11 Fun Halloween Projects (Beyond Jack O'Lanterns) You Can Do With Your Kids

Halloween is lots of fun for kids, from decorating a pumpkin to trick-or-treating. But there are plenty of other Halloween projects you can do in between. Here are some fun family activities for children of all ages.

1. TOILET PAPER ROLL FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER

Your toddler probably isn't old enough to know about Frankenstein, but this simple and adorable project is fun anyway. All you need are a toilet paper roll, some markers or paint, golf tees for the bolts, and a couple of googly eyes. See how it’s done at No Time For Flash Cards.

2. HALLOWEEN HAIR GEL SUNCATCHERS


These days, parents often use ziplock bags to keep fingerpaint contained. Jackie Currie at Happy Hooligans adapted that idea to create suncatchers using translucent hair gel. Kids put a little hair gel in a sandwich bag along with a couple of drops of food coloring and small Halloween or fall items, then mush it all together for mess-less mayhem (as long as the bag is properly closed). The translucent gel lets the kids clearly see the decorative additions, and the sun shines right through when the bags are taped to a window.

3. SPIDER SUCKERS


Dress up your lollipops for trick-or-treaters or a Halloween party by making them into spiders! All you need are some pipe cleaners, googly eyes, scissors, glue, and spherical sucks like Tootsiepops. Cut the pipe cleaners in half, wrap them around the lollipop stick, glue on the googly eyes, and voila: a spider! The complete instructions are available at I Heart Naptime.

4. MINIATURE MUMMY


It’s easy to make miniature mummies—just use your kids' toys! It's as easy as wrapping a Barbie doll or action figure in gauze (you can see the complete instructions here). The finished mummy can be attached to a wreath, or you can string several of them together to create a spooky garland.

5. EXPLODING PEEP GEYSERS


Grab some packages of ghost-shaped Peeps and a plastic bottle for this fun experiment. Cut the top off of the bottle, drop in the Peeps, and pop it in the microwave—then ask your kids what they predict what will happen to the marshmallows once you turn the microwave on. Hit start and watch the marshmallow expand right out out the bottle, like supernatural ectoplasm. The finished product is not only a mess, but a hot mess, though it's apparently easy to clean up.

6. MUMMY DOGS

scoochmaroo via Instructables

Making yummy mummy hot dogs for dinner is simple enough for even young children: They just need to wrap hot dogs in crescent roll dough. If the wrapping is a little raggedy, it just makes the mummies spookier!

7. FLYING GHOST ROCKETS


To pull off this fun project, you'll need clear film canisters—with spooky ghost faces drawn on in black marker—cornstarch, water, and Alka-Seltzer. Add the cornstarch and water to the canisters, mixing well; next, drop in a piece of Alka-Seltzer, pop the top of the canister on, and flip the "ghost" over to rest on the top. Stand back and watch as the ghosts go flying! You can find step-by-step instructions here.

8. HALLOWEEN BOWLING SET


Sure, this DIY bowling set is Halloween-themed, but it's fun enough to play with year round. The six 9-inch-tall pins are cut from 4.5 feet of 1x4-inch wood. After sanding down the edges, you can decorate them as whatever spooky creature you'd like using googly eyes, construction paper, and markers. Players bowl using a bouncy ball painted to look like an eye.

9. HOMEMADE SLIME


If your kids are old enough to keep the mess in one room, make your own slime for gooey, squishy fun! Steve Spangler gives us five different recipes for slime, from the classic borax recipe to shaving cream slime, depending on how ambitious you are and what you want the finished product to be. One will glow in the dark under a blacklight, as pictured above, and one is even edible!

10. FRANKENWORMS

Gummy worms come alive in this Halloween science project. It’s the old baking soda and vinegar volcano trick, without the mess of an eruption—and they're a great trick for any Halloween party. Cut standard gummy worms lengthwise at least four times, then drop them into a cup that contains a baking soda and water solution; let sit for 15 minutes. Then, carefully remove the worms from the baking soda solution and put them in a jar of vinegar and watch the magic happen. The reaction of baking soda with vinegar creates bubbles of carbon dioxide that will make the worms move and even float.

11. MAD SCIENCE TEST TUBE RACK


The test tubes in this rack contain water mixed with fluorescent pigments, lit by a blacklight—and, if you feel like setting up a microcontroller, you can even make them blink creepily. The instructions by John Park at Adafruit take you through building the rack (with or without wiring), mixing the potions, and controlling the lights. Your child will want to keep this as a bedroom lamp forever.

8 Surprising Uses for Potatoes

istock
istock

Potatoes are one of the world’s most common, and most beloved, vegetables—and they can be used for much more than just sustenance. In honor of National Potato Day, here are a few other ways to use a potato.

1. WEAR THEM

Potatoes come from a nightshade plant called Solanum tuberosum, which blooms with white, pink, red, blue, or purple flowers. In the late 1700s, in an effort to inspire their starving subjects to plant the newly introduced vegetable—which the Spanish had brought to Europe from the New World—Marie Antoinette wore potato flowers in her hair, and her husband King Louis XVI wore them in his buttonholes. This inspired potato flowers to be a favorite of the French nobility for a time, but the ploy didn't work: The lower classes spurned the upper class's efforts to get them to farm the crop. 

2. MAKE ELECTRICITY

If you’re in a lurch, or perhaps a doomsday prepper, start stocking up on potatoes now. With just a few household items—wires, some copper, and a zinc-coated nail—and one of the tubers, you can power a clock, a light bulb, and many other small electronics.

