KidsOutAndAbout.com and the Empire State Maker Faire have front-row seat to human ingenuity
When cities like Los Angeles first announced the cancellation of trick-or-treating in 2020, it made international news. COVID had already disrupted so many of the rhythms that help kids connect with each other--school, sports, parties, play dates--that it felt, for many, like the last straw.
“Families have been struggling to keep their kids’ childhoods as normal and happy as possible during the past six months,” said Debra Ross, publisher of KidsOutAndAbout.com, North America’s online network of local family calendars, which is based in Rochester, NY. “Aside from the actual effects of the virus itself, one of the hardest aspects of COVID for communities has been a deflation of the joy of normal childhood rituals and traditions.”
But adversity and restrictions have also generated fertile conditions for immense ingenuity. “When COVID-19 struck and in-person activities were shut down for the safety of their communities, the effect on small businesses and not-for-profits was immediate and dramatic,” said Ross. “But those who were flexible enough to launch in new directions to accommodate distancing restrictions have been able to survive, and even flourish.”
About 30,000 businesses in 45 regions in the U.S. and Canada post their events, resources, and activities to KidsOutAndAbout.com, which has given Ross a front-row seat to the ways businesses in North America have pivoted in the wake of COVID. “It’s been amazing to witness the wide range of options that businesses and organizations have invented to keep kids educated, enriched, and having fun,” she says, “I’ve watched concerts, storytimes, education, and even summer camps find online ways of connecting with kids, and kids with each other.”
Preserving 2020’s Halloween season presents special challenges, though, as autumn is a very multi-sensory season in most of North America, and Halloween is an especially hands-on holiday that is traditionally enjoyed as a group experience. “We parents grew up with memories of rushing from house to house trick-or-treating and meeting our neighbors, or going with groups of friends to haunted houses and corn mazes,” says Ross. “We want our kids to have those same shared experiences. Fortunately, smart people have been directing their efforts this month to creating Halloween experiences that preserve the spirit of the season but comply with 2020’s COVID requirements. They’re saving Halloween by safe-ing Halloween.”
Small businesses, not-for-profit organizations, and community groups are taking the lead on transforming the holiday to comply with local mandates while not neglecting traditional elements. The Ellms Family Farm in Ballston Spa, NY is transforming their annual Pumpkin Glow into a Pumpkin Glow & Light Show Drive-Thru Experience; the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, CA has created a special Drive-Thru Haunted House with Pirates of Emerson. The San Bruno, CA Community Services Department is hosting a Jinxed Joyride; residents will dress up their kids and their cars, and then head to a shopping center where they will drive through Halloween displays from community organizations who will provide tricks, treats, and merriment. A car wash in Medina, Ohio has invented a Haunted Car Wash. “And there’s even an “abandoned drive-through” near Minneapolis whose tag line is ‘Better than a Minnesota Hayride or haunted house, it’s an immersive horror experience trapped in a car with your friends. Who will cry first?’” says Ross. “It’s been wonderful to be the cheerleaders for all of these communities as we connect them with our readers and bring them an audience.”
For Rochester’s Halloween-seekers: Lollypop Farm is hosting Pigs & Pumpkins, where visitors can decorate pumpkins, watch the pigs, and learn about the farm’s animals. Hamlin’s Scream Fest will be looking a little different this year in their adjustments to ensure safety transform the usual activities into Hamlin’s Horrid Halloween Drive-Thru. Visitors will witness community-made displays along the drive and receive candy for kids at the end.
Halloween ingenuity is not limited to those providing events: There is a new emphasis on touchless candy delivery devices to preserve what many kids see as the most important element of the trick-or-treating experience.
Daniel Schneiderman, who was Lead Producer and Coordinator of this year’s Empire State Maker Faire, sees an upturn in “Makers” creating inventive homemade devices to help deliver candy to kids while staying hands-free and safe. “Makers love finding every opportunity to stretch their creative muscles, especially when their solutions help the community or bring a sense of whimsy,” said Schneiderman. “On sites like Instructables.com, you can find instructions for making some of these at home, like the Candy Delivery Monster from contributor “gwfong.”
The Empire State Maker Faire, which was a completely virtual experience this year, included presentations from other Makers who are determined to encourage curiosity and a maker spirit for kids and adults everywhere. “Makers of all kinds will be sharing their creative work and technical know-how. Everything from 3D Printed Chocolate and cosplay, to programming haunted houses and creating cardboard creations,” said Schneiderman.
KidsOutAndAbout.com has compiled a growing list of how-to links so families can construct their own devices, here.
Ross, whose background is in marketing technology, created KidsOutAndAbout.com 19 years ago; she was searching for things to do with her own young daughters here in Rochester and decided to create a one-stop shop to make it easy for parents. The site’s mission is to connect families to all of the activities, events, and resources in their local communities by offering a free, easy way for local organizations to post to its online calendar and lists. Over the years, the site has grown to include 45 regions across the U.S. and Canada; it has more than 6 million readers per year, of which 85% are parents and 15% are grandparents. About 82% of its readers are women.
Each KidsOutAndAbout.com local site features a new article about ideas for getting safely out and about in that area, plus options for local Halloween activities, corn mazes, pumpkin patches, and fall fruit picking.
KidsOutAndAbout.com’s list of links to touchless candy delivery devices: https://rochester.kidsoutandabout.com/content/how-makers-are-saving-halloween-2020-touch-free-candy-delivery-devices