Holidays can always be tricky in the early education classroom, especially Halloween. Do you give candy? Do you give apples and celery? Do you give pencils? Do you ignore it? Of course, nothing pleases everybody. I’ve found that if you are upfront with parents about what you are doing in your classroom and honor any wishes, it all works out!
Students need to learn the history and the culture behind all the holidays, Halloween included. I’ve found success when I honor the historical aspect as much as is appropriate, and celebrate the pop culture of the holiday.
If your school allows students to wear costumes, then carry on and celebrate with your students by wearing a costume too. I can already hear the question, “What about those kids that don’t have a costume?” I get it! We want everyone to enjoy in the fun. That’s when I pull them to the side and ask if maybe they forgot to dress up and if they would still like to dress up. If they answer “Yes!”, then I send them to my Imagination Station, which is the center where my dress-up clothes are housed. If they don’t want to dress up, then they get to celebrate like everyone else in their own clothes!
I’ve found that some of my little friends who fall on the Autism spectrum, do not like to dress up for Halloween. They also don’t want to wear pajamas to school. This has to do with their morning routines and the rules that they have learned about how one dresses when they go to school. If they are fine with not being in costume, then we should be too! It is not worth the frustration, tension, or internal anxiety that dressing up will cause them for them to put on a smock and carry a paintbrush around day.
I have found that when a child is dressed up, they will write and write and write, if the writing assignment is focused on their costume, even if it’s a costume from my Imagination Station. I tend to steer clear of “Tell a story about going trick or treating” and lean in more towards, “Tell a story about what happened one day when you were _______”. That line is then differentiated for everyone and filled in with things as varied as “a cop”, “Rapunzel”, “Moana”, “an Angry Bird”, and “Batman”. The writing that you get will be their best effort, no doubt about it. It may not count for your quarterly writing prompt, but it helps you group students and guide instruction for weeks to come!
Pictures are Worth a Thousand Words
I have been blessed to work at several different schools, for many different principals in different systems, during my educational career and there have been years where it was a hard “no” from the principal when it came to wearing costumes. When I know that there will be no costumes and often times the ban on costumes comes with the line, “It will be business as usual in our classrooms,” but we all know that is only being said from people who aren’t in the classroom with 25 kids waiting to put on their JoJo Siwa outfit or Ninja Turtle shell and go to the “candy festival”. The “candy festival” is what one of my awesome kindergartners called a Trunk or Treat she attended.
What I have done in these situations is ask the parents to take a picture and then email me that picture of their child in their costume. On November 1st, when they are all jacked up from eating 15 Snickers and 4 Tootsie Rolls for breakfast, I call them to the carpet, pull up the pictures that their parents sent me, project the picture for the class to see, and the student gets to tell the class all about their costume and what they did on Halloween.
I hear that question forming again, “What about the kids who don’t have a picture sent in?” I let them share too, but I tell the class that I lost their picture and ask for the child to forgive me and let them know that if I find it, I will make sure that all their friends see it! That way, even if they didn’t go trick or treating, they can still tell the class something if they want to participate. This activity hits those essential speaking and listening skills that are so important to the development of our young students.
I do give my class goody bags. I pull a few Kindergarten appropriate tricks on them throughout the day because after all, the saying is “trick or treat” and having fun builds those all-important relationships. However, we do lots of candy reading and candy math during the day. The packs of candy that we use for academics are the same kinds of candy that they see in their goody bags when they get them at the end of the school day!
Of course, be super careful if you have any allergies in your classroom to steer clear from those products. But everybody walks out the door with something from me on Halloween.
The great thing about this system is that while they are opening the goody bag and taking out the candy at home, they are talking about how we counted and graphed the Smarties or how we organized the Nerds from biggest to smallest. Maybe they remember how we used sticks of Laffy Taffy to build our names or how we had three different candies on their table, and they had to listen for the first and last sounds of the candy’s name to hold up the correct candy. When they got the candy correct, they will tell their parents how they got to put that candy in their goody bag. So many fun activities. Let your imagination run wild when you are on the candy aisle stocking up, or if you are busy, just use Pinterest!
In my humble opinion, I have always found it easier to embrace Halloween than to pretend like it isn’t coming. When I incorporate it into my lesson plans, either by kids wearing costumes for a writing prompt, asking parents to send in a picture for us to work on speaking and listening skills, or using candy for math or reading, the holiday comes and goes and I haven’t had to count down the minutes until the end of the day! These tips actually make Halloween one of my kids favorite school days of the year, and that is saying something when it’s competing with a night of a thousand fruit flavors!
If you find yourself needing to stock up your dress-up center, I found that the Career Role Play Set is the perfect place to start!