Bring Halloween to Class for Fun and Learning
Updated October 9, 2023
Candy, sure! But Halloween can bring so much more to the classroom. Venture through the following collection touching on several subject areas to add spirit to your students’ Halloween this year.
Placing Halloween in History
EDSITEment! from the National Endowment for the Humanities is a super resource, providing an overview of fall celebrations from other cultures along with Halloween discussion starters and links to lessons and LOC American Memory resources. The webpage includes Dias de los Muertos (Days of the Dead).
Learning for Justice also offers a deep look into Día de los Muertos “which is distinctly different from Halloween in origin, celebration and culture.” Carol Salva’s No Prep Lesson That Will Take Learning Deep with Halloween & Day of the Dead! brings the two holidays together, starting with a Day of the Dead Kahoot and going into structured conversation and writing in ways that are especially effective for multilingual learners.
The History Channel features videos, among them an engaging history lesson as well as views of witches, pumpkins, commercialization (“One quarter of all the candy sold annually in the U.S. is purchased for Halloween”), lesser known associated traditions, and more. The website also provides a thorough review of Halloween’s development from Celtic beliefs to the relatively recent use of the term ‘trick or treat.’ Horror alert: Video ads now introduce many pages.
Conjuring Up Visions
Many teachers recommend the recitation of “The Raven” from The Simpsons (Season 2, episode 3 minute 16). You can look on YouTube or find the episode “Treehouse of Horror” at Amazon Instant Video. For less action but more history, visit Halloween History: A Visual Timeline from InfoNewt’s portfolio. It’s a rich infographic created for FrightCatalog.com.
Unearthing Really Scary Stories
Want to see if a book or video has just the right amount of fright for your class of tweens or teens? Common Sense Media lets you and parents search by title or subject. Here’s one frightful list: Best Ghost Stories for Kids and Teens. You can see a sample of CSM’s rating approach by checking out this overview of Jonathan Stroud’s The Screaming Staircase (“very, very scary”) from the Lockwood & Co. series.
At School Library Journal‘s Kidcasts you will find Frightful Fun: Halloween Podcasts for Middle Schoolers by Anne Bensfield and Pamela Rogers. Students can enjoy a modern-day fictional visit to Sleepy Hollow, Goosebumps stories from R.L. Stine, and much more.
Also at SLJ, elementary school librarian Travis Jonker offers both Spooky Picture Book Recommendations From a Confessed Fraidy-Cat and The Spookiest Children’s Books of 2023.
Lurching into Science and Math
Halloween can enter the science classroom by way of astronomy. Writing at EarthSky, Bruce McClure offers scientific and historical background as he explains why Halloween is also an astronomical holiday, associated with the ancient Celtic cross-quarter day which marks the approximate midway point between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.
Halloween is one of the year’s four cross-quarter days. It is the modern-day descendant from Samhain, a festival of the ancient Celts and Druids. The Pleiades star cluster also plays a role in this story, because Samhain was said to happen on the night that the Pleiades cluster culminated – or reached its highest point in the sky – at midnight. McClure’s post includes a drawing of the equinoxes, the solstices, and the intervening four cross-quarter days.
The Zombie Autopsies doesn’t sound scientific, but the PBS lessons pack a lot of neuroscience into the series for middle graders and high schoolers. The series of five lessons is based on The Zombie Autopsies written by Dr. Steven C. Schlozman. Included: the lesson plans and handouts. If you’re using just one of the lessons, PBS recommends Lesson 3 for Halloween Day. From PBS Newshour.
Students can enjoy hands-on STEM fun at home or in class using a collection of activities from Science Buddies. Materials needed vary from a lemon to a veggie power battery kit.
For science experiments looking into candy, try this National Public Radio feature. You can decide whether the last few ideas (making faux animal poop from leftover Tootsie Rolls and Hershey’s Kisses) would be a good idea in your class.
MATH? The Census Bureau’s annual Facts for Features 2023 Halloween post is a starting place for number crunching. What on average is the cost per person of the candy consumed at Halloween? How many Trick or Treaters ages 5-15 potentially visit U.S. homes?
Re-imagining Service Learning
Halloween can be a time for service learning such as collecting food and dry goods for an agency that serves children and others in need. Of course the best known opportunity for Halloween-related service activities is UNICEF where students learn about worldwide hunger and how they can help.
This year UNICEF is urging everyone to “KNOCK ON A DOOR TO ADD SOME MEANING TO YOUR HALLOWEENING®.” After accessing fundraising materials, children can gather donations to benefit refugees, stop famine, and provide warmth. UNICEF is also encouraging teachers to sign up for Kid Power, a resource that provides videos to get kids moving in class with their effort being rewarded with donations to malnourished children or to local health needs.
Students can also develop more sensitivity to others’ needs through a Learning for Justice grades 3-5 lesson (adaptable for older kids) on stereotypes represented by Halloween costumes: what is sold to girls as opposed to boys, what racial stereotypes are reinforced by some costumes, and more.
Bringing Halloween Visions into the Classroom
To freshen up Halloween in the classroom and online, visit WeAreTeachers’ 55 Frightfully Fun Halloween Activities, Crafts, and Games for the Classroom or Get Spooky With These 10 Halloween Bitmoji Classrooms! For lots of seasonal images try Pixabay (Zoom) and Unsplash (Google Meet) for free Halloween virtual backgrounds and images. (Young students may find some of the images unnerving.)
An Overflowing Bag of Halloween Goodies
Want more Halloween resources? Visit the NYT Learning Network’s Halloween collection for opinion essays, lesson plans, poetry pairings and videos.
At Richard Byrne’s Free Technology for Teachers (now available at TeacherMade) find An October Video Project – Halloween Safety from 2022, Poe, Halloween and Phys Ed from 2020 and his Updated List of Halloween-themed Activities and Resources from 2021. And more.
And last – but most definitely not least – education resource impresario Larry Ferlazzo presents “a zillion” Halloween resources including infographics and videos at his website.
BONUS: Revisit Mary Tarashuk’s recounting of bringing Halloween to her fourth graders in this MiddleWeb classic, A Halloween Teacher’s Self Evaluation.