The spookiest season of the year is here, and finding a just-right Halloween costume idea can feel like the scariest part of the whole holiday.

So this year, we want to decrease the stress by sharing some brainstorming techniques from Galileo’s crack team of curriculum developers (the same techniques designers and innovators use in their work). As it turns out, simply deciding on a costume offers plenty of opportunities to expand your kids’ innovation skills—and can even be fun!

Read on for the tricks (and treats) of brainstorming with your kids to unearth the best Halloween costume ideas ever.

Getting Started: Beyond “What Do You Want to Be?”

“What do you want to be for Halloween this year?” It seems like a simple enough question, but the pressure of answering it—coming up with a costume idea that’s original, easy, clever, cute, scary, comfy enough, warm enough, etc., etc.—is enough to send creativity screeching to a halt. So instead of asking your kids (or yourself) the million-dollar question first thing, take a step back and work one piece at a time.

Why Brainstorming?

For costumes and, well, for life, getting good at brainstorming without judgment is essential for coming up with the best solutions.

Why? Basically, brainstorming helps you generate lots and lots of ideas, pushing you past the very first thought that comes to mind and inevitably yielding something more interesting. Plus, when you make brainstorming fun, you release the pressure of the big question—in this case, “What do you want to be?”— and just focus on getting the creative juices flowing, rather than judging each idea as you have it.

You’d be surprised just how well our brainstorming techniques work for Halloween costume ideas and really, for any other project.

So round up your kids (and any other friends and family members—the more the merrier, really) and get brainstorming! Remember to write down every idea you come up with, without judgment, on a whiteboard or piece of paper.

Our Favorite Brainstorming Techniques

Mix and Match Techniques

Get your creative juices flowing with some wild mixing and matching.

Favorite things: Write down all the things you love and try mashing them together in fun, creative ways. Think roller skating puppy or butterfly cheeseburger!

Categories: Pick several categories. Here are a few to get you started: animals, mythological creatures, superpowers, professions, movie characters and things that move. Make lists for each, then pick items from two different lists to pair up. What combinations can you come up with? A flying car? A kitten basketball player?

Roll the dice: Tape letters to each side of a pair of dice. Roll die #1, then give yourself one minute think of nouns that begin with the letter you rolled. Repeat with die #2, this time thinking of adjectives for the letter you rolled. Then put them together. For example, if #1 rolled a “C” and #2 rolled an “E,” you might come up with evil coffee, excited camel or educated cat.

Think inside the box: Brainstorm a bunch of nouns and adjectives (or any other pair of categories), write them on individual slips of paper and put them in two separate boxes or bags (one for nouns, one for adjectives). Draw a word from each box and put them together.

Use What You’ve Got

Challenge your kids to look around your house to see what items you already have that can spark costume idea inspiration.

One thing at a time: Have your kids find one awesome item in their (or your) closet and generate ideas for how to incorporate it into this year’s costume (this technique works especially well with unusual items from past costumes or other specialized equipment). For example, those green tights from their old Peter Pan costume could be the start of an awesome witch, cactus or frog costume. Or your camping headlamp could help them transform into a searching submarine or glowing jack-o-lantern.

Cool combinations: You can also gather together a bunch of different pieces from every closet in the house and see what ideas emerge, like striped shirt + white gloves + suspenders = mime, or overalls + bandana + pig stuffed animal = farmer. Make a game of it by setting a time limit. Give your kids five minutes to find one thing from each closet to bring together.

Look for Inspiration Everywhere

Anything at all can get your mind moving in fun new costume directions. Ask your kids to:

  • Browse through their bookshelves for literary heroes and thumb through magazines or catalogues for current events or styles. Create a list of anything they get excited about.
  • Think about their favorite movies and TV shows from the previous year and shout out the characters they liked the most. Make a list of those.
  • Search Google images using the ideas that came out of the brainstorms above to see what additional concepts pop up.

Best Halloween Costume Ever

Once you’ve exhausted every brainstorming technique, it’s time to narrow down your excellent ideas. Don’t worry about picking a favorite right away! First, simply have your kids go through the list and cross off any ideas they’re a bit less excited about. Once they’re done, they’ll have a shortlist of truly great ideas to pick a favorite from.

If they’re still having trouble picking just one idea from the shorter list, try adding a few constraints. For example, you might review your list with an eye for eliminating what you don’t have the materials for, then the ones you don’t have enough time to execute and so on. Soon, you’ll have removed enough to make it clear which idea is a cut above the rest.

Up next: Now that you’ve got your Halloween costume idea, learn how to use simple materials, along with more Galileo-style innovation, to DIY it.