Is it time to stop the cobwebs and ghouls? Tessa McStravick asks this question and offers some non-spooky alternatives for Halloween.
One October, walking into a department store, my friend Ani came across a human skeleton seated on a bench at the entrance. She had her two small children with her and she wasn’t too pleased to find that the shop had been fully decked out in spooky decorations, Halloween was coming.
I felt the same when my two-year-old was scared of the ‘spooky tunnel’ at his early childhood education centre some years ago. The lovely, well-meaning teachers had decorated the centre especially for the day, with things like ghosts and enormous spiders. As I explained to the teachers at the time, I didn’t really want my children to get the message that harmless invertebrates were something to be scared of (we were living in New Zealand, where all the spiders that children are likely to encounter are harmless), and I didn’t think it was appropriate to be introducing ‘scariness’ into a centre for such young children.
Halloween was a non-event in my childhood, hardly acknowledged by anyone at all, but in recent years, not only is it celebrated by an increasing number of people, it is spreading, as all money-spinning festivals do, into every public space. Any shop or café you enter might have a witch hanging from the ceiling or jack-o-lanterns lining the counters.
But should early childhood education centres be part of this trend?
Of course, dress-up play is a popular part of life in most centres, and it’s lovely to do special things to spice up the routine every now and then. I can see why it’s attractive. But honestly, as a parent of young children, I would rather the cobwebs and ghouls stopped well before the front doors of spaces that are dedicated to nurturing little people.
My friend Ani was particularly upset to be confronted with a skeleton while shopping with her children because she had recently lost her husband to cancer. Ghosts, skeletons, and death were not fun things to play with, in the life of her family.
Every family with young children will have had different conversations about death, depending on curiosity and life experience. What parents tell their children about death will differ a great deal from family to family. This is an area where teachers, of course, know to tread carefully.
If you’re thinking about marking Halloween at your centre, I’d like to suggest a couple of alternatives to the witches and ghosts, ideas that don’t trivialise death or open up unhelpful conversations. And I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.
Idea #1: Non-scary dressing up
In the United States, where Halloween has long been a huge event, the focus for little children is usually on dressing up as anything at all, from firefighters to bananas. Dressing up can be huge fun, and it doesn’t need to be scary or spooky at all.
Why not have a dress-up party where children can choose to come in their favourite costume from home or wear some of the dress-ups at your centre?
I believe it’s best for small children that these occasions don’t have a theme – many families won’t appreciate the extra trouble or expense required if they don’t already have something appropriate at home. Give families plenty of warning, and perhaps some very inexpensive ideas for those who don’t have the luxury of a costume box.
You could even suggest a theme that only uses normal clothes, like:
- dress up as someone else in your family
- come dressed in only one colour
- wear your clothes backward
- fun hair day
- pyjama party.
What else? Can you suggest some costume ideas that work well with small children and aren’t too dark and ghoulish?
Idea #2: Historical Halloween
Halloween comes from an old Christian festival, All Hallow’s Eve, where people took time to remember people they loved who had died.
Depending on the kind of community you are part of, perhaps it might be appropriate to honour the people in your children’s lives who have died: grandparents, friends, even pets.
This won’t be appropriate for everyone, of course, but it might be worth considering.
Children could bring in photos or other things that remind them of the people who have died, and there could be a group sharing time telling each other about them. What did they like doing together? What do they miss about them? In what ways do they want to grow up to be like these important people?
Idea #3: Quietly make your centre a Halloween-free zone
You could just let Halloween pass your centre by. There’s no need to celebrate it together at all.
Families who want to engage in modern, spooky Halloween traditions are of course free to do so, and some may well be taking their children trick-or-treating, or carving pumpkins at home. Halloween is one cultural festival that might be best left to families to decide on.
If you want another excuse to do something special, there are a few other things to mark around this time of the year. How about the change of seasons (depending on where in the world you are), or International Day of Older Persons, on October 1, which you might want to celebrate instead. October 24 is United Nations Day and November 13 is World Kindness Day.
I’m going on record here to say skeletons shouldn’t be in department store foyers, and ghosts shouldn’t be in early childhood education centres. This Halloween, let’s make sure all early childhood education centres are safe, friendly places for all families, however you decide to celebrate – or ignore – the festival.
Amen! I can appreciate that it COULD BE/CAN BE be a fun, family friendly event where people socialise with their neighbours. But I cannot abide by all of the spooky stuff. Not to mention the downright tacky plastic decorations which are so wasteful, (did I mention tacky), and unnecessary. Consumerism gone mad.
Should we talk about death, dying, scary things, darkness, evil and sadness with our children at appropriate times? Absolutely YES. Should we hang creepy, scary witches and ghouls around the place with little to no explanation and encourage our kids to be scared and to frighten other children? No, I don’t think so.
The last couple of years our church has run a special afternoon where we have honoured ‘saints’ in our church community with a visit and a thank-you gift for their contribution to our community. The kids have enjoyed visiting homes and workplaces, getting to know and appreciate someone of another generation better, and then we’ve all had a swim and a play with a pot luck dinner. We haven’t encouraged costumes but wanted to provide an alternative to the spooky stuff so that children didn’t feel like they missed out, and learnt something cool about the roots of All Hallows Eve in the process.
Halloween is our tradition here in Ireland. It has been hijacked bit by more and more bloodthirsty( in my opinion) and goulish and commercial stuff. As a child ( many years ago!!) we used carve out turnips…a good way for our mothers to keep us children quite and busy for a few hours!!! We would hang our lanterns outside or carry them on sticks as we went from door to door collecting apples, nuts and sweets and if we were really lucky we got money! The idea of dressing up was to fool the spirits that may come back to seek vengeance etc, and to keep them appeased you would leave out food for them. Hence dressing up in disguises and knocking on doors and being given food/gifts. In my preschool we use pumpkins ( so much easier to carve – a good import from the America’s),we do pumpkin lifecycle, we sing songs, we have great discussions about what we will be dressing up as…plenty of Fairies, pumpkins, ladybirds, Supermen,Batmen and batgirls!! Bob the builders,Witches ghosts etc. It is not something to be frightened of or by. We decorate the preschool with simple garlands with ghosts, bats, pumpkins etc. and have simple child friendly witches, ghosts etc. I do have witches but as our society has become more and more multicultural we are aware that witches are not seen as friendly beings by all, so should this be the case then these are only put out once preschool closes for mid term.( Preschool is in my own home). Yes older children and adults do dress up in more macabre disguises, but that is ( to me anyways) a normal extension as tweens/teens like to shock!! We play games bobbing for apples, hide and seek in the dark( older children) treasure hunts etc. Eat barmbrack – in this will be a ring. In ones made at home you may have in addition to the ring a rag, coin, stick ,a bean. We eat Kale and creamy mashed potatoes with lashings of melting butter , this is known as Colcannon. Generally we have lots of fun with family and friends. It’s a fun night with it’s roots going back to a very ancient Celtic tradition.