Preschoolers get a jump on Pumpkin Day fun Piney Run Nature Center plays host to 60 young costumed characters


Whisps of straw stuffing fell onto the floor as Elaine Sweitzer stretched out her hand to a 3-year-old child in denim overalls.

"Come walk with me, Rebecca, since we are both scarecrows," said the Piney Run Park naturalist and scarecrow-for-the-day.

Rebecca Dorsch gingerly took Ms. Sweitzer's straw-covered hand and was off to see the wizards, witches and other characters who partied at the park's Nature Center Friday.

About 60 costumed preschoolers celebrated Halloween at two parties in the park. The children made creepy critters, played seasonal games and broke open a dinosaur pinata filled with both healthy and sugary treats.

Clever costume makers -- mostly moms -- had fashioned outfits from materials at hand.

Ben Harvatine's mother turned dryer venting into silvery springs befitting a robot's wrists and ankles. In case people didn't recognize the 2 1/2 -year-old child's persona, Ben painted posters with his initials and "robot" in bold letters, and hung them from his shoulders.

"I am going to wear this again and give candy to kids on Halloween," he said.

Rebecca and her two sisters took their cues from "The Wizard of Oz." Baby Hannah played a timid witch. Lauren, 5, was a convincing Dorothy in ruby slippers -- tennis shoes dyed red and beglittered -- as she carried a basket filled with a stuffed Toto. "That's it, though. We had no more family to fill in the other roles," the girls' mother said with a laugh.

The 16-month-old witch, mesmerized by the many masked merrymakers, barely cackled or left her mother's arms. "Only good witches are here today," said naturalist Deanna Hofmann, who also played a black-caped crone.

Ms. Hofmann led the party on a brief trail walk in search of spiders. She carried a "web detector," a spray bottle filled with water. She quickly spritzed the webs the hikers discovered and offered details of spidery habitats to the children.

Two-legged bees buzzed along the trails, too. Ethan Harden, 4, and his 18-month-old sister, Elizabeth, wore bright yellow and black stripes and furry black antennae.

"He has a stinger, but she kept pulling hers out," said their mother, Kathy Harden, who got into the spirit of the day and added antennae to her coiffeur. "So, he's a worker bee and she's a queen."

One 8-month-old clown in a stroller grabbed Mrs. Harden's antennae as she bent over to help one of her bees.

Children crunched dried leaves on the trails and punctuated the crisp autumn air with giggles.

Heidi Bringenberg, 3, apparently tired of flicking leaves from her angel ensemble, tossed her wings aside.

"This is a hard costume for the woods," she said, pointing to the leaves on her gown of pink netting.

Before the 90-minute party wound down, several revelers fell out of character, abandoning masks and other accessories. Captain Hook discarded his apparatus and pirate's hat, and was last seen in another's child's racing helmet.

Aladdin was taking no chances at losing his monkey Abu. "I can't lose my monkey because he is pinned on," said Andrew Carter, 4.

The monkey wore the same purple vest and cap as Andrew, and bobbed up and down with the child's movements. "Abu doesn't like popcorn, so I had to eat it all," Andrew said.

Luke Duncan, 9, wore the scariest costume: a huge rubber dinosaur mask and a long green coat.

"I am not afraid," said his 5-year-old sister Emily. "I know Luke is inside that mask."

Everyone took a whack at the pinata. Although some dealt mighty blows, Ms. Sweitzer finally had to call on a nearby dad to break open the prize.

Peanuts and candy spilled to the floor, and the children scrambled to claim the treats.

Minnie Mouse -- Kristin Semones, 2 1/2 -- tossed the peanuts back into the melee, but kept the candy.

Sheridan Renshaw, 2, whose soft red hair made her a perfect Red Riding Hood, filled her basket with goodies before leaving for grandmother's house.

Lauren squeezed her treats into Toto's basket. For her, the party was only the beginning of the weekend's celebration.

"I am going trick or treating again Halloween night," she said.

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