As Halloween creeps up on us, it’s the perfect time to introduce some spooky-themed activities to your SPED classroom! Not only is it a fun way to get students engaged, but it can also help with important skills such as communication, sensory stimulation, and creativity.
Whether you’re looking for ideas for your classroom party or just want to add a little extra excitement to your lessons this month, we’ve got some tips for you!
Most of us know how we celebrate now, but do you know why? Understanding the history of Halloween can be helpful as you think of ways to incorporate classroom celebrations.
Halloween has its roots in an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain. Samhain celebrated the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, which was often associated with death.
The Celts believed that on the night of October 31st, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred, allowing spirits to come back to earth. People would light bonfires and wear costumes to scare off the ghosts.
When Christianity spread throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, Samhain was combined with the Christian celebration of All Saints’ Day, also known as All Hallows’ Day, on November 1st. The night before All Hallows’ Day became known as All Hallows’ Eve, and later, Halloween.
In the United States, Halloween was brought over by Irish immigrants in the 19th century. It quickly became a popular holiday, especially with children who enjoyed dressing up in costumes and going door to door asking for candy. Today, Halloween is celebrated all over the world, with various traditions and customs.
One of the most popular Halloween traditions is carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns. This practice comes from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack who tricked the devil and was doomed to wander the earth with only a carved-out turnip to light his way. When Irish immigrants came to America, they began using the more available and easier-to-carve pumpkins instead of turnips.
Another American tradition is trick-or-treating, where children dress up in costumes and go from house to house asking for candy. This tradition originally came from the medieval practice of “souling,” where people would go door to door asking for soul cakes in exchange for praying for the souls of the homeowners’ dead relatives.
Halloween is a time of excitement and fun for children, but it can present some challenges in the classroom for teachers. From costumes to candy to decorations, there are a lot of added distractions that can disrupt the learning environment.
On Halloween, students tend to be more excited than usual, which can lead to hyperactivity and disruptive behaviors. Teachers may find it challenging to maintain a calm and focused environment in the classroom, something that tends to be exacerbated in special education classrooms.
To address this challenge, educators can try incorporating Halloween-themed activities into their lessons, such as reading spooky stories or doing Halloween-themed crafts. This can help channel the students’ excitement into a productive and creative outlet.
Halloween decorations can be overwhelming to some students, especially those who are sensitive to noise, light, or other stimuli. Teachers can be proactive by minimizing decorations in the classroom or creating a designated quiet space for students who need a break from the sensory overload. Cognitive or sensory tools such as fidgets or noise-canceling headphones can also be used if necessary.
Finally, it is important to consider the emotional impact that Halloween can have on students who do not celebrate the holiday for cultural or religious reasons. Teachers can help ensure inclusivity by acknowledging these differences and encouraging students to share their own unique traditions.
As an educator, you can also embrace the Halloween spirit by incorporating fun and educational activities for your students. Here are some of our top suggestions.
Halloween-themed books are a great way to engage students’ imaginations while promoting reading skills.
Some popular Halloween books include: “Room on the Broom” by Julia Donaldson, “The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree” by Stan and Jan Berenstain, and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving.
Depending on the grade level of your students, you can choose books that are age-appropriate and have educational value. After reading the books, you can organize a book discussion or even have the students write their spooky stories.
Pumpkin decorating is a classic Halloween tradition, and painting pumpkins is a mess-free and simple way to incorporate this activity into the classroom. All you need are small pumpkins, acrylic paints, and paintbrushes.
Before the activity, make sure students know what designs they want to paint, highlight safety rules, and cover the work area to prevent stains. Once they start, let their creativity run wild by giving them the freedom to come up with unique designs. You can even turn it into a competition by letting the students vote on their favorite designs.
Trick or treating is a Halloween tradition that many students look forward to each year. In the classroom, you can replicate the experience by having a classroom trick-or-treating activity. Ask the students to bring in smaller portions of candy or non-candy treats.
