Saturday, October 27, 2012

Inventing Halloween

Our "Big 3" holidays are Martin Luther King's Birthday, Chinese New Year, and Valentine's Day, but not far behind them is Halloween.

Our overhead projector is a fun way to explore shadow and color.

I've not written anything about what we've been up to this year, mainly because I've already shared a lot about our seasonal activities over the past three years, principally in these pre-photography posts:

"I Am A Powerpuff Girl!"
It's A Big Circle
"Trick Or Treat"
"Halloween Is Not Scary"
"It's Not Natasha!"

But you will also find Halloween-related posts here, herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. And there are dozens more which are most easily discovered by clicking the "Halloween" tag in the list of topics over there in the right-hand column.

So yes, I have a lot of Halloween "material" to pull out around this time of year, much of which is always a "turn-key success," which is why Halloween as a classroom theme worries me, and why I rarely go back and look at my old posts about the season.

Despite the "reputation" of pumpkin guts as something with which children like to play, I've found that most kids don't really want to engage the gooey stuff with their hands. I've carved, literally, hundreds of jack-o-lanterns with young children and in any given group of 10, there might be 3 who are willing to even touch the pulp, and maybe one who really enjoys getting in up to the elbows. This year, however, we were floating small pumpkins in water in our sensory table when a few kids asked me to "open" one. This was an eye-opener. There was almost universal engagement with the pulp and seeds. It didn't bother them so much, I guess, with so much water available to instantly clean off.

School should never be turn-key, not for me and not for the kids.

That's one of the central elements, I think, of a play-based, emergent curriculum.

Yes, I have a box full of Halloween stuff, more than a decade's worth of experience in teaching through the holiday, art, sensory, science, math, large and small motor, dramatic, and outdoor projects that I can trot out, and those things come into play each year, but against that background there is a real risk that I'll try to somehow compel or force this year's classes into the molds created, then hopefully broken, by those that came before them.

We always have a dozen or so large pumpkins around the classroom as well, which we use for rolling, sitting, carrying, and, of course, carving.  They also make terrific "dry erase boards." This year's classes were particularly fascinated with using regular markers to draw on our pumpkins, then using damp rags to wipe them off to start over.

But now that we're only a couple of classroom sessions away from what will be our biggest all-school Halloween party ever, a night-time event that has always been crazy fun, but promises to be even more so with the inclusion this year of all the families from our 5's program, I don't feel so bad now perusing those posts, reminding myself of what we've done and where we've been.

A sensory table of beans, popcorn, sunflower seeds, mini-pumpkins, gourds, ornamental corn, plastic spiders, and Halloween-themed containers.

It's not just for the kids, however, that I want to avoid the taint of turn-key repetition, because another important part of a play-based emergent curriculum is that the teacher needs to keep learning too.

This year, many of the kids enjoyed tangling themselves in the string and yarn we used to make a "spider's web" on the bottom of a table.

During my first year in the classroom, one of our parents, a former elementary school teacher, advised me to keep detailed notes about everything we did, to make files, to organize our storage room by month or theme, saying, "That way you won't have to re-invent your curriculum each year."

It was well-intended advice, but I'm glad I never took it.  I want to keep inventing it; I want us to keep inventing it.

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Marissa said...

You know, I think I started Following your blog about 3 years ago, and it has been a great ride. I've always tried to challenge myself to be more like you and just let the kids create, destroy, and wreck stuff. It's amazing what they can learn from these processes. Thanks for a great blog.

patty said...

Great post! I'm finding one of the big challenges of being a second year teacher to be planning with an eye for what will work for my current students rather than trying to reinvent the successes of last year!

Susan Box said...

I'm too forgetful and disorganized to repeat much of what when on last year. Who knew those could be personal assets?