Keep the spooky spirits alive with this fun activity. Don't forget the candy.
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Ready for some trick or treating
Credit: AleksandarNakic/Getty Images

The air's getting crisp, the days are getting shorter, pumpkin spice has triumphantly returned to countless cafe menus. It's finally autumn, which means that, before we know it, Halloween will be upon us all.

In 2020, the spookiest holiday of the year might look and feel a bit different than we've experienced in the past; pandemic concerns likely will discourage many parents from sending their kids on trick-or-treating excursions, and Halloween parties may be confined to only the members of your family (or your current quarantine pod).

Unconventional though it may seem, a homebound Halloween doesn't have to mean a lack of fun or excitement for the kids (and kids-at-heart) in your house. With a bit of imagination, preparedness, and a ready stock of candy supplies, you'll be able to transform your home into a festive treasure-hunt territory, where your kids can follow clues (planted by the grown-up in charge) and track down their prizes.

Need some help to get started? Follow these three steps to get your house ready for a spirited Halloween quest.

1. When it comes to treasure hunts, a little advance planning goes a long way.

Setting up a treasure hunt does require some forethought, but it also can be an excellent opportunity to release some creative energy and design an event that fits your childrens' particular tastes and interests. Use these suggestions as a preliminary checklist to set your plan into motion:

  • Decide on the structure of your treasure hunt. How many clues would you like the kids to find? What route (i.e. which rooms and which areas of the house) will the ″trail" follow? Will you provide treats/prizes for each leg of the hunt, or do you expect the kids to wait until the end of the game before they receive their rewards?
  • Pick out your prizes. If you'd like to stick with the trick-or-treat theme, then candy certainly works for this purpose. As an alternative, try small toys, picture books, gift cards, or fashion accessories. Or, of course, you could offer up the old-school alternative to Halloween candy: quarters or silver dollars.
  • Stow from the kids. Ask the kids to hang out in a separate room or area of the house while you hide the clues (and the prizes). The fun of the game depends on finding secret hiding spots, so don't give them away before the hunt begins.
  • Choose your hunting style. Decide whether you'd like the kids to take on the treasure hunt as a team (probably best for younger children) or whether you'd rather set the hunt up as a competition. The formula works for both styles, with only a few adjustments needed either way.

2. Customize your clues (and prizes) to suit the ages of your kids.

One of the most appealing qualities of a Halloween treasure hunt is the ease with which you can adjust the clues and the prizes to suit players of any age.

For example, if your kids aren't yet reading, you can replace written clues with picture cards or recorded messages. If you're creating a hunt for pre-teens, you can consider turning the game into a digital experience, using a ″scavenger hunt″ app like GooseChase or Actionbound.

If you're particularly skilled at drawing, you could try sketching your own treasure map. Do you have a way with words? Create 'Twas The Night Before Christmas-style poems for each clue. The possibilities are endless.

3. ″Treasure challenges" add excitement to a typical scavenger hunt.

A simple scavenger hunt with a trail of clues and a prize at the end is certainly an option, but if you'd like to turn this activity into a full-scale holiday adventure, then think about incorporating extra games and challenges. A few examples:

  • Hide a clue in an uncarved pumpkin with the top sliced off, then let the kids dig through the pumpkin guts to find it. (Make sure to the paper laminate first!)
  • Pick up a Halloween piñata, and fill it with candy and with a clue to the next phase of the treasure hunt.
  • Challenge the kids to a Halloween cookie-decorating competition, complete with festive ingredients. Winner gets the next clue (or a mid-game prize)!
  • Try a round of Halloween charades, in which you ″act out" a clue and, once the kids figure it out, they can head to the next leg of the search.

No matter how you do your family Halloween scavenger hunt, it's sure to be filled with lots of laughter and memories — and photo-worthy faces, so keep your camera handy. This year has been one for the history books, and this Halloween will be its own kind of special, too.