Oooh, spooky. It’s our 13th week of school!
What is it with the number 13 anyway? It’s just a number, right? Well, yeah, it is, but somewhere, at some time, someone decided that it had an unlucky connotation, and it stuck. The history of some things make us feel proud, some make us feel sad, some freak us out! In our homeschool this week, we began our Halloween unit, and I also did a little research and thinking on how to explain why we celebrate Halloween and where some of the symbols came from. My goal was to present it in a non-spooky way, even though Elizabeth seems really intrigued by spooky things.
The Moving Beyond The Page Halloween unit is based on the book, Goodnight Goon, by Michael Rex. It is a parody of Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon. When the curriculum first arrived, this was probably my least favorite book, because for a long time, I have lived by the idea that if I don’t introduce things as being scary to Elizabeth, she won’t have irrational fears, but rather, learn to fear (or not fear) things from experiences. I personally have a phobia of spiders, and my mom doesn’t know why or how it started, but it’s one I still carry with me today.
Even so, Goodnight Goon immediately caught Elizabeth’s attention, and that was the one that she rifled through the most. When I would allow her to pre-read a book before we started school, that was the one she wanted. (Now I have brought all the books upstairs and they are available for reading whenever she wants, but I had originally been trying to hold off until the unit. I changed my mind on this when I couldn’t get her interested in a unit book during school. Now, I pull the unit books out for our evening stories and make sure we have read the book before we start the unit, it’s easier that way.)
In our unit this week, we made Elizabeth and Doggie into mummies, as well a discussed what a mummy is. That night too, we happened to have dinner with my younger sister – who would be an Egyptologist if distance, money, and fierce competition for research positions were not an issue – so she and Elizabeth had a chat about mummies a well. Wednesday, we read about bats and made a bat mask, which was definitely a hit for my superhero-Batgirl. Yesterday, we touched on skeletons and danced to a cute video on YouTube.
A normal 5-day unit takes us between seven and ten days, but this unit will take us five days because Elizabeth is just so excited about Halloween. Because of this, I decided to come up with some other ideas to touch on with her, such as why we celebrate Halloween at all as that part of the celebration is left out of the discussion, and what the symbols mean, in a non-spooky context. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
1. Why do we celebrate Halloween? Halloween is called Samhain (Sow-in) to pagans, Wiccans and witches. It was originally celebrated in Ireland, and marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter. It was celebrated with a feast.
2. Why do we dress up on Halloween? Some people believed that it was possible to relate to a spirit animal or person that we feel is important to us, and dressing up allows us to feel how they feel and to look like them for a time.
3. Why do we trick-or-treat? We trick-or-treat to be mischievous because people can’t recognize us. And because it is fun.
4. Why do we carve pumpkins? To celebrate the harvest in a silly and fun way. They may also have been associated with witches because witches were women, who cooked (see number 5).
5. Why are witches associated with Halloween? Witches and pagans were the first to celebrate Samhain. Witches were often women who could heal, like nurses, and used herbs and foods to do so.
6. Why are black cats associated with Halloween? Cats are associated with Halloween because they live at home, with women. Black cats in particular are associated perhaps just by chance, or because black seems spookier than yellow tabby, right?
7. Why are cauldrons associated with Halloween? Cauldrons are associated with witches because women would have cooked in cauldrons. Witches were often from the country, so the cauldron may have hung on longer there as a cooking tool than in other places.
8. Why are brooms associated with Halloween? Brooms are associated with Halloween because witches were usually women, and who cleaned house (historically)? Women. What do you clean with? A broom!
9. Why are the colors orange and black associated with Halloween? Orange is a Halloween color because the trees are changing color from yellow to red to orange, and squashes are ripening to orange. Black is a Halloween color because the days are getting shorter, the nights longer, which means there is more darkness, more black.
These are meant to be very basic descriptions for a pre-kindergartener in response to some of the ‘why’ questions about Halloween for topics that can get to be kind of spooky when you look their meaning up in other contexts. Some of my descriptions may even be better to the point than some of the literature that I’ve read, such as the legend of John Barleycorn, which I’m not a fan of. As activities to go along with the themes, we may carve some more pumpkins, make a black cat decoration, or a spider craft; but I haven’t gotten that far yet.
Chime in: What are some non-spooky ways you explain Halloween to your kids? What are some fun Halloween traditions that your family likes to do?