What does Halloween Really Teach Children?
18 October 2022
Ever wondered if Halloween goes deeper than the scary costumes and trick-or-treating? Read on to learn the fascinating history and educational value of this spooky holiday.
Halloween is exploding in popularity here in Australia. While you might have balked at the idea of trick-or-treating a decade ago, Australians are embracing the pumpkins and sweets with both hands.
At Explorers, we consider Halloween a wonderful learning opportunity to teach children about literacy, maths, child safety, creativity and other cultures.
What is Halloween?
Although Halloween is typically understood as an American holiday celebrated each year on October 31st, its origins date back to the Irish Samhain festival over 2,000 years ago!
Samhain is a Celtic festival which celebrates the end of harvest season – November 1st – and the beginning of the ‘dark half’ of the year. The Celts believed the ghosts of their ancestors visited for this transition between seasons. To celebrate, they lit bonfires, danced, dressed up and left treats on doorsteps for their ghostly visitors.
However, with the spread of Catholicism throughout Europe, Celtic and Catholic traditions combined, and so did the evolution of Samhain.
Samhain → All Souls Day → All Saints Day → Alholowmesse → All Hallows Day → All Hallows Eve → Halloween
When Irish settlers landed on the shores of the Americas in the 1600-1700s, they brought Halloween with them. Catholic, Irish and American traditions combined which spread Halloween to the rest of the country, then to Canada, and then to the world.
Trick-or-treating originated on All Souls’ Eve in Ireland, where children went door-to-door asking for a treat in exchange for a prayer. Back then, soul cakes were the treats. Soul cakes are small round cakes baked with raisins, mixed spices and marked with a cross, not too dissimilar from hot cross buns.
The tradition evolved into what we know today as trick-or-treating. Consequently, groups of family and friends dressing up and venturing into the night on October 31st is becoming commonplace. Above all, this is a wonderful confidence building exercise for children to develop their social skills.
Moreover, it’s the perfect opportunity to teach the little ones some vital safety tips. Before the big night, be sure to explain some key child safety principles:
- Never go into a stranger’s home or car.
- Always check food labels for allergens.
- Stay off the roads (wear reflective tape if possible for visibility).
- Always stay under parental supervision.
- Ensure costume is well-fitted to avoid tripping.
Spark the Imagination
Creativity is a key component of the Reggio Emilia approach and Halloween is the perfect opportunity to stimulate children’s imaginations. They can choose their costume from their favourite book, movie, story or just make something up!
If they decide to be something more common, like a ghost for example, encourage them to write a story about their character which you can then read together. Literacy is a fundamental life skill for the little ones, so finding new and exciting ways to teach it outside the classroom is essential.
Lollies for Learning
After you and your little ones finish trick-or-treating, you can use the hard-earned treats as a wonderful (and tasty) learning tool. Ask them to lay their plunder on the table and count how many treats they’ve collected. Then, separate the different kinds by shape, colour, and size.
Ask your child to describe the tastes and textures. Is it sweet? Sour? Chewy? Toddlers are at a delicate age in their development which is largely dependent on sensory information and experiences, so be sure to nurture and encourage their sense of exploration.
Just be sure not to overindulge and always be mindful of your child’s sugar intake. Moreover, keep an eye out for allergen labels and nasty preservatives. Thankfully, there are loads of fun alternatives to hand out to trick-or-treaters if you want to give the sugar-high a miss, such as fruit skewers, popcorn, cheese and crackers, pretzels, and frozen yogurt sticks.
Halloween Around the World
While we love Halloween, it’s important to note that it’s a Western holiday. At Explorers, we embrace all cultures, and acknowledge that although many countries celebrate Halloween, they also have their own unique holidays.
Here are just a few examples from around the world:
- Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican tradition that takes place each year on November 1st and 2nd. Although the name may sound ominous, this festival celebrates the beauty of life. Festivalgoers partake in candle-lit walks through the cities, dress up in colourful costumes, paint their faces and share baked treats.
- The Hungry Ghost Festival is a Chinese festival celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh month of the Lunar Calendar. It is believed that during this event the gates of the underworld open. The day is celebrated by burning incense, hosting elaborate performances and preparing traditional meals with family.
- Gozan no Okuribi is a Japanese festival celebrated each year on August 16th. Giant bonfires are lit on mountains surrounding Kyoto to signify the moment when souls of past family members return to the spirit world. These fires create enormous symbols, which are a natural marvel to behold.
Overall, if you choose to celebrate Halloween, it’s a wonderful opportunity to teach your child some handy life lessons while also expanding their cultural awareness. Be sure to encourage their creativity, join in the festivities and relish the memories just as much as the sweets.