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An Imperfectly Montessori Hallowe’en

6 ideas to make Hallowe’en a little less grotesque and a little more significant.

Hallowe’en… It seems nearly impossible to tackle this holiday with a Montessori approach, what with all the plastic tat, fantastical monsters, mugging neighbours for sweets and the Godawful music.

However, it’s not impossible to try to balance this Celebration of Tat with some Knowledge and Understanding of the World. There are interesting aspects of Hallowe’en to consider, namely the traditions, history and cultural interpretations. Here are six suggestions to explore Hallowe’en with young children in a non-scary, non-plastic and informative way.

  1. Trace the roots of Hallowe’en.

On All Hallows Eve the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead are said to be at its thinnest.

Maybe avoid the idea of spirits passing into our world and wreaking havoc unless you want hysterical children refusing to ever sleep again. However, there are interesting reasons why this celebration has become part of our yearly festivities.

The customs and tradition of Hallowe’en go back hundreds of years. The festival of Samhain (pronounced sowin) was celebrated by the Celts at the start of November to mark the end of the harvest and to make predications about the harshness of the coming winter. They would wear animal heads and tell fortunes, which could make for some terrifying role play at home.

A major part of Samhain, as well as religions and cultures around the world at this time of year, is remembering our ancestors. It’s a great time to crack open the family photo albums, ask grandparents for stories of their childhood, and copy photos to stick to a family tree. We are going to have a special family dinner and toast to absent family members, and then snuggle under animal skins (faux fur blanket) by the fire to tell stories.

There’s interesting information about Samhain and the roots of Hallowe’en here

2. Make Soul Cakes

Samhain was incorporated into Christianity to combine with All Souls’ Day on the 2nd November. Soul cakes were baked and left on the porch with a drink for the dearly departed. On All Hallows Day (1st November) children would perform, sing or pray for the dead to earn the treat of the Soul cake, which evolved into the modern day version of trick or treating.

Soul cakes were sweet with a cross marked into the top, much like hot cross buns. They were intended to represent a spirit being freed from purgatory, which is a cheery conversation to have over mixing the dough. Recipe here.

3. Bobbing for apples.

The origins of this game is said to be the Roman festival to celebrate Pomona, the goddess of fruit. A disgustingly unsanitary game, even without the current pandemic, give each person a container of water instead of a group bucket (vom) and pop in a few apples. Set the timer, hold your hands behind your back, and see how many you can get out with your mouth. Bobbing for apples should always be played outside, and followed by a hot shower as everyone will get very wet.

4. Refine fine motor skills with pumpkins.

Once the pumpkins are cut and scooped, young children can separate the seeds from the strands for roasting, and sprinkle slices with cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar for baking. Roasted slices are great for cutting and mashing. There are more activities with the humble pumpkin here at an Imperfectly Montessori Autumn

5. Refine gross motor skills with pumpkins.

A trip out pumpkin picking at a farm is a great way for children to practise manoeuvring a wheelbarrow, do some lifting and carrying, and finally washing them. Once the pumpkins have been cut and scooped out, you can have a game of toss-the-beanbag (or ping-pong balls) to see who can get the most in the hole.

6. Play a game of real or not real.

This is a good way to help children feel less spooked about Hallowe’en and learn a little about the fact and fiction behind the symbols. You can print out some pictures or look online and guess whether they are real or not real. If you print them out then they can be used for matching pairs, memory game and snap. Here are a few facts and resources about out favourite beasties.

Jack-o’-lanterns – originated in Ireland with the folktale about a man named Stingy Jack who because of his trickery was condemned to walk the earth with only a coal in a turnip for light and heat.

Witches – can be nicely explored through a feminist lens. From a secular perspective, witches can be understood throughout history as non-conformist, single, wise women who relied on herbology to avoid dying, and helped other women when medicine was not accessible. They were hunted down by the church, led by men who feared women’s power. More info here

Werewolves – fictional creatures that originated in Greek and Roman myths with variations told around the world. Some children confuse wolves with werewolves and believe both do or don’t exist.

Ghosts – eek, this totally depends on the culture and beliefs of the family, but an easy out is to explain scientists say they don’t exist.

Vampires – originated in Eastern Europe mythology and may have roots in terrible diseases like rabies, or vampire bats.

Bats – likely became associated with Hallowe’en via the Celtic celebration of Samhain. When they sat around the fire at night to appease their ancestors and spirits from the otherworld, midges and mosquitos would be attracted to the light and so the bats would swoop around to eat them. In Central and South America, vampire bats cemented the association with their bloodthirsty nocturnal hunting.

Black Cats – a superstition that arose in the middle ages in Europe, when cats were bigger and a whole lot scarier than they are now. The fear snowballed into a belief that black cats in particular were witches’ familiars, evil and bad luck.

Mummies – many ancient civilisations practiced the tradition of preserving the dead.

Zombies – these mythical walking corpses originated in the Caribbean.

That’s how we are going to kick off our Hallowe’en!