ALL OVER WASHINGTON, children have begun the countdown: T-minus five days to Halloween. Fortunately there are plenty of ways to have a howling Halloween without too much candy passing over the lips of your goblins:

"Scary but not bloodcurdling" is how Watkins Regional Park in Upper Marlboro bills its Old Time Halloween -- an outdoor event on Wednesday for children under 12 and their families. Come in costume and start your evening off by riding the enchanted train. In years past there have been sightings of witches, cat girls, people eating a ghoulish dinner and a headless horseman with pumpkin head in hand. Afterwards wander over to the bonfires to be mesmerized by storytellers, or watch the Blue Sky Puppets perform "Three Not-So-Little Pigs Meet the Halloween Witch."

If you can't wait till Halloween to begin the festivities, start early by visiting one of the area's many spook-infested haunted houses. This Friday Bethesda Metro Center hosts a "spook-tacular," transforming itself into an eerie haunt guaranteed to rattle your bones. As you step through the red curtains, be careful of the red-hot lava overflowing from the erupting volcano. In the haunted forest meet nightmarish creatures of the night. Then it's on to the Haunted Castle to see the tortured souls in chains. And for those on the screamish side there will be a magic show, face-painting, magicians and costumed characters.

If store-bought ghosts seem too tame, there are reports that real ghosts hang out at the Colvin Run Mill Historic Site in Great Falls, Va. (Ask tour guides for gory details.) And just in case the ghosts decide not to appear, the mill will offer flashing lights, gory characters and a snake pit (children under 6 should be accompanied by an adult). If you are brave enough to look into your future, there will be fortune-tellers for both grown-ups and children.

So no matter whether your child is a witch, goblin or Bart Simpson, there's more to do this Halloween than just ringing doorbells.