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Take a Fresh Approach to Halloween

About This Daily Classroom Special
Take a Fresh Approach to Halloween was written by Pat Haughney, Resource Center Director at Westbrook School in Glenview, IL and former Teachers Network web mentor.

Going Batty!

As a Resource Center Director, I am often asked for advice on resources to celebrate holidays. We have a large collection of holiday literature, including both fiction and non-fiction books and videos. I love to help children select holiday books and am always quick to buy the latest ones to add to our collection. I do not, however, read these stories out loud in the library anymore.

A growing number of our students come from backgrounds that do not celebrate the "traditional" American holidays. Some of them do not celebrate any holidays at all, including birthdays. One holiday that was especially difficult was Halloween. Those children who came from religious backgrounds that did not celebrate Halloween were uncomfortable listening to the stories. They felt dishonest, as though they were not obeying their parents. Last year, I decided to avoid Halloween stories altogether and to develop new units that featured traditional Halloween animals such as bats and spiders but that did not bring the holiday into the discussion at all. The children who celebrated could still feel as though we were learning about “spooky” things while the other children were comfortable learning about the animals. The following are some ideas from my bat unit:

  • Draw a big bat shape out of colored paper and use it to make a KWL about bats (what I K(now); what I W(ant) to Know; what I L(earned). Keep it posted throughout the unit and add to the information.

  • Introduce the ideas of fiction and non-fiction literature by showing children a variety of books. Share at least two from each genre. Two of my favorite picture books are There’s a Bat in the Dining Room by Crescent Dragonwagon and Stellaluna by Janell Cannon. Read one of the books each day and add to the KWL.

  • Include vocabulary from the non-fiction books. These can also be used for spelling. There are lots of good vocabulary relating to bats, including "carnivore," "mammals," "nocturnal," and "vampire." Older kids could learn the different species.

  • Have students research the different types of bats. I use a very simple sheet for younger students that asks them to give the bat’s name, its size, where it lives, what it eats, and what they like best about it. These facts can then be used for many purposes, including graphing wing sizes and species of bats, writing research reports, and creating Bat Jeopardy games.

  • Demonstrate how bats use echolocation by blindfolding one child and having him or her sit in the middle of a circle. Have the other children disguise their voices and see if the "bat" can identify where the sound is originating.

  • Encourage students to make crossword puzzles and acrostics with bat words. This can help with spelling and language skills as well.

  • Use a variety of media. Children enjoy using kid-friendly search engines such as Yahooligans to learn about bats and to find pictures. My students really loved watching The Magic School Bus Going Batty (Scholastic).

  • Finally, I did a quick poetry lesson and had children write poems that described how it felt to be a bat. We used bubble maps to brainstorm action words that applied to bats, such as "swooping" or "hanging."

My students had a lot of fun with the bat unit and never seemed to feel cheated that they weren’t reading traditional Halloween stories. Young children especially love to learn about animals and bats have a natural fascination for them.


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