How Do We Celebrate The Holidays?

For those that know me, it’s not a big surprise that I’m not a big fan of Halloween. In fact, the last time I taught Kindergarten, I used to plan a field trip to the pumpkin patch on Halloween Day to avoid the craziness of having a party. Some might argue that I’m a Halloween Humbug (or maybe just a Grinch, with no chance of having her Halloween heart grow). 🙂 I get it! Last night though, I engaged in a marvellous Twitter chat with fellow educators Christie, Laurel, Laurie, and Beth. Our conversation stemmed from a tweet that Kristi Keery-Bishop sent out after school that made all of us reflect.

This morning, Kristi sent me this tweet that I think summed everything up.


Last night’s discussion and Kristi’s tweet makes me wonder, what are we doing about those people that are intent on “just surviving the day?” (These people can be both children and adults.)

On a special celebration day, it’s interesting to have a look at who’s in the office. Usually our neediest students are having a difficult day. The routine is different. Some students enjoy the more relaxed environment, but others find it stressful. How do we help them self-regulate? It’s not that I think that we should cancel all of these special days, as there’s also value in learning how to deal with challenges and unstructured times. But not all students know how to do this on their own … then what?

  • Maybe they need a choice of activities to do.
  • Maybe they need a quiet area where they can re-group.
  • Maybe they need some additional outside time. (I noticed that going outside and engaging in gross motor activities helped many of my students self-regulate yesterday.)
  • Maybe they need some independent activity options.
  • Maybe they need some partner or small group learning options to help if full-class activities become too overwhelming.
  • Maybe they just need us to understand that it is a difficult day, and if they respond as such, a quiet talk and some time to begin again may be what they need most.

Just like with children, while some adults love Halloween, others dread the holiday. Yes, we’re older and we should be able to self-regulate better than children, but when we’re stressed, that can be hard. Even when attempting to remain calm, we might find that we are less patient … and this can be a problem on a day when students need our patience even more. I found this to be true for me yesterday. Maybe the best solution for dealing with this came to me thanks to one of my students. In the afternoon, I was in the middle of dealing with some problems in the classroom, and one of the children came up to me with a playdough cupcake. She asked me if I wanted one. I replied with, “I hope that it’s a self-regulation cupcake. I think that my monsters are coming out.” That’s when she put down her tray of cupcakes, went behind me, put her hands on my stomach and said, “Breathe.” I did. Then she said, “Breathe again.” I did … again. This student finished by saying, “Now doesn’t that feel better, Miss Dunsiger?” She was right … it did. This five-year-old also taught me that on these more challenging days, taking the time to breathe, can help us calm down enough to be there for the students that need us most. 

While Halloween is almost over now, more holidays are approaching soon. Last night’s discussion and today’s reflections made me question, how are we supporting students for success? If students aren’t as interested in the holiday, what impact should this have on our classroom practices (including “parties”)? I’ve heard many times recently that, “we’ve done it this way before” is not a good enough reason for why we continue to do things at school. Does this same reasoning hold true for holidays? Why? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


5 thoughts on “How Do We Celebrate The Holidays?

  1. I’ve been thinking about this for a day now.
    In the interim, I’ve carved a pumpkin (as per my daughter’s request for a cat design), roasted seeds at home and at school, and last night I took my daughter trick-or-treating with a neighbour and his girl.
    I enjoyed every bit of it.
    But I don’t generally like Halloween. So I’ve really thought about what it is that bothered me as a child, and to this day.

    As a child, most holidays were wrought with anxiety…. What was expected of me? How would I mess it up? What don’t I know (about this holiday/sporting event/Religious event) that everyone else around me knows (and thus I make a fool of myself)? This likely stemmed from my mixed-faith family who preferred to celebrate lots of holidays in a secular way (I’ve appreciated this my whole adult life, but as a child it confused me). I didn’t go to church or Synagog unless we were visiting one or the other grandparents, so I had pretty big gaps in my understandings about “Communion”, etc. For Halloween, I worried: I be able to come up with a good costume? My brother and sister were always creative and made clever costumes, but me, I was frozen with worry and most years burst into tears when my mom asked “Well, what would you like to be?”. I wanted to spend the day at home. What I wanted, in fact, was to be invisible.

