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NU #14: My Unpopular Point of View About Halloween in Schools

When it comes to Halloween & costumes, there seems to be two opposing camps : either you are a superfan or you wish the event never existed.

For me, I always struggled to understand the role that Halloween played in schools. To be up front, I took some heat during my career about this whole event. I was one of the few school leaders who shared my point of view about how this negatively impacted our learning environments. Looking back, were there things I would have done differently? Sure there are. However, my general opinion about Halloween in schools has not changed. I do not feel that costumes and parties have a place in schools. Allow me to explain…

The following points are some general considerations that I want the superfans to know about the impact of October 31st on our classrooms:

1. This event breeds dysregulation & it’s a whole new level of dysregulation. Halloween can cause chaos, upset, overexcitement, exclusion and a host of other big emotions. And to be honest, the days that follow can be pure hell.

2. Children are over-stimulated to the degree that their ability to regulate their emotions is less than zero. They are exhausted. The parents are exhausted and so are the staff. Kids are running on no sleep and nutrition is at its worst. Tempers are quick to blow. Impulse control and logical thinking are both out the window.

3. Here’s a comparison for the superfans: Have you ever hosted a children’s birthday party - at your house - with a guestlist of around 10 kids? ( Clarification - you need to the the only adult who is supervising) Now, take this example and multiply the number of kids by 50, so that you reach a total number of around 500 students… and then, extend the “party” from only one afternoon at your house to a four day sugar binge which include all the emotional ups and downs. This is what it can be like. It can be a four day rollercoaster ride of highs and crashes.

4. Another challenge that I wish more people understood is that there is almost always some kind of serious student incident - this can be a fight, a missing student, a prank which has gone too far, a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of an event because everybody is on high alert. Without fail, there is often a large disruption to the students’ day which seems to be connected to the Halloween hype.

5. I also think that October 31st and the tradition of costumes excludes many of our public school students from participating. Many cultures & religions do not support the notion of this event. As a result, this leaves a high number of kids on the outside looking in.

6. Lastly and perhaps of most importance, the days that follow Halloween are days with very high student absence rates. I have noticed that November 1st tends to be a day where many students simply stay home. Now, for many students, this is perfectly fine and they recover quickly and resume their normal schedule easily. But, for a student who is already struggling with attendance and / or academics, November 1st can be the gateway to a slew of absences and once this pattern begins, it’s especially hard to get the student back on track. As we all know, November is cold, wet, dark, grey and gloomy - it can be really difficult to get motivated to get out of bed. This is typically the point in the fall term where students start to struggle and I have noticed that November 1st is often the springboard.

Here are a few tips that may help educators survive the days that surround Halloween:

  1. Plan and plan some more. I encourage educators to adjust the material, the pace & the flow of their routines around this time. Select activities that are super-structured, which include lots of choice. You may also want to choose tasks that are independent in nature.

  2. Plan deeply for student transitions and supervise transitions like your life depends on it. Be more visible and more vigilent.

  3. Expect challenging behavior from your most vulnerable five students. Don’t be surprised when they are really having big trouble. Anticipate that this is a likely outcome.

  4. Go slower. Way slower. Less is more.

  5. Encourage the kids to drink a ton of water. This will help immensely.

  6. Get outside and get active. I would add two extra outdoor sessions for each of the days surrounding Halloween. A brisk 10 minute walk around the school or on the property will do amazing things!

  7. Don’t say yes to disruptive events or requests from parents. (99% of the time their intentions are in the right place, but sometimes there’s no understanding of the bigger picture). Hopefully, your School District has some good policies around what can and cannot take place during Halloween and it has been well communicated to families.

  8. Have a powerful plan for your own rest during this time. If you have not slept or have eaten way too much sugar, you’re setting yourself up for a tough few days. A good game plan for sleep can go a long way!

No matter which camp you fall into on this issue, I hope this article has given you a few things to consider.

I do think Halloween is a fun activity for kids and adults to enjoy - if they wish. I think that it’s something that should be supervised closely by parents and enjoyed away from the classroom. I wonder what would happen if the trick or treating + costumes was moved to the last Saturday in October - instead of October 31st?

That’s all I have for now. Thank you for reading.



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