How Halloween Can Meet 2021’s Challenges

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Updated October 4, 2021

As one newspaper headline put it, “With COVID, Halloween gets tricky this year.”

For many schools, this Halloween will leave behind the candy and refreshments shared by youngsters – especially younger middle graders. Including students who attend virtual lessons also presents Halloween challenges. *

By now many teachers have experience avoiding close-quarters activities and refreshments in class. This year bringing room decorations from home can still provide a festive atmosphere. For teachers meeting students online, Pixabay (Zoom) and Unsplash (Google Meet) are providing free Halloween virtual backgrounds.

Educators who have ventured into virtual Bitmoji classrooms can find seasonal settings at this We Are Teachers post. WeAreTeachers has lots more Halloween ideas for youngsters, some adaptable to distance education, in 35 Frightfully Fun Halloween Games, Crafts, and Learning Activities for Kids.

Some of Good Housekeeping’s decorating ideas can be shared with kids at home, too. (I would avoid the design featuring blackened plants.) Simply stuffing pillow cases to fashion pumpkins and making witch hats from paper can get students started.

Of course, resources from less-unnerving years past can be adapted to this fall’s classrooms. For example, UNICEF (see below) is again virtual this year.

Conjuring Up Visions

To immerse kids in moving images, try VideoAmy’s  Five-Minute Film Festival: Happy Halloween! at Edutopia. The article’s video links except for 5. “The Vampire in Literature and Art” are still behaving after several years [be sure to avoid the link to 7: “Thrill the World Los Angeles], but several of the extra resources at the end are defunct.  Elsewhere, 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

Placing Halloween in History

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”), make-up strategies, the psychology of fear, 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.

EDSITEment! (illustrated above) 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. Discussion and links include Los Dias de los Muertos (The Days of the Dead).

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.

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.

hw 2 bl jl on orange ltHalloween 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 2020 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-imaging Service Learning

Halloween can be a time for service learning, 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. UNICEF has developed a totally virtual process for teachers and students to participate in 2020.

Students can also develop more sensitivity to others’ needs through a Teaching Tolerance 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.

An Overflowing Bag of Halloween Goodies

hw 4 happy hwWant more Halloween resources? Visit the NYT Learning Network’s Halloween collection for opinion essays, lesson plans, poetry pairings and videos.

The Teaching Channel pins to the Learning Network and more at its Halloween Pinterest board.

At Richard Byrne’s Free Technology for Teachers find Poe, Halloween and Phys Ed. The page also links to his earlier posts on Halloween math and science.

And last – but most definitely not least – education resource impresario Larry Ferlazzo presents “a zillion” Halloween resources including infographics and videos at his website.

*As of September 26, 2021, the CDC says trick or treating can happen outdoors this year, but recommends limits on indoor Halloween celebrations.

Susan Curtis

Susan Curtis is co-editor of In a long career, she has taught middle grades students, worked in human services, edited a variety of publications and wrangled the reference desk in libraries.

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