Once the treats are collected and sorted, assign costumes or other Halloween characters for each student to represent. Then, have each student walk around the classroom and collect treats at each desk, with students sprinkling Halloween greetings along the way. This activity is a great way to introduce generosity, cooperation, and communication skills.
Another great way to celebrate Halloween is by watching spooky videos and listening to Halloween songs together. This is a great way to entertain your students while keeping the Halloween spirit alive in the classroom.
Sensory toys can be a great way to provide a fun and stimulating activity for your students. There are plenty of Halloween-themed sensory toys that your students will love.
While Halloween is a fun and exciting holiday, it’s also important to teach your students about the history behind it. You can take time to discuss the origins of Halloween and how it has evolved over the years. This is a great way to add an educational aspect to your Halloween celebration.
Sensory bins are a great way to engage your students while providing a hands-on learning experience. Create a Halloween-themed sensory bin that includes items such as candy corn, plastic spiders, and pumpkin seeds. This is a great way to celebrate Halloween while also incorporating sensory play into your classroom.
Sensory paths are a popular way to engage students, promote movement, and create a fun environment. You can easily make a Halloween-themed sensory path by painting pumpkins on the floor, creating spiderwebs through lines of tape, and adding “cauldrons” filled with sensory objects like sand, water, or beans to step on.
The sensory path will give students a chance to explore different textures and improve their coordination while enjoying Halloween festivities.
Behavior charts are an excellent way to encourage positive behavior in the classroom. With Halloween around the corner, why not switch up the standard behavior chart with a Halloween-themed one?
You can print out a spooky background, add layered pumpkins, ghosts, and spiders to the chart, and incentivize students with Halloween goodies for each positive behavior point they earn. Not only will this motivate students, but it will also add a touch of fun to your classroom routine.
While Halloween decor and ambiance can be exciting, it is essential to be mindful of sensory triggers that may be overwhelming for some students.
Avoid fog machines, loud sound effects, and strobe lights, which can be frightening and disorientating to some students. Instead, create a subtler Halloween atmosphere with dim lights and decorations that are subtle to the senses.
Some students may be sensitive to certain costume materials and textures. For example, masks and face paint can be triggering to some children with sensory issues. Therefore, while encouraging students to dress up, be mindful of their individual needs and comfort levels.
Halloween is the season of treats, and most classrooms enjoy a share of sweets and candy. However, it is imperative to ask parents about food allergies and take necessary precautions, so no child feels left out of the treat-sharing. You can provide an alternative treat or have a non-food-related activity planned for those students with food allergies.
When it comes to decorating for Halloween, keep it simple and fun. Use decorations that are not too scary, as some students may be sensitive to them. You can go for orange and black decorations, balloons, and Halloween-themed posters.
You can also go for non-frightening seasonal items like leaves, pumpkins, and corn. Decorate your room in a fun, festive way that makes your students feel comfortable.
Some students may be scared of certain costumes or decorations, so it’s important to be sensitive to their fears. If you have a student who is afraid of spiders, make sure that you avoid decorations with spiders.
Similarly, if a student is afraid of clowns, avoid decorations or costumes that involve clowns. Always keep in mind that the goal is to have fun while making sure that everyone is comfortable.
Halloween activities are meant to be fun and engaging, but they should not result in a distraction from the curriculum.
As a teacher, it’s crucial to find a balance between exciting Halloween activities and maintaining the focus on learning. Observing your students’ needs and adapting the curriculum to include Halloween elements can be a great way to keep them engaged while staying on track.
Halloween is a great opportunity to explore different cultures and their traditions. You can include Halloween activities that teach students about the Mexican festival, Dia de los Muertos, or the Irish festival, Samhain.
Exploring different cultures can help students appreciate diversity and develop a broader perspective about various cultures.
There you have it – some fun ways to celebrate “spooky season” in your SPED classroom!
These activities can help your classroom into the Halloween spirit – while also taking into consideration the unique preferences and sensitivities of your students.
Have fun and happy haunting!
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.