes or until golden brown.
9. Paint a Teal Pumpkin
In addition to carving, help to create a safe and fun Halloween for all kids by participating in FARE’s Teal Pumpkin Project . All you have to do is display a teal pumpkin on your porch and be sure to offer a selection of non-food treats for trick-or-treaters with food allergies or other conditions that keep them from enjoying candy on Halloween.
10. And For Next Year … How About a Homegrown Halloween?
Why not plan on growing your own Halloween pumpkins for next year? It’s a great science lesson and a fantastic way to anticipate Oct. 31 months ahead of time. Come mid to late May, plant three to five pumpkin seeds about an inch apart. Once they begin to germinate, thin out your crop, leaving just the healthiest in the patch. Kids will get a kick out of watching them grow and take shape all summer long.
Looking for the best spot to grab those fall pumpkins and a pint sized dose of family fun? Watch for Donna’s TV segment on favorite Chicago-area pumpkin patches on ABC Chicago Thursday, Oct. 19 in the 11 a.m. newscast.
More from Make It Better:
- Best of 2017: Kids 
- Better Buys: 6 Things That Make Moms’ Lives So Much Easier 
- The Benefits of Family Dinner (and 5 Easy Ways to Make It a Priority) 
TODAY Show  contributor and Winnetka mom Donna Bozzo is the author of the book “What The Fun?! ” Look for Donna’s new book that explores the power of sensory play “Fidget Busters” (Countryman) out fall 2018.