As much as I love celebrating holidays and integrating them into our play at school, there is something equally important about the “morning after.”
For weeks leading up to Halloween, we’ve been singing all of our songs with a Halloween twist. Instead of our school anthem Jump Jim Joe, we’ve been singing Jump Jim Skeleton. Instead of One Little Bird In One Little Tree, it’s been One Little Bat In One Little Tree. Instead of One Butterfly Went Out To Play, it’s been One Big Spider Went Out To Play. And so on.
Most of our art projects have had some sort of Halloween theme, leading to all our bulletin boards being festooned in orange and black.
Pumpkins have been rolling around the classroom for weeks, turning eventually into jacks.
Our sensory table has been full of spiders, small jacks, cauldrons, and rubber skeletons.
Our stories have been full of monsters, jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, and witches.
For the 3-5’s this frenzied build-up came to its climax last Thursday with our party, leading naturally into the big weekend. But the 2-year-olds celebrated in costume on Tuesday evening, and while I’m sure most of them enjoyed some level of trick-or-treating on the weekend, this was probably the biggest event of their holiday season.
By the time they arrived in class on Friday, it was time for Halloween to be over.
Our free-play time included no themed activities, and even with the decorations still up, it felt very much like the morning after.
Making the point even more clearly was the fact that the children went outside to discover our jacks scattered around the garden, on their sides, tops off, burnt out candle embedded in mushy pulp. These had been some of the earliest ones we’d carved, so there was some good, hairy mold growing inside many of them.
Oliver reacted with an, “Uh oh,” and an effort to set things right. Charlie tried to get the top back on one of them, while Aedan scavenged through the mud for mouth and eye parts he could re-insert into their faces. A sense of confusion was in the air as they gently poked and prodded these once prized squash. As they did so, I began using words like “rotting,” and “decompose.” I pointed out the places where it looked like squirrels and crows had been gnawing on them. Some of the children found seeds and tried returning them to the pumpkins, and finally a few ran for shovels and started “planting” them.
This naturally lead to the idea of watering the seeds, which resulted in a rush for watering cans and a crush at our rain barrel to fill them.
At one point Cora noticed that one of the jacks was cracked along the bottom.
I asked, “Shall we break it all the way open?” There was a moment of what I interpreted as stunned silence before Jody grinned and said, “Yes.”
I held the jack over my head and asked, “Shall I drop it?”
Jody’s nodding head was mirrored by several others.
“Will it break or bounce?”
Some predicted “break,” some predicted “bounce.” It was still a pretty fresh pumpkin in spite of the mold so it could have gone either way. Just to increase the odds of a dramatic result I aimed for a length of 2X4 bordering one of the garden beds. “One, two, three . . .”
It landed heavily, splashing water on our shins, but no one cared about that. Everyone stepped in for a closer look. We found a large split running through the face. Several of the children announced, “Break.” Naturally, we wound up dropping the rest of the jacks, some of them over and over, until all that remained were pieces. When we finally left them, they were partially covered in soil, where they will remain until they’ve fully composted or become food for the urban wild life.
Back at Circle Time we sang the regular Jump Jim Joe, then went to another full body song called Big Ship Sailing, nothing “Halloween” about either of them. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed like participation was more robust than it had been for our past few sessions. Once everyone returned to their bottoms, instead of getting into the usual finger songs, I told (as opposed to read) my first story of the year, something as unprecedented for these kids as dropping pumpkins and celebrating when they broke.
I told the story Lizard’s Song, with it’s oft-repeated chorus:
Soley, soley, soley
Soley, soley, soley
Rock is my home
Rock is my home
The way I tell it, the story takes around 10 minutes, which is a long time for 2-year-olds, but they were clearly into it, especially as they learned to anticipate the automatic, universally hilarious laugh-line that comes when Bear can’t remember the song:
Homey, rocky, mocko
Solo, rocky, socko . . .
There is truly nothing more wonderful than 20 two-year-olds laughing together.
By the time we were ready to go home, I felt we’d chased the ghosts of Halloween from our school and were ready for what’s next.
This morning I plan to get in to the classroom early to strip the bulletin boards bare and relegate the other decorations into a back hallway before the 3-5 class arrives. I’m sure we’ll all be telling tales of our Halloween adventures, the candy we ate, and the scary things that didn’t scare us, but it they will be stories from the past; legends in which we each played central, dramatic roles. Our free play will be ghost and goblin free, except as memories, and of course, we have 5 more jacks left to drop in the garden.
Then we’ll sing “Soley, soley, soley,” until we’ve removed every last cobweb of Halloween.