    So now, as an adult, it’s funny that I delight in the fun of trick-or-treating with my outgoing, confident daughter. I don’t have to dress up, I just get to enjoy it quietly. I love the decorations around the neighbourhood. I also love that I didn’t have to make them (it’s a busy enough week at school, thanks). But when my son was little, Halloween was tough due to anxiety, not exactly like mine (not about self-consciousness) but enough to get in the way of enjoying trick-or-treating. He wanted to go, insisted upon going, but was terrified once out on the decorated street. We’d often walk along the sidewalk in our neighbourhood for at least a half hour, watching others go up to the doors and get candy. Right when I’d be ready to throw in the towel and head home, he’d muster the courage to go up to the door and say “trick-or-treat”. He’d be so proud, and drag me around to all the houses for a good hour after that. But every Halloween was thus, until he was old enough and also a big brother who could get over his fears for his baby sister’s sake.
    So a decade ago, I was happy to be done with this holiday that scared my boy, and made some of my students stay home from school… It wasn’t for me.

    My daughter brought me back. Pumpkin parades (truly magical events where all the Jack’o’lanterns are brought to a park to glow along paths and gardens like a fairy-lit world) brought me back.

    Our classrooms will likely contain kids like both of mine – those that live for the day they can dress up and show their “true selves”, and those that dread the gruesome aspects, the teasing, or just the unpredictability of it. They may also contain kids like me – who don’t like attention on a good day, and really can’t stand it on a hard day.

    So I appreciate your focus on self-regulation. This was something important in our class on Friday, as the culture gap between students seems larger than on any other day – those whose parents get up early and dress their child up, apply make-up or ears or other such accessories, and those whose parents would prefer that Halloween wouldn’t take over the school every year. For all the families and all the children, our classroom is a welcoming place that reflects the ideas and cultures of those within, even on the days when those cultures clash. On those days, I do my best to listen, to look for signs of stress, and to revel in the joy that is self-discovery in Kindergarten.

    • Thanks for the comments, Laurel! I think that Halloween, like other holidays, really reminds us about the importance of self-regulation (for ourselves and for our students). We have adults and children that feel differently about the holiday, for all of the reasons that you mentioned, and it’s important for all of them to know that they’re safe and secure at school. I really appreciated your cultural comments. Aaron Puley (@bloggucation on Twitter) regularly reminds me about the importance of seeing situations, events, activities, etc. through an equity lens. I can’t help but think about those students each year that don’t come to school on Halloween. This bothers me. It makes me wonder about what we could do differently to ensure that all students feel welcome and happy at school on every day of the year.

      As for the “monsters” anecdote, I couldn’t be more proud of this student that helped me out when I was feeling stressed. Not only did she remind me about the importance of calming down, but this is a technique that she’s also working on when she feels stressed. The fact that she could recognize those feelings in me, and apply what she’s learned to support someone else, speaks volumes to me. I may not be a fan of the holiday, but I wouldn’t want to take back this very special moment.


  2. Also, Aviva, I must tell you I really appreciate the “monsters” anecdote. In sharing with students that you have moments of anxiety, or discomfort, we model asking for help, or asking for understanding when we need a moment to “fix our face”… Well done! I think over the last week I have had a few moments myself where that would have been a better approach. 😊

  3. Aviva,
    You always pose such important and thoughtful questions in serving your students’ best interests! Apart from the obvious fact that this post calls attention to a conversation about traditional practices (Halloween parades) and the need to re-evaluate these based on I absolutely LOVE the fact that you used the word, “self-regulation” when referring to the cupcake and admitted to the “Monsters coming out”. What important and authentic modeling for your students! AND the fact that a five-year old helped you with a breathing exercise–priceless! Bravo!

    • Thanks Jennifer! I must say that my students have heard me use the word “self-regulation” a lot in the classroom, and we often talk about what we can do when our “monsters come out.” This happens to be a child that’s working on breathing deeply to calm herself, and I love that she recognized this need in me and helped me do the same. I was so proud of her … and I did feel so much better!


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