“That witch is sca-a-a-ry,” said a child about the puppet intended to create some Halloween fun.
Like Halloween, witches are supposed to be scary. Just a little scary is a place of great enjoyment for children; really scary is not. Before I am accused of being the Scrooge of Halloween, let me say that my suggestions are intended to include more children in the celebration.
When a child expresses fear, our first impulse is to reassure them. Children follow our modeling. When the three-year-old spoke about his fear, another child immediately said, “I’m not scared! That’s only a puppet.”
Rather than attempt to move away from their feelings, we can use strong emotion as an opportunity to experience a child-sized perspective of what scares preschoolers about Halloween.
Children need tools for managing their fears. Parents and teachers can help them develop emotional literacy, a vocabulary to name their emotions. With this they can communicate what scares them in order for us to help them diffuse and express big emotions.
Often, it is the children themselves that find creative ideas to handle their fears. When the other children admitted that they, too, found the witch to be scary, I asked them what we could do.
It was one scared but brave child who suggested putting her in jail. What a wonderful metaphor for containing fears! The children loved the idea. They combed the room, bringing back recycled boxes, tape and scissors. Soon they were hard at work
They left a flap on the box open as a door and shoved the witch inside. Then they very carefully secured the door with colored masking tape. Some peeked into openings asking, “Are you still in there, witch?”
Suggestions for Teachers:
As managing our emotions is often challenging for adults, we can well imagine what it’s like for our preschoolers. If fear is a bump on the road to Halloween fun, looking more closely at what scares them can give children power. The power to lean into their feelings, know they are safe and enjoy themselves is a gift that lasts a lifetime.
I. Facilitate list-making
- What is scary/what is fun list: Divide a large sheet of butcher paper in half, length-wise. On one side: what we love about Halloween. On the other what scares us about Halloween:
- What we can do if scared list: Ask the children, "What can we do to feel safe?” Focusing on feeling safe will illicit many wonderful and creative ideas from the children.
II. Interview with a Puppet:
Animate a witch or other slightly scary puppet, giving it a soft, non-threatening voice. Allow the children to interview the puppet. Learning about the witch's more mundane activities may counter some of the really scary stories, videos and street decorations they have experienced.
When the large puppet remained scary for a few younger children, I reached for a smaller version.
Several children shouted out that she was the little witch’s child. Following their lead, I had the big witch stroke and hug the little one. It was interesting to observe that the children’s belief and my giving the witch nurturing characteristics diminished their tension
Using a teeny, tiny voice I had the little witch introduce her mother and let the children ask her questions and voice what was scary for them.
Post-discussion prop-making: This may occur organically or can be adult initiated.
Take an idea from the discussion and facilitate the making of a prop, such as the jail for witches.
From the children’s own ideas, offer simple directions that allow for their taking leadership or giving input on the project:
- What can we use?
- What will we need?
- What else?
The prop or the discussion itself may inspire the children to use the puppets in their play. Have the puppets be accessible. At this point we can enjoy by observing. Their play will also show us what they do to comfort or soothe themselves.
If a puppet show occurs, we may need to hold a child who is not quite convinced that the witch is friendly on our laps. Usually seeing their peers having fun will draw them into the play.
Product Suggestions from Discount School Supply: