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Halloween Alternatives for Schools

EducationWorld is pleased to share this article contributed by Greta Brewster, a non-profit consultant and writer for

Many of us have fond memories of parading around our school gymnasiums dressed in Halloween costumes. In the past decade, however, schools have increasingly phased out this tradition to avoid student distractions and/or to accommodate families whose cultural or religious beliefs are incompatible with the holiday. (Some schools report that as many as 30 percent of their students don’t celebrate Halloween.)

Schools that ban ghosts and ghouls need not completely do away with festivities, however. Many schools have instituted creative alternatives to traditional Halloween celebrations that appeal to parents, students and teachers alike.

After-School Parties

At Fruitport Edgewood Elementary in Muskegon, MI, students enjoyed a traditional Halloween celebration—but after school hours. The school’s “Boo Bash” enables costumed students to trick-or-treat in the hallways between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m., a time when many parents can attend. Teachers, also dressed in costume, were stationed in the classrooms, handing out goodies.

Other variations of after-school parties include costumed dances, which can feature healthy homemade treats and hot cider; Halloween festivals that offer haunted houses and games (think Halloween Bingo and witch-hat ring toss) and Halloween-themed talent shows. Some schools don’t want families to be excluded from these events, either, and instead offer fall-themed festivals and fairs with food and activities that include face painting, pumpkin painting and guessing the number of kernels on an ear of corn.

After-school parties have the advantage of completely removing Halloween from the school day and enabling families to opt out of the festivities without having to pull their children out of school. Parents often appreciate the relative safety of these events and the ability to have better control over the treats their children obtain (a particular advantage when food allergies are a factor). Most of these events are organized by parent groups.

"Falloween" Celebrations

Public schools in Saint Paul, MN, are discouraged from celebrating any holidays, in deference to religious groups that may not recognize them. In many of these schools, Halloween has transformed into “Falloween,” in which images of pumpkins and leaves have replaced those of witches and ghosts.

Celebration of harvests and seasonal changes can even be integrated into the curriculum. For example, one school assigned each teacher a fall-related theme: pumpkin measuring and carving, plant life cycles, seasonal changes, nocturnal animals and so forth. Each classroom created displays for other classes to visit during a day of activities. Another school had some classrooms take an end-of-October overnight camping trip. In preparation, students learned about phases of the moon and local wildlife they might encounter.

Falloween celebrations also can include student parades. Some schools have students make ornate hats or headbands as part of a curriculum-based activity. Students can use found materials or fall-themed items (corncobs, pumpkins) and show off their creations to classmates.

Dress-Up Day

The Monocacy Valley Montessori Public Charter School in Frederick County, MD, wanted students to continue donning costumes on the holiday. Instead of Halloween or its fall-themed alternative, the school celebrated “International Children’s Day,” a day when students attended school wearing costumes that represent countries and cultures all over the world.

Other schools have found similarly creative ways to allow students to dress up, often as part of a curriculum unit. Some schools organize a storybook parade, in which students dress up as their favorite book characters. One school had students dress up as interesting vocabulary words, enabling them to learn new vocabulary. Another school organized a school-wide sock hop, in which students wore sock-hop attire and performed dances the gym coach had taught them prior to the event. One third-grade classroom even held a “mad scientist” day, when students dressed up as mad scientists and conducted experiments all day.

If there’s anything that Halloween inspires, it’s creativity, and there’s no shortage of ideas when it comes to Halloween alternatives. Once teachers and parents overcome the hurdle of letting time-honored traditions go, they often find that Halloween alternatives can be just as engaging for students, and even educational.

Related resources

Online Chatter: Banning Halloween in School
Halloween Party Alternatives



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