Celebrate the Day of the Dead in your classroom this year. The celebration, popular in Mexico and in some parts of the U.S., falls on October 31 and November 1st and 2nd, and is related to our Halloween. The focus of the holiday is the celebration of the lives of relatives who have died. Altars are set up in homes, people visit cemeteries to clean graves and leave offerings, and there is a joyful procession in many towns featuring an open coffin with a happy corpse inside.
Online resources include
- background information
- a lesson plan incorporating Spanish language, modeling a salt dough skull, and enjoying poetry
- a reproducible unit to download for free, with coloring pages, worksheets, and art projects. This packet includes a nice printable skeleton, too — great for a bones unit.
- recipes including Sugar Skulls and Pan de Muerto
Books for your classroom library:
- Day of the Dead by Tony Johnston
- Calavera Abecedario: A Day of the Dead Alphabet Book by Jeannette Winter
- I Remember Abuelito: A Day of the Dead Story by Janice Levy
- El dia de los muertos / The Day of the Dead (Spanish Edition) by Bob Barner
- Day of the Dead Crafts is not intended for the classroom or for kids, but it has some great, original ideas that older students and art classes will find inspiring.
- Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos Paper Dolls and Mexican Folk Art Coloring Book are both from Dover’s well researched, economical art series.
- The most obvious connection here is a study of Mexico. Education World has a collection of links for such a study. A longer plan is available at Mexico Trek.
- Another easy connection is the comparison of similar holidays. Halloween comes to mind, of course, but see also whether there are students who are familiar with celebrations of All Saints or All Souls Day, Reformation Night, or other special days observed at this time of year.
- For older students, the differences among cultures’ images of death are an interesting study. Have students find pictures of skulls and skeletons in a variety of contexts. Motorcycle gangs, musicians, pirates, and medicine are contexts in which we may often see these images in the United States. Compare these with those of the Day of the Dead.
- Papel Picado (cut paper) is a traditional art form. A lesson plan from InternationalFolkArt.org offers cross-curricular connections and some history as well as instructions.
- Calacas, cheerful pictures of skeletons enjoying a busy afterlife, are popular decorations for this holiday. Use a skeleton model to draw from and have students create their own.
- Mold “Sugar Skulls” from salt dough and decorate them festively. Make lots of small ones, and you can use them for math manipulatives, too. Sugar skulls are typically made with skull molds, using a mixture of sugar, meringue powder, and water. We’re not brave enough to bring that much sugar into the classroom, but more power to you if you are. While sugar skulls are not toxic, they’re also not designed to be eaten.