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Why Do We Like Spooky Things?

Written by BMS Early Learning Teacher, Jenni Heartway.

Ghosts, bats, zombies, vampires…  Our classroom began buzzing with the talk of spooky things once the weather turned cool. 

It also inspired an engaging project in our student-led, emergent curriculum classroom. After we added a few strands of battery powered lights to our building area, the students were very excited to build Haunted Houses and learn more about the building process. We read books, looked at blueprints, took a trip to the library, and created models to further their understanding of the topic. The grand finale for our study was to create a Haunted House for the other students. 

There are a few reasons why some children (and some adults) like spooky things. For some, it is way to engage with things that are exciting without any real danger. It’s fun to pretend and can be enjoyable if you are in a safe environment. When the scary situation is over, people are often left with a feeling of confidence. If it is a shared experience, we connect with those who share it because of the dopamine and oxytocin released. 

Not all children or adults like spooky things, though. With young children, they are often unsure if the situation is real or make believe. Often a negative experience with something scary will form an unpleasant memory that last for a long time. 

Frequently, you will see children play scary games or act out spooky scenarios. For example, it was interesting to listen to the conversations our students had while working on our Haunted House project.  Many knew that the spooky creatures we acted out in our haunted house were not real, but some still had questions. There are stories passed along from cousins or overheard on the playground.  Zombies are some of those creatures they’re not sure about. They talked about what zombies actually do and how they need to alter their movements to really look like a zombie lurching across the classroom. They did the same scenario over and over again, to get it “just right”. 

This repetitive play, and acting out scary things, serves an important function. Replaying the scary event is a way to neutralize the scary things, and make them less scary. As adults, we can become habituated to scary things. We understand what will happen when the creepy music begins to play, and we start to steel our nerves. Children (being young) haven’t had as many experiences with spooky things, so they will often create the repetition themselves. 

There are many great resources out there if you are looking for a “just right” spooky movie or book for your child.  Common Sense Media offers review, alternate suggestions and age ranges for a wide variety of media. 

 

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