With the kids turned loose upon the town once more, October is shaping up to offer a regular Halloween. We’ll have the door-to-door trick-or-treating, the downtown parade and candy, and probably more costume parties than a family can actually attend. It is fun to return to traditions and important for the community. And in the midst of gratitude that things are “back to normal,” which one could almost tire of saying, I can’t help but feel a sweep of nostalgia for the ingenuity of last year, the work-arounds that made new kinds of memories.

For our family, this was especially true at Halloween. Uncertain whether or not there was any trick-or-treating, or what the protocol might be, we accepted an invitation to a neighbor’s open house-style party. The kids dressed up, ran around, collected more candy than they probably would have door-to-door, and we spent the day in the warm October sun conversing and laughing rather than rushing around.

Now, I’m not proposing we continue canceling Halloween, but suggesting that maybe there was a new, worthwhile tradition hidden in some of the creativity sparked to keep the celebration alive last year. This year, we’re spending Halloween weekend carving pumpkins with friends at home and then attending the same neighbors’ party, complete with a bounce house and all sorts of ways for the kids to gobble up buckets of candy.

Whether or not you’re heading out for the traditional Halloween experience, it’s always fun to try something new—especially if it’s something that makes a celebration bigger and longer-lasting. These are some of my favorite suggestions for something different on Halloween!

Candy Scavenger Hunt

Last year, when the kids couldn’t go door-to-door, we still wanted to make the candy collection fun, something other than just handing them a bag of fun-sized Twix. We had a few spooky piñatas, but what the kids loved most was a scavenger hunt. Much like an Easter egg hunt, we hid candy at different checkpoints around the yard—bonus points if you do this in the dark, flashlights required. (Just make sure you remember where you hide it so you’re not inadvertently poisoning the wildlife!)

Obstacle Courses and Lawn Games

Hyped up on sugar, the kids need a way to get their energy out! If you’re not hiking for miles through the local neighborhoods, an obstacle course is a fun way to do this. You can always rent an inflatable version for a big hit, but if that’s not an option or you’d prefer to scratch a more creative itch, consider building your own. The kids have a great time carrying out instructions like, “Tag that tree over there, run to the chair and circle it three times, jump that fence, and be the first to get back here and give me a high five.” They’ll be breathless in no time.

And should you prefer less adult participation, this is a great place to insert some seasonal lawn games and pastimes—sack races, bobbing for apples, ring toss. Anything carnival-inspired that keeps their little bodies moving is going to make for a silly, fun time.

Costume Contests

I know what you’re thinking—costume contests are nothing new. You’re right, so spice up your costume contests with strange categories and prizes worth competing for. Make a wager—“whoever wins gets all the candy in this bucket”—or make two contestants battle for victory á la karaoke contest, dance-off, trivia or an actual jousting match with balloon swords.

For our party, we said “come as you are,” and for some, that meant costumes. For others, not so much. Instead, partygoers drew a rubber duck from a bin of duckies, and using paint markers and Sharpies, everyone “dressed up” their duck. We judged the presentation and uniqueness of each “costume” before racing them down the creek!

Blindfolded “Monster Part” Guessing Game

I have memories of playing this as a child, which speaks to how strongly it engages the senses—spooky! Participants sit in a circle, blindfolded or with their eyes closed, and pass around bags or bowls of “monster parts,” each child a little Dr. Frankenstein trying to piece together their monster. Use peeled grapes for eyes; cooked spaghetti or steamed cauliflower for brains and guts; dried apricots for ears; baby carrots for fingers and toes; candy corn or popcorn kernels for teeth; a peeled tomato as a heart; and so on. It is completely disgusting and full of true Halloween spirit.

Dr. Frankenstein’s Lab

If you’re up for the mess, in keeping with the Frankenstein theme, consider setting up a lab station as well. You can make the monster’s guts explode by fashioning a spooky version of a baking soda and vinegar volcano. Or make some slime that the kids can take home as a party favor. There are about a million slime recipes online, most made of few and simple ingredients. For a basic slime concoction, you’ll need Elmer’s white glue, baking soda, saline solution (like contact lens solution), and sometimes some borax or shaving cream. You can even track down candy chemistry sets and really make the kids work for their treats this year.

A Haunting Mystery

If you’ve got some bigger kids (or brave littles), you can haunt your Halloween party even more with a scary mystery to be solved. Invent a party ghost or a murder, and leave clues to solve the case. It can be a lot of work and planning to put a murder together, so consider using a murder mystery kit. I saw some at the dollar section of Target the other day, and there are great options through online companies like Hunt a Killer, My Mystery Party and Masters of Mystery.

So, maybe COVID made Halloween weird last year, or maybe we can all get in the Halloween spirit and agree to make Halloween weirder. After all, isn’t the point to find the wonder in the spooky, the unusual and the crazy? Happy Halloween!