Imaginative Play is Not Cancelled - Neither is Halloween!

October 29, 2020

This year has delivered us one unpredictable blow after the next. Parents, teachers and kids alike, have coped with school closings, travel cancellations, social and political unrest, isolation from friends and family, and an endless barrage of disruption and uncertainty. We all have been forced to pivot and get super creative during these unusual times in order to provide children, and ourselves, the security and consistency we know are critical for healthy social and emotional development.

Now, the CDC has declared that "many traditional Halloween activities can be high-risk for spreading viruses.” This announcement soared through the media causing alarm and distress about Halloween being cancelled!!! Not so...we are here to reassure you that there are still many fun and safe ways to celebrate. So, how can we make this Halloween one to remember for all the right reasons? Though your traditional hayride and trick-or-treating may have been cancelled, we encourage you to reach for that creativity that was sparked during the announcement of shutdowns back in March and discover a new way to make Halloween fun.

For a child, one of the best parts of Halloween is dressing up. When children dress up as part of their pretend play, they represent themselves as someone else — a princess, a superhero, a monster, a favorite cartoon character. Children begin to engage in pretend play very early in development, usually between 14 and 18 months old, when they have the imaginative capacity to see a cardboard box as a rocket-ship or a pile of dirt as a beautiful birthday cake. This exploration and imagination are necessary for children who are discovering their place in the world.

In a recent article for Good Housekeeping, Dr. Housman, Ed.D, founder and CEO of Housman Institute and the begin to ECSEL program said "there are so many benefits to a child’s imaginative and creative play, including the development of self-control and self-regulation, increased concentration, the ability to explore developmental skills through an area of interest, and an enjoyment of the process of learning rather than the product — all while also fostering social-emotional development and academic success." Through these chaotic and uncertain days pretend play can provide children with the opportunity to engage, enact and work through their confusion and conflict. Creative play can be a wonderful coping mechanism and allows children to creatively experience, express and manage their many emotions.

But is a store-bought Halloween costume engaging the same imaginative spirit? Some would argue yes, but the National Association for the Education of Young Children, NAEYC, says maybe not. Halloween costumes are often very specific in their design, therefore leaving less room for the imagination to take over. So, if you were one of the many parents who skipped the Halloween Superstore this year, that is okay! This is a wonderful opportunity to have your child tap into their creativity and design a unique costume using items right in your own closets and cupboards.

Not only will your child learn about themselves in this process, but you will also learn a lot about them by observing their process and listening closely as they engage in pretend play. In these moments, parents get to peek behind the curtain and see their child’s creative thinking and emotional expression. Your child may hoist a paper towel tube like a sword as they act like a superhero or nurture a stuffed animal as they pretend to be a veterinarian. These moments offer priceless insights into your child’s psyche and the fun way in which they are absorbing the world around them. This insight also allows you to deepen your connection with your child. Once you discover their interests and the way they interpret the world around them, you are able to use that information to enter their world of play and engage alongside them. These moments of play strengthen bonds and bolsters a secure family attachment.

So, no, Halloween is NOT cancelled. It is just a little different than it may have been in the past. Below, we have come up with a list of COVID-Safe Halloween activities that you may even decide to keep in your yearly traditions:

1. Halloween Scavenger Hunt

Trick-or-treat has been eliminated as a safe activity this year in many communities and towns, but that does not mean you cannot make your own version in your own home! Hide sweets and fun treats around the house, much like an easter egg hunt, and have your children search for them. When they’ve discovered all the hidden treats, you can settle down for a fun, spooky movie night right on your couch.

2. Costume Parade

Because costumes are such a big part of this holiday, and often a great point of pride and excitement for children, engage your neighbors in organizing an outdoor-socially-distanced costume parade. After all, the best part of costumes is showing them off to your friends! Remember that costume masks are not designed as protection so do be sure to have the kids wear a mask under their costume.

3. Learn About Día de los Muertos

If Día de los Muertos is not a part of your family’s traditions, this year presents a wonderful opportunity to learn about this festive Mexican cultural event. You could dip your toes in by decorating sugar skulls, making flower crowns and watching the children’s movie, Coco, to embrace and learn a little bit about another culture and how they celebrate this time of year.

4. Spooky Stories

If you have the space, pitch a tent and make a fire (a fort in the living room with a virtual fireplace works too). Then take turns telling spooky stories while enjoying some sweet treats. You can even invite family members or friends to join you over Zoom to share their own stories!

5. Pumpkin Carving Contest

Again, engage your neighbors or family and friends in a physical or virtual pumpkin carving contest! Spend time with your family selecting a pumpkin at a patch, and together, decide on a design. We recommend saving the seeds to roast and snack on later as well.

Have a happy, creative, and safe Halloween!

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