Kid-friendly ideas for Halloween 2020 fun in Denver

Halloween is not canceled. Despite whisperings that there won’t be any fun due to the pandemic and health regulations like social distancing and no large gatherings, Denver has plenty of spooky things for kids to do and have a good, festive time.

After all, Halloween is all about the masks, and with these ideas and events, October can be just as creepy-cool as the previous years.

RELATED: Halloween isn’t canceled in Denver. Hit up a drive-thru haunted house or virtual seance this year.

To trick-or-treat or stay home?

A lot of parents are worried about Halloween’s most traditional activity, trick-or-treating. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned against traditional, door-to-door trick-or-treating this year, stating that coming into contact with strangers made it a higher risk event. But that doesn’t mean your family can’t do it. Dr. Tista Ghosh, Colorado’s former chief medical officer, said there are ways to participate in this classic activity and keep risk low.

For example, leave candy in containers outside your home; bring hand sanitizer; wear gloves; and work at staying 6 feet apart from other families. Some treat-givers have opted to have bags of goodies laid out for easy grabbing and zero contact. There’s also the candy chute idea, where a long pipe or tube at least 6 feet long can be decorated and act as the conduit for getting goodies.

“My 9-year-old would be so sad. He’s already given up so much this year,” said Anna Krantz Diaz, a Denver mom of two who plans on going out on Halloween. “I just don’t see trick-or-treating for a few blocks as a COVID danger. There’s fewer than 20 kids in a several block area, and I hope people still turn their lights on.”

The No Tricks Just Treats Project aims to make trick-or-treating safer this year. Created by Houston-based moms Ashley Wilson and Stephanie Fowler, this free map is available at halloween-map.com and allows people to tag their house with icons denoting a contact-free experience, mask-greeters, allergy-friendly stops, normal doorbell service and extra creative ways to give goodies while social distancing. It’s been a popular source in Denver. Anyone can sign up to further flesh out the map.

“Ashley and I were discussing how apprehensive we were about Halloween because we desperately wanted our children to be able to enjoy one of our favorite holidays, but felt we needed a way to ensure they would be safe,” said Fowler. “We were looking for a tool to help us determine which houses we should or could visit, but it didn’t exist, so we decided to create it.”

Another program that shows what areas have the least publicized COVID-19 activity can be found at halloween2020.org, where people can sign up to be a dedicated “safe” spot for trick-or-treaters.

In the end, it’s best to weigh the pros and cons of trick-or-treating. Will it benefit your kids’ mental health? How important is it to the family? How anxious will you feel going trick-or-treating? And if you do go trick-or-treating, just remember to wash your hands before indulging in the goodies.

Trick-or-treat alternatives

Some families aren’t comfortable with traditional trick-or-treating, so they are creating backyard shenanigans, mini parties and virtual events to replace the usual walk around the neighborhood.

“Our pod of three families has decided it’s not safe to trick-or-treat since we don’t feel comfortable ringing doorbells and having kids get close to that many people,” said Denver mom Megan Barber. “So we’re going to do a scavenger hunt from one house to another with candy stations at each stop. This way, kiddos still get to run around looking for candy, but in a safer environment.”

RELATED: The very best (and worst) Colorado horror films to watch this Halloween

To make a special Halloween at home or for your small group, get glow-in-the-dark eggs or bags with glow sticks, then fill them with candy and hid around the yard and/or house. Or, get a spooky piñata from Piñateria La Fiesta, or make your own, and let the kids knock their treats out of it. After the candy has been procured, screen a scary-ish movie on a projector outside. Or, if it’s just the family, retire inside to munch on sweets and watch “ParaNorman,” “Hocus Pocus,” “Goosebumps,” or all three of the “Hotel Transylvania” animated flicks.

Or, go the extra mile and create a haunted house in your garage using sheets, a fog machine, black light, fake spiders and spider web, haunting audio and whatever else might help create a spooky mood. Give this set-up another layer by placing mystery buckets of peeled grapes, cold noodles and Jello so kids can dig around for treasures while thinking they are touching eyeballs, worms and brains.

