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Throwing a Fall Festival at School

Looking for a Halloween alternative? Here are some ideas for honoring Autumn

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Thirty years ago, most schools held some sort of Halloween celebration, either in the classrooms or after hours in the gymnasium.

Today, though, many school administrators have cancelled Halloween parties in response to complaints from religious groups or simply because they can’t take time away from learning. But there’s a compromise schools can make that celebrates the season: host a fall festival or harvest party instead.

Autumn is a wonderful time of year and one of the seasons most recognized by young children because of the changing colors of leaves. It’s full of delicious smells and tastes and offers opportunities to learn across the curriculum, from understanding the science of how a pumpkin grows to counting the number of apples ripening in a tree.

Here are some fall festival ideas you can use, whether you’re a parent organizing a school harvest festival or a teacher who wants to do something fun on or around Oct. 31.

Fall-Themed Lessons in the Classroom

Autumn offers many learning opportunities for kids. Below are some ideas from across the curriculum that you can incorporate throughout the fall or save up your favorites for a special celebration on Oct. 31.

  • Have teams of students estimate the number of seeds in a pumpkin, then cut the pumpkins open and let the kids count the seeds to find out how close they were.
  • Visit an apple orchard. Estimate the number of apples in a tree, then count the apples to find out how close the class was.
  • Explore fractions by cutting an apple into thirds, quarters, eighths, etc.
  • Prepare a fall recipe in class, such as pumpkin muffins, apple cake, baked apples or other autumn-inspired foods.
  • Here’s an idea from my daughter’s kindergarten teacher: Adopt a deciduous tree on your school’s grounds. Have the students name the tree and draw a picture of how it looks at the start of the year. Every couple of weeks, have the students draw a new picture of the tree, observing how it changes as autumn progresses.
  • Go on a field trip to an orchard, farm, pumpkin patch or other site that’s ripe with crops ready for harvest.
  • Study skeletons and how the human body’s bones work together.
  • Bring a tall sunflower to class and have the students study it’s various parts. Hold a contest where the students guess how many sunflower seeds it contains, then give a prize to the student with the closest answer.
  • Place a long strip of receipt paper on the classroom wall. Start a story on the left side of the paper strip, perhaps using this phrase: “Once upon a time, there was a scarecrow, a pumpkin and a farmer …” Then, one at a time, the students are invited back to continue the story, adding only three, four or five words at a time.
  • Cut apples in half straight down the middle. Cut a groove on the rounded side of the apples so they’re easy to hold. Dip the flat side in ink or paint, then make apple prints on paper or fabric.

Check out the fall lesson plans compiled by Beverly Hernandez, About.com’s Guide to Homeschooling, for more ideas.

Throw a School-wide Fall Festival

A fall festival or harvest party can be just as much fun as a school-wide Halloween carnival. Here are some ideas for pulling one off.

  • Set up booths where the kids can play games, like these suggested carnival games for a school festival, and win prizes.
  • Give the festival an educational theme, such as making it all about books and reading. Allow the students to wear costumes, but require them to dress up as their favorite storybook characters, an idea shared by a mom named Beth Andre on the Kids’ Parties Facebook page. That’s what her son’s elementary school in southern California does to celebrate around Halloween time.
  • Set up a hay-bale maze, hold scarecrow-making contests, bob for apples, serve apple cider, host a pie-baking contest, offer face painting, organize a cake walk, set up craft booths where kids can make fall crafts and get everyone--including the parents and teachers--to compete in sack races.
  • Here’s another fun race to organize that's a bit of a twist on dressing up in costumes: Set out grown-up clothes at the starting line. The first member of each relay team must put the clothes on over their regular outfit before running across a field, taking off the grown-up clothes, dressing up another team member in them, and then having that team member run back to the finish line (or repeat with another team member, depending on how many kids you have participating).
  • Give the festival an Oktoberfest theme (minus the beer gardens, of course). Cook up German sausages on grills outside and serve soft pretzels, potato salad, root beer and apple strudel on the side. Decorate with the traditional Oktoberfest colors (red and blue) or the colors of the German flag (black, red and yellow). Teach the kids how to dance the polka.
  • If your child’s school has a garden, offer tours of it during your fall festival.
  • In the spirit of sharing your harvest, set up a table where food donations can be collected. This could mean nonperishable, canned goods, of course, but many food banks also accept fresh produce from backyard gardens through the Plant a Row for the Hungry program.

If you love Halloween, don't be disappointed if your child's school doesn't celebrate it. You'll find that there are plenty of traditions surrounding the fall season that are just as much fun to enjoy. And as a bonus, most of them are educational, too.

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