Four ways to celebrate Halloween with children with complex disabilities

Every child deserves to be able to celebrate Halloween. No matter what their needs are, no child should be left out of life – and that includes holidays!

Two children photographed from above, sitting at a table filled with masks and arts and crafts supplies

Here at Sense, in our free children’s play service, we have lots of ways of bringing the holidays alive for children who are deafblind and/or have complex disabilities

The same strategies won’t work for every child. It’s all about trying a few different things, and finding what’s best for your child. 

Because if we don’t celebrate Halloween with the children, how will they find out about it? They might go into a social setting one day where the other children know about Halloween and they don’t. This could leave them isolated and confused, and that’s not fair. 

Want to try celebrating Halloween the sensory way this year? Here are four ideas to try!

1. Tell a spooky sensory story

We usually start by telling a story. Stories are a good place to start, because it gives children a theme to latch onto. We create a little world by telling a story, and then we can expand it.

Telling a sensory story is basically like any story time, but using objects and materials to bring the story to life. It’s also a bit slower than usual. This gives children time to process and explore at their own pace.

Children might not always seem to be listening to your story. But even if they don’t look like they’re paying attention, they can be taking it in. 

You can use any children’s story. It’s all about making the story as real as possible. If the story has water, you could use a spray bottle. If there’s a cat, you could use a furry material, or a picture of a cat. Let the children feel and explore these materials. 

With these objects, even if they’re not hearing every word of the story, they can follow it. It’s almost like they’re there, inside the story itself. 

2. Make an easy witch or wizard costume 

Halloween costumes can be tricky for some children. A lot of the children we meet at Sense struggle with wearing hats or face masks on their heads. They also don’t like wearing things that are too restrictive, or any difficult textures (for example, things that are itchy or too hot). 

They are much happier in things that are loose and flowing on their bodies. 

Here’s how to make a simple witch or wizard costume using objects around the house. 

  1. Make a cape. Bedsheets or other big pieces of fabric make an easy, free-flowing costume. To make it easy for the child to pull on and off, you might want to sew on a button or a small piece of velcro. 
  2. Find a stick from the garden to be a wand. Your child can get involved in this hunt for a stick! They’ll enjoy feeling the different textures. 
  3. Add some magic to your wand. Gluing some colourful ribbons to the end of your stick turns it into something more special. For visually impaired children, this can make it easier for them to see the wand, or to feel the “magic” textures coming from it. 

3. Go on a pumpkin hunt

This year at Sense TouchBase Pears, we’ll be having a sensory pumpkin hunt in our accessible garden. Here’s how you can set up one of your own. 

Hollowed-out pumpkins and a tray full of pumpkin seeds and insides
  1. Prepare your pumpkins. Cut the tops off your pumpkins and hollow out the insides. If your child enjoys playing with messy, soggy, textures, you might want to leave some of the pumpkin’s “guts” inside!
  2. Hide the pumpkins. You can do this indoors or outdoors, but choose some hiding places that will give the children a chance to explore different sensory environments. For example, you could hide one pumpkin in long grass, and another in a bucket of water or watering can.
  3. Create a map. We give our children a map of the area and some photos of the pumpkins. This helps them to understand what we’re doing. Alternatively, you could get your child to feel a pumpkin, before heading out to find more.
  4. Let the children find their pumpkins! This is the fun part, where every child gets to explore and choose a pumpkin they like. We use lots of different sizes and colours, so every child gets one that’s unique. Some children might be less engaged then others – you could try hiding their favourite toy inside a pumpkin, to get them interested.
  5. Get carving and decorating. Give your child a cocktail stick or another child-safe pumpkin carving tool, so they can mark their own pattern on the pumpkin. Then, carve it out for them. This is where you can really get creative: you could decorate the pumpkin with fairy lights, paints, pom-poms… Whatever you fancy! Just let them have fun with it.

4. Try some Halloween-themed messy play

Messy play is just what it sounds like. It’s all about letting children explore different textures.

Some children prefer dry messy play, so they can brush things off their hands quickly. Other children like more sticky or soggy textures. It’s important to use things that are edible, because a lot of children like to explore things with their mouths!

Here’s how to set up your own. 

  1. Find a shallow, clear tray or bowl. 
  2. Fill the tray with your messy materials. For wet messy play, you could use jelly. This allows you to create lots of colours and shapes. For example, you could have green jelly as a base, and then use pumpkin-shaped moulds to create orange jelly pumpkins on top. For dry messy play, you could use sand, shredded paper or rice. 
  3. Add some Halloween-themed toys. You might want to add some toy spiders into your messy play tray for your child to find. 
  4. Get messy! There’s no rules to messy play – it’s all about letting your child get stuck in at their own pace. 

These are all the ways we’ll be celebrating Halloween with children at Sense Touchbase Pears this year. Perhaps these fun and spooky ideas can give you some inspiration, too!