Halloween seems to divide opinion more than any other festival. I think it’s true that there are a lot more families on the ‘pro’ side – most people I know celebrated in some way: dressing up, going to a party, or trick-and-treating.
However, as a drama teacher who comes into contact with lots of different families, I’m aware that there are many parents who really don’t like the idea of Hallowe’en, either because their children are frightened of the ghosts, ghouls and goblins, or for religious reasons. We need to be sensitive to this and so we don’t really mention Hallowe’en in our regular classes. Some children obviously bring it up and want to talk about it, and that’s fine, but we don’t do a special Hallowe’en session or anything like that. It would seem very unfair to parents if they had to keep their children away from a class that they had paid for.
As well as our regular weekly sessions we also run drama workshops during the school holidays, and I’ve made the decision that every other we will use the October half term break to run a Hallowe’en drama workshop. I make sure that I mention this extensively in all our promotional materials, so that families who don’t like this festival know that they should stay away! This year we did a Spooky Drama and Craft Workshop for 3 full days. Children were encouraged to dress up; we made spiders, bats and ghosts in our craft sessions; we told spooky stories, made potions, and invited parents to a brilliant Monster Party for the final session so they could see some of the ideas that the children had come up with. Everyone had a great time!
It was watching the children during the final session that prompted me to write this blog post. It is important to say that at our Hallowe’en drama sessions we don’t write a script for the children. We use their ideas to create a story or scene. We recognize that the ideas that come up might be frightening, and so we don’t want to impose anything on a young child (our age range this time was 5 to 8 years). But drama can really help children cope with scary imagery like ghosts, zombies, witches and so on. If you become the witch, then… well you can’t be frightened of yourself, can you?
The other thing I need to point out is that we are very clear with the children that demons, zombies and bug-eyed monsters do not really exist. They are scary characters in stories but they are not out there in the real world. I appreciate that some adults may not agree with this, but those are probably the same families who wouldn’t send their children to a Hallowe’en workshop!
Anyway, one of the activities during the informal presentation for parents was ‘Making a Potion’ – the children had to choose an ingredient to put into the witch’s cauldron. They came up with some hideous ideas: eyeballs, fingernails, dead animals, one boy even said ‘a dead boy’s arm’ – pretty horrible stuff. But my personal feeling is that if young children are in a safe and supportive environment where they can express themselves freely and without judgment, and where they have a sense of ownership over the material, then they can use drama as way to face up to their fears and get control over them. And also have lots of fun!
I would love to hear what you think about Hallowe’en! Do you celebrate and if so did you have fun this year? Does your child get scared during Hallowe’en and if so what can you say to help them? My advice is always to encourage communication – talking about our fears to someone we trust is always better than bottling them up.