3. GARDEN IN SPACE

In 1995, the potato became the first vegetable grown on the space shuttle. Raymond Bula of the University of Wisconsin spearheaded a project in which five Norland variety potato leaves were propagated in space. Bula’s research group monitored this project from Wisconsin, staying in constant contact with NASA, who stayed in contact with the crew on the space shuttle. When the shuttle arrived home, everyone was pleased to find that the potato plants not only survived the ordeal, but actually grew potatoes.

4. GROW ROSES

Gardeners can insert rose cuttings into a potato, and then plant the entire potato as if it were a seed or bulb. The nutrient-rich potato helps provide moisture and sustenance to the growing plant, giving the cutting a better chance to survive.

5. MAKE PLASTIC

Bio-plastics, as they’re called, can be made from corn, wheat, and—you guessed it—potatoes. The concentration of starches and cellulose in a potato can be used to make plastic, and the plastic made out of potatoes can be burned and composted with much less impact on the environment.

6. MEASURE TIME

Peru’s Incas used the potato for all sorts of things at the height of their civilization. Known for creative, forward-thinking agricultural practices, the Incas also studied time—and started using the time it takes to cook a potato to measure time.

7. REMOVE RUST

Have a knife with some rust spots? If you insert the knife into the potato and let it sit for awhile, you'll go a long way in removing the rust. Potatoes naturally contain oxalic acid, which is used in many household cleaning products (in much greater quantities, of course). Oxalic acid also dissolves rust. To attack larger rusted surfaces with a potato, cut it in half, sprinkle baking powder on it or dip it in dish soap, and get to scrubbing.

8. MAIL THEM

Thanks to Mail A Spud, for only $9.99 everyone’s dream of mailing a potato to their closest friends and family can be a reality. The site advertises that it can send potatoes anywhere in the U.S., and that your choice of mailed gift will be sure to delight recipients. And, if not delight, at least confuse ... in a good way.

Additional Sources: Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent

This article originally ran in 2016.

15 Scientific Ways to Relax for National Relaxation Day

iStock
iStock

Today is National Relaxation Day, so you have a great excuse to take it easy. Here’s how science can help you have the most laid-back day of the year.

1. GET A HOUSE OR OFFICE PLANT.

Spending time in nature improves your overall wellbeing, but it turns out even just a little greenery is great for your health. Studies have shown patients in hospital rooms with plants report lower stress. Even just stepping into a lush space can reduce your heart rate. Plus, plants are effective at increasing oxygen and clearing out toxins, which should help you breathe easier—literally.

2. AVOID SCREENS BEFORE BEDTIME.

Artificial light from TV and computer screens affects melatonin production and throws off circadian rhythms, which messes with your sleep. Studies have found that young adults were more likely to suffer from sleep disorders, high stress and even depression if they reported intensive use of cell phones and computers at night.

3. LISTEN TO CLASSICAL MUSIC.

Any music you enjoy is bound to make you feel better, but classical music, in particular, has been shown to slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and even decrease levels of stress hormones.

4. DRINK GREEN TEA SWEETENED WITH HONEY.

Green tea contains L-theanine, which reduces stress, and honey—unlike cane sugar—has been shown to counteract free radicals and reduce inflammation, which is sometimes linked to depression.

5. GIVE YOURSELF A HAND MASSAGE.

Especially if you spend all day typing, hands can get really tense. A quick massage should be doable at your desk and if you incorporate some lavender-scented lotion, you’ll get extra relaxation benefits.

6. LOCK LIPS WITH SOMEONE.

Romance is relaxing! Kissing releases oxytocin, a chemical that is shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

7. CHEW GUM.

No matter what flavor it is, the act of chewing gum has been proven to lower cortisol and improve reported mood.

8. BLOW UP A BALLOON.

Reacting to stress with short, shallow breaths will only exacerbate the problem—your body needs more oxygen, not less, to relax. Blowing up a balloon will help you refocus on your breathing. No balloons around? Just concentrate on taking a few deep breaths.

9. MOW THE LAWN.

Research shows that a chemical released by a mowed lawn—that fresh-cut grass smell—makes people feel happy and relaxed. Plus, knocking it off your to-do list will give you one less thing to stress about.

10. FIND SOMETHING TO MAKE YOU LAUGH.

Watching a funny video online does more than just brighten your afternoon, it physically helps to relax you by increasing the endorphins released by your brain.

11. MUNCH ON CHOCOLATE.

What’s also good at releasing endorphins? Chocolate. Studies show that even just 40 grams of dark chocolate a day can help you de-stress.

12. EAT A BANANA.

Potassium helps your body regulate blood pressure. Keeping that under control should help you bounce back more quickly from what’s got you stressed.

13. MAKE ANOTHER TRIP TO THE FRUIT STAND.

Still hungry after that chocolate and banana? Try citrus. Recent studies show that vitamin C helps to alleviate the physical and psychological effects of stress.

14. FOCUS ON RELAXING ALL OF YOUR MUSCLES.

Take a break from whatever you’re doing and, starting at your toes and working upwards, spend a few moments slowly tensing, and then releasing, the muscles of each part of your body.

15. TAKE A MINI MENTAL VACATION.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, take a moment to close your eyes and picture a particularly relaxing scene. It may sound cheesy, but numerous studies show that just a few minutes of disengaging from your stressors rejuvenates your ability to tackle the work.

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