It's that time of year. Bats and witches and pumpkins, oh my! Costumes and candy galore, and everything from haunted houses to trunk or treats. Many schools still enjoy traditional Halloween celebrations, complete with candy, parties, costumes and games. Some schools, in an effort to be more accepting of all cultures, have begun to call their celebrations "fall festivals" and stuck to fall themes, such as leaves and scarecrows, pumpkins and apples. The celebrations still usually include candy and games, as well as special treats sent in by parents.
Recently, because of the obesity epidemic, some schools have passed policies forbidding any unhealthy foods from entering the school campus. No sodas, cakes, or candy. No chips. Nothing that could be qualified as junk. Supposedly this sends a message to kids that healthy food can be fun food too.
I think these are two different issues. First, let's talk about Halloween in public school. Anyone who's worked with kids can tell you that holidays--Halloween, Christmas, Easter, you name it--causes a stir of excitement and near craziness throughout the land. Kids are excitable creatures. Personally, I get super excited at the thought of watching my kids trick-or-treat, of decorating my house, of making a special Halloween dinner, or of attending all the local halloween haunts and events. I'm a forty-one year old adult and I can easily spend HOURS fantasizing about the fun I'm going to have walking through a haunted forest or trick-or-treating with my kids. So is it really reasonable to expect my KIDS not to get excited? For them to be able to focus on school and completing tasks as much as they would on a normal day?
The National Association of the Education of Young Children (NAEYC--look it up at naeyc.org) has issued a statement regarding holiday celebrations in preschools and schools--especially for young children--as being contrary to children's best interests. Children are bombarded by social media in our world today. Television, computer, radio, ipods, even billboards all overwhelm children with the material excess of holidays. One of the purposes of school is to give children a safe place to be kids. A place where they can focus on what their work is, what their interests are, what is predictable and stable and safe. For these reasons, halloween parties aren't optimal in school settings. Of course, this reasoning doesn't even begin to address the fact that we are a culture made up of many different beliefs, some of which do not share the likes of the "fun" of Halloween. In fact, we all know someone who finds the whole aspect of Halloween distasteful and offensive. Imagine being the child who gets to spend his time sitting in the library because your religious beliefs forbid you from participating in the games, candy, and fun.
The second issue I want to address has to do with this huge movement toward eating healthy. Believe me, I'm a huge proponent for healthy food for children. Our school lunches in this society are a shame. If we all ate what kids are served in school cafeterias, we would be hungry, unhealthy, and quite likely overweight, to say the least. But to forbid sweets at parties? Huh?
Any nutritionist (or most of the ones I've come across) will tell you that the key to a healthy diet is moderation. Does that mean on a party day you give kids three kinds of cupcakes, bag fulls of candy, and plate fulls of chips, accompanied by everyone's favorite soda or punch. That's not moderation either. But I don't know about everyone else--when I go to a party, I tend to look forward to a special hors d'oevre, or a cool entree, or a tasty dessert.
My whole point is that, just as many schools have found a happy medium by celebrating Fall, we can find happy mediums with the food we serve as well. When I was in charge of planning parties for young children on special days, we did a lunch party. There were no special games, as the children were very young, but we did have a special lunch. Somebody made fancy sandwiches (cut from cookie cutters), somebody brought a fruit tray, somebody else a cut-up veggie tray, somebody brought cheese and crackers, and somebody else brought A sweet. Anything else that parents wanted to volunteer went into bags to go home. This worked on a variety of levels. First, it made the day a little different from the rest without being overwhelming. Second, any allergies that children might have to candy (or desires that parents may have that their children not consume so much sugar) are addressed by allowing the parent to make the choices of what the child eats from the bag. Third, it teaches children that moderation IS key...that we can have a wide variety of fun foods to eat together, and our company is the best part of all.
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and I enjoy celebrating it with my children every year. If you do too, I wish you a happy and safe one! Thanks for reading, click on the links, share with your friends, and leave your comments below!