It seems like every year the pumpkins and Halloween costumes come out earlier and earlier. But amidst the orange and black, do you notice the colorful skulls? In the weeks leading up to Day of the Dead (November 1st), shops in Mexico - and now even in the United States - are filled with skeletons (calacas)! As we're teaching our kids Spanish, it is important to include cultural components such as celebrations, traditions, and perspectives. Introducing Day of the Dead to kids is a beautiful way to do this. Here are some easy activities to learn about Día de los Muertos.
Read Books to Learn about the Meaning
Based on the Catholic holidays of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, “Day of the Dead” is a day of remembrance of loved ones who have died, often commemorated with visits to the cemetery. Families in Mexico often light candles at the graves and leave offerings of flowers (especially marigolds, "cempasúchiles"“), or for children, sweets and toys. Many people also make an altar in their home, dedicated to their loved ones who have passed away. One way to learn about Day of the Dead is to read some children's books.
Four of my favorite Day of the Dead books for kids are:
- Day of the Dead by Tony Johnston and Jeanette Winter
- El día de los muertos / The Day of the Dead by Bob Barner
- Calavera Abecedario by Jeanette Winter
- Day of the Dead: A Celebration of Life and Death by Amanda Doering
Ask your kids:
- What are the foods that are typically eaten in Mexico during this celebration?
- What types of decorations are used in Day of the Dead?
- What do families do at the cemeteries?
- What does Day of the Dead actually celebrate?
Do a Craft for Day of the Dead
People celebrate death on Day of the Dead because it is seen as a part of the natural life cycle: flowers that die leave behind seeds that will sprout a new life, and people who pass on leave many gifts for their families. The whimsical skeletons and playful skulls for Day of the Dead are a symbol of life after death. Many times the skeletons represent those who have died: you might see skeletons playing guitars, working as a carpenter, going fishing, or getting married. After learning about skeletons, make your own skeleton doing a silly activity.
Another fun activity to try is to decorate your own skull prints. We used washed styrofoam from the supermarket, carved in our drawings, and then stamped the skulls onto brightly colored paper. The kids loved decorating the skulls with sequins, glitter, and puffy paints!
Finally, for the easiest craft just print out this Day of the Dead coloring sheet and let your kids decorate it with crayons, markers, and paint!
Watch a video!
This sweet and short animated video about Day of the Dead will delight your kids.
Our other favorite film is a full-length movie about Day of the Dead called "Book of Life."
I hope that you have enjoyed these resources! I love to teach my kids about this meaningful celebration and I look forward to it every year. For all of my favorite Day of the Dead activities- and tons of activities to help young minds go global, check out my KidWorldCitizen.org page. I am also on facebook and TeachersPayTeachers.