Events worth going to

There are a handful of events still going on to celebrate the spooky season, though they look a little different this year. For starters, the Denver Botanical Gardens is doing its annual Glow at the Gardens, complete with luminous jack-o-lanterns, dancers, musicians and spooky lights. What’s changed is there will be no pumpkin sculptures, trick-or-treating, carving demonstrations or cash bars. All treats can be purchased at the Hive Garden Bistro. There’s also fewer tickets to help keep the crowd small and a set path to walk through the gardens. But don’t worry; as long as you have a protective face mask on the family can still wear costumes for this romp around the dark and devilish daisies.

At the Denver Zoo, the annual Boo at the Zoo is still happening, minus the usual buckets of candy. Guests will be greeted by superheroes and princesses as they wander the grounds along a predetermined path. Visit Tropical Discovery for a glimpse at the vampire and fruit bats, slithering snakes and giant spiders. Or keep it less creepy and stay outside with the lions, tigers and bears. Costumes are welcome, along with the proper protective mask, but no toy weapons are permitted. Tickets are timed to stagger the visitors, and can be purchased online.

Movies, too, prove perfect for creeping out and having a good time. While it’s easy to screen your own horror fest at home, make it special at the Alamo Drafthouse, where the Sloan’s Lake location hosts Trick or Treat Cinema, the venue’s weekly spooky movie party. Coming up is “Coco” on Oct. 10 at 11 a.m.; the live-action “Casper” on Oct.  11 at 11 a.m.; “The Nightmare Before Christmas” on Oct. 17 and 18 at 11 a.m.; and the 2019 animated “The Addams Family” on Oct. 24 at 11 a.m. and Oct. 25 at 11:45 a.m. Costumes are encouraged and social distancing and mask wearing when not eating or drinking are required.

For $5, older kids will enjoy scary movies at select Harkins Theatres, which is hosting October Fright Nights every Friday and Saturday at 7 and 9 p.m. This includes “The Nightmare Before Christmas” on Oct. 16 and 17 and “Poltergeist” on Oct. 23 and 24. Check your local Harkins to see if this event is playing near you.

Halloween-themed goodies

Stocking up on festive art projects, special crafts and accessories can boost the spirit. Local apparel company Primal Wear has been making face masks for kids, and the company just released a jack-o-lantern one perfect for tykes who want to be safe and spooky. Bonus: It has a frame to keep the cloth off their mouths and a strap so when it’s taken off it hangs on the neck.

At My Make Studio, owner Linda Sudowski has created some festive sets of goodies for folk to do at home. This includes a haunted house decorating kit, Halloween cupcake kit and a kit to make an amazing cake full of sinister sprinkles and topped with ghoulish treats. All can be ordered in advance for curbside pickup at the Edgewater shop, shipped or done at the studio with a reservation while donning a mask.

Also, don’t underestimate the pull of a good scary story. At Book Bar in the Berkeley neighborhood, the staff recommends many great tomes for all ages including the classic “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” by Alvin Schwartz; “Where’s My Mummy” by Carolyn Crimi; “The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter,” by Aaron Reynolds (who also wrote “Creepy Carrots” and “Creepy Pair of Underwear”); “Room on the Broom” by Julia Donaldson; and “Last Kids on Earth” by Max Brallier.

For the creative type, Meghan Hamann, owner of  the Colorado-based Whimsy Binz, has put together a special Halloween kit to get little ones’ imaginations going. The $40 set comes with three balls of Halloween-themd colored play dough, along with accessories such as plastic eyeballs, little bones, rubber spiders, a broom and more.

Finally, don’t forget one of the most classic ways to celebrate Halloween: Carving an orange or white pumpkin into a spooky or funny jack-o-lantern. For some, this is enough to have a fabulous holiday, and you can do it in the comfort of your own home once you get a pumpkin, which one can do at just about any grocery store. Or make a day of pumpkin picking and head to one of the many farms offering pumpkin patches and other fall fun, including Anderson Farms in Erie, Cottonwood Farm in Lafayette, Maize in Thornton and Munson Farms in Boulder.

No matter how you make Halloween special for the kids this year, just do it safely and have fun. There’s enough scary stuff around to make it memorable with little to no effort.

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