I have to admit, I’m not the best conversationalist with my kid at 8am. It is just a relief that we made it out the door with teeth brushed, lunch in-hand and breakfast somewhat in stomach and somewhat on shirt.
But Halloween gives a mega-clarity to my attempt at early morning chats. There is something really inspiring and urgent about the “What-are-you-going-to-be” discussion and all the dialogue that the holiday sparks surrounding costume and character. Thanks, Halloween! At least through the end of the month I have a great chatty flow with my son on our way to school.
Here are some conversation starters that will help 1) nail down who your child will be dressing as 2) be a cool character development tools 3) boost your pre-Halloween bonding time with your kid, especially if your morning caffeine hasn’t kicked in yet!
If you haven’t quite settled on the character, this brainstorm will be especially helpful so you can avoid late-in-the-season stressful wanderings in the Halloween “superstores” and come up with a highly original and playful creation.
Use the following open-ended questions as a launching-off point to hone in on the ever-crucial costume question:
What are your favorite movies? What are your favorite books? Fairy tales? Fables? Chapter book heros/heroines? What songs do you love? Who sings them? What events like the Grammys or the Olympics really get you excited?
What are your favorite family traditions (think tea parties and picnics)?
What places on the map really inspire you?
Have you learned about anything in history that really gets you going (think ancient Greece or early America)?
Have we taken a vacation that really meant something to you like to the beach or a wild animal park? Who was there? What creatures did we see?
When you think about characters from literature or movies are you most into the magical or the real? How spooky, dark, Halloweenish do you want to go with the costume, or is it just an excuse to dress up?
Have fun with this brainstorm and if a character mash-up is necessary (like Pippi at the Oscars, Poseidon as a guide at the NY Aquarium, a zombie-dinosaur, etc) to fit in all the things they love, then they will get points for originality and their costume will feel really specific to who they are and what they love. The more of a mash-up that it is, the less store-bought it needs to feel, which can be a great relief.
Most importantly, there is that classic rule in improv “Yes...AND!” - When you say “yes” to your kids’ ideas it only helps the flow of their creative impulses and their feelings of being acknowledged. This kind of brainstorm is great to model “yes..and-ing” with your kids.
Red Light-Green Light in Character:
A great way into dramatic play is to start with a game that you both know. Use it as a template, and then expand from there to personalize the characters and make the scenarios more dramatic. Guide their playing by asking open-ended questions - psychologists call this “scaffolding” - and in this way you can lead them into greater learning possibilities. Scaffolding encourages challenges that expand their social-emotional growth and even cognitive abilities and gives you a foothold into their dramatic play too which is always welcome.
Start as yourselves, traveling to a Haunted House on Halloween. Ask them what are they traveling on? Scooter? Broom? Spaceship? Then at every “red light” (stop the music or just say “Red Light!”), and you freeze. At this point if you are deciding between various characters, you can have them jump into the next character to try it on for size. You can also just change up the music or just jump on another (imaginary) “vehicle”. You can intensify the drama by having a villain (invisible) pop out at each red light, (Who is that? A monster? A dragon?) and find the way to tame them by throwing them something that they’d love to eat. By asking our kids to shape this game along the way with questions, you are giving them the dramatic-play-reigns. By playing a physical game like this, they learn more about their character (or which character they are most excited to be) and how they move.
Improvise the Who and the Where!
Once kids have named their top 10 characters, have them write or draw them each on sheets of paper. Brainstorm funny locations - like the zoo, the airport, school, the vet’s office and write those down too. Grab a hat (one of our most beloved props in Child’s Play) and pick one character and one location. That’s the start of a great story: Once upon a time “Character” (Goldilocks) walked into a “Location” (Haunted House). Kids have to figure out what that character is doing there and create some plot to make it exciting. You can take turns telling the story, or if your child is excited about becoming the characters they can act it out right away. To add an extra level of fun, you have to guess who and where they are. This is a great way to inspire early literacy skills and also help with the great character brainstorm!
Hope you get into a great flow with your children in this lead-up to October 31st! Let us know what games inspired your fall-morning conversations. For more tips on playful parenting subscribe to Child’s Play in Action on You Tube or visit Child's Play in Action. Happy Halloween and Character Brainstorming!
About the Author: Jocelyn Greene is a Brooklyn-born, educator, director and entrepreneur. She founded Child's Play NY in 2008 to bring imaginative theater and high-level acting training to kids. With Child's Play NY she works with hundreds of students a year and is equally at home adapting a fairy tale for four-year olds as she is directing Shakespare with teens. Jocelyn has an MFA in Acting from NYU and a BA from Wesleyan University - but the school of motherhood has taught her the most! Jocelyn lives in Brooklyn with her husband and 4-year-old son. Subscribe to her video series for playful parenting at Child's Play in Action or join this winter for classes enrolling now!