February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Spooktacular Halloween Library Programs for Kids, Tweens, and Teens

Youth library programming around Halloween is fiendishly fun. It’s a holiday that screams for kids and teens to be involved, and is one of the few times of year that even those elusive teens actively seek out activities and events in the community. Capitalize on this eagerness by offering Halloween programming that’s fun and that offers an opportunity to make connections that will extend into the rest of the year.

Mad Scientist Party for school-age kids

For the tween set and younger, Halloween is all about spooky—but not too scary—thrills. They will have lots of opportunities to show off their costumes, and will be eager to take part in library activities that play up the cheerful and festive end of the holiday, with just enough creep-factor to give them the shivers.

Demonstrate that STEAM activities aren’t just educational and fun, they can be creepy too! It’s up to you how much explanation you want to do with each of these, but I encourage as much hands-on exploration for the participants as possible. This will increase their engagement and curiosity much more than simple demonstrations.

halloween pic 1

A child dissects an “alien comet.”

Suggestions for the program

  • Draw a ghost face on white balloons. Pour a bit of baking soda into the balloons. Add vinegar to an empty water bottle. Quickly top the bottle with the baking soda-filled balloon and your “ghost” will inflate itself as the carbon dioxide reaction takes place.
  • Dissect an “alien comet” that you’ve prepared ahead using dry ice and other household materials, or create one on the spot and leave it on display for the rest of the program.
  • Get messy scooping seeds out of a pumpkin, then create and play with “pumpkin oobleck.” Have kids imagine the uses for oobleck, the creatures that create it, or the planet it comes from, and have them draw their ideas.
  • Mix up some magnetic slime by adding iron filings to a simple Borax “slime” recipe and experiment with it.

Be sure to follow safety procedures with these and other hands-on science programs. Since this is a Halloween-themed Mad Science event, donning safety goggles and gloves as a “costume” adds to the festive feel!

Super Sweet Haunted Houses for middle schoolers

halloween pic 2

Teens creating a haunted “gingerbread” house at the library.

Maybe they’re still trick-or-treating, maybe they’re not, or maybe they’ll decide on the spot when October 31st rolls around. Middle schoolers are in a transitional time, and library programs around what they might consider to be a “kids” thing like Halloween, need to acknowledge that. One thing is sure though—the emphasis on fun, flexible group activities is the main draw.

Feed their sweet teeth and creative appetites too by giving this DIY program that’s often paired with the winter holidays a more sinister spin. Hosting a haunted “gingerbread” house program involves a lot of setup, but the payoff is great. Houses (or parking garages, graveyards, or asylums) are constructed with graham crackers and royal icing on a piece of cardboard, then decorated with candy pieces, cereals, and anything else you can think of.

Suggestions for the program

  • Keep it media-focused by asking teens to re-create a favorite scary scene from a book or movie.
  • Encourage them to build a nightmarish creation, then invent a character who might live in that place.
  • Write six word stories about what evil lurks within the sweet exterior.

As with any food program, be aware of allergies and sensitivities, and save all food packaging so that teens or parents can check ingredients. If your budget can’t withstand splurging on all of the decorations, encourage each teen to bring a small quantity of candy that will be used collectively. If you’re short on time and want to reduce the mess, use rinsed-out milk cartons, or turn tissue boxes inside out for the base instead of building from scratch.

Six Second Horror Stories and Insta-Ghosts for older teens

Augment something teens are already focused on—photo sharing apps—with a little bit of instruction and a lot of freedom in the library for some campy, creepy fun that they can create, remix, and share.

Teens at the Thomas Ford Memorial Library making a scary Vine videos after hours.

Teens at the Thomas Ford Memorial Library making a scary Vine videos after hours.

Suggestions for the program

  • Have teens work in groups to storyboard and film a six-second horror story in your library using a looping short format video app like Vine or Instagram.
  • Introduce double exposure photography and have teens work together to capture photos of a library ghost on their phones or on library tablets by using the Fused app. Fused allows users to blend two photos or videos into eerie (or beautiful!) creations.
  • Explore the power of sound to turn otherwise benign videos into suspenseful clips by pairing them with eerie sounds. Begin by listening to the first 10 minutes of a podcast. 99% Invisible’s episode 168: “All In Your Head” walks listeners through what makes horror music scary. Then use tools at hand to create your own sinister sound mixes.
halloween pic 3

Two photos were “fused” together for a ghostly effect using the Fused app.

Gather teens together for a screening and host the videos on the library’s website or social media page in order to share the teens’ creative work with community members. If you can host this program after hours when the library is otherwise empty, it’ll only add to the eeriness of their work!

Programs for multiple ages

Teens have increasingly full schedules, and I have found that programs designed just for them are sometimes not as well attended as programs in which they are assisting younger library users as volunteers. Mix up your age groups with these activities.

Ghoulish green screens

Hang a solid colored sheet to stand in as a green screen, or cover a portion of a wall with green paper. Invite library members to stop by the library on their trick-or-treat route, or get involved in your community’s business-oriented Halloween event to promote this fun drop-in activity. Teens can staff the camera, pose participants, and help them select their backdrop for green screen photos. Post the photos to the library’s social media channels with parental permission, or print them off to hand out to members or post in the library.

Live-action board games

Kayla Harbour's character is driven insane by the horrific monsters of Arkham Horror but is kept company by Patrick "Pierre" Christensen, who has escaped from jail.

Teens playing the live-action board game at LaVista Public Library. Kayla Harbour’s character is driven insane by the horrific monsters of Arkham Horror but is kept company by Patrick “Pierre” Christensen, who has escaped from jail.

Create a meeting room–size game board and enlist teens to get dressed up and take on the roles of characters in classic games like Candyland or Life. Go big with more complicated games like Arkham Horror, as Lindsay Tomsu of LaVista (NE) Public Library did. These events call for lots of planning ahead, but the payoff can be huge as library teens, their peers, younger kids, and even adults can get in on the fun.

No matter what your Halloween programs are, be sure to pull resources from your collection for browsing and checking out afterward. Scary books, horror films, creepy soundtracks, and titles on costume creation and party food cookbooks are all great options.



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