Turn down the terrors and promote fun this Halloween

Published on Tuesday, 27 October 2020
Last updated on Tuesday, 27 October 2020

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Halloween is almost here, heralded by the appearance of spooky and sometimes grisly spectres of witches, ghosts and skeletons on neighbourhood lawns and shop fronts.

By dialling down the scary factor this year, educators and parents can work together to support children and prepare them for Halloween, creating an appropriate experience to deliver fun for everyone. Research shows the line between reality and fantasy can sometimes be blurry for young children. This is demonstrated in a scene  from popular TV show Peppa Pig, when George, dressed in a dinosaur costume, scares himself and cries when he spots his reflection in the mirror. Children can be frightened by scary costumes even if they see a person put on the outfit and make-up, they can even be frightened of themselves, just like George was.

For these reasons Halloween can be a challenge because young children are still acquiring knowledge about the world as well as the differences between reality and fantasy. It is important that early childhood centres are safe, friendly and inclusive spaces for all children.

While some services may decide not to mark Halloween, for those that do it is important to establish an appropriate approach and make it a safe and fun experience for all children.

Making Halloween less scary

A Michigan State University article on Halloween explains that, “Managing fears is a way for young children to develop important emotional regulation skills. With the support of a caring adult, children learn to manage their reactions to emotions. It is helpful for a child to draw pictures or be able to talk about their fears with a trusted adult. Picture books that show characters fearful of something but then are able to find ways to deal with their fear can be very helpful to young children.”

Given this it may be helpful to focus on meaningful experiences that are developmentally appropriate and follow the interests of children to demystify Halloween. Think in terms of what is educationally sound and engaging and follow the interests of the children.

Here are some ideas to try:

Have a non-scary costume party

Encourage children to wear non-scary fancy dress. If a child doesn’t want to dress up, they don’t have to. They could even just wear part of a costume such as a cape or a hat and skip the rest of it. Another option is to promote book characters from favourite stories or have a pyjama theme as part of your Halloween party.

Create a theme

Choose a theme for your Halloween celebrations and plan a series of fun explorations and lessons. Focus on bats or spiders and undertake engaging STEM activities to teach and inspire curiosity in young children. Or delve into an exploration of skeletons and bones to teach kids in a wonderful and interactive way, diffusing the fear factor of how these are portrayed during Halloween.

Potion making

Making positions is a great way for children to build on their exploration and investigation skills. Provide a range of materials for children to create their own potions including flower petals, coloured water and fruit slices. The children can use different sized bowls, bottles and wooden spoons to create and share potions.

Cotton wool skeletons

These are fun to make using black paper, cotton buds and glue. The children can use the cotton buds as ‘bones’ to create their own skeleton. This activity can encourage children to talk about their bodies and is a great activity to accompany with the song ‘Skeleton dance’ and book such as “Inside Your Outside”, by Tish Rabe, from Dr Seuss learning library.

Pumpkin play

Pumpkin play offers a great way to introduce Halloween and keep activities focused on natural objects. Children can help educators pull out the seeds using their hands and different scooping tools. The inside of the pumpkin is great for messy play and you could plant the seeds and grow your own pumpkin for next year!

Cat masks

Black cats are often associated with Halloween and can be a source of inspiration for dress up and imaginative play.

Monster playdough

Monster playdough offers children the opportunity to create their own friendly monsters using different coloured playdough and a handful of accessories including googly eyes, paper straws, pipe cleaners and natural materials.

Healthy food treats

Instead of lollies and sweet treats prepare a selection of Halloween themed healthy options. Try these fun monster teeth or serve up all the ingredients so little hands can make their own healthy and friendly hummus monster.

References and further reading:

Michigan State University: Halloween lets children use their imagination and engage in pretend play

Early years Careers: 8 Child friendly Halloween activities for the early years

Southwest Human Development: Is Halloween too scary for your young child?

Lane Kids: Friday night fears – Ways to make Halloween less scary for children

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