I'm the mom who loves Halloween. The family costumes, the spooky decor, and the trick-or-treating — it's all my jam. But the one part of it that I loathe is carving pumpkins. For starters, it can be dangerous with the little ones. I mean, I still don't even feel super comfortable with my 7-year-old doing it. It's also insanely messy, and there's always at least one kid per year who refuses to reach their hands into the "guts" of the pumpkin, with an epic Halloween meltdown ensuing. Carving pumpkins just wasn't any fun until I found the perfect solution — carving pumpkins that involves no carving at all.
After complaining to a friend about our family's carving woes, she gave me the best hack ever: buying Halloween cookie cutters. I was desperate, so I gave it a shot. I've found festive cookie cutters at the dollar store and craft stores like Michaels. I always try the dollar store first, and if I don't have any luck, I move on to the more expensive stores. You can also search online, but I like to get the kids involved in choosing their own cookie cutters, so I bring them with me.
They've chosen all kinds of different shapes: a ghost, pumpkin, cutter that says "Boo!," witch, cat, and more. We always try to carve our pumpkins closer to Halloween so they don't get moldy and cave in before trick-or-treating. When the big day comes, we lay out all of the tools so we're ready: a trash can for the guts (because we rarely roast the pumpkin seeds), a giant plastic tablecloth, a small kid-friendly hammer or rubber mallet, and the cookie cutters. You may also need a paring knife, but I try not to use those unless the pumpkin is extrathick or stubborn.
First, the adults gut the pumpkin (with kids discarding the seeds if they're not feeling squeamish). From here, the kids take turns using the cookie cutters. They grab a ghost, for example, and etch it into the side of the pumpkin. Then, with a parent's help, we very lightly take the mallet to ensure it goes into the skin of the pumpkin. You have to make sure the kids do this slowly, otherwise their pumpkin will collapse, and it will turn into a Halloween nightmare. If you feel like the pumpkin could cave in, slide the cookie cutter out, and use the paring knife to cut it from the inside.
I've found that the kids love this new pumpkin-carving tradition, and so do the parents. The kids get to make their own Halloween scene, and the parents typically feel much better about the experience, too, because it's safer and quicker. Plus, from an aesthetic point of view, the lines are much cleaner than those of a jagged paring knife. So until my kids are much older, we're going to stick with using Halloween cookie cutters to carve our pumpkins. And hey, we'll always have them to use to make actual Halloween cookies, too.