During circle time in my preschool classroom, we'll soon be replacing the "September" card in the class calendar. And once that room of 4-year-olds gets a look at the picture of the pumpkin on the "October" card, I know I can expect weeks of excited conversations about costumes and candy collecting. I also know that I'm not the only teacher who's steeling themselves for the annual fun and chaos that goes by the name of school Halloween celebrations.
Far from the simple Peanuts-style events featuring apple-bobbing and kids dressed as ghosts in sheets, a school party may involve an Instagram-worthy costume parade (particularly in preschools and kindergarten), an in-class party, an after-hours event, or something entirely different. Over the last couple of decades, various community and cultural concerns have affected the way school districts approach Halloween. Is the holiday too offensive to certain faith groups? Too scary for small children? Too risky for kids with food allergies?
For teachers in schools that do go for creepy fun (and thankfully, they do still exist!), the celebration can go a lot more smoothly for everyone if parents understand what goes on and do their part to make the day more of a treat than a trick. Here, from teachers themselves, are some things parents should know about school Halloween festivities.
1. Your School May Not Celebrate At All
You may have fond memories of marching around the schoolyard in your fairy princess costume, but depending on where you live, your kids may not grow up with those same memories. Over the years, certain school districts have opted to cancel on-campus Halloween parties, for a variety of reasons. In 2013, a school in Pennsylvania canceled its Halloween celebration on the grounds that it might be seen as promoting a religion, according to The Huffington Post. Other schools have nixed the holiday because of its "demonic" theme and scary decor, or even to avoid dividing wealthy students and less-advantaged kids who might not be able to afford a pricey costume, as the Des Moines Register reported.
Other schools get around the problem by offering a more generic "fall festival," where scarecrows and pumpkins take the place of ghosts and cobwebs. This allows kids and teachers to celebrate without the frightening and gory decor, which may be more appropriate for the smaller students, anyway.
2. Some Teachers Dread It
"Halloween wasn't my favorite holiday growing up, and it wasn't my favorite as a teacher," confesses a former first-grade teacher from Long Island, NY in an interview with Romper. The fevered excitement of the day can make it difficult to keep order in the classroom, and the practical aspects add more headaches. (Should the kids try to zip up their coats over their costumes? Are there any nuts in the cookies one of the moms baked for the party?) Even teachers who love the holiday may find themselves wiped out after the final bell rings.
3. The Party May Run After Hours
Your school may choose yet another alternative to a daytime party or a total cancellation: holding a celebration later in the day.
The Pennsylvania school that canceled Halloween did an about-face after school administrators confessed they'd misinterpreted the Supreme Court's ruling on religious observance. Turns out that Halloween parties after normal school hours are perfectly acceptable, so the school compromised by throwing a fall-themed evening bash, which presumably satisfied everyone.
My own preschool offers the best of both worlds, in my opinion. On Halloween, we have a regular school day, with no dressing-up allowed. Then after dismissal, teachers decorate their classroom doors for a trick-or-treat walk-through. Both our own students and neighborhood kids are invited to drop by in costume and collect their share of goodies.
4. Read Notices Carefully
The teachers I spoke to urged parents to check their kids' folders every day during October for any announcements or flyers regarding Halloween celebrations. This prevents any unexpected surprises ("You mean the costume parade is tomorrow?!") and allows you to prepare well in advance.
Your school may also lay out certain rules to ensure a safe and sane time for everyone. For example, many sites (like the school that sent this flier of Halloween rules) ban prop weapons and overly gory costumes. A couple of years ago, when everyone was terrified by reports of menacing and attacks by men in clown garb, one New Jersey school district banned clown costumes to avoid classroom freak-outs, reported NJ.com.
5. Masks May Be A No-No
Batman himself might have trouble passing muster in an elementary school classroom. Schools that allow costumes on Halloween may tell parents to leave the masks at home. Not only are they uncomfortable (remember how the edges of the eyeholes used to cut into your skin?), but masks can also affect your vision and breathing, making it hazardous to get around, warned the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Face paint is a much more comfortable, and still effective, alternative.
"One school where I worked had a Halloween parade within the school, but no masks could be worn while walking," explains retired teacher Cookie Knisbaum. "When it was time for the parade, the children would put the masks on their heads and go from classroom to classroom. When they stopped at each room, they could pull their masks down so everyone could see them."
6. The Fun Starts After Lunch
"No teacher in their right mind would have a party in the morning!" Knisbaum laughs. The combination of excited kids and heaps of doughnut holes and mini candy bars is difficult enough to handle at 2 p.m., much less four hours earlier. It's likely that your child's school party will get going after 1 p.m., and perhaps even later — all the better to dismiss them in time for neighborhood trick-or-treating.
7. Keep Comfort In Mind
That snug-fitting Spider-Man outfit your kindergartner fell in love with at the store may turn into a sweaty mess after a day in a warm classroom. And the pouffy Belle ballgown may look charming on your little princess, but it's not exactly the best outfit to wear for running on the playground. Plus, when nature calls, she'll have a tough time perching on the toilet without getting the skirt soaked. That's the reason some schools ask parents to have their children bring their costumes in bags so they can change shortly before the festivities, keeping discomfort to a minimum.
Another option: Choose a comfortable, easy-to-pull-on costume for school (such as a PAW Patrol hoodie or doctor scrubs), and save the fancy stuff for neighborhood walking.
8. Schools Need Your Help
Having some extra hands in school on a special day like Halloween takes some of the pressure off busy teachers and helps ensure a good time for all. My daughter's school hosts a big festival on the Saturday just before or after Halloween, and parent volunteers help to run carnival games, sell refreshments, and perform in the haunted walkthrough.
"Parent involvement always makes the party fun and makes the students feel special," explains Debbie Niebling, a veteran teacher (and one of my colleagues). "Parents can make some fun games for the children to play during the party, such as a ring toss using a witch's hat, or pin-the-spider-on-the-web." Niebling also suggests parents volunteer to make some healthy snacks for a classroom celebration. Halved bananas with mini-chocolate chip eyes make tasty "ghosts," or cut wedges of cheese to look like broom bristles and attach to pretzel "handles."
9. "The Day After" Syndrome Is Real
Around this time of year, teachers look at the calendar and secretly pray that October 31 falls on a Friday or Saturday. That way, kids have a day or two to recover from the excitement and the sugar overload. But if November 1 is a weekday, it's actually worse for teachers than the witching day itself. "They're going to be hyped-up from the day before, and they're going to try to bring their candy with them," reports Knisbaum. You can help minimize the Halloween hangover by putting your child to bed shortly after trick-or-treating, and by not overloading their lunch box with loot.
However your child's school celebrates the holiday, following the school guidelines (and offering to help, if you can) will make it fun for all the boys and ghouls in the classroom.